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  • A lateral theory of phonology: What is CVCV, and why should it be?by Tobias Scheer, and: Direct interface and one-channel translation: A non-diacritic theory of the morphosyntax-phonology interface by Tobias Scheer
  • Marc van Oostendorp
A lateral theory of phonology: What is CVCV, and why should it be? By Tobias Scheer. (Studies in generative grammar 68.1.) Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2004. Pp. lix, 854. ISBN 9783110908336. $182 (Hb).
Direct interface and one-channel translation: A non-diacritic theory of the morphosyntax-phonology interface. By Tobias Scheer. (Studies in generative grammar 68.2.) Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 2012. Pp. xxxiv, 378. ISBN 9781614511113. $154 (Hb).

One of the problems of phonological theory is that its contents have become very scattered over the past decades. A large number of subtheories have been developed in order to deal with (among other things) the internal organization of phonological segments, their phonotactic organization into higher-order structures, and the interfaces with morphosyntax and phonology, for example. These theories were developed more or less independently of each other, and can be freely combined.

A clear example of this is optimality theory (Prince & Smolensky 2004), which over the past two decades has been considered the standard model of phonology. Optimality theory is in many ways rather limited in its scope: it provides us with a theory of language variation (languages differ by the ranking of their constraints) and a theory of the mapping of underlying forms to the phonological output. However, the theory is neutral with respect to many other aspects; it could be, and has been, combined with many very different views of morphology, of syllable structure, or even of the source of the constraints that are so central to the theory—for instance, whether they are purely formal and universal, or whether they are constructed by the language learner on a functional and phonetic basis.

The ‘standard theory’ is a formal object with a lot of parameters; every individual theorist can choose his own parameter settings, even on an ad hoc basis: in order to make an analysis of, say, vowel harmony, one needs some assumptions about morphology (is it word based or morpheme based?) and chooses the one that fits the analysis best. This allows a lot of theoretical creativity, but it also makes it very difficult to put together a coherent picture of what phonology looks like.

In more or less the same period of time, the framework of government phonology has grown as an alternative with a very different kind of methodology: since its inception (Kaye et al. 1985, 1990), phonologists working in this framework have tried to build up a single coherent framework wherein theoretical assumptions are all mutually dependent: replacing, say, the assumption of a principles-and-parameters framework of variation with constraint ranking, while keeping representational assumptions in place, is usually deemed impossible.

This effort has culminated in the two volumes of Tobias Scheer’s A lateral theory of phonology. The first volume, What is CVCV, and why should it be?, appeared in 2004, and the second volume, Direct interface and one-channel translation: A non-diacritic theory of the morphosyntax- phonology interface, in 2012. The 1,300 pages of these two volumes cover a lot of theoretical and empirical grounds—ranging from the representation of syllabic consonants in Czech to external sandhi in Corsican, and from German homorganic consonant clusters to v/w/u allophony in Belorussian. (S published a third book in 2011, A guide to morphosyntax-phonology interface theories (not discussed here), which also grew out of this project as an ambitious overview of the interface literature since structuralist times.) A short review such as this one can obviously not cover all of the issues. I restrict myself to one factum, in order to show the way in which very different theories interact within S’s version of government phonology, called CVCV phonology. I also discuss some of the possible objections against this account.

Several Slavic languages have words that start with clusters that are impossible in a language like English; for example, Czech, Polish, and Russian have the word rdezsno/rdest ‘knotgrass’, whereas English has no word starting with...


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