LINGUIST List 23.4600

Sat Nov 03 2012

Review: Linguistic Theories; Syntax: Müller (2011)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <>

Date: 03-Nov-2012
From: Atakan Ince <>
Subject: Constraints on Displacement: A phase-based approach
E-mail this message to a friend

Discuss this message

Announced at
AUTHOR: Müller, GereonTITLE: Constraints on DisplacementSUBTITLE: A phase-based approachSERIES TITLE: Language Faculty and Beyond: Internal and External Variation inLinguisticsPUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing CompanyYEAR: 2011

Atakan İnce, Columbia, MD, USA


Gereon Müller’s “Constraints on Displacement” reduces locality constraints onmovement of the (Generalized) Minimal Link Condition ((G)MLC) and the Conditionon Extraction Domain (CED) to the more basic principles of the PhaseImpenetrability Condition (PIC) and Edge Feature Condition (EFC) under astrictly derivational system where every phrase counts as a phase. Such areduction provides us with a more minimalistic grammar, a new analysis ofsyntactic islands, accounting for data that the above-mentioned constraintscould not account for, as well as showing the power and importance of the basicprinciples given above.

The book contains an introduction and seven chapters. The seven chapters are:Locality Constraints, (G)MLC and CED in Minimalist Syntax, On Deriving (G)MLCEffects from the PIC, On Deriving CED Effects from the PIC, Operator IslandEffects, Movement from Verb-Second Clauses, Island Repair by Ellipsis.

The Introduction provides an overview of the book and introduces the PIC fromChomsky (2000, 2001) and his version of EFC:

1. Phase Impenetrability Condition (PIC): The domain of a head X of a phase XPis not accessible to operations outside XP; only X and its edge are accessibleto such operations.

2. Edge Feature Condition: The head X of phase XP may be assigned an edgefeature before the phase XP is otherwise complete, but only if there is no otherway to produce a balanced phase.

Here, “phase balance” refers to the existence of a matching feature either inthe workspace or at the left edge of a phase for every structure-building feature.

Chapter 1, “Locality Constraints,” gives an overview of all the localityconstraints on movement with their revised versions and how they evolvedthroughout the history of generative syntax. These constraints are categorizedaccording to whether they are local vs. non-local, derivational vs.representational, etc. Ultimately, these constraints are categorized into twogroups depending on whether they restrict movement to rigid vs. relativizedlocal domains.

Müller also introduces three meta-constraints for ‘good’ constraints:

3. Constraints should be as simple and general as possible (p. 28)

4. Constraints should not be complex (p. 30)

5. Constraints are of type (i) or (ii):(i) principles of efficient computation(ii) interface conditions

According to Müller, movement constraints other than (G)MLC and CED are eitherproblematic or can be reduced to (G)MLC and CED.

Chapter 2, “(G)MLC and CED in Minimalist Syntax,” presents a more detailedoverview of both (G)MLC and CED and provides conceptual and empirical argumentsagainst these conditions. The conclusion is that neither of these constraints iscompatible with a strictly derivational, phase-based minimalist grammar. It alsoreviews the literature on these conditions (both the Minimalist Program andother frameworks such as GPSG and HPSG) and points out their problematicaspects. The definitions of these conditions are given below:

6. The (Generalized) Minimal Link Condition (p. 53)In a structure α[•F•] . . . [ . . . β[F] . . . γ[F] . . . ] . . ., movement to[•F•] can only affect the category bearing the [F] feature that is closer to [•F•]

[NB: “Structure-building features for external Merge and movement areaccompanied by bullets,” p. 4.]

7. Condition on Extraction Domain (CED): (p. 59)a. Movement must not cross a barrier.b. An XP is a barrier iff it is not a complement.

Chapter 3, “On Deriving (G)MLC Effects from the PIC,” argues that (G)MLC effectsfollows from the PIC. Thus, it can be dispensed with. This is based on threeassumptions in the chapter. The first assumption is that features on lexicalitems drive syntactic operations. The second is that all phrases are phases;and, the last one is that edge feature insertion is based on ‘phase balance’: “Aphase is balanced iff, for every movement-inducing feature [•F•] in thenumeration, there is a distinct potentially available feature [F]” (p. 128).

In a sense, phase balance enables successive-cyclic movement via edge featureinsertion. These assumptions account for superiority effects in (8b) as follows:

8.a. (I wonder) who(1) bought what(2).b. *(I wonder) what(2) bought who(1).(p. 132)

To be able to move to Spec, CP, what(2) first needs to move to Spec, VP, whichrequires edge feature insertion. However, since VP is balanced because there isanother wh-phrase (i.e. who(1)) in the workspace, no edge feature can beinserted, which disables movement of what(2).

