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Review of  The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Minimalism

Reviewer: Alexandru Cosmin Nicolae
Book Title: The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Minimalism
Book Author: Cedric Boeckx
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Syntax
Cognitive Science
Issue Number: 23.2544

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EDITOR: Cedric Boeckx
TITLE: The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Minimalism
SERIES TITLE: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 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 which
are currently under investigation in the minimalist program.

The book starts with a well structured “Overview” (pp. xxi-xxvi), written by
Cedric Boeckx, comprising a bird’s-eye view of the open-ended nature of the
minimalist program (Boeckx insists on the term “program”, highlighting from the
very first line the idea that minimalism is not a specific theory), a summary of
the main features and goals of the book, and a brief presentation and thematic
clustering 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 the
Minimalist Program (MP) within the generative enterprise which began 60 years
ago. After briefly presenting the main tenets of the MP, synthesized as two
fundamental questions about I-languages, the authors set off to identify and
describe the basic assumptions that led to the formulation of the MP. They point
out the motivations behind the elimination -- within the MP -- of, among many
other ideas, two previously proposed linguistic levels, D-structure and
S-Structure. They show that the elimination of D-structure is due to both
technical necessities, and conceptual necessities, that is the requirement of a
simple(r) design for language. The notion of “simplicity” -- a crucial
desideratum of generative theorizing -- is closely scrutinized by Freidin and
Lasnik. The authors insist on the separation between the relevance of simplicity
to the structure of grammar and a general aesthetic notion of simplicity, made
from LSLT (Chomsky 1955) to the MP (Chomsky 1993). They trace back the germ of
certain ideas central to minimalism: for instance, the Inclusiveness Condition
is shown to have been proposed by Chomsky since Aspects: “transformations cannot
introduce meaning-bearing elements” (Chomsky 1965: 132). In addition to
simplicity, ‘economy’ is central to minimalism. Economy comes in two guises: as
economy of derivation and as economy of representation. It is shown that, while
economy conditions on derivations have been in one way or another suggested in
earlier works, economy conditions on representations have been advocated later,
starting with Chomsky’s (1986) Principle of Full Interpretation. Finally, the
authors discuss the three factors of language design and analyze to what extent
these factors were present in pre-minimalist generative theorizing.

Features are a central problem in minimalist grammar since, by virtue of being
properties of syntactic atoms, they are directly objects of the theory. Thus, it
is the goal of the second chapter, “Features in minimalist syntax” (pp. 27-51),
by David Adger and Peter Svenonius, to specify the main conceptual problems
raised by the notion of feature in minimalist grammar. The authors begin by
distinguishing between “category” and “feature” (“a distinction commonly assumed
within minimalism, although little discussed”, p. 30): “category” has
essentially a positional definition, while “feature” is a property of a category
that sub-classifies it. Next, they delineate the possible structure of a feature
system in natural language. It is shown that a privative system is inadequate
for human languages, and that a system more complex than a privative one is
called 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 the
chapter are devoted to the interaction of features with syntax, and with the
interfaces. The authors further distinguish between “interface features”, which
play a role both in syntax and at the interfaces, and “syntax-internal
features”, which act only in syntax. The authors have identified and clarified
the main issues regarding features in the current stage of theorizing, a
necessary step towards the formulation of a more minimalist theory of features.

In the chapter devoted to “Case” (pp. 51-72), David Pesetsky and Esther Torrego
address the problems related to case throughout the history of generative
grammar. The authors begin by highlighting the controversial nature of case
among various minimalist theoretic accounts: “the phenomenon of case represents
one of the more outstanding challenges for the minimalist conjecture” (p. 51),
since case does not seem to arise either from “(1) interactions of independent
mental systems or (2) general properties of organic systems” (ibidem). They
continue by addressing the problem of the GB Case Filter. They then explain how
Burzio’s generalization -- which lays out the link between licensing accusative
case 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 this
idea, a separate head (little v) is involved in both accusative assignment and
external argument theta role assignment. On the empirical side, Pesetsky and
Torrego clearly delineate the entire array of case types identified in the
literature (structural case, inherent case, quirky case, and exceptional case
marking), and illustrate all these categories with examples. Another point of
interest is related to the problem of ergative alignment, which is shown not to
be “a radically different organization of case marking” (p. 66), but “an
expected variation on patterns already attested in other languages” (ibidem).
Finally, Pesetsky and Torrego raise the problem already announced at the onset
of 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 of
tense” (p. 68), i.e. the counterpart of a contentful feature. Although this
solution does not exhaust the fundamental question of why case should exist
after all, it is certainly a step towards understanding the place occupied by
case in the organization of natural language.

