LINGUIST List 21.4014

Mon Oct 11 2010

Review: Phonology; Syntax: Richards (2010)

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        1.    Jason Ginsburg, Uttering Trees

Message 1: Uttering Trees
Date: 11-Oct-2010
From: Jason Ginsburg <>
Subject: Uttering Trees
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AUTHOR: Richards, NorvinTITLE: Uttering TreesSERIES TITLE: Linguistic Inquiry MonographsPUBLISHER: MIT PressYEAR: 2010

Jason Ginsburg, Center for Language Research, University of Aizu


In this book, Norvin Richards makes two new proposals about the interfacebetween narrow syntax and phonology. ''Distinctness'' is the proposal that asyntactic object can only be linearized if the elements in it are distinct.Languages vary with respect to what types of elements are and are not distinct.''Beyond Strength and Weakness'' is a proposal that languages attempt to minimizethe number of prosodic boundaries that appear between a wh-phrase and acorresponding complementizer. Languages vary with respect to how they canminimize these prosodic boundaries. Richards presents numerous examples from awide variety of languages to support his proposals.


Chapter 1: Introduction (pp. 1-2)

This brief chapter introduces the principles of Distinctness and Beyond Strengthand Weakness. The principle of Distinctness allows for a unified account ofphenomena that were previously thought to be unrelated; in particular, elementsof Case theory are shown to be related to other types of phenomena. Theprinciple of Beyond Strength and Weakness provides an explanation for whylanguages vary with respect to wh-movement.

Chapter 2: Distinctness (pp. 3-142)

In this chapter, Richards examines the principle of Distinctness. Richardsassumes that Spell-Out occurs when a strong phase is constructed (Chomsky 2000,2001) and that a phrase is linearized in accord with a version of the LinearCorrespondence Axiom (LCA) (Kayne 1994). Distinctness is proposed as a principleof language that prevents elements of the same type from being linearizedtogether. Importantly, Distinctness applies to functional (not lexical)categories. Following work in Distributed Morphology (Halle & Marantz 1993,Marantz 1997, Embick and Noyer 2006, etc.), Richards takes the position thatfunctional heads are inserted into a derivation after linearization, whereaslexical heads are inserted before linearization. Prior to linearization, thevocabulary items of lexical heads provide enough information to distinguishthese heads, even if they are of the same type (e.g., have the same label). Onthe other hand, functional heads of the same type lack vocabulary items at thetime of linearization, and thus, in certain cases, they cannot be distinguished.What elements count as being of the same type (non-distinct) is subject tocross-linguistic variation.

Section 2.1, ''Distinctness Violations'' (pp. 8-16), presents examples fromlanguages such as English, French, Italian, Turkish, and Tagalog thatdemonstrate the phenomenon of Distinctness. For example, a Distinctnessviolation results in English sentences with multiple DP remnants of ellipsisbecause there are multiple non-distinct D heads in the same Spell-Out domain.However, multiple remnants can occur if they are of different categories. InTagalog and Irish, although a predicate generally occurs in clause-initialposition, if a predicate is a DP, it cannot occur in clause-initial positionbecause then it would be in the in the same Spell-Out domain as a subject.

Section 2.2, ''The Mechanics of Distinctness'' (pp. 16-41), demonstrates that theprinciple of Distinctness is sensitive to syntactic structure and not to linearadjacency. For example, in English passives, when two adjacent verbs are in thesame Spell-Out domain, the result is ill-formed; there is a Distinctnessviolation caused by two v heads in the same Spell-Out domain. However, inEnglish wh-questions, two verbs that are linearly adjacent, but separated by awh-trace, are allowed because they are in different Spell-Out domains.Furthermore, in certain French and English inversion constructions, two DPs thatare separated by an adverb, and thus are not linearly adjacent, cannot co-occurbecause they are in the same Spell-Out domain.

Section 2.3, ''What Nodes are Distinct'' (pp. 41-54), examines cross-linguisticvariation with respect to what elements are distinct, which Richards suggestsresults from nodes being ''identified by their features'' (p. 41) rather than bylabels. For example, in English, the presence of multiple Ds in a singleSpell-Out domain triggers a Distinctness violation because these Ds are notdistinct. However, in German, Japanese, Dutch, and Greek, multiple DPs in asingle Spell-Out domain can occur, at least in certain cases, when the D headsare distinct in some way. For example, case and (for some speakers) animacy arefeatures that can distinguish DPs in Japanese.

Section 2.4, ''How to Become Distinct'' (pp. 54-127) examines the processes thatlanguages use to avoid Distinctness violations.

