LINGUIST List 24.38

Tue Jan 08 2013

Review: History of Ling; Morphology; Phonology; Syntax: Scheer (2011)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <>

Date: 08-Jan-2013
From: Janet Leonard <>
Subject: A Guide to Morphosyntax-Phonology Interface Theories
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Tobias ScheerTITLE: A Guide to Morphosyntax-Phonology Interface TheoriesSUBTITLE: How Extra-Phonological Information is Treated in Phonology sinceTrubetzkoy’s GrenzsignalePUBLISHER: De Gruyter MoutonYEAR: 2011

Janet Leonard, Department of Linguistics, University of Victoria


“A Guide to Morphosyntax-Phonology Interface Theories” is a very large bookcomprising the description, synthesization and evaluation of a wide range oftheories associated with the morphosyntax-phonology interface. Given that thisbook runs over 1000 pages in length, it is most useful to provide the readerwith a synopsis of the book’s central goal along with a brief summary of thebook’s four main parts, rather than detailed summaries of each chapter. Thecentral goal of this book is to argue that the best type of theory of themorphosyntax-phonology interface is one that draws upon a convergence of avariety of theoretical assumptions concerning language modules and theircommunication. The author achieves this goal by combining a comprehensivereview of the historical development of the morphosyntax-phonology interfaceliterature, a discussion of the cognitive grounding of themorphosyntax-phonology interface and an evaluation of the differenttheoretical perspectives currently found in the literature today. Scheerexamines the kinds of influence earlier scholarship on themorphosyntax-phonology interface (1940s-1970s) has had on the subsequentunderstanding of more recent theoretical frameworks associated with theinterface (1980s to present-day). He evaluates, throughout, the compatibilityof current trends in both phonological theories of the interface andmorpho-syntactic theories of the interface, suggesting ways in which the twomight be converged. In addition to proposing key characteristics of a goodinterface model, this book also serves as a reference guide to specificmorphosyntax-phonology interface theories and explains to the reader thechronological development of those theories.

The book is organized into four parts: Introduction, Part I, Interlude andPart II. The Introduction sets the stage for the author’s own theoreticalclaims concerning the morphosyntax-phonology interface by explaining thedifference between interface theories positing that phonological informationis parsed iteratively beginning with the most embedded morpho-syntacticstructure to the least (“procedural”) and interface theories claiming thatphonology and morpho-syntax are separate modules which require some type oftranslation between them in order for the two modules to communicate(“representational”) (p. 1). The ultimate goal of this book is to argue thatboth procedural and representational aspects of interface thinking are neededin a good model of the interface. The author terms the combining of proceduralmodels and representational models “Interface Dualism” (p. 2). His perspectiveis that a good theory of the morphosyntax-phonology interface should not focuson one type of model at the expense of the other.

Part I of “A Guide to Morphosyntax-Phonology Interface Theories” is dividedinto 12 chapters designed to take us on a chronological journey of interfacethinking, illuminating for the reader how each theory has influenced theothers and pointing out general assumptions that are shared, taken for grantedor ignored by each theory. Chapter 1 adopts Kenstowicz and Kisseberth’s (1977)classification of linguistic processes at the interface as the context for adiscussion of the relationship between morpho-syntax and phonology. Chapter 2surveys the influence that the Functional Perspective (Trubetzkoy 1939) hashad on subsequent theories of the interface. Chapter 3 focuses on AmericanStructuralism and the proposal that morphological information was carried by“juncture” phonemes in the phonology (see for example Hockett 1942). Chapter 4outlines literature concerning the move away from the use of “juncture”phonemes toward the use of boundaries to represent morpho-syntacticinformation in phonology. Chapter 5 is concerned with the contributions that“The Sound Pattern of English” (SPE; Chomsky & Halle 1968) made to interfacetheory. Scheer posits that the proposal that the communication betweenmorpho-syntax and phonology is both procedural and representational has itsroots in SPE. Chapter 6 is anchored around the debate about how, and if,phonology can access morpho-syntax and if it does, whether or not that accessis direct or indirect. This chapter focuses primarily on Prosodic Phonology,arguing that “indirect referencing” turns out to be the correct way to viewprocesses at the interface, but proposing that new phonological vocabulary isneeded to correctly capture the interaction between morpho-syntax andphonology. The claim is that the “CV-unit” (p. 121) is the carrier ofmorpho-syntactic information.

