LINGUIST List 23.2544

Wed May 30 2012

Review: Cognitive Science; Syntax: Boeckx (2011)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <>

Date: 30-May-2012
From: Alexandru Nicolae <>
Subject: The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Minimalism
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EDITOR: Cedric BoeckxTITLE: The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic MinimalismSERIES TITLE: Oxford Handbooks in LinguisticsPUBLISHER: Oxford University PressYEAR: 2011

Alexandru Nicolae, “Iorgu Iordan - Al. Rosetti” Institute of Linguistics,Bucharest; Department of Linguistics, University of Bucharest


The purpose of this book is to offer an authoritative survey of the topics whichare currently under investigation in the minimalist program.

The book starts with a well structured “Overview” (pp. xxi-xxvi), written byCedric Boeckx, comprising a bird’s-eye view of the open-ended nature of theminimalist program (Boeckx insists on the term “program”, highlighting from thevery first line the idea that minimalism is not a specific theory), a summary ofthe main features and goals of the book, and a brief presentation and thematicclustering of the contributions in the book.

In the first chapter, “Some roots of minimalism in generative grammar” (pp.1-26), Robert Freidin and Howard Lasnik synthesize the historical origins of theMinimalist Program (MP) within the generative enterprise which began 60 yearsago. After briefly presenting the main tenets of the MP, synthesized as twofundamental questions about I-languages, the authors set off to identify anddescribe the basic assumptions that led to the formulation of the MP. They pointout the motivations behind the elimination -- within the MP -- of, among manyother ideas, two previously proposed linguistic levels, D-structure andS-Structure. They show that the elimination of D-structure is due to bothtechnical necessities, and conceptual necessities, that is the requirement of asimple(r) design for language. The notion of “simplicity” -- a crucialdesideratum of generative theorizing -- is closely scrutinized by Freidin andLasnik. The authors insist on the separation between the relevance of simplicityto the structure of grammar and a general aesthetic notion of simplicity, madefrom LSLT (Chomsky 1955) to the MP (Chomsky 1993). They trace back the germ ofcertain ideas central to minimalism: for instance, the Inclusiveness Conditionis shown to have been proposed by Chomsky since Aspects: “transformations cannotintroduce meaning-bearing elements” (Chomsky 1965: 132). In addition tosimplicity, ‘economy’ is central to minimalism. Economy comes in two guises: aseconomy of derivation and as economy of representation. It is shown that, whileeconomy conditions on derivations have been in one way or another suggested inearlier works, economy conditions on representations have been advocated later,starting with Chomsky’s (1986) Principle of Full Interpretation. Finally, theauthors discuss the three factors of language design and analyze to what extentthese factors were present in pre-minimalist generative theorizing.

Features are a central problem in minimalist grammar since, by virtue of beingproperties of syntactic atoms, they are directly objects of the theory. Thus, itis the goal of the second chapter, “Features in minimalist syntax” (pp. 27-51),by David Adger and Peter Svenonius, to specify the main conceptual problemsraised by the notion of feature in minimalist grammar. The authors begin bydistinguishing between “category” and “feature” (“a distinction commonly assumedwithin minimalism, although little discussed”, p. 30): “category” hasessentially a positional definition, while “feature” is a property of a categorythat sub-classifies it. Next, they delineate the possible structure of a featuresystem in natural language. It is shown that a privative system is inadequatefor human languages, and that a system more complex than a privative one iscalled for. The ontology put forth revolves around the notions “feature classes”and “hierarchy of features”, with the authors distinguishing between“first-order features” and “second-order features”. The last two sections of thechapter are devoted to the interaction of features with syntax, and with theinterfaces. The authors further distinguish between “interface features”, whichplay a role both in syntax and at the interfaces, and “syntax-internalfeatures”, which act only in syntax. The authors have identified and clarifiedthe main issues regarding features in the current stage of theorizing, anecessary step towards the formulation of a more minimalist theory of features.