One method that a language can use to avoid Distinctness violations is to addstructure that puts non-distinct elements in different Spell-Out domains. Forexample, in Chaha and Spanish, a case particle can be added to a DP that putsthe DP into a KP (Kase Phrase) phase, thus separating it from a non-distinct DPthat would otherwise be in the same Spell-Out domain. In English, insertion ofthe infinitival ''to'' adds an extra phase boundary and prevents two non-distinctv heads from being in the same Spell-Out domain.

Another method that a language can use to avoid Distinctness violations is toremove structure that turns potentially non-distinct elements into distinctelements. For example, in Italian, a ''restructuring infinitive'' may co-occurwith another infinitive in the same Spell-Out domain. However, Richards argues,following Wurmbrand (1998, 2003), that restructuring infinitives lack a v head(structure is ''removed''). Thus, although there may be two verbs (lexical Vs) inthe same Spell-Out domain, there is only one functional v head, and Distinctnessis not violated. Furthermore, languages such as Hebrew, Irish, and Hungarian canavoid having two DPs in the same Spell-Out domain by removing all functionalstructure (the D and case) from one of the DPs.

A third method that a language can use to avoid Distinctness violations is''Movement Suppression''. Movement operations that would normally occur areavoided in cases in which they would place multiple non-distinct elements in asingle Spell-Out domain. For example, in wh-questions in Rio de la PlataSpanish, there is usually inversion of a subject and verbal complex, whichbrings the subject into the same Spell-Out domain as the wh-phrase. However, incases in which a subject and wh-phrase are not distinct (e.g., a bare DPwh-phrase and subject are not distinct), inversion does not occur, therebyleaving the subject within the vP, and thus in a separate Spell-Out domain fromthe moved wh-phrase.

A fourth method of avoiding Distinctness violations is to move an element out ofa Spell-Out domain that contains another non-distinct element. For example, indouble object constructions in languages such as Chinese, English, Kinande, andJapanese, Distinctness violations can be avoided by moving one of the objectsout of the Spell-Out domain containing the other object. Richards also proposes''Derivational Distinctness'' -- a preference for ''the operation (if any) thatcauses a Distinctness violation to appear as briefly as possible in thederivation (p. 114).'' For example, in Kinande, there are certain constructionswith surface structures that do not violate Distinctness, but are neverthelessill-formed because the derivations violate Derivational Distinctness --potential Distinctness violations are not eliminated as quickly as possible.

Section 2.5, ''Case as Well as Case Resistance'' (pp. 127-140), takes the positionthat case results, not out of a need for all DPs to have case, but rather, outof a need for all DPs to satisfy Distinctness. Case can have the functions of a)making elements distinct (e.g., DPs with different case values) even if they arein the same Spell-Out domain, and/or b) adding a phase boundary via a KP phasethat contains a DP. These functions can vary for different languages. Richardsargues that in German, case distinguishes DPs and adds an extra phase boundary,whereas in Dutch, case can distinguish DPs, but it does not add an extra phaseboundary (there is no KP phase).

Chapter 3: Beyond Strength and Weakness (pp. 143-204)

In this chapter, Richards presents the theory of Beyond Strength and Weakness,an attempt to move beyond stipulating ''strong'' and ''weak'' features to accountfor whether or not a language has wh-movement. Richards argues that languagesattempt to minimize the number of prosodic boundaries between a wh-word and acorresponding complementizer by either a) altering prosody so that a wh-word anda corresponding complementizer are in the same prosodic domain, thus makingwh-movement unnecessary, or b) moving the wh-word as close as possible to thecorresponding complementizer, and thus minimize the number of prosodic boundaries.

Section 3.1, ''Japanese wh-Prosody'' (pp. 144-148), gives evidence from pitchtracks that in Japanese wh-questions, there is an altered prosodic structure(compared to corresponding statements) that puts a wh-phrase in the sameprosodic domain as a corresponding complementizer, thereby making wh-movementunnecessary. Richards points out that different dialects of Japanese (Tokyo vs.Fukuoka) alter pitch in different ways in wh-questions; however, both dialectsuse pitch to put a complementizer and wh-word in the same prosodic domain.

