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Review of  Minimalist Syntax

Reviewer: Justin Michael Fitzpatrick
Book Title: Minimalist Syntax
Book Author: Randall Hendrick
Publisher: Wiley
Linguistic Field(s): Syntax
Issue Number: 15.1866

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Date: Fri, 18 Jun 2004 13:58:37 -0400
From: Justin Fitzpatrick
Subject: Minimalist Syntax

EDITOR: Hendrick, Randall
TITLE: Minimalist Syntax
PUBLISHER: Blackwell Publishing
YEAR: 2003

Justin M. Fitzpatrick, MIT

This book consists of five essays on different aspects of current
research in minimalist syntax. All of the essays have a mixed
review/new research character. That is, each attempts to couch cutting-
edge research within a larger perspective, as well as serve as an
introduction to such research for those who are not already familiar
with it. Furthermore, most of the chapters highlight new and innovative
analyses of old problems, dealt with at length in Government-Binding
(GB) theory, using the tools and ideas made available in minimalism.

Chapter 1, Hornstein's ''On control'', discusses differences between
control and raising, and the prospects that control can be treated as
movement. Fox's ''On logical form'' (chapter 2) discusses fundamental
issues in the treatment of quantificational NPs and presents Fox's own
material on antecedent-contained deletion, extraposition, and the copy
theory of movement. In chapter 3 Lasnik and Hendrick turn to binding
theory and attempt to develop a theory of binding that makes no crucial
reference to S-structure. Thrainsson's chapter 4 deals with cross-
linguistic (including historical) differences with respect to verb
movement. Thrainsson develops a theory that languages may differ in
whether they have a split IP (T and Agr) or an atomic INFL. This
difference is leveraged to explain observed differences across the
Germanic languages. Finally, Chametsky turns to perhaps the most
central of syntactic tools: phrase structure (PS). He provides detailed
discussion and criticism of minimalist thought on PS, including close
commentary on Chomsky (1995, 2000, 2001). Chametsky concludes that
basic notions of PS from the early days of generative grammar through
GB are incompatible with minimalism.

Hendrick's introductory remarks provide brief and excellent historical
and theoretic context for the rest of the book. Hendrick focuses on the
minimalist application of a critical ''corrosive'' to our theories in the
search for ''an elegant theory with the minimum of theoretical
primitives and statements consistent with familiar goals of description
and explanation.'' (pp. 2-3) and puts forth the idea that the shift from
GB to minimalism is in part a shift from focus on representations to
focus on rules (derivations), in ''an attempt to rethink many syntactic
phenomena in the hopes of extracting greater insight by questioning the
explanatory role of the representations.'' (p. 2)

This shift can be found clearly in Hornstein's analysis of control as
movement (Chapter 1), where independently motivated NP-movement is
recruited to do the job of representationally-defined construal in the
control module of GB. Hornstein argues that pure base-generation in
theta-position (as in GB, and more generally since Chomsky's ''Aspects'')
should be abandoned. In essence, this move erases the last vestiges of
D-structure from the theory and allows for movement into theta
positions. Hornstein provides a short introduction to control
phenomena, focusing on differences between control, raising, and
exceptional case marking (ECM), as well as obligatory (OC) vs. non-
obligatory control (NOC). He then investigates the results of treating
OC as NP-movement, a theoretical option afforded him by the rejection
of pure D-structure theta-role assignment, and NOC as a null pronoun
(little pro). While this is an attractive proposal from the point of
view of theoretical parsimony, Hornstein has his work cut out for him,
as he himself acknowledges. While many of the shared characteristics of
NP-movement and control are quickly explained, the differences present
more of a challenge. Much of the second half of the chapter is devoted
to providing (often new) answers to problems brought up by critics
since Hornstein 1999, 2000, as well as extensions to backward control
and so-called PRO-gate phenomena. Not all of the challenges are
successfully met, however, and the reader need only glance at the rich
literature concerning this debate (e.g. Culicover & Jackendoff 2001;
Hornstein 1999, 2000; Landau 2000, 2003; Martin 1996, Grohmann 2003,
inter alia) to see that the question is far from settled. However, the
chapter serves as a good in depth introduction for those looking to
dive into the polemic.