Chapter 7 provides an evaluation of Lexical Phonology. Scheer takes the stancethat this theory falls short of its goal of offering a procedural rather thana representational theory of the interface, despite it being the first theoryof the interface to truly incorporate mechanisms compatible with a proceduralapproach. Chapter 8 discusses the work of Halle & Vergnaud (1987),acknowledging their role in initiating a new tradition in proceduralcommunication between morpho-syntax and phonology by combining theoreticaltools and ideas from SPE with the mechanism of “selective spell out” (p. 187).Chapter 9 focuses on Kaye’s (1995) interpretation and application of previousproposals having to do with no look-back and spell out devices. This chapterbridges previous treatments of these devices by frameworks such as LexicalPhonology with how they are applied in more recent frameworks, for exampleMinimalism. Scheer claims that Kaye is the first to provide a solelyprocedural means of communication between the phonology and the morpho-syntax.He explains that Kaye’s approach is a functionalist approach which assumesthat the phonology demarcates morpho-syntactic information as a way to aidmorpheme identification.

Chapter 10 guides the reader through the historical development of ProsodicPhonology. Scheer’s perspective is that it is solely a representationalinterface theory. In his opinion, although rarely explicitly stated in theliterature, Prosodic Phonology departs from previous interface theories bymoving away from the theoretical notion of the boundary toward the theoreticalnotion of the domain as the unit of communication at the interface. Accordingto Scheer, “Indirect Reference” (p. 345) is Prosodic Phonology’s mostimportant contribution to interface theory. Chapter 11 examines how OptimalityTheory (OT) formalizes the communication at the interface. Scheer argues thatOT subscribes to a representational means of communication at the interfaceand that rather than proposing its own representational mechanisms it borrowsthem from Prosodic Phonology. Further, OT, Scheer claims, is not a theorywhich offers Interface Dualism, which he says is largely due to its rejectionof the generative principles of cyclicity resulting in the total absence of aprocedural (modular) means of communication between morpho-syntax andphonology. Distributed Morphology (DM) is the focus of Chapter 12. In thischapter Scheer compares the theory to Kaye (1995) and current minimalistthinking. He concludes that DM contributes nothing to either a procedural orrepresentational approach to communication at the interface. Instead,phonology is assumed to have direct access to the morphology.

The goal of the “Interlude” section is to contextualize for the reader issuesassociated with Modularity. This section of the book is divided into 6chapters. In Chapter 1 Scheer claims that Modularity is rarely referenced inthe interface literature, even though its concepts underlie many assumptionsabout how the modules phonology, morphology and syntax communicate. Chapter 2provides an overview of the basic assumptions regarding the concepts ofModularity and Connectionism made in Cognitive Science as it relates to theBrain and Mind. Chapter 3 summarizes the historical literature, back-groundingproposals about how the Brain and Mind are organized. Chapter 4 discusses howparticular areas of the Brain (modules) work. Chapter 5 provides an overviewof how assumptions and principles associated with a cognitive understanding ofModularity have been adopted in linguistic theories. This chapter presents arange of views of what kind of linguistic components are included within amodule. Previous literature concerning the inclusion of phonetics, phonology,morphology, syntax and/or semantics within the same module, or within separatemodules is discussed and evaluated. Chapter 6 is concerned specifically withhow language modules communicate. In this chapter Scheer is concerned withwhether or not it is some type of structure or vocabulary that is translatedbetween modules, and if information from one module to another is translatedusing some type of computational or matching device.

The main purpose of Part II is to illuminate and organize for the readertheoretical ideas and assumptions concerning the morphosyntax-phonologyinterface, which Scheer claims are not always explicitly laid out in thetheoretical literature, and to discuss the impact of those ideas andassumptions on current linguistic thinking about the morphosyntax-phonologyinterface. This part of the book is organized into 6 chapters. Chapter 1 is atwo-page introduction where Scheer explains that Part II is also designed toserve as a navigational tool for Part I. Various themes are presented in thispart of the book which are directed back to relevant discussions oftheoretical frameworks found in Part I. Chapter 2 points out empiricalgeneralizations which Scheer claims are not frequently discussed in theinterface literature, e.g. the observations that morpho-syntactic informationhas no impact on phonological computation, that morphemes have no internalphonological boundaries, and that morpho-syntactic information has no phoneticcorrelate. Chapter 3 focuses on two of the empirical issues brought up inChapter 2 that, Scheer asserts, are clearly resolved. These issues includeclaims that there are no boundaries inside morphemes and that there are nophonetic correlates for morpho-syntactic distinctions. Chapters 4 and 5 arecentered on issues relevant to “Direct Interface” and “Indirect Interface”.These issues include the kinds of linguistic modules that are relevant to theinterface and how those linguistic modules communicate and how they should berepresented. In particular, Scheer puts forth arguments associated with theordering of rules, how morpho-syntactic information is mapped to the phonologyand what kinds of basic units should be included in a theory of themorphosyntax-phonology interface. Chapter 6 examines questions associated withprocedural processes at the interface. In particular, it focuses ontheoretical mechanisms such as spell-out, phases, and no look-back devices.Scheer points to the differences and to the relationships between how LexicalPhonology, Halle & Vergnaud (1987) and Kaye (1995) interpret and apply thesekinds of mechanisms, and explains their contribution to current syntactictheory.