In the chapter devoted to “Case” (pp. 51-72), David Pesetsky and Esther Torregoaddress the problems related to case throughout the history of generativegrammar. The authors begin by highlighting the controversial nature of caseamong various minimalist theoretic accounts: “the phenomenon of case representsone of the more outstanding challenges for the minimalist conjecture” (p. 51),since case does not seem to arise either from “(1) interactions of independentmental systems or (2) general properties of organic systems” (ibidem). Theycontinue by addressing the problem of the GB Case Filter. They then explain howBurzio’s generalization -- which lays out the link between licensing accusativecase and the external argument, but does not elucidate the nature of this link-- has led to the “little v” account developed by Chomsky. According to thisidea, a separate head (little v) is involved in both accusative assignment andexternal argument theta role assignment. On the empirical side, Pesetsky andTorrego clearly delineate the entire array of case types identified in theliterature (structural case, inherent case, quirky case, and exceptional casemarking), and illustrate all these categories with examples. Another point ofinterest is related to the problem of ergative alignment, which is shown not tobe “a radically different organization of case marking” (p. 66), but “anexpected variation on patterns already attested in other languages” (ibidem).Finally, Pesetsky and Torrego raise the problem already announced at the onsetof the chapter, namely, the existence of case phenomena in natural language.Capitalizing on the well-known correlation between tense and nominative case,the authors suggest that “case might in fact be an uninterpretable instance oftense” (p. 68), i.e. the counterpart of a contentful feature. Although thissolution does not exhaust the fundamental question of why case should existafter all, it is certainly a step towards understanding the place occupied bycase in the organization of natural language.

Naoki Fukui’s chapter, “Merge and bare phrase structure” (pp. 73-95), opens theseries of chapters which address issues pertaining to the mechanics of phrasestructure. In this chapter, Fukui concentrates on the core problem of barephrase structure: the operation Merge. He begins by stating the four fundamentalproperties of the ‘structure’ of human language (and the system generating it):(a) hierarchical structure; (b) unboundedness/discrete infinity; (c)endocentricity/headedness; and (d) the duality of semantics. The last of theserefers to the fact that “generalized predicate-argument structure is realized inthe neighborhood of a predicate (within the core part of a clause), whereas allother semantic properties, including discourse related and scopal properties,involve an ‘edge’ or a peripheral position of a linguistic expression (generallya sentence)” (p. 75-76). The entire chapter is thus built as a discussion ofthese four properties. Merge (internal and external) straightforwardly accountsfor properties (a) and (d). Property (c), the problem of labeling, is subject tomuch controversy in the current stage of generative grammar. Property (b) isensured by the existence of an Edge Feature (EF). The author closely examinesthe notion of EF, a unique feature which is distinct from all the other lexicalfeatures. Given its idiosyncratic properties, the author suggests that the termEF in fact describes the conditions of application of Merge to a lexical item --thus not being a bona fide feature. The author also examines several linguisticphenomena in Japanese, which are taken to be arguments in favor of unboundedMerge. As expected, unbounded Merge interweaves with certain necessary(interpretative) interface mechanisms.

In Jan-Wouter Zwart’s chapter, “Structure and order: Asymmetric Merge” (pp.97-118), the role of Merge is further inspected with reference to the relationbetween structure and linear order in the minimalist approach. The author startsby discussing the problems posed by order in the pre-minimalist setting, andthen highlights the main (combined, theoretical and empirical) observations fromKayne’s (1994) Linear Correspondence Axiom, seeking to capture them in aminimalist model of syntax. Zwart carefully analyzes the possible outcomes ofthe operation Merge and dismisses the idea that Merge yields sets: “ordering byset membership yields no result among sisters, i.e., it does not derivehead-complement linear order” (p. 100). Instead, he argues that if Merge isconceived as yielding ordered pairs, then the structure-to-order conversionfollows naturally and the head-complement distinction is sufficient to deriveorder at the interface. Based on this, the author discusses “deviations” fromthe expected structure-to-order conversion, proposing two typologicalgeneralizations (“Head-finality is a linguistic sign, signaling derivationlayering”, p. 108; “Head-initiality in a head-final language is established innarrow syntax”, p. 109) which he briefly shows to hold across a large number oflanguages. He then comments on the Final-over-Final Constraint (Holmberg 2000,Biberauer et al. 2008) and examines instances of head-finality in a head-initiallanguage (Dutch). Finally, Zwart highlights the importance of “derivationlayering”, and shows that the concepts ‘lexical’ and ‘syntactic’ can be definedin relation to derivations.