Section 3.2, ''Prosody and wh-Prosody'' (pp. 148-157), elaborates on this theoryof prosody and wh-movement (Beyond Strength and Weakness). Richards proposes aprinciple whereby a language tries to minimize the number of Minor Phraseboundaries between a wh-phrase and a complementizer where the wh-phrase takesscope. Differences in wh-question formation are dependent on the position of thecomplementizer and on how a language determines Minor Phrase boundaries, thusleading to 4 predicted types of languages. Wh-in-situ is possible in languagesthat have Minor Phrase boundaries and a complementizer in opposite directions,because it is possible to create a single Minor Phrase that includes a wh-wordand a complementizer. Japanese (a language with a final complementizer and MinorPhrase boundaries at the left edge of certain XPs) and Chichewa (initialcomplementizer and Minor Phrase boundaries at the right edge of certain XPs) arelanguages of this type. Wh-movement is required in languages that have MinorPhrase boundaries and a complementizer in the same direction because it is notpossible to create a single Minor Phrase containing the complementizer and awh-word. Basque (final complementizer and Minor Phrase boundaries at the rightedge of certain XPs) and Tagalog (initial complementizer and Minor Phraseboundaries at the left edge of certain XPs) are languages of this type.

Section 3.3, ''Case Studies'' (pp. 157 -186), presents case studies ofwh-constructions in Japanese, Basque, Tagalog, and Chichewa. Richardsdemonstrates how in these languages, the placement of Minor Phrase boundariesand the position of a scopal complementizer determine whether or not there iswh-movement. The rules for Minor Phrase boundary placement can be quite complex,and not always clear (as made evident by a discussion of Minor Phrase boundariesin Tagalog). Notably, in some languages it is not possible to place a wh-wordand a corresponding complementizer in a single Minor Phrase. For example, Basquerequires wh-movement to a preverbal position in order to minimize the number ofMinor Phrase boundaries between a wh-phrase and a final complementizer. However,even with wh-movement, there ends up being one Minor Phrase boundary between thewh-phrase and the complementizer.

Section 3.4, ''Interlude: More Wrap'' (pp. 186-188), addresses a reviewersuggestion that a language with wh-in-situ must have a high-ranking constraint(from the perspective of Optimality Theory) called Wrap, which requires a VP tobe a single prosodic domain. Richards demonstrates that this proposal isinadequate because there are languages (for example, several Bantu languages)that allow wh-in-situ, but that do not have a high ranking Wrap.

Section 3.5, ''Possible Further Directions'' (pp. 189-199), attempts to extend thetheory of Beyond Strength and Weakness to a variety of other cases. Richardsexamines languages (French, Portuguese, and some dialects of Spanish) that havewh-movement, but that also allow wh-in-situ (in certain circumstances). Richardsalso attempts to account for some complex wh-question data in Bangla, a languagethat generally (but not always) allows a wh-phrase to occur in the same MinorPhrase as a complementizer. Lastly, Richards attempts to extend his analysis toecho questions, which are formed with wh-in-situ, even in languages that requirewh-movement. Richards suggests that in an echo question, there is no prosodicboundary between a wh-phrase and a corresponding complementizer, therebyallowing wh-in-situ.

Section 3.6, ''Conclusion'' (pp. 199-203), summarizes the main proposals set forthin this chapter and suggests that there may be a connection between prosodicdomains and phases, whereby a phase edge can correspond to a prosodic boundary.

Chapter 4: Conclusion (pp. 205-206)

This brief chapter summarizes the main ideas of the book. Richards emphasizesthat Distinctness accounts for case assignment as resulting from a more generalproperty of language that bans non-distinct elements from being linearizedtogether. Furthermore, Richards' proposal of Beyond Strength and Weaknessprovides an explanation for language variation with respect to wh-movement.


This is a very well-written book that presents two relatively simple hypothesesabout how language works, supports these hypotheses with evidence from a varietyof languages, and demonstrates how these proposals account for a wide variety oflanguage variation. Thus, this book goes a long way towards furthering humanunderstanding of language.

An innovative aspect of this book is that it examines the constraints thatphonology places on syntax. Crucially, if the proposals in this book arecorrect, certain phonological factors have an important influence on language.Distinctness arises due to the inability of the phonological component to dealwith multiple non-distinct elements. Whether or not there is wh-movement in alanguage is heavily influenced by a phonological constraint -- a need tominimize prosodic boundaries between a wh-phrase and a complementizer.