Naoki Fukui’s chapter, “Merge and bare phrase structure” (pp. 73-95), opens the
series of chapters which address issues pertaining to the mechanics of phrase
structure. In this chapter, Fukui concentrates on the core problem of bare
phrase structure: the operation Merge. He begins by stating the four fundamental
properties 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 these
refers to the fact that “generalized predicate-argument structure is realized in
the neighborhood of a predicate (within the core part of a clause), whereas all
other semantic properties, including discourse related and scopal properties,
involve an ‘edge’ or a peripheral position of a linguistic expression (generally
a sentence)” (p. 75-76). The entire chapter is thus built as a discussion of
these four properties. Merge (internal and external) straightforwardly accounts
for properties (a) and (d). Property (c), the problem of labeling, is subject to
much controversy in the current stage of generative grammar. Property (b) is
ensured by the existence of an Edge Feature (EF). The author closely examines
the notion of EF, a unique feature which is distinct from all the other lexical
features. Given its idiosyncratic properties, the author suggests that the term
EF 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 linguistic
phenomena in Japanese, which are taken to be arguments in favor of unbounded
Merge. 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 relation
between structure and linear order in the minimalist approach. The author starts
by discussing the problems posed by order in the pre-minimalist setting, and
then highlights the main (combined, theoretical and empirical) observations from
Kayne’s (1994) Linear Correspondence Axiom, seeking to capture them in a
minimalist model of syntax. Zwart carefully analyzes the possible outcomes of
the operation Merge and dismisses the idea that Merge yields sets: “ordering by
set membership yields no result among sisters, i.e., it does not derive
head-complement linear order” (p. 100). Instead, he argues that if Merge is
conceived as yielding ordered pairs, then the structure-to-order conversion
follows naturally and the head-complement distinction is sufficient to derive
order at the interface. Based on this, the author discusses “deviations” from
the expected structure-to-order conversion, proposing two typological
generalizations (“Head-finality is a linguistic sign, signaling derivation
layering”, p. 108; “Head-initiality in a head-final language is established in
narrow syntax”, p. 109) which he briefly shows to hold across a large number of
languages. He then comments on the Final-over-Final Constraint (Holmberg 2000,
Biberauer et al. 2008) and examines instances of head-finality in a head-initial
language (Dutch). Finally, Zwart highlights the importance of “derivation
layering”, and shows that the concepts ‘lexical’ and ‘syntactic’ can be defined
in relation to derivations.

In the chapter devoted to “Multidominance” (pp. 119-142), Barbara Citko begins
by defining the notion of multidominance (“a multidominant structure is a
structure in which a single node has two mothers” (p. 119)) and by stating the
issues that a multidominance account has to deal with: (i) the generation of
multidominant structures, (ii) their linearization, and (iii) the empirical
insights offered by such an account. The author goes on to show that, although
the concept of multidominance has been described as “unorthodox, non-standard,
or incompatible with basic assumptions about phrase structure” (ibidem), the
availability of multidominance actually follows from the most basic assumptions
about 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 another
constituent (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. Parallel
Merge feeds multidominant structures. It therefore results that multidominance
should 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 the
grammar: across-the-board wh-questions, wh-questions with conjoined wh-pronouns,
right-node raising, gapping, determiner sharing, standard free relatives, serial
verbs, parasitic gaps, idioms, comparatives, transparent free relatives,
parentheticals, wh-amalgams, and cleft-amalgams. In the final part of the
chapter, Citko concentrates on the problem of the linearization of
multidominance structures. Among the many empirical advantages of Multidominance
is the promising reinterpretation of structures which amount to (a form of)
non-pronunciation: with Gapping and Right-Node Raising analyzed as a form of
multidominance and not as instances of ellipsis (with ellipsis conceived as
“deletion”), it is easy to understand why these structures deviate from the
generally acknowledged syntactic and interpretative properties of structures
containing ellipsis sites.

