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Review of  Formal Approaches to Celtic Linguistics

Reviewer: Joseph W Windsor
Book Title: Formal Approaches to Celtic Linguistics
Book Author: Andrew Carnie
Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Breton
Gaelic, Scottish
Irish, Old
Issue Number: 22.4814

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EDITOR: Carnie, Andrew
TITLE: Formal Approaches to Celtic Linguistics
YEAR: 2011
PUBLISHER: Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Joseph W. Windsor, Dept. of Linguistics, University of Calgary

''Formal Approaches to Celtic Linguistics'' is foremost an important contribution
to linguistic knowledge in that it highlights constructions often not widely
available in other languages. Celtic facts treated here have consequences for
theoretical linguistics across subfields and on to interfaces and information
structure. Some of the articles defend specific theoretical traditions, and
others challenge notions of the phonetics/phonology divide between categorical
and gradient.

The book grew from the 2009 Formal Approaches to Celtic Linguistics Conference
(FACL) in Arizona. As such, it reads much like a proceedings, except that it has
been highly edited and revised. The contributions have thus benefited from peer
feedback by a group of specialists working on the same language family. The goal
of this book is to serve as both a reference work in Celtic linguistics and a
launching pad for future investigation.

I now proceed with an article-by-article summary of the book's contributions.

Part 1: Papers in Syntax, Morphosyntax and Semantics.

The first contribution to the book is David Adger's ''Clefted situations: A note
on expletives in Scottish Gaelic clefts.'' This paper is one of the two
contributions not originally presented at the FACL conference. This article
examines the difference in syntactically clefted elements, [] ''it''
and [] ''in,'' based on the semantics of predication. The cornerstone
of the argument is that: ''the syntax of clefts in Gaelic is built on the syntax
of predication, and predication is mediated by functional structure that
introduces the relevant semantic relation'' (p. 14). By linking semantic
predication to syntactic principles, Adger is able to make a crucial
differentiation between the two clefts which, if left analyzed in parallel,
would be otherwise identical and would prevent a predictive theory to capture
their distribution.

''The interaction of linearization and prosody: Evidence from pronoun postposing
in Irish,'' written by Emily Elfner is the second contribution. This article
offers an Optimality Theoretic (OT, Prince & Smolensky 2004) explanation of the
multiple grammatical locations for a weak object pronoun to appear in a
construction. The article looks at both syntactic and prosodic constraints
offering a predictive explanation for the possibility of <é> [] ''it''
appearing in any number of positions in a sentence such as:

1) Léigh Liam (é) ar an traein (é) aréir (é)
Read Liam (it) on the train (it) last night (it)
'Liam read it on the train last night' (adapted from Elfner's (2) p. 18)

In ''The syntax and development of the Old Irish autonomous verb,'' Jenny Graver
gives an LFG account of what she argues are three syntactically distinct forms
of the Old Irish autonomous verb: the canonical passive, the impersonal passive,
and the active subject impersonal construction. The author gives evidence that
the differences between the three structures are reliant on person and number
features as well as argument structure. She also motivates syntactic change
through the Middle Irish period appealing to syntactic markedness.

A second paper on Old Irish is ''Old Irish pronouns: Agreement affixes vs. clitic
arguments'' by Aaron Griffith. In this paper, the author distinguishes between
the person and number agreement morphology on verbs, NPs and prepositions as
agreement morphology on a root vs. cliticized arguments. Griffith builds on
previous analyses attempting to account for the existent data we have on record
from the Old Irish period to ultimately argue that while affixed pronouns were
most likely clitic arguments in a proto-version of the language, by Old Irish,
they no longer have referentiality, and are therefore best analyzed as agreement
affixes, and not arguments.

Next, there are two papers on Breton; the first is ''Some Breton indefinites'' by
Randall Hendrick. This paper looks in depth at the distribution of indefinite
clitic arguments in Breton and compares the scope and distribution of the
negative and affirmative indefinites finding them not to have the same
restrictions. This process is briefly compared to the similar forms in Welsh to
strengthen the position.

The second Breton paper is ''Post-syntactic excorporation in realizational
morphology: Breton analytic tenses'' by Mélanie Joultteau. The author identifies
a precise environment for excorporation of Breton verbs and inflectional
morphemes. She looks at the interface and examines the predictions that would be
made by both distributed morphology as well as minimalism to provide strong
evidence that this phenomenon is post-syntactic, but pre-phonology.