The rest of the chapter suggests an account for (lack of) Superiority effects incertain constructions and languages. Such a formulation of (G)MLC, Müllernotices, also accounts for wh-intervention effects where there is noc-command/dominance relation between the relevant wh-phrases, that the standard(G)MLC could not account for.

Chapter 4, “On Deriving CED Effects from the PIC,” argues that CED effects alsofollow from the PIC, and that therefore CED can also be dispensed with. Forthis, two additional assumptions are introduced to the three assumptions made inChapter 3: first, features are ordered on lexical items. The second assumptionis that edge features are inserted as long as the phase head is active. A phaseis active as long as it has features to discharge. Under these assumptions, α isa barrier if it is merged in a phase as the last operation in that phase.Therefore, CED effects are not a matter of position but rather timing ofinsertion. ‘Structure-building’ features (that trigger internal and externalmerge) and ‘probe’ features (that trigger Agree operations) occur in differentstacks. Features on lexical heads also obey pushdown automata: whichever featureis introduced last in the stack is checked first. Here, Müller adds two moreconditions for edge feature insertion to EFC in (2): an edge feature can beinserted to a phase head if (a) the relevant phase head has not discharged allits structure-building or probe features yet, and (b) the relevant edge featureends up on top of the phase head’s list of structure building features.

In the following example,

9. *[DP2 Who(m) ] has [DP1 a comment about t2 ] annoyed you?

Insertion of an edge feature to the relevant phase is required for 'who(m)' tobe extracted out of DP1. However, no further edge feature can be insertedbecause after insertion of DP2 the phase is inactive/inert lacking anystructure-building or probe feature to be checked. Therefore, CED effects followfrom the PIC.

The rest of the chapter focuses on freezing effects and melting effects. UnderMüller’s formulization of CED effects, a phrase YP in Spec, XP is supposed tocease being a barrier if another phrase moves to an outer specifier of the phaseXP. In other words, YP melts. Müller gives data from German and Czech thatconfirms melting effects. The chapter ends with an appendix where Müllercontends that movement-related morphology (in Irish, for instance) makessuccessive-cyclic movement possible.

Chapter 5, “Operator Island Effects,” focuses on wh-island and topic islandeffects, and starts with the observation that (G)MLC (as developed in Chapter 3)cannot account for these islands. The reason is that a [+topic]/wh-phrase isexpected to be able to move through the edge of a Topic/interrogativeComplementizer Phrase to satisfy phase balance if (a) there is anotherTopic/complementizer head in the search space, or if (b) the lowerTopic/interrogative Complementizer Phrase through which a [+topic]/wh-phraseneeds to move through checks its relevant topic/wh-features with another[+topic]/wh-phrase.

For this reason, Müller introduces (a) the Intermediate Step Corollary and (b)feature ‘maraudage’ (Georgi et al. 2009). The Intermediate Step Corollaryrequires that “[i]ntermediate movement steps to specifiers of X . . . must takeplace before a final specifier is merged in XP” (p. 176). In maraudage, thephrase to be moved long-distance marauds the A-bar features of the lowercomplementizer head before any phrase is attracted by the same complementizerhead. Since all the relevant A-bar features of the complementizer are dischargedby the lower A-bar element, the higher A-bar element cannot move to the same CPto discharge any feature.

Chapter 6, “Movement from Verb-Second Clauses,” offers an account for whyverb-second complement clauses in German only allow movement into a higherverb-second clause but not into a higher verb-final clause, whereas verb-finalcomplement clauses headed by ‘dass’ (‘that’) allow movement into higher clausesof both types. Müller argues for a PIC-based account for this dichotomy.

Chapter 7, “Island Repair by Ellipsis,” develops a model of ellipsis (actually,sluicing) phase-by-phase: ellipsis-by-phase. In this chapter, Müller introducesa third type of feature: ellipsis features. They occur on phase heads andtrigger ellipsis of the complement of a phase head. In sluicing cases, not onlythe relevant complementizer head hosting the wh-phrase but also all the lowerphase heads bear the ellipsis feature. Discharge of the ellipsis feature is thelast operation on a phase head, and an edge feature can be inserted on thisphase head, enabling a wh-phrase to move without violating the PIC, which alsoaccounts for the island-insensitive nature of sluicing.