Another innovation brought about by the Minimalist Program is the Copy Theory of
Movement. Jairo Nunes’ chapter, “The Copy Theory” (pp. 143-172), examines the
conceptual 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 Movement
complies with the Inclusiveness Condition, one of the most important minimalist
requirements, and that it is sufficiently powerful to explain certain
dependencies (anaphoric dependencies, idiom interpretation, etc.) without
resorting to “suspect” solutions. The second part of this chapter backs up the
theoretical construct presented, bringing into discussion the pronunciation of
lower and multiple copies, which the author claims to be an irrefutable argument
for the Copy Theory and against the Trace Theory.

Norvin Richards (“A-bar dependencies”, pp. 173-194) focuses on the problems
posed by A-bar dependencies in the minimalist framework. Rather than restricting
the discussion to the current Probe-Goal conception, he presents the historical
solutions proposed to account for the phenomena under scrutiny, showing how
every new step in minimalist theorizing has contributed to a better
understanding of the data and of the minimalist goals. He starts by showing how
the elimination of D-Structure created the problem of ordering movement and
non-movement operations, then tackles the problems raised by the elimination of
S-Structure. He moves on to examine the successive cyclic nature of wh-movement,
and, finally, analyzes the role of the interfaces. Richards also discusses
certain shortcomings of the theory at the current stage of research. For
instance, there is no generally accepted account of the Condition of Extraction
Domains, which bans extraction out of subjects and adjuncts, and, furthermore,
cross-linguistic research seems to indicate that adjunct and island effects are
not governed by the same principle.

Another issue surrounded by controversy in the Minimalist Program is the nature
and place of head movement. In chapter 9, “Head movement and the minimalist
program” (pp. 195-219), Ian Roberts approaches this problem from both a
technical and a conceptual perspective. Roberts starts by inspecting the nature
of head movement in GB, where head movement is subject to the standard
conditions on movement operations: structure preservation, locality, and
well-formedness conditions on the trace of the head-moved category. He continues
by critically reviewing the reasoning that triggered the reevaluation of head
movement in the minimalist perspective: it does not affect interpretation
(which, as Roberts shows, is not entirely true), and its trigger is not very
clear. Furthermore, the derived structure of head movement is countercyclic and
violates the Extension Condition; also, there occur c-command problems in the
structures derived by head movement. Finally, onward cyclic movement is never
successive cyclic but rather always involves ‘roll-up’. Roberts then turns to
the 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 none
appears to be a global alternative to ‘traditional’ head movement” (p. 215).
Finally, the issue is discussed from a conceptual point of view, and Roberts
concludes by suggesting that head movement cannot altogether be excluded from

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

The intuition that syntactic computation proceeds in a cyclic fashion has been
pursued throughout generative grammar in different guises (‘domain’, ‘bounding
node’, ‘barrier’, ‘phase’). In chapter 11, “Derivational cycles” (pp. 239-259),
Juan Uriagereka examines the nature of cycles in the present minimalist
approach, focusing especially on ‘phases’, the incarnation of cycles in the
current model. Uriagereka then turns to a discussion of a series of cyclic
effects, including successive cyclic movement, binding relations, and case
valuation, showing that all can be elegantly accounted for by resorting to
‘cycles’. The author then examines the minimalist constraints which have tried
to express both cyclicity and successive cyclicity: the Extension Condition
(Chomsky 1993: 22), the Virus Theory (Chomsky 1995a: 233), the Minimal Link
Condition (Chomsky 1995b: 311), and the Phase Impenetrability Condition (Chomsky
2000: 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 the
possibility that there is a lower bound on (derivational) distance, dubbed
“anti-locality”. While the upper boundaries of (movement) dependencies have been
a constant preoccupation of generative grammar, the complementary problem,
namely, the lower bound on movement (distance) (which is shown by Grohmann to be
at the core of certain (un)grammaticality phenomena in language), has been
somehow left in the background of generative theorizing. Grohmann convincingly
shows 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 three
Prolific Domains within the clause (and, as shown by Ticio 2003, within the DP
as well): a Theta-Domain, a Phi-Domain, and an Omega-Domain, which are
associated with thematic relations, argument properties, and discourse
information, respectively. Grohmann’s system manages to capture the idea that
movement must not be too local, but its implementation is not compatible with
the recent minimalist proposal of ‘phases’.