In the chapter devoted to “Multidominance” (pp. 119-142), Barbara Citko beginsby defining the notion of multidominance (“a multidominant structure is astructure in which a single node has two mothers” (p. 119)) and by stating theissues that a multidominance account has to deal with: (i) the generation ofmultidominant structures, (ii) their linearization, and (iii) the empiricalinsights offered by such an account. The author goes on to show that, althoughthe concept of multidominance has been described as “unorthodox, non-standard,or incompatible with basic assumptions about phrase structure” (ibidem), theavailability of multidominance actually follows from the most basic assumptionsabout phrase structure building and movement in the minimalist framework. Thus,the author argues for the existence of a third type of Merge, Parallel Merge,which combines the properties of Internal and External Merge: by Parallel merge,a constituent (B) merges with a subpart (C) [Merge (B, C)] of anotherconstituent (A), which is the result of a previous Merge operation [i.e. Merge(A, C) --> {A, {A, C}}]. Consequently, C is shared between A and B. ParallelMerge feeds multidominant structures. It therefore results that multidominanceshould not be problematic for the current views on phrase structure building.The author brings empirical support from a variety of unrelated constructions,which testify to the existence of this structure-building mechanism in thegrammar: across-the-board wh-questions, wh-questions with conjoined wh-pronouns,right-node raising, gapping, determiner sharing, standard free relatives, serialverbs, parasitic gaps, idioms, comparatives, transparent free relatives,parentheticals, wh-amalgams, and cleft-amalgams. In the final part of thechapter, Citko concentrates on the problem of the linearization ofmultidominance structures. Among the many empirical advantages of Multidominanceis the promising reinterpretation of structures which amount to (a form of)non-pronunciation: with Gapping and Right-Node Raising analyzed as a form ofmultidominance and not as instances of ellipsis (with ellipsis conceived as“deletion”), it is easy to understand why these structures deviate from thegenerally acknowledged syntactic and interpretative properties of structurescontaining ellipsis sites.

Another innovation brought about by the Minimalist Program is the Copy Theory ofMovement. Jairo Nunes’ chapter, “The Copy Theory” (pp. 143-172), examines theconceptual and empirical advantages of the Copy Theory over the GB Trace Theory.It is shown that, in contrast with the Trace Theory, the Copy Theory of Movementcomplies with the Inclusiveness Condition, one of the most important minimalistrequirements, and that it is sufficiently powerful to explain certaindependencies (anaphoric dependencies, idiom interpretation, etc.) withoutresorting to “suspect” solutions. The second part of this chapter backs up thetheoretical construct presented, bringing into discussion the pronunciation oflower and multiple copies, which the author claims to be an irrefutable argumentfor the Copy Theory and against the Trace Theory.

Norvin Richards (“A-bar dependencies”, pp. 173-194) focuses on the problemsposed by A-bar dependencies in the minimalist framework. Rather than restrictingthe discussion to the current Probe-Goal conception, he presents the historicalsolutions proposed to account for the phenomena under scrutiny, showing howevery new step in minimalist theorizing has contributed to a betterunderstanding of the data and of the minimalist goals. He starts by showing howthe elimination of D-Structure created the problem of ordering movement andnon-movement operations, then tackles the problems raised by the elimination ofS-Structure. He moves on to examine the successive cyclic nature of wh-movement,and, finally, analyzes the role of the interfaces. Richards also discussescertain shortcomings of the theory at the current stage of research. Forinstance, there is no generally accepted account of the Condition of ExtractionDomains, which bans extraction out of subjects and adjuncts, and, furthermore,cross-linguistic research seems to indicate that adjunct and island effects arenot governed by the same principle.

Another issue surrounded by controversy in the Minimalist Program is the natureand place of head movement. In chapter 9, “Head movement and the minimalistprogram” (pp. 195-219), Ian Roberts approaches this problem from both atechnical and a conceptual perspective. Roberts starts by inspecting the natureof head movement in GB, where head movement is subject to the standardconditions on movement operations: structure preservation, locality, andwell-formedness conditions on the trace of the head-moved category. He continuesby critically reviewing the reasoning that triggered the reevaluation of headmovement in the minimalist perspective: it does not affect interpretation(which, as Roberts shows, is not entirely true), and its trigger is not veryclear. Furthermore, the derived structure of head movement is countercyclic andviolates the Extension Condition; also, there occur c-command problems in thestructures derived by head movement. Finally, onward cyclic movement is neversuccessive cyclic but rather always involves ‘roll-up’. Roberts then turns tothe alternatives to head movement (PF movement, remnant movement, and‘reprojective’ movement), and points out the limits of each of these solutions,concluding that “no single version is entirely free of problems, and noneappears to be a global alternative to ‘traditional’ head movement” (p. 215).Finally, the issue is discussed from a conceptual point of view, and Robertsconcludes by suggesting that head movement cannot altogether be excluded fromsyntax.

