24.38, Review: History of Ling; Morphology; Phonology; Syntax: Scheer (2011)

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LINGUIST List: Vol-24-38. Tue Jan 08 2013. ISSN: 1069 - 4875.

Subject: 24.38, Review: History of Ling; Morphology; Phonology; Syntax: Scheer (2011)

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Date: Tue, 08 Jan 2013 12:05:50
From: Janet Leonard [jleonard at uvic.ca]
Subject: A Guide to Morphosyntax-Phonology Interface Theories

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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/22/22-24.html

AUTHOR: Tobias Scheer
TITLE: A Guide to Morphosyntax-Phonology Interface Theories
SUBTITLE: How Extra-Phonological Information is Treated in Phonology since
Trubetzkoy’s Grenzsignale
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2011

Janet Leonard, Department of Linguistics, University of Victoria 


“A Guide to Morphosyntax-Phonology Interface Theories” is a very large book
comprising the description, synthesization and evaluation of a wide range of
theories associated with the morphosyntax-phonology interface. Given that this
book runs over 1000 pages in length, it is most useful to provide the reader
with a synopsis of the book’s central goal along with a brief summary of the
book’s four main parts, rather than detailed summaries of each chapter. The
central goal of this book is to argue that the best type of theory of the
morphosyntax-phonology interface is one that draws upon a convergence of a
variety of theoretical assumptions concerning language modules and their
communication. The author achieves this goal by combining a comprehensive
review of the historical development of the morphosyntax-phonology interface
literature, a discussion of the cognitive grounding of the
morphosyntax-phonology interface and an evaluation of the different
theoretical perspectives currently found in the literature today. Scheer
examines the kinds of influence earlier scholarship on the
morphosyntax-phonology interface (1940s-1970s) has had on the subsequent
understanding of more recent theoretical frameworks associated with the
interface (1980s to present-day). He evaluates, throughout, the compatibility
of current trends in both phonological theories of the interface and
morpho-syntactic theories of the interface, suggesting ways in which the two
might be converged. In addition to proposing key characteristics of a good
interface model, this book also serves as a reference guide to specific
morphosyntax-phonology interface theories and explains to the reader the
chronological development of those theories.

The book is organized into four parts: Introduction, Part I, Interlude and
Part II. The Introduction sets the stage for the author’s own theoretical
claims concerning the morphosyntax-phonology interface by explaining the
difference between interface theories positing that phonological information
is parsed iteratively beginning with the most embedded morpho-syntactic
structure to the least (“procedural”) and interface theories claiming that
phonology and morpho-syntax are separate modules which require some type of
translation between them in order for the two modules to communicate
(“representational”) (p. 1). The ultimate goal of this book is to argue that
both procedural and representational aspects of interface thinking are needed
in a good model of the interface. The author terms the combining of procedural
models and representational models “Interface Dualism” (p. 2). His perspective
is that a good theory of the morphosyntax-phonology interface should not focus
on one type of model at the expense of the other.

Part I of “A Guide to Morphosyntax-Phonology Interface Theories” is divided
into 12 chapters designed to take us on a chronological journey of interface
thinking, illuminating for the reader how each theory has influenced the
others and pointing out general assumptions that are shared, taken for granted
or ignored by each theory. Chapter 1 adopts Kenstowicz and Kisseberth’s (1977)
classification of linguistic processes at the interface as the context for a
discussion of the relationship between morpho-syntax and phonology. Chapter 2
surveys the influence that the Functional Perspective (Trubetzkoy 1939) has
had on subsequent theories of the interface. Chapter 3 focuses on American
Structuralism and the proposal that morphological information was carried by
“juncture” phonemes in the phonology (see for example Hockett 1942). Chapter 4
outlines literature concerning the move away from the use of “juncture”
phonemes toward the use of boundaries to represent morpho-syntactic
information in phonology. Chapter 5 is concerned with the contributions that
“The Sound Pattern of English” (SPE; Chomsky & Halle 1968) made to interface
theory. Scheer posits that the proposal that the communication between
morpho-syntax and phonology is both procedural and representational has its
roots in SPE. Chapter 6 is anchored around the debate about how, and if,
phonology can access morpho-syntax and if it does, whether or not that access
is direct or indirect. This chapter focuses primarily on Prosodic Phonology,
arguing that “indirect referencing” turns out to be the correct way to view
processes at the interface, but proposing that new phonological vocabulary is
needed to correctly capture the interaction between morpho-syntax and
phonology. The claim is that the “CV-unit” (p. 121) is the carrier of
morpho-syntactic information.

