Minimalist Interfaces: Evidence from Indonesian and Javanese by Yosuke Sato (review)
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Reviewed by
Yosuke Sato. 2010. Minimalist Interfaces: Evidence from Indonesian and Javanese. Linguistik Aktuell 155. xiii + 159. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. ISBN 978-902-72-5538-9. €95, US$143, hardcover.

Puzzles do not exist in a vacuum. Empirical observations rise to the level of puzzles only when cast against a particular theoretical backdrop. Their careful investigation, then, has the potential to elucidate not only the nature of particular linguistic phenomena, but also aspects of the design of the human language faculty itself. This stance is apparent in Yosuke Sato’s 2010 monograph, based on his 2008 University of Arizona doctoral dissertation, which studies four aspects of the grammar of Indonesian and Javanese and highlights their theoretical relevance within the framework of the Minimalist Program and to more general questions of grammatical architecture. The book is structured around these four case studies—on reduplication, active voice deletion, preposition-stranding sluicing, and nominal interpretation—with brief introduction and conclusion chapters that provide a theoretical framing.1

The title of this volume makes reference to Sato’s Minimalist Interfaces thesis, the idea that syntax proper is “functionally blind,” constructing complex syntactic objects “without ever caring about the fate of the objects thus created, leaving the task of their convergence/interpretability entirely to the language-external, sound- and meaning-related modules” (2). At both the sound- and meaning-related interfaces, a set of “domain-specific operations … legitimatize otherwise illicit objects created by syntax” (1). As made explicit in the conclusion, this view of the interfaces differs from common and influential “filtration” models of the interfaces (Chomsky and Lasnik 1977, among many others): “the role of the interfaces is not to constrain the forms of objects created by the syntactic derivation; they work instead to improve them” (134). Under this framework, it is, then, essential to investigate the inventory of such possible improvement strategies at the interfaces.

Save for a few references to this overarching Minimalist Interfaces thesis in the introduction or conclusion of a chapter, each chapter is self-contained, presenting its own relevant background and terms as necessary. The book reads as a collection of four papers, and this is not an accident—versions of three of the four content chapters have by now appeared elsewhere as independent journal articles. I will, therefore, begin with a summary and evaluation of each individual case study chapter and then return to these questions regarding the entire book and its themes as a whole. [End Page 298]

Ch. 2, “Reduplication asymmetries at the syntax-lexicon interface,” studies patterns of reduplication in Indonesian nouns and verbs, and is a revised version of Sato (2009) in the Journal of the South East Asian Linguistics Society. The chapter argues that reduplication in Indonesian must be sensitive to the internal derivational structure of words, which is incompatible with Lexicalism, the idea that words are formed in an independent morphology or lexicon module and are then used as atoms in syntax, as well as weaker forms of Lexicalism where irregular, unproductive morphology must be computed in the lexicon, before syntax. The chapter gives a brief survey of different conceptions of Lexicalism, as well as a brief introduction to a specific non-Lexicalist theory, Distributed Morphology, which is adopted in his proposal.

What is shown to be specifically problematic for many of the Lexicalist theories considered is the ordering of reduplication and affixation in cases where reduplication has applied word-internally. Consider the example of buah-buahan ‘many types of fruit’ derived from the stem buah ‘fruit’. The reduplication of the nominal stem buah-buah is a phonologically regular process with a transparent semantics of marked pluralization, which would be considered a type of inflectional morphology. The form buah-buahan, then, must either be the result of this inflectional morphology followed by the derivational morphology -an, or there would have to be an inflectional process of reduplication which reaches inside the already complex buahan and reduplicates just the stem, forming buahbuahan. This is problematic for those Lexicalist theories that strictly order derivational morphology before inflectional morphology, or treat derivational morphology in the lexicon and productive inflectional morphology in syntax.

The chapter presents as its central puzzle an asymmetry between...