In chapter 2 Danny Fox discusses the semantics of quantificational noun
phrases (QNPs) within truth-functional semantics of a (locally)
compositional nature. Fox's main goal is to pursue a treatment of QNPs
using syntactic movement and in the process incorporate complex data
regarding binding and reconstruction within current conceptions of the
copy theory of movement. Fox quickly establishes two key questions
given the assumption that QNPs denote second-order properties that take
one-place predicates as arguments (sister to the QNP): (i) How does a
QNP find its argument when its sister is not a one-place predicate?
(ii) How are arguments determined in constructions that involve
multiple quantificational elements so as to account for scopal
ambiguities? (p. 85). He then shows how overt QNP movement effects
scope in the desired way and extends this result to covert quantifier
raising (QR). This chapter provides an excellent introduction to the
syntax/semantics of QNPs, and Fox is careful to note (and cite!)
alternate approaches to the problems at hand. The second half of the
article presents newer work (some along the lines of Fox & Nissenbaum
1999) that attempts to reconcile the copy theory of movement with
antecedent-contained deletion (ACD) and binding theory effects by
treating ACD through rightward extraposition.

Lasnik and Hendrick's chapter on binding theory nicely complements the
first two chapters. They begin with a discussion of binding in control,
raising, and ECM constructions, which are also discussed in chapter 1,
and they go on to discuss reconstruction effects and the copy theory of
movement along the lines introduced by Fox in chapter 2. They then
extend the discussion to idiom interpretation and negative polarity
item (NPI) licensing, among other things. Lasnik and Hendrick are
largely concerned with establishing a version of binding theory that
can account for the rich data related to binding without reference to
S-structure or government, two constructs that are generally rejected
in current minimalist work. They propose instead a ''clause-mate''
restriction (Postal 1974) on local anaphors at LF and make crucial use
of Fox's ''determiner replacement'' and ''variable insertion'' operations
on copies. Under this approach different LF mechanisms can access
different occurrences of a syntactic object (different ''members of a
chain'') at LF. The chapter moves rather quickly and introduces a large
amount of data. Therefore, it is best appreciated if the reader is
already steeped in the binding literature.

Focusing on Germanic languages, Thrainsson addresses cross-linguistic
variation in verb raising in chapter 4. Some work in minimalist syntax
has been marred by illusory ''explanations'' in terms of feature
strength. The argument might go, for example, ''language A has verb
raising because T has `strong features' and language B does not have
verb raising because T's features are `weak'.'' Thrainsson rightly notes
that this just restates the problem. Building on cross-linguistic
(including historical) work, Thrainsson develops a theory to explain
variation in verb raising through the inventory of inflectional heads
in a given language. Specifically, languages with distinct T(ense) and
Agr(eement) heads have verb raising while those with a single INFL head
do not. That is, some languages have a ''split IP'' (Pollock 1989) and
some do not. Thrainsson approaches the problem, as one should, from the
point of view of the learner: how does a child learn what type of
language she is learning? Thrainsson proposes that verb-adverb order
and/or distinct tense and agreement morphemes will trigger a split-INFL
hypothesis, while atomic INFL is the default. This correctly predicts
that ''rich inflection'' and verb raising are not related

Thrainsson stresses this often-missed fact: If a language has rich
inflection, it has verb raising, but it is not true that if a language
does not have rich inflection, it does not have verb raising. Instead,
there are examples of languages (e.g., dialects of Norwegian, Swedish,
and Finnish, as well as Faroese) that have verb raising (at least in
some clauses) without ''rich'' inflection. Thrainsson also presents
synchronic work with modern Faroese speakers and suggests a historical
sequence through which languages lose inflection and verb raising, but
the former precedes the latter. Faroese appears to be a case in which
both options are still available (though with difference across clause
types): sometimes clauses have split INFL, sometimes they don't. While
Thrainsson's specific proposal regarding why verb movement is necessary
in split INFL but not in atomic INFL may have problems (for example, if
AgrO is allowed in ''atomic'' INFL domains, or if negation heads its own
projection), this proposal is a good example of responsible theoretical
work on cross- linguistic (and intra-linguistic) variation and change.