Chapter 7 provides an evaluation of Lexical Phonology. Scheer takes the stance
that this theory falls short of its goal of offering a procedural rather than
a representational theory of the interface, despite it being the first theory
of the interface to truly incorporate mechanisms compatible with a procedural
approach. Chapter 8 discusses the work of Halle & Vergnaud (1987),
acknowledging their role in initiating a new tradition in procedural
communication between morpho-syntax and phonology by combining theoretical
tools and ideas from SPE with the mechanism of “selective spell out” (p. 187).
Chapter 9 focuses on Kaye’s (1995) interpretation and application of previous
proposals having to do with no look-back and spell out devices. This chapter
bridges previous treatments of these devices by frameworks such as Lexical
Phonology with how they are applied in more recent frameworks, for example
Minimalism. Scheer claims that Kaye is the first to provide a solely
procedural means of communication between the phonology and the morpho-syntax.
He explains that Kaye’s approach is a functionalist approach which assumes
that the phonology demarcates morpho-syntactic information as a way to aid
morpheme identification.

Chapter 10 guides the reader through the historical development of Prosodic
Phonology. Scheer’s perspective is that it is solely a representational
interface theory. In his opinion, although rarely explicitly stated in the
literature, Prosodic Phonology departs from previous interface theories by
moving away from the theoretical notion of the boundary toward the theoretical
notion of the domain as the unit of communication at the interface. According
to Scheer, “Indirect Reference” (p. 345) is Prosodic Phonology’s most
important contribution to interface theory. Chapter 11 examines how Optimality
Theory (OT) formalizes the communication at the interface. Scheer argues that
OT subscribes to a representational means of communication at the interface
and that rather than proposing its own representational mechanisms it borrows
them from Prosodic Phonology. Further, OT, Scheer claims, is not a theory
which offers Interface Dualism, which he says is largely due to its rejection
of the generative principles of cyclicity resulting in the total absence of a
procedural (modular) means of communication between morpho-syntax and
phonology. Distributed Morphology (DM) is the focus of Chapter 12. In this
chapter Scheer compares the theory to Kaye (1995) and current minimalist
thinking. He concludes that DM contributes nothing to either a procedural or
representational approach to communication at the interface. Instead,
phonology is assumed to have direct access to the morphology.

The goal of the “Interlude” section is to contextualize for the reader issues
associated with Modularity. This section of the book is divided into 6
chapters. In Chapter 1 Scheer claims that Modularity is rarely referenced in
the interface literature, even though its concepts underlie many assumptions
about how the modules phonology, morphology and syntax communicate. Chapter 2
provides an overview of the basic assumptions regarding the concepts of
Modularity and Connectionism made in Cognitive Science as it relates to the
Brain and Mind. Chapter 3 summarizes the historical literature, back-grounding
proposals about how the Brain and Mind are organized.  Chapter 4 discusses how
particular areas of the Brain (modules) work. Chapter 5 provides an overview
of how assumptions and principles associated with a cognitive understanding of
Modularity have been adopted in linguistic theories. This chapter presents a
range of views of what kind of linguistic components are included within a
module. Previous literature concerning the inclusion of phonetics, phonology,
morphology, syntax and/or semantics within the same module, or within separate
modules is discussed and evaluated. Chapter 6 is concerned specifically with
how language modules communicate. In this chapter Scheer is concerned with
whether or not it is some type of structure or vocabulary that is translated
between modules, and if information from one module to another is translated
using some type of computational or matching device.
The main purpose of Part II is to illuminate and organize for the reader
theoretical ideas and assumptions concerning the morphosyntax-phonology
interface, which Scheer claims are not always explicitly laid out in the
theoretical literature, and to discuss the impact of those ideas and
assumptions on current linguistic thinking about the morphosyntax-phonology
interface. This part of the book is organized into 6 chapters. Chapter 1 is a
two-page introduction where Scheer explains that Part II is also designed to
serve as a navigational tool for Part I. Various themes are presented in this
part of the book which are directed back to relevant discussions of
theoretical frameworks found in Part I. Chapter 2 points out empirical
generalizations which Scheer claims are not frequently discussed in the
interface literature, e.g. the observations that morpho-syntactic information
has no impact on phonological computation, that morphemes have no internal
phonological boundaries, and that morpho-syntactic information has no phonetic
correlate.  Chapter 3 focuses on two of the empirical issues brought up in
Chapter 2 that, Scheer asserts, are clearly resolved. These issues include
claims that there are no boundaries inside morphemes and that there are no
phonetic correlates for morpho-syntactic distinctions. Chapters 4 and 5 are
centered on issues relevant to “Direct Interface” and “Indirect Interface”.
These issues include the kinds of linguistic modules that are relevant to the
interface and how those linguistic modules communicate and how they should be
represented. In particular, Scheer puts forth arguments associated with the
ordering of rules, how morpho-syntactic information is mapped to the phonology
and what kinds of basic units should be included in a theory of the
morphosyntax-phonology interface. Chapter 6 examines questions associated with
procedural processes at the interface. In particular, it focuses on
theoretical mechanisms such as spell-out, phases, and no look-back devices.
Scheer points to the differences and to the relationships between how Lexical
Phonology, Halle & Vergnaud (1987) and Kaye (1995) interpret and apply these
kinds of mechanisms, and explains their contribution to current syntactic