Luigi Rizzi’s chapter (“Minimality”, pp. 220-238) deals with the problems raisedby locality principles which broadly fall under the domain of intervention.Rizzi starts by disentangling the two intuitive concepts under which a largenumber of locality principles can be subsumed, Intervention and Impenetrability,and sets as his goal to discuss only the first type. The author presents thelate GB conception of Relativized Minimality, and then turns the successiveminimalist revisions of this concept, emphasizing the increasing role of“features” in shaping the theory in order to account for an increasingly broaderrange of data. Rizzi explains in detail how the Minimal Link Condition versionof Relativized Minimality (Chomsky 1995a), stated in terms of features of theelements involved in a configuration, has been updated in order to account forcertain asymmetries (e.g. what is traditionally conceived as argument/adjunctasymmetries in wh-extraction) by positing a richer featural composition of theterms involved. Finally, the author turns to intervention effects in acquisitionand pathology, where he argues that a strict competence/performance (orgrammar/parser) divide is too coarse to account for several linguisticsimilarities, and explicitly argues for a strongly integrated view of thegrammar/parser interaction.

The intuition that syntactic computation proceeds in a cyclic fashion has beenpursued throughout generative grammar in different guises (‘domain’, ‘boundingnode’, ‘barrier’, ‘phase’). In chapter 11, “Derivational cycles” (pp. 239-259),Juan Uriagereka examines the nature of cycles in the present minimalistapproach, focusing especially on ‘phases’, the incarnation of cycles in thecurrent model. Uriagereka then turns to a discussion of a series of cycliceffects, including successive cyclic movement, binding relations, and casevaluation, showing that all can be elegantly accounted for by resorting to‘cycles’. The author then examines the minimalist constraints which have triedto express both cyclicity and successive cyclicity: the Extension Condition(Chomsky 1993: 22), the Virus Theory (Chomsky 1995a: 233), the Minimal LinkCondition (Chomsky 1995b: 311), and the Phase Impenetrability Condition (Chomsky2000: 106). Finally, Uriagereka stresses the emergent nature of cycles.

Kleanthes K. Grohmann’s chapter, “Anti-locality: too-close relations in grammar”(pp. 260-290), focuses on a more recent line of investigation which pursues thepossibility that there is a lower bound on (derivational) distance, dubbed“anti-locality”. While the upper boundaries of (movement) dependencies have beena constant preoccupation of generative grammar, the complementary problem,namely, the lower bound on movement (distance) (which is shown by Grohmann to beat the core of certain (un)grammaticality phenomena in language), has beensomehow left in the background of generative theorizing. Grohmann convincinglyshows that excessively short (i.e. anti-local) movement steps are banned;‘shortness’ is calculated across Prolific Domains (a term coined by Grohmann):movement within a Prolific Domain is anti-local, thus banned. There are threeProlific Domains within the clause (and, as shown by Ticio 2003, within the DPas well): a Theta-Domain, a Phi-Domain, and an Omega-Domain, which areassociated with thematic relations, argument properties, and discourseinformation, respectively. Grohmann’s system manages to capture the idea thatmovement must not be too local, but its implementation is not compatible withthe recent minimalist proposal of ‘phases’.

In chapter 13, “Derivation(s)” (pp. 291-310), Samuel David Epstein, HisatsuguKitahara, and T. Daniel Seely examine the nature of derivations from both aconceptual and a technical perspective. The authors capture the essential natureof derivations, namely that they follow from (i.e. grow out of) the fundamentalproperties of human language which have been unveiled by generative grammar(principally, the recursive nature of human language), and which are currentlyinvestigated in the minimalist framework. In the first part of the chapter, theauthors show that derivations play a critical role in minimalist inquiry. In thesecond part, the authors delimit the main conceptual problems regardingderivations against the Strong Minimalist Thesis. They then address themechanics of minimalist derivations; they show that the minimum machinery neededfor a derivation to go through includes (at least) Merge, ‘mergeable’ lexicalitems, and (undeletable) edge features carried by lexical items. This minimummachinery generates a derivation in compliance with the principles of efficientcomputation (e.g. the no-tampering condition, among others). The authors alsodiscuss the relevance of phases, and argue for the choice of certain specificderivational tools (e.g. the Probe-Goal Agree mechanism). Finally, the reader isguided through the stepwise derivation of an example, which illustrates theconceptual and mechanical principles discussed.

Robert A. Chametzky’s chapter, “No derivation without representation” (pp.311-326), is a contribution to the long-standing debate between derivationalistsand representationalists. In a rather informal manner (as testified by hischapter’s headings: “Don’t stop till you get enough”, “If you could seec-command like I can see c-command”, “If you build it, will they c-command?”,“But what would Zeno say?”), Chametzky argues against (what might be called) the“derivational bias” of generative grammar, capitalizing on the representationalnature of the c command relation. Building on previous work (mainly Richardsonand Chametzky 1985), the author reverses the perspective on c-command, ‘takingthe point of view of the c commandee’, and defining c-command as follows: “Forany node X, the c-commanders of X are all the sisters of every node whichdominates X (dominance reflexive)” (p. 318). This has the welcome result that“it [c-command] provides a set of nodes which are not in a dominance relationwith some given node and with which that node can be in some substantivelinguistic relation or other” (ibidem). Chametzky ends on a very conciliatorynote, suggesting a mixed representational and derivational approach to syntax.

