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date: 01 June 2020

(p. xxi) Overview

(p. xxi) Overview

Linguistic Minimalism refers to a research program—not a specific theory—that grew out of results obtained within a specific research tradition (the Extended Standard Theory/Principles and Parameters approach in generative grammar), although the intuitions or research guidelines at the heart of minimalism are largely independent of the specific implementations that provided the immediate historical context for their emergence. As such, minimalist concerns ought to be of interest to a wide range of researchers in the language sciences, and cognitive sciences more generally.

A minimalist program for linguistic theory was first formulated by Noam Chomsky almost twenty years ago. In the intervening years, minimalism has developed into a very rich research tradition touching on many aspects of our species-specific language faculty. It quickly established itself as a major, if healthily controversial, approach to linguistic phenomena, so much so that I felt the time ripe for a handbook (the first of its kind) exclusively devoted to minimalist ideas applied to core aspects of human language. The primary goal of the handbook is to provide an essential source of reference for both graduate students and more seasoned scholars and prepare them for the somewhat bewildering panorama of ideas that can be found in the primary literature.

The present work is not a textbook, nor is it a book that is meant to be read from cover to cover. But in preparing the final draft and in circulating the chapters among my students, I was pleasantly surprised by the depth and breadth of discussion and analysis found in each of the contributions included here. I feel that as a whole the present volume offers an authoritative survey of what linguistic minimalism is today, how it emerged, and how far it has advanced our knowledge of the human language faculty. Quite a few contributors did not hesitate to highlight the many gaps that remain to be filled, and the many limitations—some contingent, others perhaps more inherent to the enterprise—of a minimalist approach to linguistic phenomena. Students coming to linguistic minimalism should regard these—at times severe—limitations as challenges to tackle, if indeed they feel (as I hope they do) that looking at the human language faculty through minimalist lenses can yield valuable insights that would otherwise remain hidden. I, for one, would be delighted if this volume served as the source of many a dissertation advancing the minimalist agenda.

(p. xxii) To maximize the resourcefulness of the material contained in this work, I thought it necessary to devote some space to clarifying both the form (organization) and content of this handbook. This is the goal of the present overview.

I began by pointing out that linguistic minimalism is a research program, not a theory. That is to say, the pursuit of the minimalist program, beginning with its original formulation in the early 1990s, is meant to construct a certain theoretical space within which specific theories of the various components of the human language faculty can be elaborated. Crucially, minimalism does not intend to offer a final product. Rather, like the best cookbooks, it aims at identifying a few key ingredients that in the hand of creative minds may shed light on the true nature of our language faculty. Because of this open-ended character of the minimalist program, there is not a single ‘best’ way to introduce the various ideas that practitioners take to be central. As a result, there is not a single ‘best’ way to order the contributions that make up this volume. It is all of them, taken as a whole, that constitute the most fertile ground for minimalist investigations. Needless to say, this rendered my task an an editor particularly difficult. It often seemed to me that the richness of each contribution would be best reflected if this handbook could have existed in loose-leaf form, made up of loosely associated, easily reorganizable parts. Although in the end the very linear structure of the book's table of contents prevailed, I urge the reader to bear in mind at all times that this book can be read in multiple ways.

To make matters worse (for the editor), linguistic minimalism departs in important ways from a central assumption of The Extended Standard Theory/Principles and Parameters. Instead of viewing the internal organization of the language faculty as modular (an argument structure module, a phrase structure module, a locality module, etc.), the minimalist program seeks to identify very general computational properties that cut across the traditional modules. This means that in practice it becomes virtually impossible to decompose the language faculty into quasi-independent sub-components or areas. This means that for the editor there is no easy way to keep the chapters of a handbook on minimalism separate, let alone order them sequentially: all of them should come first. Ideally, for the reader to benefit the most from the chapters, and to truly grasp the nature of minimalist inquiry, all the chapters should be read in parallel.

I have used the following guiding idea in arranging the material contained here: experienced scholars should be able to find their way around much more easily than students. To help the latter, I have ordered the chapters according to both anticipated familiarity and difficulty. Given that linguistic minimalism first emerged in the context of syntactic theory, I had placed the chapters touching on issues of (narrow) syntax first. More advanced readers who maybe wondering about possible extensions of minimalist questions to other fields are encouraged to skip ahead. I have tried as far as possible to place chapters comparing the relative merits of two possible processes after those chapters in which the processes being compared were first introduced independently.