“A Guide to Morphosyntax-Phonology Interface Theories” contributes to themorphosyntax-phonology debate in two major ways. First, it contributes byoffering the reader a unique model of the interface. Scheer uses theevaluation of what he sees as the strengths and weaknesses of the previoustheories that he surveys in Part I as evidence to support arguments for whatkinds of assumptions and theoretical tools a good model of the interfaceshould include. He discusses previous theoretical questions and introduces newones. His central argument is that a good model of the morphosyntax-phonologyinterface should combine the theoretical tools of both procedural andrepresentational theories of the interface and should not violate basicproperties of modularity. Scheer suggests that a model which takes thesepoints into consideration is better equipped to answer both new and oldtheoretical questions about the interface than any of the solely proceduraland representational interface models that have come before it.

Second, this book contributes by providing the general linguistic reader witha comprehensive overview of existing literature concerning themorphosyntax-phonology interface. It is an excellent guide for understandingthe various contexts within which questions regarding themorphosyntax-phonology interface are grounded. Scheer clearly demonstrates tothe reader the various perspectives there are on this subject, their origin,their development, and the relationship between those various perspectives.

In addition, the way in which the book connects the historical overview ofinterface theories with questions concerning what, in Scheer’s opinion, acorrect model of the interface should look like is organized in a useful andintuitive way. The reader is frequently directed throughout the book to otherareas in the book which are relevant to the current section they are reading.The section numbers are embedded in the text and their locations are given inbold in the margins of the page. There are a number of typos throughout thebook; though these inconsistencies may distract the reader, they are notserious enough to cause any confusion about the intention of the author’scontent.

This book is an interesting and relevant volume for anyone interested infamiliarizing (or reorienting) themselves with the theoretical literatureassociated with interface thinking and with the cognitive grounding of theidea of linguistic modules. In addition, this book is relevant for anyonewishing to learn more about contemporary thinking on these subjects. Scheer isexplicit about his own perspective of what theoretical devices a successfulinterface model should include (Interface Dualism, Modularity, CV-units) andis clear about which theoretical framework he favours (Government Phonology).Despite this he references a vast range of sources from each of thetheoretical frameworks included in the book, making it possible for the readerto follow up the literature he evaluates. Whether or not the reader agreeswith Scheer’s point of view with respect to the historical development of thefield and the types of assumptions and theoretical tools a good model of theinterface should adopt, this book is a must read for any scholar wishing tolearn more about or enter into the theoretical debate of how morpho-syntacticand phonological information are processed.


Chomsky, Noam and Morris Halle. 1968. The Sound Pattern of English.Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Halle, Morris and Jean-Roger Vergnaud. 1987. An Essay on Stress. Cambridge,Mass: MIT Press.

Hockett, Charles. 1942. A System of Descriptive Phonology. Language 18: 3-21.

Kaye, Jonathan. 1995. Derivations and Interfaces. In Frontiers of Phonology,Jacques Durand and Francis Katamba (eds.), 289-332. London & New York:Longman.

Kenstowicz, Michael and Charles Kisseberth. 1977. Topics in PhonologicalTheory. New York: Academic Press.

Trubetzkoy, Nikolai Sergeyevich. 1939. Grundzige der Phonologie. 6th edition1977, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.


Janet Leonard is a PhD Candidate at the University of Victoria. Her researchinterest is the relationship between phonology and morphology in SENĆOŦEN(Saanich), a Northern Straits variety of an endangered Salish language spokenon Vancouver Island, B.C. Canada. Her dissertation focus is on understandingthe morphological and phonological predictors of schwa placement in SENĆOŦEN.

Page Updated: 08-Jan-2013