Željko Bošković (“Last Resort with Move and Agree in derivations andrepresentations”, pp. 327-353) discusses the nature of the Economy Principlewith respect to derivations and representations. He focuses on the Last ResortCondition, which prohibits superfluous steps in derivations, and claims that asimilar condition constrains representations. In the section devoted to theapplication of the Last Resort Condition to movement, Bošković argues that theapproach (Chomsky 2000, 2001) that places the movement-triggering diacritic onthe target rather than on the moving element itself gives rise to an unwelcomedLook Ahead consequence. Placing this diacritic on the moving element insteadbypasses this problem. The system put forth by Bošković, in which thenecessities of the moved element trigger movement, has desirable consequencesfrom the current phasal perspective. Consider the Attract version: in the caseof successive cyclic wh-movement, the head that would attract a wh-phrase is toofar away (in a different phase) to attract the moving element; hence, Look Aheadis unavoidable. By contrast, movement triggered by the element’s own properties(i.e. Greed) solves this problem. Bošković also discusses freezing effects,where last resort considerations are crucially involved, and then addresses theproblem of the operation Agree, claiming that what drives Agree is valuation(with only unvalued features functioning as probes). Finally, Bošković discussesthe implications of the Last Resort Condition for pure Merge (lexical insertion)and for Economy of Representation. He argues that only functional elements aresubject to economy principles, and proposes to define the numeration on lexicalitems only; repeated access to the lexicon will be then allowed to ensurestructure building. While interesting, this last stipulation might have theeffect of violating the Inclusiveness Condition (as currently conceived).

In chapter 16 (“Optionality”, pp. 354-376), Shigeru Miyagawa analyzes the issueof movement operations which seem to be optional, thus violating the minimalistassumption that operations should arise as strictly last resort. From the onset,Miyagawa sets his goal to formulate a theory of optional operations that isconsonant with the tenets of Last Resort. The phenomena he deals with arequantifier raising (QR) (in English) and (a subclass of) scrambling, which heargues (and convincingly demonstrates) are closely matched in their propertiesand are thus open to a unified account. After presenting the jointdistributional and interpretative properties of QR and scrambling, the authorconcludes that QR is a covert type of scrambling. In the case of QR it is thelower copy which is pronounced, while in the case of scrambling, the higher copygets pronounced. The research question posed by Miyagawa is whether theseoperations are truly optional, and the answer (which is somehow expected) isthat they are not: the possibly optional movements occurring in the case of QRand scrambling determine a new (semantic) interpretation. This, in turn,provides a ‘last resort’ perspective on optional movement, even though extendedand somewhat weaker.

In chapter 17 (“Syntax and interpretation systems: How is their labourdivided?”, pp. 377-395), Eric Reuland reassesses the problems of binding and,more generally, of anaphoric dependencies from a minimalist perspective. Reulandstarts by presenting the main aspects of the Canonical Binding Theory, asdeveloped in GB, and then focuses on problems such as the distinction betweenbinding and co-reference, and the hybrid status of indices. The author thenargues that resolving the hybrid status of indexing by pursuing a syntacticreinterpretation is not feasible, and proposes that this problem should besolved by delimiting syntactically encoded dependencies from dependencies thatresult from interpretative processes. Furthermore, it is shown that the notionof index cannot be accommodated in a minimalist model of grammar. The net resultof Reuland’s demonstration is that there are three possible ways to establish an(anaphoric) dependency: in the discourse, in logical syntax, and in narrowsyntax, and that there is a timing in choosing one type of dependency over theother: “from syntax to discourse, the domain restrictions decrease, and eachless restricted process is effectively used where some more restricted processis not available” (p. 390).

The chapter by Alex Drummond, Dave Kush, and Norbert Hornstein, “Minimalistconstrual: two approaches to A and B” (pp. 396-426), continues one of theproblems sketched by Reuland in the previous chapter. Namely, the authorscontribute to the ongoing quest to build a minimalist theory of construal. Theystart from the empirical observation that construal relations (binding andcontrol) display the characteristic hallmarks of core grammatical processes, andthus (at least) some of these relations should be dealt with within the corecomputational system. The authors choose to focus on binding (properlydistinguished from co-reference, following Reinhart 1983) rather than oncontrol, arguing that there has been less debate on binding within theminimalist framework. Drummond, Kush, and Hornstein then concentrate ondiscriminating between the two current competing minimalist approaches tobinding (/construal): Chain-Based Construal, a movement-based analysis developedby Hornstein (2001), and Agree-Based Construal, whose syntactic engine relatingthe antecedent to the anaphor is the operation Agree (e.g. Reuland, 2005;current volume). The two analyses are shown to be convergent in certainrespects, the most important one being that they both exploit copies (i.e. alocal syntactic relation) to mediate the semantic binding relation. Theargumentation tilts the balance in favor of the Chain-Based approach.

