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Derivational Economy in Syntax and Semantics  

Željko Bošković and Troy Messick

Economy considerations have always played an important role in the generative theory of grammar. They are particularly prominent in the most recent instantiation of this approach, the Minimalist Program, which explores the possibility that Universal Grammar is an optimal way of satisfying requirements that are imposed on the language faculty by the external systems that interface with the language faculty which is also characterized by optimal, computationally efficient design. In this respect, the operations of the computational system that produce linguistic expressions must be optimal in that they must satisfy general considerations of simplicity and efficient design. Simply put, the guiding principles here are (a) do something only if you need to and (b) if you do need to, do it in the most economical/efficient way. These considerations ban superfluous steps in derivations and superfluous symbols in representations. Under economy guidelines, movement takes place only when there is a need for it (with both syntactic and semantic considerations playing a role here), and when it does take place, it takes place in the most economical way: it is as short as possible and carries as little material as possible. Furthermore, economy is evaluated locally, on the basis of immediately available structure. The locality of syntactic dependencies is also enforced by minimal search and by limiting the number of syntactic objects and the amount of structure accessible in the derivation. This is achieved by transferring parts of syntactic structure to the interfaces during the derivation, the transferred parts not being accessible for further syntactic operations.

Article

Nominal Reference  

Donka Farkas

Nominal reference is central to both linguistic semantics and philosophy of language. On the theoretical side, both philosophers and linguists wrestle with the problem of how the link between nominal expressions and their referents is to be characterized, and what formal tools are most appropriate to deal with this issue. The problem is complex because nominal expression come in a large variety of forms, from simple proper names, pronouns, or bare nouns (Jennifer, they, books) to complex expressions involving determiners and various quantifiers (the/every/no/their answer). While the reference of such expressions is varied, their basic syntactic distribution as subjects or objects of various types, for instance, is homogeneous. Important advances in understanding this tension were made with the advent of the work of R. Montague and that of his successors. The problems involved in understanding the relationship between pronouns and their antecedents in discourse have led to another fundamental theoretical development, namely that of dynamic semantics. On the empirical side, issues at the center of both linguistic and philosophical investigations concern how to best characterize the difference between definite and indefinite nominals, and, more generally, how to understand the large variety of determiner types found both within a language and cross-linguistically. These considerations led to refining the definite/indefinite contrast to include fine-grained specificity distinctions that have been shown to be relevant to various morphosyntactic phenomena across the world’s languages. Considerations concerning nominal reference are thus relevant not only to semantics but also to morphology and syntax. Some questions within the domain of nominal reference have grown into rich subfields of inquiry. This is the case with generic reference, the study of pronominal reference, the study of quantifiers, and the study of the semantics of nominal number marking.

Article

Scope Marking at the Syntax-Semantics Interface  

Veneeta Dayal and Deepak Alok

Natural language allows questioning into embedded clauses. One strategy for doing so involves structures like the following: [CP-1 whi [TP DP V [CP-2 … ti …]]], where a wh-phrase that thematically belongs to the embedded clause appears in the matrix scope position. A possible answer to such a question must specify values for the fronted wh-phrase. This is the extraction strategy seen in languages like English. An alternative strategy involves a structure in which there is a distinct wh-phrase in the matrix clause. It is manifested in two types of structures. One is a close analog of extraction, but for the extra wh-phrase: [CP-1 whi [TP DP V [CP-2 whj [TP…t­j­…]]]]. The other simply juxtaposes two questions, rather than syntactically subordinating the second one: [CP-3 [CP-1 whi [TP…]] [CP-2 whj [TP…]]]. In both versions of the second strategy, the wh-phrase in CP-1 is invariant, typically corresponding to the wh-phrase used to question propositional arguments. There is no restriction on the type or number of wh-phrases in CP-2. Possible answers must specify values for all the wh-phrases in CP-2. This strategy is variously known as scope marking, partial wh movement or expletive wh questions. Both strategies can occur in the same language. German, for example, instantiates all three possibilities: extraction, subordinated, as well as sequential scope marking. The scope marking strategy is also manifested in in-situ languages. Scope marking has been subjected to 30 years of research and much is known at this time about its syntactic and semantic properties. Its pragmatics properties, however, are relatively under-studied. The acquisition of scope marking, in relation to extraction, is another area of ongoing research. One of the reasons why scope marking has intrigued linguists is because it seems to defy central tenets about the nature of wh scope taking. For example, it presents an apparent mismatch between the number of wh expressions in the question and the number of expressions whose values are specified in the answer. It poses a challenge for our understanding of how syntactic structure feeds semantic interpretation and how alternative strategies with similar functions relate to each other.