Chametsky's chapter on phrase structure (PS) is perhaps the most
polemical in the volume. Chametsky's main goal is to show that the
following syllogism holds:
(i) If there are lexical projections, then there are functional
(ii) There are no functional projections.
(iii) Therefore, there are no lexical projections.

That is, minimalist syntax cannot be phrase structural. Since it is
usually assumed without argument that phrase structure is basic and
given, this argument has to be made very carefully. Chametsky does this
by closely scrutinizing definitions and discussion in Chomsky (1995,
2000, 2001), Epstein et al. (1998), and Speas (1990), among others. In
the process, he provides biting (and as far as I can tell correct)
criticism of, e.g., Chomsky's (2001) treatment of adjunction and c-
command. As close exegesis and criticism of work on the formal
foundations of minimalist syntax, the chapter is a must-read. However,
as a difficult argument (both for the writer and the reader), the
reader would have been better served with a less circuitous argument
and more discussion of non-phrase structural alternatives within
minimalism. Chametsky does provide some discussion of alternatives,
including that of Epstein et al. (1998) and Collins & Ura (2001), but,
as Chametsky predicts, many will remain unconvinced. Most, however,
should be shaken a bit from their dogmatic slumber.

This book attempts to provide about a 50/50 split between review of
linguistic analysis within a given chapter's field and treatment of new
leading ideas in the minimalist framework. In this goal it is largely
successful, though readers must be warned that half of a short article
cannot hope to do justice to many decades' worth of research in
generative syntax. Familiarity is assumed throughout with basic
syntactic concepts and GB theory. Therefore, the book would not be
suitable as an introductory text to minimalism unless students had a
good background in GB (and some minimalism!). Still, it would be a
useful tool in an advanced seminar on minimalism or as a stepping stone
to the rich primary literature that is cited throughout.

Chomsky, Noam. 1995. The minimalist program. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Chomsky, Noam. 2000. Minimalist inquiries: The framework. In Step by
step, ed. by Roger Martin, David Michaels, and Juan Uriagereka, 89-156.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Chomsky, Noam. 2001. Derivation by phase. In Ken Hale: A life in
language, ed. by Michael Kenstowicz, 1-52.

Collins, C. and H. Ura. 2001. Eliminating phrase structure. Ms.,
Cornell & Kwansei Gakuin University.

Culicover, Peter and Ray Jackendoff. 2001. Control is not movement.
Linguistic Inquiry 32:493-511.

Epstein, Samuel David, Erich Groat, Ruriko Kawashima, and Hisatsugu
Kitahara. 1998. A derivational approach to syntactic relations. New
York: Oxford University Press.

Fox, Danny and Jon Nissenbaum. 1999. Extraposition and scope: A case
for overt QR. In the Proceedings of WCCFL 18.

Grohmann, Kleanthes. 2003. Prolific domains: On the anti-locality of
movement dependencies. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Hornstein, Norbert. 1999. Movement and Control. Linguistic Inquiry

Hornstein, Norbert. 2000. Move! A minimalist theory of construal.
Oxford: Blackwell.

Landau, Idan. 2000. Elements of control: Structure and meaning in
infinitival constructions. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Landau, Idan. 2003. Movement out of control. Linguistic Inquiry 34:

Martin, Roger. 1996. A minimalist theory of PRO and control. Ph.D.
dissertation, University of Connecticut, Storrs.

Pollock, Jean-Yves. 1989. Verb movement, universal grammar, and the
structure of IP. Linguistic Inquiry 20:365-424.

Postal, Paul. 1974. On raising: One rule of English grammar and its
theoretical implications. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Speas, M. 1990. Phrase structure in natural language. Dordrecht:
Reviewer's research interests: Locality and multi-dominance in syntax,
computational learning theories of reduplication and verbal inflection,
phonological cyclicity, the morpho-syntax of affixation, tense and
aspect at the syntax-semantic interface.

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