In “A minimalist approach to argument structure” (pp. 427-448), Heidi Harleypresents the ‘split-vP’ syntactic architecture which has replaced the ThetaTheory of the GB framework. After presenting the GB view on argument structure,Harley shows the limitations of this conception, and comments on itsnon-minimalist spirit. The author then argues that, within minimalism, a Fregeanconception of the LF interface combined with the Full Interpretation Principlemay take over the functions of the Theta Criterion and of the ProjectionPrinciple. The “little v” hypothesis is then introduced. Harley manages to gothrough all the relevant results of the late GB/early minimalism periods thathave contributed to the postulation of the little v projection. Finally, severalminimalist alternatives to this conception are briefly discussed.

Gillian Ramchand’s chapter (“Minimalist semantics”, pp. 449-471) continues thepath paved by Harley in the previous chapter, in that Ramchand further attemptsto construct a minimalist theory of argument roles and relations, and aminimalist event semantics. Ramchand assumes that a structural semanticcombinatorial system exists which correlates with syntactic combinatorialprimitives. She argues that the structural semantic system, which isgrammatically relevant, should be properly distinguished from the encyclopediccontent of words. The proposed event structure contains three subcomponents: acausing subevent (initP), a process denoting subevent (procP), and a subeventcorresponding to result state (resP), which are hierarchically ordered: initP >procP > resP. After discussing the implementation of this idea, and highlightingthe roles of each piece of structure (specifiers, complements, etc.), Ramchandsummarizes the basic argument relations and roles resulting from this system:initiators, undergoers, resultees, grounds (of Result). There are also somecomposite roles, which will be derived via movement: undergoer-initiator andresultee-undergoer. Finally, Ramchand also addresses the problem ofcross-linguistic variation in the proposed system, verifying the expectationthat the lexicalization of a particular structure looks quite different fromlanguage to language.

Paul M. Pietroski’s chapter (“Minimal semantic instructions”, pp. 472-498) alsodeals with the matter of semantics in minimalism; more exactly, with therelation between word and concepts. Thus, together with the following chapter,also written by a philosopher, this chapter shows how minimalist problems extendbeyond narrow syntax proper and how minimalist guidelines may appeal to problemswhich traditionally fall outside the preoccupation of linguists. Although thetechnical implementation employed in Pietroski’s chapter falls beyond my area ofexpertise, I can assess the conceptual outcome of Pietroski’s enterprise:couching semantic structures within the more general conception of structurebuilding utilized in minimalism, the study of I-language semantics is notfundamentally different from other areas of linguistic inquiry and theorizing, agood result in the current context.

In chapter 22, “Language and thought” (pp. 498-522), Wolfram Hinzen starts fromthe accepted view that language is the main (and perhaps only) access point forthe study of thought structure. Hinzen underlines the impact that minimalism hashad on semantics, leading us “us to rethink the very foundations of semantics”(p. 502). After discussing certain matters of “intellectual heritage”, andhighlighting the problems of explanatory priority, Hinzen puts syntax inthought’s service (section 4) and convincingly shows that the human modes ofsignifying are “are directly correlated with the syntactic forms that we use”(p. 520). In sum, Hinzen argues that semantics may be viewed as employing thesame mechanism of structure building as syntax. His results are thus convergentwith Pietroski’s.

In chapter 23 (“Parameters”, pp. 523-550), Ángel J. Gallego assesses theproblems raised by parameterization and variation in the current minimalistframework. Gallego starts by reviewing the status of parameters in the GB era,and shows that the early Principles and Parameters view that variation isencoded in the syntax is at odds with the Strong Minimalist Thesis, and,consequently, should be abandoned. Gallego then concentrates on the results ofthe post-GB period, showing that two main strands of research may be delimited:the macro/micro-parameter distinction, and the developments in the study offunctional categories and syntactic representations. After discussing theresults of the “Cartographic Project” and arguing that the macroparametricperspective should be abandoned, Gallego successfully recasts the problemsraised by parameters in a minimalist context, directing the discussion into thearea of the interaction of the three Factors of Language Design (Chomsky 2005).Gallego shows that variation emerges through the interaction of Factor 1 andFactor 2, and arrives at a version of the Borer-Chomsky Conjecture (Baker,2008), placing parametric variation in the lexicon; more specifically in themorphophonological manifestations of closed classes. To sum up, Gallego managesto spell out the variation problem as an interface problem, which should thus beon the minimalist agenda.