(p. xxiii) I stress that these were organizational guidelines. In many chapters the very same concept or process is introduced but articulated somewhat differently, and put to somewhat different uses. I have resisted the editorial temptation to eliminate all but one of the passages in which a particular concept was introduced because this very variety of subtle nuances and perspectives is one of the central elements of linguistic minimalism, and I wanted the reader to develop a taste for it. For this very reason I have let many authors start their chapters by giving their own take on what minimalism is. The reader confronted with this multitude of perspectives will thus gain first-hand experience of the very nature of a research program. As a final example of what it is to pursue a program, I commissioned several chapters dealing with roughly the same set of phenomena, but approaching them from very different perspectives. The reader will find in the following pages quite a bit of controversy regarding the nature of anaphora, Last Resort, Merge, the mapping from syntax to semantics, and so on. I hope that the reader will be tempted to formulate his or her own synthesis on the basis of these conflicting views.

Having warned the reader, let me now briefly describe the content of the various chapters that make up this handbook. Chapter 1, by Robert Freidin and Howard Lasnik, discusses the historical roots of linguistic minimalism, and seemed to me to be the best point of entry. Chapter 2, by David Adger and Peter Svenonius, focuses on the nature of the most basic building block in all current minimalist analyses: the feature. As far as I have been able to determine, all minimalist analyses currently available begin with lexical items as bundles of features (in some cases, these bundles consist of single features), combine and recombine these essential elements via processes such as Merge or Agree, and use these features as units for interpretation. This provides sufficient justification to place this chapter on features very early in the book. Chapter 3, by David Pesetsky and Esther Torrego, deals with a particular feature, viz. Case, which played an essential role in the development of the Principles and Parameters (P&P) approach (and minimalism), and which continues to be involved in the formulation of many minimalist investigations.

Chapters 4, 5, and 6, by Naoki Fukui, Jan-Wouter Zwart, and Barbara Citko, respectively, address issues pertaining to phrase structure, and the mechanisms behind them. Fukui examines the nature of Merge (the standard structure-building operation in virtually all minimalist studies), and issues of dominance (projection), long-distance dependencies/movements (can movement be reduced to Merge?), and the minimalist reformulation of the well-known X-bar theory in terms of bare phrase structure. Zwart is concerned with how structures formed by Merge map onto linear order—the issue of linearization that Richard Kayne made central with his 1994 monograph. Finally, Citko examines the possibility of multi dominance, an option that some have argued follows from the very nature of Merge.

Chapters 7 (Jairo Nunes), 8 (Norvin Richards), and 9 (Ian Roberts) all concentrate on movement dependencies. Nunes examines the implications of reanalyzing movement in terms of a copy (and Merge) operation. Richards looks at ‘A-bar’ (p. xxiv) (operator-variable) dependencies, and Roberts discusses head dependencies. The material in Roberts's chapter, in particular, shows how a central construct in previous frameworks can have its status threatened by certain minimalist ideas, and also how various alternatives can be used to save the phenomena.

Because the theme of locality has traditionally been closely associated with movement, it made sense to me to place chapters dealing with locality right after Chapter 9. Within the P&P tradition, and within minimalism as well, a distinction is often made between intervention-based locality and domain-based locality. Luigi Rizzi tackles the former (in terms of relativized minimality) in Chapter 10, and Juan Uriagereka tackles the latter (by clarifying the concept of cycle, or phase, in minimalist parlance) in Chapter 11. In Chapter 12, Kleanthes K. Grohmann discusses a new area of research within locality (and minimalism)—that of anti-locality, which deals with the minimal distance that dependencies must span to be licit (as opposed to the traditional question of the maximal distance that a dependency can cover).

The locality section seemed to me to be the perfect place to bring up the longstanding debate between derivational and representational approaches to grammatical phenomena: Should constraints (on, say, movement) be seen as emerging from how the syntactic computation takes place, step by step, or should deviant results be generated and then filtered out because of what the output of the syntactic computation is, not because of how that output came about? Samuel D. Epstein, Hisatsugu Kitahara, and T. Daniel Seely examine the nature of derivations in Chapter 13, and Robert Chametzky scrutinizes representations in Chapter 14.