In chapter 13, “Derivation(s)” (pp. 291-310), Samuel David Epstein, Hisatsugu
Kitahara, and T. Daniel Seely examine the nature of derivations from both a
conceptual and a technical perspective. The authors capture the essential nature
of derivations, namely that they follow from (i.e. grow out of) the fundamental
properties of human language which have been unveiled by generative grammar
(principally, the recursive nature of human language), and which are currently
investigated in the minimalist framework. In the first part of the chapter, the
authors show that derivations play a critical role in minimalist inquiry. In the
second part, the authors delimit the main conceptual problems regarding
derivations against the Strong Minimalist Thesis. They then address the
mechanics of minimalist derivations; they show that the minimum machinery needed
for a derivation to go through includes (at least) Merge, ‘mergeable’ lexical
items, and (undeletable) edge features carried by lexical items. This minimum
machinery generates a derivation in compliance with the principles of efficient
computation (e.g. the no-tampering condition, among others). The authors also
discuss the relevance of phases, and argue for the choice of certain specific
derivational tools (e.g. the Probe-Goal Agree mechanism). Finally, the reader is
guided through the stepwise derivation of an example, which illustrates the
conceptual 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 derivationalists
and representationalists. In a rather informal manner (as testified by his
chapter’s headings: “Don’t stop till you get enough”, “If you could see
c-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 representational
nature of the c command relation. Building on previous work (mainly Richardson
and Chametzky 1985), the author reverses the perspective on c-command, ‘taking
the point of view of the c commandee’, and defining c-command as follows: “For
any node X, the c-commanders of X are all the sisters of every node which
dominates 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 relation
with some given node and with which that node can be in some substantive
linguistic relation or other” (ibidem). Chametzky ends on a very conciliatory
note, suggesting a mixed representational and derivational approach to syntax.

Željko Bošković (“Last Resort with Move and Agree in derivations and
representations”, pp. 327-353) discusses the nature of the Economy Principle
with respect to derivations and representations. He focuses on the Last Resort
Condition, which prohibits superfluous steps in derivations, and claims that a
similar condition constrains representations. In the section devoted to the
application of the Last Resort Condition to movement, Bošković argues that the
approach (Chomsky 2000, 2001) that places the movement-triggering diacritic on
the target rather than on the moving element itself gives rise to an unwelcomed
Look Ahead consequence. Placing this diacritic on the moving element instead
bypasses this problem. The system put forth by Bošković, in which the
necessities of the moved element trigger movement, has desirable consequences
from the current phasal perspective. Consider the Attract version: in the case
of successive cyclic wh-movement, the head that would attract a wh-phrase is too
far away (in a different phase) to attract the moving element; hence, Look Ahead
is 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 the
problem of the operation Agree, claiming that what drives Agree is valuation
(with only unvalued features functioning as probes). Finally, Bošković discusses
the implications of the Last Resort Condition for pure Merge (lexical insertion)
and for Economy of Representation. He argues that only functional elements are
subject to economy principles, and proposes to define the numeration on lexical
items only; repeated access to the lexicon will be then allowed to ensure
structure building. While interesting, this last stipulation might have the
effect of violating the Inclusiveness Condition (as currently conceived).

In chapter 16 (“Optionality”, pp. 354-376), Shigeru Miyagawa analyzes the issue
of movement operations which seem to be optional, thus violating the minimalist
assumption that operations should arise as strictly last resort. From the onset,
Miyagawa sets his goal to formulate a theory of optional operations that is
consonant with the tenets of Last Resort. The phenomena he deals with are
quantifier raising (QR) (in English) and (a subclass of) scrambling, which he
argues (and convincingly demonstrates) are closely matched in their properties
and are thus open to a unified account. After presenting the joint
distributional and interpretative properties of QR and scrambling, the author
concludes that QR is a covert type of scrambling. In the case of QR it is the
lower copy which is pronounced, while in the case of scrambling, the higher copy
gets pronounced. The research question posed by Miyagawa is whether these
operations are truly optional, and the answer (which is somehow expected) is
that they are not: the possibly optional movements occurring in the case of QR
and scrambling determine a new (semantic) interpretation. This, in turn,
provides a ‘last resort’ perspective on optional movement, even though extended
and somewhat weaker.