Charles Yang and Tom Roeper’s contribution (“Minimalism and languageacquisition”, pp. 550-573) is a natural continuation of the discussion initiatedby Gallego in the previous chapter, as it also focuses on parameters in theminimalist program, but, this time, from the perspective of languageacquisition. The authors start by assessing the problem of language acquisitionin a minimalist setting, showing that one cannot provide a clear-cut answer tothe question “has minimalism altered the fundamental problem of languageacquisition?” (p. 552), as, on the one hand, minimalism has not supplemented thebasic architecture of P&P for language acquisition, but, on the other hand,minimalism has recast the problems of learning in a broader context of cognitionand evolution, which may give a more elaborate view of child languageacquisition. The authors capitalize on the importance of parameters, arguingthat the elimination of parameters would run the risk of jettisoning previousimportant research. Yang and Roeper then evaluate different models of learning,and focus on their limitations. Finally, the authors explore certain minimalistoperations and concepts in the terrain of acquisition: Merge and Label, Mergeover Move, the Strong Minimalist Thesis, and Recursion, and show that “rawprimary linguistic data is a support both for the abstractions of minimalism andfor the data comparison systems that utilize them” (p. 573).

In chapter 25 (“A minimalist program for phonology”, pp. 574-594), BridgetSamuels applies minimalist thinking to a domain which is of crucial importancein the current (phasal) minimalist context (phases are sent to Spell-Out, the interfaces, one of which is Phonological Form), but which isunfortunately insufficiently explored. Samuels not only states the problemsraised by phonology in a minimalist context, but also puts forth a very elegantsolution to these problems (i.e. the ‘phonological derivation by phase’approach). Samuels argues that an appropriate perspective on the phonologicalmodule should treat it as a system of abstract symbolic content, divorced fromphonetic content (i.e. what has been dubbed in recent work ‘substance-freephonology’). Furthermore, it is argued that phonology does not have to constructits own domains, but can take as its direct input the strings received from thesyntax. In a nutshell, the conclusions drawn by the author are that “nothingrequired by phonology is required by the faculty of language in the narrowsense” (p. 592) and that “phonology may be entirely explainable through ThirdFactor principles pertaining to general cognition and the SM system” (ibidem).In sum, the problems discussed in this contribution and the solutions advancedhave far-reaching consequences for understanding language and its evolution.

In chapter 26 (“Minimizing language evolution: the minimalist program and theevolutionary shaping of language”), Víctor M. Longa, Guillermo Lorenzo, and JuanUriagereka address the problem of language evolution from a minimalistperspective. The authors start by carefully delimiting the faculty of languagein a broad sense from the faculty of language in the narrow sense, and byhighlighting the essential properties of Merge (binarity, asymmetric labeling,structural preservation, unboundedness). After this brief linguistic background,the authors carefully put recent genetic discoveries (e.g. the FOXP2 gene) in alinguistic and evolutionary context.

Edward P. Stabler’s chapter (“Computational perspectives on minimalism”, pp.617-642) closes out the book by returning to computational concerns that werevery prominent in the early stages of generative grammar. In an explicit formalcontext, Stabler reassesses basic units and operations of generative grammar inits minimalist version. After establishing the characteristics of a minimalistgrammar under the specifications of Bare Phrase Structure theory, Stablercomments on the nature of Merge, and then addresses problems which are at thecore of current minimalist theorizing: phases, Relativized Minimality, multiplemovements and multiple Agree, the issue of linearization, and, finally, mentionsproblems pertaining to head movement, LF and PF movements, Adjunct Merge, andsideward movement. The chapter ends with three appendices, in which Stablerillustrates certain computational algorithms for problems raised in the main text.

The Handbook ends with a 57 page reference list and a very useful Index.


After having made certain evaluative comments along the way, and before makingthe overall evaluation of the book, I would like to point out that there is aproblem with the Romanian data in Nunes’ chapter (p. 154). While theargumentation which rules out his example (21b) [“*Ce ce precedă?” - what whatprecedes] is correct, the overall characterization of Romanian as a languagewith obligatory multiple wh-fronting is not correct. Romanian possesses twooptions with respect to wh-fronting: either (i) all the elements move to theC-domain, observing Superiority (subject wh-phrase > object wh-phrase) [“Cine ceprecedă?” - who what precedes] or (ii) the highest phrase (the subject) moves tothe C-domain, while the other wh-phrase(s) remain in situ. Thus, example (21b)[“Cine precedă ce?” - who precedes what], marked as ungrammatical in thischapter, is in fact well-formed in Romanian.

