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  • The syntax of roots and the roots of syntax ed. by Artemis Alexiadou, Hagit Borer, Florian Schäfer
  • Itamar Kastner
The syntax of roots and the roots of syntax. Ed. by Artemis Alexiadou, Hagit Borer, and Florian Schäfer. (Oxford studies in theoretical linguistics 51.) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. Pp. xiii, 333. ISBN 9780199665273. $115 (Hb.)

A considerable amount of recent work in morphology has relied on the notion of a categoryless ‘root’. Under most approaches associated with this view, the root is the lexical core of the derivation. Such approaches have found it useful to posit this element because it allows the analyst to hypothesize different constraints for the root and for the rest of the syntax. This division of labor is the topic of The syntax of roots and the roots of syntax. Root-based approaches enable us to formulate different hypotheses about the kind of information contained in the root proper versus the information that must be part of the morphosyntactic derivation. For example, analyses of argument structure alternations implicate both the root and the functional structure that the root attaches to. Consider the verbs clear and wipe: if we can clear the dishes from the table and clear the table of dishes, why is it that we can wipe the fingerprints from the counter but cannot *wipe the counter of fingerprints (Levin & Rappaport Hovav 1991)? Any answer to this question must engage with at least two aspects of these constructions: the lexical semantics of predicates like wipe and clear and the different syntactic structures they are embedded in. An appeal to roots provides the morphologist with a convenient way of making the distinction, with different distinctions leading to diverging predictions within and across languages.

This volume, edited by Alexiadou, Borer, and Schäfer, presents a collection of papers from two roots-oriented workshops held at the University of Southern California and the University of Stuttgart. The resulting collection is a morphologist’s feast; virtually every chapter makes for essential reading for researchers working on these issues. Other readers, however, might be overwhelmed by the range of analyses and phenomena. An uninitiated linguist interested in seeing what all the root-related fuss was about might not find this volume to be immediately accessible. Since the book contains many well-thought-out contributions, it is not possible to evaluate each and every one of them here. Instead, in what follows I recommend one way of approaching the volume, a way I believe will be the most helpful for someone not already well-versed in these issues. The path I sketch through the chapters and by which I recommend that they be read has two aims in mind: to demonstrate the empirical and conceptual benefits of using roots, and to build on this assumption by seeing in what ways the theories can be developed. Some readers may find it more useful to pick out individual chapters, and for these readers too I hope the following overview will be helpful.

Regardless of their background, all readers stand to benefit from perusing the introduction by the editors. They go over the issues sketched above in depth, outlining what is at stake and how the individual chapters further our understanding of existing debates. Ultimately, the order in which the contributions are surveyed here is very similar to that in the introduction, though I frame the narrative slightly differently.

We begin with three chapters presenting empirical issues that can be analyzed by embedding semantically contentful roots in syntactic structure. These chapters are followed by three others that strip away the semantics from the root. Two additional chapters then formalize how lexical semantics can be attributed to the root. Three more chapters highlight issues of locality, before the final chapter asks to what extent all of these issues can relate to other questions in contemporary syntactic theory. [End Page 210]

Kicking off with a few empirical puzzles, Artemis Alexiadou’s contribution addresses the question of what affixes combine with what roots. Specifically, the Greek prefix afto can derive reflexive verbs, but only for roots that denote actions performed on others, and then only with an additional nonactive suffix. Meanwhile...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1535-0665
Print ISSN
0097-8507
Pages
pp. 210-212
Launched on MUSE
2016-03-30
Open Access
No
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