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Reviewed by:
  • Competition in syntax ed. by Gereon Müller, and Wolfgang Sternefeld
  • Benji Wald
Competition in syntax. Ed. by Gereon Müller and Wolfgang Sternefeld. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2001. Pp. 410. ISBN 3110169452. €80.78.

This collection of papers from a 1999 workshop at the University of Constance is specifically for readers interested in versions of optimality theory (OT), particularly as applied to relatively orthodox (minimalist) versions of generative grammar. The first article, by the editors, ‘The rise of competition in syntax: A synopsis’ (1–68), serves as the introduction. It gives recent historical background to the authors’ current OT concerns and briefly mentions the other papers in the volume in its final section (54–57), giving that section the appearance of an appendix attached to their own keynote contribution to the conference.

Apart from the editors’ article, which mainly recounts earlier work on English, most of the articles deal with German grammatical phenomena. Of course, since OT and generative grammar are typological and universalist enterprises, most articles focused on German contain some introductory material involving other languages. For example, in ‘Remarks on the economy of pronunciation’ (107–50), Gisbert Fanselow and Damir Ćavar preface their study of German wh-movement with some comments on relevant phenomena in Bahasa Indonesian, whence they identify some principles then developed for varieties of German. This article is also interesting for observing, apparently for the first time, that some of the wh-phenomena that differentiate varieties of German and can be described by OT in terms of different constraint rankings have a geographical and hence [End Page 841] dialectal basis (e.g. 144, n. 3). Otherwise, implications of OT for syntactic change and diversification are never noted in any of the articles, the focus being on OT as a tool of synchronic analysis.

The two other exceptions to a focus on German are relatively short articles, Anja Wanner’s ‘The optimal linking of arguments: The case of English psych verbs’ (377–99), and Sten Vikner’s ‘The interpretation of object shift and optimality theory’ (321–40), which is evenly divided between discussion of Icelandic and German (the latter for purposes of comparison).

The most ambitious article is Frank Keller’s ‘Constraint competition in gapping constructions’ (211–48). It explores OT modeling of degrees of ‘(un)grammaticality’ (or ‘deviance’ or ‘marginality’) by matching a set of rerankable rules of German gapping to controlled experimental results of nonlinguists’ judgments of gapping examples. Here, the magnitude estimation method of judging examples for acceptability is matched to OT characterization of the type and number of violations in the set of examples. By this method, Keller is also able to comment on and reconsider how his experimental results compare with some linguists’ (e.g. Susumu Kuno, Jorge Hankamer) uncontrolled judgments of the relative acceptablity of particular gapping phenomena.

The other six articles are: ‘Let’s phrase it! Focus, word order and prosodic phrasing in German double object constructions’ by Daniel Bürling (69–106), ‘On the integration of cumulative effects into optimality theory’ by Silke Fischer (151–74), ‘Quantifier scope in German and cyclic optimization’ by Fabian Heck (175–210), ‘Word order variation: Competition or co-operation?’ by Jürgen Lenerz (249–82), ‘OT accounts of optionality: A comparison of global ties and neutralization’ by Tanja Schmid (283–320), ‘Case conflict in German free relative clause constructions: An optimality theoretic treatment’ by Ralf Vogel (341–76), followed by an ‘Index of OT-constraints’ (401–2) and an ‘Index of subjects’ (403–10). The articles represent a variety of approaches and concerns with testing OT against various types of syntactic data. All articles are of high quality and may interest many readers besides specialists in OT.



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pp. 841-842
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