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Uttering trees (review)
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Uttering trees presents two hypotheses regarding the syntax-phonology interface within the framework of the Minimalist Program. One hypothesis, “Distinctness”, states that if any pair of nodes in a spelled-out domain cannot be distinguished from each other, and are in an asymmetric c-command relation, the derivation crashes because the linearization procedure would include a contradictory statement of the form < α,α >. The other hypothesis, “Beyond strength and weakness”, is an attempt to predict whether a language has overt wh-movement or wh-in-situ from the position of the interrogative C (initial vs. final) and its prosodic alignment structure (right vs. left-edge).

The book consists of four chapters followed by notes, references, and index. Chapter 1 (“Introduction”) gives an overview of the two hypotheses. Chapter 2 (“Distinctness”) presents an argument for the Distinctness Hypothesis (1).

1.   Distinctness:

If a linearisation statement < α,α > is generated, the derivation crashes. (p. 5)

Couched within Phase Theory (Chomsky 2000), (1) disallows any trees where two nodes of the same type are to be linearized in the same spell-out domain if they are in an asymmetric c-command relation. The precise nature of “the same type” varies across languages. In English, two nodes cannot be distinguished from each other if they share the same label. Richards claims that this follows from the proposal of Distributed Morphology (Halle and Marantz 1993), that functional heads are inserted via late vocabulary insertion. Assuming that linearization precedes late insertion, two nodes of the same label are non-distinct and cause the derivation to crash if linearized in the same spell-out domain. Section 2.1 examines several cases of Distinctness violations. For example, English allows multiple sluicing (2a), but such a construction is impossible if the remnants are both dp s (2b). This pattern follows from (1) if the two dp s are non-distinct within the same spelled-out domain.


  • a.    I know everyone danced with someone, but I don’t know [who] [with whom].

  • b.    *I know everyone insulted someone, but I don’t know [who] [whom]. (p. 8)

Section 2.2 shows that the Distinctness effects are sensitive not to phonological adjacency, but to spell-out domains demarcated by the phase-based derivation. Richards first uses various facts to show that linear adjacency is insufficient. For instance, consider the examples in (3).


  • a.    We made John leave.

  • b.    *John was made ___ leave.

  • c.    [How many prisoners] did you make ___ leave? (pp. 17, 19)

The condition in (1) correctly predicts the contrast between (3b) and (3a, c). Since passives do not induce a phase boundary (Chomsky 2000), made and leave in (3b) are linearized in the same spell-out domain. This is not the case in (3a) or (3c), which involves the phase-inducing transitive verb. Linear adjacency would not predict the contrast in (3b, c) because the two verbs are adjacent in both cases, but only (3c) is grammatical. Linear adjacency is not necessary, either. For example, a Distinctness effect arises in a quotative inversion where two dp s appear after the verb (4a). The effect persists even when an adverb disrupts the adjacency between the two dp s (4b). This pattern follows if the two dp s are spelled-out in the same domain.


  • a.    *“It’s cold,” told [John] [Mary].

  • b.    *“It’s cold,” told [John] sadly [Mary]. (p. 33)

Section 2.3 investigates the type and features of nodes that Distinctness is sensitive to. Richards argues that different languages avoid Distinctness violations by assigning different features to the potentially offending nodes. Japanese, for instance, allows multiple dp -sluicing. Distinctness effects arise only when both remnants have the same case or animacy (5).


  • a.    *[Sensei-ga sukina] gakusei-ga koko-ni oozei iru kedo, dare-ga teacher-nom like student-nom here-dat many be but who-nom

    dare-ga ka oboeteinai.

    who-nom q remember-neg

    ‘There are lots of students here who like teachers, but I don’t remember who who.’

  • b.    [Sensei-o hihansita] gakusei-ga koko-ni oozei iru kedo, dare-ga

    teacher-acc criticized student-nom here-dat many be but who-nom

    dare-o ka oboeteinai.

    who-acc Q remember-neg...

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