The Distinctness proposal that non-distinct elements cannot be linearized in asingle Spell-Out domain accounts for a wide variety of phenomena, and accordingto Richards, it may provide an explanation for why case exists. Certain issuesand questions also arise. Richards assumes that only functional heads aresubject to Distinctness and he accounts for this by assuming that functionalheads are linearized before vocabulary items are inserted that can distinguishthem. This raises the question of how much information is contained in a node atthe time of linearization. For example, whereas two DPs cannot be linearizedtogether in English, they can be linearized together in Japanese if the two DPshave different case values. Does this mean that case is present as a feature ona D node in Japanese before a vocabulary item for D is inserted? Also, could itbe that in some languages, some functional nodes are distinct because thevocabulary items for them are inserted before linearization, whereas in otherlanguages, the vocabulary items for similar nodes are inserted afterlinearization? Other issues arise with respect to Derivational Distinctness: apreference to avoid Distinctness violations at any point in a derivation.Derivational Distinctness suggests that the grammar is aware of Distinctness''violations'' that appear during the course of a derivation, before an element islinearized. However, Distinctness effects arise when a phrase is linearized.Thus, how can the grammar be aware of a Distinctness effect before a syntacticobject is linearized? In the discussion of Distinctness, certain prepositionsand particles are argued, in some cases, to add an ''extra'' phase to a structure.One concern is that phases appear when ''convenient'' for the theory. An avenue offuture research could be to find evidence that these truly are phases.

Beyond Strength and Weakness is an interesting hypothesis about why languagesmay or may not have wh-movement and I think that this hypothesis successfullygoes beyond the traditional reliance on strong and weak features. Notsurprisingly, a number of questions also arise. According to Richards' proposal,wh-movement results from the need to minimize the number of prosodic boundariesbetween a wh-phrase and an associated complementizer. Does the need to minimizeprosodic boundaries alone cause wh-movement? Could it be that this need forcesthere to be a strong feature (or EPP feature) to appear in a scopal C thatforces wh-movement? If this is the case, something akin to a strong feature maystill be needed. Basque, according to Richards, is able to use scrambling tomove a wh-phrase to a position near a complementizer. Leaving aside the complexissue of what exactly triggers scrambling, is there something that motivatesmovement in languages such as English that lack scrambling ? Further questionsarise with respect to the possibility of both wh-in-situ and wh-movement in asingle language. Richards writes that ''for languages that have the option ofleaving wh in situ, what we now expect is that, all other things being equal,wh-movement ought to also be an option, as long as the movement improves theprosodic structure of the question (p. 155).'' If this is correct, what happensin languages that have wh in situ, but that lack wh-movement? Do these languageslack wh-movement because wh-movement cannot improve the prosodic structure?

Overall, this book develops straightforward hypotheses about the interfacebetween phonology and syntax, and these hypotheses account for a wide variety oflinguistic phenomena in a variety of languages. This is a great achievement.This work also raises many avenues for future research and it should be ofinterest to linguists with interests in one or more of the following areas: theinterface between syntax and phonology, Case theory, Phase Theory, DistributedMorphology, wh-movement, prosody, etc.

Lastly, below are a list of a few (perceived) problems next to relevant pagenumbers.

p. 33: Misspelling of ''inversion'' as ''invesion''.

p. 92: There is reference to a movement operation in example (194), but it isnot clear if (194) contains the relevant movement operation.

p. 173-180: Section 3.3.2 discusses a reviewer's suggestion that the ''left'' edgeof a branching maximal projection be associated with a Minor Phrase boundary.However, the following discussion focuses on the ''right'' edges of branchingmaximal projections.

p. 192: Misspelling of ''determine'' as ''deteriminer''.

p. 197: Richards writes: ''These two languages [French and Portuguese] aretherefore predicted to allow either wh-movement or wh in situ, as indeed theydo.'' The discussion focuses on why these languages allow wh in situ and it isnot clear (to me) why these languages also allow wh-movement.

p. 198: There is a reference to (103b) instead of to (102b).


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Marantz, Alec. 1997. No escape from syntax: Don't try morphological analysis inthe privacy of your own lexicon. In Alexis Dimitriadis et al., eds., Proceedingsof the 21st Annual Penn Linguistics Colloquium: Penn Working Papers inLinguistics 4:2, 201-225.

Wurmbrand, Susi. 1998. Downsizing infinitives. In Uli Sauerland and Orin Percus,eds., MITWPL 25: The interpretive tract, 141-175. Cambridge, MA: MIT WorkingPapers in Linguistics.

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Jason Ginsburg is an Assistant Professor in the Center for Language Research at the University of Aizu in Japan. He received a PhD in linguistics and an MS in Human Language Technology from the University of Arizona in 2009. He also has an MA in TESOL from American University. His research interests are in syntactic theory (in the framework of Generative Grammar), computational modeling of syntactic theory, and applications of syntactic theory and natural language processing for teaching languages.

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