The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Minimalism is an excellent book. As a whole,it manages to capture the main conceptual and technical issues raised in thecurrent minimalist framework in an almost unitary fashion. Taken separately, thechapters of the handbook are, without exception, complete studies dedicated tocertain problems. Furthermore, most of the chapters assess the historicalfoundations of their respective topic, carefully extricating what can bemaintained from the former generative models from what must be revisited andrevised in accordance with the minimalist guidelines. At the same time, eachchapter elegantly balances the conceptual side of the problem addressed and itstechnical implementation(s). Each chapter is also characterized by a remarkableintellectual honesty: the limits and imperfections of the proposed accounts areclearly stated, and the controversial issues are not swept under the rug. TheHandbook is an inestimable source of new ideas to be explored in futureresearch, and sets the agenda for future linguistic (but not only linguistic)theorizing, and, at the same time, represents a testimony to the prestige heldby generative linguistics in the last half of the previous century. It thus goeswithout saying that it is a “must read” for anyone interested in generativelinguistics in particular, and in theoretical linguistics in general.

It should be further mentioned that the articles are impeccably written by knownlinguists and philosophers with an exceptional awareness of the linguisticbibliography, and very well edited.


Baker, M. C. 2008. The macroparameter in a microparametric world. In T.Biberauer (ed.), The Limits of Syntactic Variation. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.351-373.

Biberauer, T., Holmberg, A., Roberts, I. 2008. Structure and linearization indisharmonic word orders. Proceedings of the West Coast Conference on FormalLinguistics 26: 96-104.

Chomsky, N. 1955. The Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory. PhD dissertation,Harvard University.

Chomsky, N. 1965. Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Chomsky, N. 1986. Knowledge of Language: Its Nature, Origin, and Use. New York:Praeger.

Chomsky, N. 1993. A minimalist program for linguistic theory. In K. Hale and S.J. Keyser (eds.), The View from Building 20: Essays in linguistics in honor ofSylvain Bromberger. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 1-52.

Chomsky, N. 1995a. The Minimalist Program. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Chomsky, N. 1995b. Categories and transformations. In Chomsky 1995a: 219-394.

Chomsky, N. 2000. Minimalist inquiries: the framework. In R. Freidin, D.Michaels, J. Uriagereka (eds.), Step by Step: Minimalist Essays in Honor ofHoward Lasnik. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 89-155.

Chomsky, N. 2001. Derivation by phase. In M. Kenstowicz (ed.), Ken Hale: A lifein language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 1-52.

Chomsky, N. 2005. Three factors in language design. Linguistic Inquiry 36: 1-22.

Holmberg, A. 2000. Deriving OV order in Finnish. In P. Svenonius (ed.), TheDerivation of VO and OV. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 123-152.

Hornstein, N. 2001. Move! A Minimalist Theory of Construal. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Kayne, R. 1994. The Antisymmetry of Syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Reinhart, T. 1983. Anaphora and Semantic Interpretation. London: Croom Helm.

Reuland, E. J. 2005. Agreeing to bind. In H. Broekhuis, N. Corver, R. Huybregts,U. Kleinherz, J. Koster (eds.), Organizing Grammar: Linguistic Studies in Honorof Henk van Riemsdijk. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 505-513.

Richardson, J., Chametzky, R. 1985. A string based reformulation of C-command.NELS 15: 332-361.

Ticio, M.-E. 2003. On the Structure of DPs. PhD dissertation, University ofConnecticut, Storrs.


Alexandru Nicolae is a junior researcher at “Iorgu Iordan - Al. Rosetti” Institute of Linguistics, Bucharest, and a teaching assistant at the Department of Linguistics, University of Bucharest. He is currently working on a PhD dissertation on the syntactic licensing of ellipsis. His research interests include: minimalist syntax, diachronic syntax, and the syntax of Romanian. He has co-authored the latest academic grammar of Romanian (“Gramatica de Bază a Limbii Române”, edited by Gabriela Pană Dindelegan, 2010) and a grammar of Romanian for linguists (to appear, Oxford University Press), and has been working in the past three years with Alexandra Cornilescu on the syntax of the Romanian nominal phrase. He is currently spending a Visiting PhD Student stage at the University of Cambridge.

Page Updated: 30-May-2012