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

The chapter by Alex Drummond, Dave Kush, and Norbert Hornstein, “Minimalist
construal: two approaches to A and B” (pp. 396-426), continues one of the
problems sketched by Reuland in the previous chapter. Namely, the authors
contribute to the ongoing quest to build a minimalist theory of construal. They
start from the empirical observation that construal relations (binding and
control) display the characteristic hallmarks of core grammatical processes, and
thus (at least) some of these relations should be dealt with within the core
computational system. The authors choose to focus on binding (properly
distinguished from co-reference, following Reinhart 1983) rather than on
control, arguing that there has been less debate on binding within the
minimalist framework. Drummond, Kush, and Hornstein then concentrate on
discriminating between the two current competing minimalist approaches to
binding (/construal): Chain-Based Construal, a movement-based analysis developed
by Hornstein (2001), and Agree-Based Construal, whose syntactic engine relating
the antecedent to the anaphor is the operation Agree (e.g. Reuland, 2005;
current volume). The two analyses are shown to be convergent in certain
respects, the most important one being that they both exploit copies (i.e. a
local syntactic relation) to mediate the semantic binding relation. The
argumentation tilts the balance in favor of the Chain-Based approach.

In “A minimalist approach to argument structure” (pp. 427-448), Heidi Harley
presents the ‘split-vP’ syntactic architecture which has replaced the Theta
Theory of the GB framework. After presenting the GB view on argument structure,
Harley shows the limitations of this conception, and comments on its
non-minimalist spirit. The author then argues that, within minimalism, a Fregean
conception of the LF interface combined with the Full Interpretation Principle
may take over the functions of the Theta Criterion and of the Projection
Principle. The “little v” hypothesis is then introduced. Harley manages to go
through all the relevant results of the late GB/early minimalism periods that
have contributed to the postulation of the little v projection. Finally, several
minimalist alternatives to this conception are briefly discussed.

Gillian Ramchand’s chapter (“Minimalist semantics”, pp. 449-471) continues the
path paved by Harley in the previous chapter, in that Ramchand further attempts
to construct a minimalist theory of argument roles and relations, and a
minimalist event semantics. Ramchand assumes that a structural semantic
combinatorial system exists which correlates with syntactic combinatorial
primitives. She argues that the structural semantic system, which is
grammatically relevant, should be properly distinguished from the encyclopedic
content of words. The proposed event structure contains three subcomponents: a
causing subevent (initP), a process denoting subevent (procP), and a subevent
corresponding to result state (resP), which are hierarchically ordered: initP >
procP > resP. After discussing the implementation of this idea, and highlighting
the roles of each piece of structure (specifiers, complements, etc.), Ramchand
summarizes the basic argument relations and roles resulting from this system:
initiators, undergoers, resultees, grounds (of Result). There are also some
composite roles, which will be derived via movement: undergoer-initiator and
resultee-undergoer. Finally, Ramchand also addresses the problem of
cross-linguistic variation in the proposed system, verifying the expectation
that the lexicalization of a particular structure looks quite different from
language to language.

Paul M. Pietroski’s chapter (“Minimal semantic instructions”, pp. 472-498) also
deals with the matter of semantics in minimalism; more exactly, with the
relation between word and concepts. Thus, together with the following chapter,
also written by a philosopher, this chapter shows how minimalist problems extend
beyond narrow syntax proper and how minimalist guidelines may appeal to problems
which traditionally fall outside the preoccupation of linguists. Although the
technical implementation employed in Pietroski’s chapter falls beyond my area of
expertise, I can assess the conceptual outcome of Pietroski’s enterprise:
couching semantic structures within the more general conception of structure
building utilized in minimalism, the study of I-language semantics is not
fundamentally different from other areas of linguistic inquiry and theorizing, a
good result in the current context.