''The shape of Irish clauses'' by James McCloskey is the second of the papers not
presented at FACL. This paper endeavors to answer the broad theoretical question
of whether Generative linguistics is on the right track of providing us a deeper
psychological understanding of language rather than simply spinning the
self-validating wheels of theory. In order to answer this question, McCloskey
looks at Irish clauses representative of the construction in (2):

(2) Verb < Subject < Object < Oblique Arguments < Adverbials (p. 144)

McCloskey uses a battery of syntactic tests as applied to the Irish clauses to
argue that structure provided by Generative theory in fact not only provides a
descriptively adequate account of the phenomenon, but also a predictive theory
that can explain the structures without the introduction of additional machinery.

Returning to pronoun postposing in Irish; Ann E. Mulkern's article ''Left right
behind: Irish pronoun postposing and information structure'' briefly touches on
the work done by Elfner (same volume) which identifies pronoun postposing as an
effect of linearization and phonological constraints; but argues that a full
account of this phenomenon must also interface with information structure,
specifically cued by giveness and newness.

''Some problems with object enclitics in Literary Welsh and Old Irish'' is Máire
Noonan's article which tackles the problem of unifying the analyses of previous
authors (Sadler 1988; Newton 2006, 2008) for Literary Welsh and Old Irish
respectively. The phenomena under the microscope in this article are the facts
in the two languages of object enclitics wherein Old Irish there is claimed to
be T-to-C movement where C is not otherwise filled, and Literary Welsh makes use
of an AGREE relationship. Differences between the languages are left to
parameterization effects and largely accounted for by the Phase Impenetrability
Condition (Chomsky 2008).

Kenji Oda's ''Preverbal particles and irregular verbs in Irish'' looks at an issue
that has been receiving attention in recent years: the irregular relationship
between preverbal particles which indicate negation or questions in Irish, and
the eleven irregular verbs. This is investigated through a distributed
morphology framework and argues that the distinction between dependent and
independent verbs and their particles is the number of tense features these
verbs are merged with. This accounts for what appears to be tense mismatch in
the particles' paradigms.

In ''The semantics of Scottish Gaelic tense and aspect'' by Sylvia L. Reed, Reed
argues for a distinction between 'simple' and 'state-relational' viewpoint
aspects which would divide the aorist and imperfective into the former, and
perfect, after-perfect, and prospective into the later. This article builds on
several arguments for distinction raised by previous authors, but contends these
previous approaches cannot account for all language data. This division makes
the prediction that since there is contrasting morphosyntactic patterns, in
languages that overtly mark various aspects morphologically, a division will be
clearly seen. Scottish Gaelic provides this testing ground.

Part 2: Papers in Phonology, Morphophonology and Phonetics.

This section begins with a joint paper by Diana Archangeli, Jeff Berry, Sunjing
Ji, Keisha Josephs, Nicole Hunt, Muriel Fisher and Andrew Carnie entitled ''ATR
in Scottish Gaelic tense sonorants.'' This paper discusses the featural
difference of [±ATR] in Scottish Gaelic sonorants by investigating tongue
positions of a speaker of the Skye dialect using ultrasound imaging. This study
adds phonetic evidence for a featural difference between tense and lax sonorants
which were theoretically proposed by Carnie (2002) for Irish.

Another broadly theoretical paper which uses Celtic as a testing ground is Anna
Bosch's ''Transcription: The phonetics/phonology interface.'' This paper
investigates several phonetic grammars of Scottish Gaelic with particular
attention to intervocalic hiatus and epenthesis to highlight in the importance
of unpacking the intention behind transcription before basing a full
phonological analysis on any one given record of speech. The various corpora
that Bosch investigates all make mention of the phenomena under the spotlight,
but each transcribes as well as describes it in a different way, highlighting
the need for this consideration in future investigations of any language.

Looking at the phonology-morphology interface, Colin Gorrie's ''Adjective
agreement in Gaelic: A case for morphophonological features'' argues in favor of
a distinction between morphological features, morphosyntactic features, and his
personal contribution: morphophonological features. Since under many assumptions
both the morphosyntax and phonology separately undertake their operations based
on features; and because the initial mutations of the Celtic languages seem to
be a phenomenon that bridges this interface, Gorrie uses this as evidence for
features that transition Spellout to Phonological Form (PF) and effect the
phonology directly.

Michael Hammond takes a new look at probabilistic patterns of Welsh mutations in
his contribution ''Welsh mutations and statistical phonotactics.'' This paper
tackles a broad theoretical problem in the literature, namely whether there is a
division between the phonetics and the phonology where the former is concerned
with the gradient and the latter deals only with the categorical. By examining
phonotactics that result from mutations in Welsh, Hammond argues that the
gradient must also be at work in the phonology.