“A Guide to Morphosyntax-Phonology Interface Theories” contributes to the
morphosyntax-phonology debate in two major ways. First, it contributes by
offering the reader a unique model of the interface. Scheer uses the
evaluation of what he sees as the strengths and weaknesses of the previous
theories that he surveys in Part I as evidence to support arguments for what
kinds of assumptions and theoretical tools a good model of the interface
should include. He discusses previous theoretical questions and introduces new
ones. His central argument is that a good model of the morphosyntax-phonology
interface should combine the theoretical tools of both procedural and
representational theories of the interface and should not violate basic
properties of modularity. Scheer suggests that a model which takes these
points into consideration is better equipped to answer both new and old
theoretical questions about the interface than any of the solely procedural
and representational interface models that have come before it.

Second, this book contributes by providing the general linguistic reader with
a comprehensive overview of existing literature concerning the
morphosyntax-phonology interface. It is an excellent guide for understanding
the various contexts within which questions regarding the
morphosyntax-phonology interface are grounded. Scheer clearly demonstrates to
the reader the various perspectives there are on this subject, their origin,
their development, and the relationship between those various perspectives.

In addition, the way in which the book connects the historical overview of
interface theories with questions concerning what, in Scheer’s opinion, a
correct model of the interface should look like is organized in a useful and
intuitive way. The reader is frequently directed throughout the book to other
areas in the book which are relevant to the current section they are reading.
The section numbers are embedded in the text and their locations are given in
bold in the margins of the page. There are a number of typos throughout the
book; though these inconsistencies may distract the reader, they are not
serious enough to cause any confusion about the intention of the author’s

This book is an interesting and relevant volume for anyone interested in
familiarizing (or reorienting) themselves with the theoretical literature
associated with interface thinking and with the cognitive grounding of the
idea of linguistic modules. In addition, this book is relevant for anyone
wishing to learn more about contemporary thinking on these subjects. Scheer is
explicit about his own perspective of what theoretical devices a successful
interface model should include (Interface Dualism, Modularity, CV-units) and
is clear about which theoretical framework he favours (Government Phonology).
Despite this he references a vast range of sources from each of the
theoretical frameworks included in the book, making it possible for the reader
to follow up the literature he evaluates. Whether or not the reader agrees
with Scheer’s point of view with respect to the historical development of the
field and the types of assumptions and theoretical tools a good model of the
interface should adopt, this book is a must read for any scholar wishing to
learn more about or enter into the theoretical debate of how morpho-syntactic
and phonological information are processed.


Chomsky,  Noam and Morris Halle. 1968. The Sound Pattern of English.
Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Halle, Morris and Jean-Roger Vergnaud. 1987. An Essay on Stress. Cambridge,
Mass: MIT Press.

Hockett, Charles. 1942.  A System of Descriptive Phonology. Language 18: 3-21.

Kaye, Jonathan. 1995. Derivations and Interfaces. In Frontiers of Phonology,
Jacques Durand and Francis Katamba (eds.), 289-332. London & New York:

Kenstowicz, Michael and Charles Kisseberth. 1977. Topics in Phonological
Theory. New York: Academic Press.

Trubetzkoy, Nikolai Sergeyevich. 1939. Grundzige der Phonologie. 6th edition
1977, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.


Janet Leonard is a PhD Candidate at the University of Victoria. Her research
interest is the relationship between phonology and morphology in SENĆOŦEN
(Saanich), a Northern Straits variety of an endangered Salish language spoken
on Vancouver Island, B.C. Canada. Her dissertation focus is on understanding
the morphological and phonological predictors of schwa placement in SENĆOŦEN.

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