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

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

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

In chapter 25 (“A minimalist program for phonology”, pp. 574-594), Bridget
Samuels applies minimalist thinking to a domain which is of crucial importance
in the current (phasal) minimalist context (phases are sent to Spell-Out, i.e.
to the interfaces, one of which is Phonological Form), but which is
unfortunately insufficiently explored. Samuels not only states the problems
raised by phonology in a minimalist context, but also puts forth a very elegant
solution to these problems (i.e. the ‘phonological derivation by phase’
approach). Samuels argues that an appropriate perspective on the phonological
module should treat it as a system of abstract symbolic content, divorced from
phonetic content (i.e. what has been dubbed in recent work ‘substance-free
phonology’). Furthermore, it is argued that phonology does not have to construct
its own domains, but can take as its direct input the strings received from the
syntax. In a nutshell, the conclusions drawn by the author are that “nothing
required by phonology is required by the faculty of language in the narrow
sense” (p. 592) and that “phonology may be entirely explainable through Third
Factor principles pertaining to general cognition and the SM system” (ibidem).
In sum, the problems discussed in this contribution and the solutions advanced
have far-reaching consequences for understanding language and its evolution.

In chapter 26 (“Minimizing language evolution: the minimalist program and the
evolutionary shaping of language”), Víctor M. Longa, Guillermo Lorenzo, and Juan
Uriagereka address the problem of language evolution from a minimalist
perspective. The authors start by carefully delimiting the faculty of language
in a broad sense from the faculty of language in the narrow sense, and by
highlighting 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 a
linguistic 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 were
very prominent in the early stages of generative grammar. In an explicit formal
context, Stabler reassesses basic units and operations of generative grammar in
its minimalist version. After establishing the characteristics of a minimalist
grammar under the specifications of Bare Phrase Structure theory, Stabler
comments on the nature of Merge, and then addresses problems which are at the
core of current minimalist theorizing: phases, Relativized Minimality, multiple
movements and multiple Agree, the issue of linearization, and, finally, mentions
problems pertaining to head movement, LF and PF movements, Adjunct Merge, and
sideward movement. The chapter ends with three appendices, in which Stabler
illustrates 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 making
the overall evaluation of the book, I would like to point out that there is a
problem with the Romanian data in Nunes’ chapter (p. 154). While the
argumentation which rules out his example (21b) [“*Ce ce precedă?” - what what
precedes] is correct, the overall characterization of Romanian as a language
with obligatory multiple wh-fronting is not correct. Romanian possesses two
options with respect to wh-fronting: either (i) all the elements move to the
C-domain, observing Superiority (subject wh-phrase > object wh-phrase) [“Cine ce
precedă?” - who what precedes] or (ii) the highest phrase (the subject) moves to
the C-domain, while the other wh-phrase(s) remain in situ. Thus, example (21b)
[“Cine precedă ce?” - who precedes what], marked as ungrammatical in this
chapter, 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 the
current minimalist framework in an almost unitary fashion. Taken separately, the
chapters of the handbook are, without exception, complete studies dedicated to
certain problems. Furthermore, most of the chapters assess the historical
foundations of their respective topic, carefully extricating what can be
maintained from the former generative models from what must be revisited and
revised in accordance with the minimalist guidelines. At the same time, each
chapter elegantly balances the conceptual side of the problem addressed and its
technical implementation(s). Each chapter is also characterized by a remarkable
intellectual honesty: the limits and imperfections of the proposed accounts are
clearly stated, and the controversial issues are not swept under the rug. The
Handbook is an inestimable source of new ideas to be explored in future
research, and sets the agenda for future linguistic (but not only linguistic)
theorizing, and, at the same time, represents a testimony to the prestige held
by generative linguistics in the last half of the previous century. It thus goes
without saying that it is a “must read” for anyone interested in generative
linguistics in particular, and in theoretical linguistics in general.

It should be further mentioned that the articles are impeccably written by known
linguists and philosophers with an exceptional awareness of the linguistic
bibliography, 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.

Biberauer, T., Holmberg, A., Roberts, I. 2008. Structure and linearization in
disharmonic word orders. Proceedings of the West Coast Conference on Formal
Linguistics 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:

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 of
Sylvain 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 of
Howard Lasnik. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 89-155.

Chomsky, N. 2001. Derivation by phase. In M. Kenstowicz (ed.), Ken Hale: A life
in 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.), The
Derivation 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 Honor
of 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 of
Connecticut, 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.

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