The next group of chapters deals with why syntactic processes apply when they do. In Chapter 15, Željko Bošković looks at how operations can be seen as subject to a Last Resort operation, and in Chapter 16, Shigeru Miyagawa analyzes instances of optional movement, and how optionality can be motivated in a minimalist context, which appears to favor the idea that all but one option should be available. Miyagawa's discussion crucially involves the notion of interpretation and the systems external to narrow syntax that further manipulate linguistic expressions. In Chapter 17, Eric Reuland looks at the division of labor between syntax and the interpretive systems by focusing on patterns of anaphoric dependencies. The very same patterns are given an alternative approach, suggesting a different division of labor, by Alex Drummond, Dave Kush, and Norbert Hornstein in Chapter 18.

Chapters 19 through 22 further delve into interpretive matters, beginning with argument structure (Heidi Harley, Chapter 19), moving to the syntactic representations of events (Gillian Ramchand, Chapter 20), the relation between words and concepts (Paul M. Pietroski, Chapter 21), and culminating with the relation between language and thought (Wolfram Hinzen, Chapter 22). This set of chapters, two of which are written by trained philosophers with excellent knowledge of the linguistic literature, illustrates how minimalist concerns extend beyond the narrow realm of syntax, and how specific articulations of minimalist guidelines may (p. xxv) inform questions traditionally addressed by non-linguists. This is the sort of interdisciplinary research that linguistic minimalism, with its emphasis on interfaces, promotes.

Chapters 23 (Ágel J. Gallego) and 24 (Charles Yang and Tom Roeper) revisit traditional concerns in generative grammar—patterns of variation (‘parameters’) and the acquisition of specific linguistic systems—and ask to what extent minimalist guidelines can shed light on these issues. It is fair to say that these are areas of research that have not figured as prominently within linguistic minimalism as they did in previous frameworks. The reader will no doubt notice that many basic questions remain open, and one may anticipate that they will figure prominently on the minimalist research agenda in the coming years.

Chapters 25 (Bridget Samuels) and 26 (Víctor Longa, Guillermo Lorenzo, and Juan Uriagereka) extend the research horizon by applying minimalist concerns to the domain of morphophonology and language evolution, respectively. One can only hope that these forays into new territories will promote work that applies minimalist thinking to other domains such as language processing, neurolinguistics, or other cognitive realms (music, number, and moral systems come to mind, as these have already been studied from a generative perspective, albeit by a minority of researchers).

The final chapter (27) in some sense brings us back where we started. Ed Stabler raises computational concerns that were very prominent in the early stages of generative grammar, and re-examines basic units and operations of minimalist syntax in a formally explicit context.

Let me close this overview by noting that I honestly believe that the material that follows constitutes a representative sample of current minimalism. No doubt, some will feel that specific issues discussed here as part of a chapter ought to have received a more comprehensive treatment as a separate chapter. But I think that all the key concepts within linguistic minimalism today have found their way into the chapters of the handbook. This is thanks to the excellent researchers who found the time to contribute to this project. I want to take this opportunity to thank them all for making this handbook possible. I would also like to thank Noam Chomsky, Michael Brody, Alec Marantz, Danny Fox, Hagit Borer, Bob Berwick, and Richard Kayne, who unfortunately could not contribute to the volume, but who nevertheless offered me advice at various stages along the way. Their works have shaped linguistic minimalism in significant ways, and I hope that the following pages reflect this.

At Oxford University Press, John Davey and Julia Steer have been both extremely supportive of the project and very patient. Without them, this project would have never materialized. I am also indebted to Sarah Barrett for a suberb copy-editing job of Herculean proportions, and to Elmandi du Toit for overseeing the production process with great care and patience.

(p. xxvi) I also want to thank my students Dennis Ott, Hiroki Narita, Bridget Samuels, Adriana Fasanella-Seligrat, and Carlos Rubio, and, very especially, my wife, Youngmi Jeong, for much-needed help with this complex project. Financial support from Harvard University (Junior Faculty Publication Fund), the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (Fund from the Vice-Rector of Research), the European Union (Marie Curie International Re-integration Grant), and the Generalitat de Catalynua (grant 2009SGR1079 to the Grup de Lingüística Teòrica) is gratefully acknowledged.

This volume is dedicated to the memory of three wonderful linguists and remarkable individuals: Kenneth L. Hale, Tanya Reinhart, and Carol Chomsky.



August 2010