Müller’s book is very successful in reducing certain locality effects onmovement to the PIC. This makes the Minimalist Program more minimalistic, doingaway with constraints such as (G)MLC and CED.

The first chapter gives a very good review of different locality constraints onmovement and how they evolved throughout the history of generative syntax.Chapter 2 gives a very detailed review of (G)MLC and CED and of various workson deriving the (G)MLC and CED effects.

Therefore, the book is must read for linguists working on (locality of)movement, islands, and phases. The first two chapters can also be used inintroductory courses on syntax and seminars on (locality of) movement, islands,and phases at the graduate level.

Müller’s work is a phase-based version of Takahashi (1994) in that it assumesthat a phrase must move through every other phrase (which is also a phase) onthe way to its ultimate landing site. The rationale for that in this book is thePIC. It also suggests an analysis for previously puzzling data from German andintroduces novel data.

However, the last chapter, “Island Repair by Ellipsis,” has some problematicaspects. The first problem is related to the spreading of the ellipsis feature.To avoid any violation of Inclusiveness, Müller contends that the ellipsisfeature is “optionally inserted on any lexical item in the numeration” (p. 312).He also contends that a head with the ellipsis feature other than theComplementizer head can merge with a phrase only if the head of the secondphrase also bears the ellipsis feature. Any lexical head above the [+wh]complementizer with the ellipsis feature does not bear the ellipsis feature.

One problem is that if the ellipsis feature can be inserted in a lexical head insluicing, it can be inserted in the same lexical head any time. Then, ellipsisof any phrase across the clausal spine is predicted: VP, vP, AspP, DP, NP. Forinstance, a Verb head might be expected to bear the ellipsis feature in thefollowing example:

10.a. Did you see the boy?b. No, I called *(the boy).

However, (10b) is ungrammatical. Therefore, Müller’s theory needs to be able toblock such elliptical structures.

In a similar way, sluicing is common in many languages (see, for example,Merchant & Simpson (2012)); however, VP ellipsis is not observed in everylanguage that allows sluicing. Under Müller’s theory (as well as İnce (2012)),VP ellipsis is expected to occur in every language in which sluicing occursbecause the ellipsis feature is expected to be inserted in v in non-sluicingcases as well as in sluicing cases. In sum, Müller’s theory of ellipsisovergenerates.

Another problem is related to island-sensitivity of VP ellipsis:

11. *They want to hire someone who speaks a Balkan language, but I don’t knowwhich (Balkan language) they do [VP want to hire someone who speaks t].(Fox & Lasnik, 2003: 147 (ex. 18))[Editor’s note: “[VP want to hire someone who speaks t]” should containstrikethrough, but it may not appear in this format]

To explain the ungrammaticality of VP ellipsis cases as in (11) where the islandis inside the elision site, Müller speculates that there are two types ofellipsis feature. One is inserted in sluicing cases, and the other is insertedin VP ellipsis cases: “Assuming that there are two types of deletion features,one might simply stipulate that one type is in effect too weak to keep the headactive at the decisive stage of the derivation, thereby making a circumventionof island effects impossible in the case of VP ellipsis even if the islanditself also undergoes deletion” (p. 310).

This is only a rewording of the puzzle. Müller refers to insertion of an edgefeature in a phase head for a DP to escape the elision site (to avoid any PICviolation) with “keep[ing] the head active,” whether there is an island in theelision site or not. If the ellipsis feature is too weak to keep the headactive, then no edge feature insertion occurs, and no element can escape theelision site whether it is extracted out of an island within the elision site ornot. In sum, such a stipulation is too restrictive.

In conclusion, although Müller’s book is in general successful, it requires somerefinement in the last chapter.


Fox, Danny & Howard Lasnik. 2003. Successive cyclic movement and island repair:the difference between sluicing and VP ellipsis. Linguistic Inquiry 34:143-154.

Georgi, Doreen, Fabian Heck & Gereon Müller. 2009. Maraudage. Manuscript,Universität Leipzig.

İnce, Atakan. 2012. ‘Sluicing in Turkish,’ in Merchant, J. & A. Simpson (eds.),Sluicing: Cross-Linguistic Perspectives, 248-269. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Merchant, Jason & Andrew Simpson (eds.). 2012. Sluicing: Cross-LinguisticPerspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Takahashi, Daiko. 1994. Minimality of Movement. Ph.D. thesis, University ofConnecticut.


Atakan İnce is a freelance linguist and translator. He received his PhD in linguistics from the University of Maryland. His research interests are in ellipsis and agreement in Turkish within a generative framework.

Page Updated: 03-Nov-2012