The final article is S. J. Hannahs' ''Unity in diversity in Welsh: The avoidance
of sonority sequencing violations'' which provides an OT account of repair
strategies for underlying consonant clusters in Welsh words that violate the
Sonority Sequencing Principle. The key contribution of this article is in
demonstrating an advantage of OT in that the diverse repair strategies
demonstrated in Welsh for this high-ranking violation are actually. Also, by
showing the various repair strategies as all resolving the same conflict,
Hannahs demonstrates that the various phenomena he discusses are all in fact one
and the same problem - something neglected in previous analyses of the
individual phenomena.

On the whole, I am glad that this collection has been published. Regardless of
the reader's theoretical background, all of the articles serve to encourage
further scholarship on these languages.

Turning to the articles themselves, I unfortunately do not have the space here
to comment on all of them, but some points stand out after a careful reading of
this book. Looking at the two articles which look at pronoun postposing in
Irish: Elfner and Mulkern, the latter claims that the former is a good
indicative account of the phenomenon, but not explanatory enough. Mulkern's
article relates the phenomenon of the rightward displacement of object pronouns
in Irish to Information Structure and referential qualities of giveness and
newness. Presumably, sentential stress comes from some sort of interface
constraint that demands new discourse information be stressed prosodically. Both
authors contend that the postposed pronoun will cliticize onto a phonological
phrase that bears main stress. The difference between the two is that while
Elfner is content to identify the adjoinment site of the pronoun as the stressed
phonological phrase, Mulkern says it must be the phrase that is stressed due to
a newness constraint imposed by Information Structure. Neither actually disagree
with the other, and perhaps neither is more correct than the other. Rather than
stating one of these two articles has better explanatory power than the other,
perhaps it is first necessary to understand where prosodic stress comes from. Is
prosodic stress the result of information structure as Mulkern claims, or, is
there an interface constraint holding between syntactic spellout and PF that
recognises a syntactic F(ocus) feature which is separately interpreted by
Logical Form (LF) as Jackendoff (1972, for example) claims? I believe this is
the question we need to ask. Rather than assuming a theory, we need to justify
that that theory in fact makes better predictions before jumping to the
conclusion that an information structure approach has better explanatory
adequacy than an OT interface approach.

A second article which raises theory-oriented questions is Kenji Oda's
''Preverbal particles and irregular verbs in Irish.'' This is also a phenomenon
receiving a lot of attention at the moment (Acquaviva, 2010; Windsor 2011 among
others). Oda's line of attack is to assume a distributed morphology approach,
like Aquaviva. However, Acquaviva and Oda do not reach the same conclusion. Oda
observes that there may be two tense features, a C-tense and a T-tense, which
are merged in the case of dependent verbs, where only one tense feature is
merged with independent verbs. Because two tense features would be more specific
than a single tense feature, where that option is available it would always be
more preferable. Interestingly, both Acquaviva (2010) and Windsor (2011) analyze
Irish irregular verbs as being able to be merged with both a Future tense
feature and a Past tense feature as in the case of forms such as
'get/find.FUT' which is analyzed as having the -(f)aidh future suffix as well as
the lenited (-h-) beginning of a past tense form. While Windsor (2011) contrasts
an OT morphology (Clahsen, 2006) with realization-based lexicalism (Ackerman and
Stump, 2004), the idea of two tense features remains prevalent in this analysis
as well. The point of highlighting these alternative analyses is not to shed
doubt on Oda's analysis, but rather to point out the common ground of all three.
What is needed next is again a theoretical question - do we attempt to motivate
one theory above the other, or should we be looking for more theory-external
evidence of these multiple tense features, and ask the question: is there
theory-neutral, or theory-external evidence for these multiple tense features,
and if there is, can supporting evidence for such a phenomenon be found in other
natural languages?

