Syntactic effects of morphological change

Syntactic effects of morphological change. Ed. by David W. Lightfoot. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Pp. 448. ISBN 0199250693. $134.99.

Reviewed by Claire Bowern, Yale University

This collection of twenty-one papers originated in the sixth Diachronic Generative Syntax Meeting (DIGS VI) at the University of Maryland in 2000. The volume’s theme is the consequences that changes in morphology may force in syntax, and there is a particular focus on the role of the loss of morphological marking in reanalysis. Most (but not all) of the papers assume a model of generative diachronic syntax in which change results obtain in acquisition when a child makes a different set of generalizations (and consequently sets its parameters slightly differently) from their parents. The introduction to the volume is cast in principles-and-parameters (cf. ‘[g]rammars differ sharply: a person either has a grammar with a certain property, or not’ (2)) and assumes that the only important locus of syntactic change is child language acquisition (and not, for example, adult grammar change). The papers employ several different models, although most papers are written within the minimalist framework.

An overarching question of whether changes in morphology drive changes in syntax, or whether the relationship is indirect. What evidence does morphology provide for learners acquiring syntax? Can syntactic changes be triggered simply by a change in morphological distribution? Is this the only way that syntactic change occurs? Do we ever find evidence for syntactic change instead driving morphological change?

The answers presented in this volume are mixed. Some of the papers highlight the problem of assigning a single underlying cause to a particular set of linguistic changes. Cynthia Allen, for example, argues that the trigger for the rise of combined adpositional genitives in Middle English is the loss of case marking and a more general relaxation of morphological blocking. Željko Bošković, in his commentary on Allen’s paper, asks what a principle such as the relaxation on constraints of morphological blocking means, and argues that such a principle does not have any place in the minimalist program. It remains to be seen, however, what place the minimalist program has in theories of language change (a question raised only indirectly in this volume).

The papers in this volume are grouped into four different parts. Part 1 concerns morphologically driven syntactic changes in languages such as English, Portuguese, Old Japanese, and Icelandic. Ian Roberts and Anna Roussou, for example, examine three cases of grammaticalization and argue that there is a correlation between the grammaticalization clines familiar from the functional linguistics literature and Guglielmo Cinque’s universal hierarchy of functional categories.

In Part 2, two papers discuss indirect links between morphology and syntax, using data from the history of Welsh and Portuguese. The six papers in Part 3 are all concerned with movement operations in various Germanic languages. Finally, there are two papers in Part 4 dealing with computer simulations.

This is a varied volume and many will find points of interest. I suspect that this volume will be of more use to theoreticians studying the relationships between morphology and syntax than to diachronic linguists.