I will only explicitly comment on one article from the second section: ''Welsh
mutations and statistical phonotactics.'' Michael Hammond undertakes a huge
project, looking at the statistical probabilities of word initial consonants and
consonant clusters with the express concern that mutations introduce word
initial consonants, or consonant clusters that would otherwise be illegal in
terms of phonotactics. This is obviously true. The apparent reason for this
analysis is to counter arguments such as those made by Zsiga (2000) that
phonology is that which is concerned with the categorical, while phonetics is
the discrete and the gradient. Hammond wants to use this data to make a case for
gradient phenomena being included in phonological analyses in an Exemplar Theory
model of neighbourhood densities. I see two concerns, one building from the
other. The first is the complaint raised in Watkins (2005: 307) of ''treiglo
gwael'' 'poor mutating' where it is claimed that ''there has been almost complete
loss of nasal mutation and aspirate mutation, and the application of soft
mutation is becoming increasingly arbitrary [but] the effect on the standards of
written Welsh is predictable.'' Therefore, one problem of corpora study on this
type of phenomenon is that one runs the risk of analyzing non-natural, literary
language. In fact, Sharp (2011) reports that correct mutations may be applied as
little as 50% of the time. Additionally, the author points out that ''contexts
for mutations are lexical and syntactic, not phonological'' (344). Therefore, if
mutations are not phonologically governed, and one runs the risk of analyzing a
literary (non-spoken) language by using corpora data, we can ask how this can be
evidence for gradient effects being included in a phonological analysis?

Despite the questions above, the author has done significant service to
researchers in providing the statistical analysis of initial consonants and
their mutations in Welsh. The data may prove useful for future research,
especially in exemplar phonetics and may beg the question, given the frequency
of the alternations and the resulting phonotactically illegal initial consonants
and clusters, how do Welsh speakers perceive or interpret words which are
correctly or incorrectly mutated? Is there a hindrance to word recognition if
either the mutated or non-mutated forms are used instead of the other? This
study lays groundwork for such questions, and I suggest that this research
should be continued along those lines.

Much of the scholarship presented here highlights constructions which contribute
to our theoretical knowledge. Some articles make new subdivisions of semantic or
syntactic classes based on evidence from Celtic. Some contribute by improving on
previous analyses, and others show how previous analyses can be amalgamated into
one coherent theory by using Celtic data. The common tie is that all of these
articles should encourage further scholarship either building on the areas
identified for further research, or by forcing authors with different
theoretical opinions to come up with an alternative analysis. The book is
successful in achieving that goal.

Ackerman, Farrell and Stump, Gregory. 2004. Paradigms and periphrastic
expression: A study in realization-based lexicalism. In, Sadler, L. and Spencer,
A. (eds.) Projecting Morphology. Stanford: Center for the Study of Language and
Information. 111-58.

Acquaviva, Paolo. 2010. Dependent verbs and tense in Modern Irish morphosyntax.
Presented at the 6th Celtic Linguistics Conference: Dublin, Ireland. September 12.

Carnie, Andrew. 2002. A note on diphthongization before tense sonorants in
Irish: an articulatory explanation. Journal of Celtic Linguistics 9:13-31.

Chomsky, Noam. 2008. On phases. In Freidin, Robert et al (eds.) Foundational
issues in linguistic theory: Essays in honor of Jean-Roger Vergnaud: MIT press:
Cambridge, MA. 133-66.

Clahsen, Harald. 2006. Dual-mechanism morphology. In Brown, K. (ed.)
Encyclopedia of language and linguistics 2nd edition. Elsevier: New York. 11-5.

Jackendoff, Ray S. 1972. Semantic interpretation in Generative grammar: Focus
and presupposition. MIT press: Cambridge, MA.

Prince, Alan & Smolensky, Paul. 2004. Optimality theory: Constraint interaction
in generative grammar. Blackwell Publishing: Malden, MA.

Newton, Glenda. 2006. The development and loss of the Old Irish double system of
verbal inflection. PhD dissertation, Cambridge University.

Newton, Glenda. 2008. Exploring the nature of the syntax-phonology interface: A
post-syntactic account of the Old Irish verbal system. Ms. University of Cambridge.

Sadler, Luisa. 1988. Welsh syntax: A government and binding approach. Croom
Helm: London.

Sharp, Kathryn Morgan. 2010. The ultimate jigsaw puzzle: Acquisition of gender
in Welsh. Presented at the 6th Celtic Linguistics Conference. Dublin, Ireland.
September 11.

Watkins, T. Arwyn. 2005. Welsh. In Ball, Martin J. (ed.) The Celtic languages.
Routledge: New York. 289-348.

Windsor, Joseph W. 2011. Irregular Irish verbal morphology: Contrasting OT with
word & paradigm. Unpublished Ms. University of Calgary: Calgary.

Zsiga, Elizabeth C. 2000. Phonetic alignment constraints: Consonant overlap and
palatalization in English and Russian. Journal of Phonetics 28. 69-102.

Joseph W. Windsor is a graduate student of Linguistics at the University of Calgary. His primary interests are in prosodic phonology and the phonology-syntax interface. Most of his work centers around Celtic languages, predominately on Modern Connemara Irish.

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