Sunday, July 27, 2014

Comments on lecture 4-II

This is the second installment of comments on lecture 4. The first part is here.

The Minimal Labeling Algorithm (MLA)
Chomsky starts the discussion by reviewing the basics of his approach to labels.  Here are the key assumptions:
1.     Labels are necessary for interpreting structured linguistic objects (SLO) at the interfaces. I.e. Labels are not required for the operations of the computational system (CS).
2.     Labels are assigned by the MLA as follows
a.     All constructed SLOs must be labeled (see 1)
b.     Labels are assigned within phases
c.     MLA minimally searches a set (i.e SLO) to identify the most
prominent “element.” This element is the label of the set.[1]
                                                        i.     In cases like {X,YP} (i.e. in which X is atomic and Y complex), the MLA chooses X: the shallowest element capable of serving as a label
                                                      ii.     In {XP, YP} (i.e in cases where both members of the set are complex), There is no unique choice to serve as label. In such cases, if XP and YP “agree,” (e.g. phi feature agreement, or WH feature agreement) then MLA chooses the common agreement features as the label.
3.     Ancillary assumptions:
a.     Only XPs that are heads of their chains are “visible” within a given set. Thus, in {XP,YP} if XP is not head of its XP chain, then it is invisible within the set {XP,YP}, (i.e. movement removes X within XP as a potential label).
b.     Roots are inherently incapable of labeling.
c.     T is parametrically a label. The capacity of T to serve as a label is related to “richness of agreement.” It is “rich” in Italian so Italian T can serve as a label. It is “poor” in English so English T cannot serve as a label.
d.     If a “weak” head (root or T) agrees with some X in XP then the agreement features can serve as a label.

Assumptions in 3 and 4 suffice to explain several interesting features of FL: the Fixed Subject Condition (FSC) (the subject/object asymmetries in “ECP effects”), EPP effects, and the presence of displacement. Let’s see how.

Consider first the EPP.  {T, YP} requires a label. In Italian this is not a problem for rich agreement endows T with labeling prowess.[2] English finesses this problem by raising a DP to “Spec” T. In a finite clause, this induces agreement between the DP and the TP (well T’ in the “old” system, but whatever) and the shared phi features can serve as the label.  If, however, DP fails to raise to Spec T or if DP in Spec T I-merges into some higher position, then it will not be available for agreement and the set that contains T will not receive a label and so will not be interpretable at CI or SM.  This is the account for the unacceptability of the sentences in (1) and (2) (traces used for convenience):

                 (1)  * left John
                       (2) *Who1 did John say that t1 saw Mary

Comments: Note that for this account to go through, we must assume that in {T, YP} that the “head” of Y is not a potential label. The fact that T cannot serve as a label does not yet imply that minimal search cannot find one.  Thus, say the complement of T were vP (here a weak v). Then the structure is {T, vP}. If T is not a potential label, then the shallowest possible label is v. Thus, we should be able to label the whole set ‘v’ and not move anything up. Why then is movement required?

One possible reason is that John cannot stay in its base position for some reason. One reason that it might have to move is that John cannot get case here, forcing John to move. The problem however, is that on a Probe-Goal system with non transitive v as a weak phase, T can probe John and assign it case (perhaps as a by-product of phi agreement, though I believe that this is empirically dubious).  Thus, given Chomsky’s standard assumptions, John can discharge whatever checking obligations it has without moving a jot.

So maybe, it needs to move for some other reason. One consistent with the assumptions above is that it needs to move so that {R(left), John} can be labeled.[3]   Recall, however, that Chomsky assumes that roots are universally incapable of labeling (3-c above) (Question: is 3-c a stipulation of UG or does it follow from more general minimalist assumptions? If the former then it exacerbates DP and so is an unwelcome stipulation (which is not to say that it is incorrect, but given GM something we should be suspicious of)). The structure of the set {R(left), John} is actually {R(left), {n, R(John)}.  In the latter there is a highest potential label, namely ‘n.’ So, it the MLA is charged with finding the most prominent potential label, then it would appear that even without movement of {n, R(John)}, the MLA could unambiguously apply.  Once again, it is not clear why I-merge is required.

Indeed, things are more obscure yet.  In this lecture Chomsky suggests that roots raise and combine with higher functional heads.  This implies that in {v, {[R(left) {n, R(John)}}} that R(left) vacates the lowest set and unites with ‘v.’ But this movement will make ‘R(left)’ invisible in the lowest set, again allowing ‘n’ to label it.  So, once again, it is not clear why John needs to raise to Spec T and why ‘v’ cannot serve to label {T, vP}.

Here’s another possibility: Maybe Chomsky is assuming a theoretical analogue of defective intervention. Here’s what I mean.  The MLA looks not for the highest potential labeler, but for the highest lexical atom, whether it can serve as a label or not. So in {T, vP}, T is the highest atom, it’s just that it cannot label. So, unless something moves to its spec to agree with it, we will not be able to label {T, vP} and we will face interpretive problems at the interfaces.  On this interpretation, then, the MLA does not look for the highest possible labeling atomic element, but simply the most prominent element regardless of its labeling capacities.  This will have the effect of forcing I-merge of John to Spec-T.

So, let’s so interpret the MLA.  Chomsky suggests that the same logic will force raising of an object to Spec-R(V) in a standard transitive clause.[4] Thus in something like (3a) the structure of the complement of v* is (3b) and movement of the object to Spec-R(kiss) (3c), could allow for the set to be labeled.

(    (3)  a. Mary kissed John
     b. {v*, {R(kiss), John}}
     c. {John, {R(kiss), John}}

However, once again, this presupposes that raising the root to v*, which Chomsky assumes to be universally required, will not suffice to disambiguate the structure for labeling.[5]

So, the EPP follows given this way of reading the proposal: MLA searches not for the first potential label, but for the closest lexical atoms. If it finds one, it is the label if it can be. If it cannot be, then tough luck, we need to label some other way. One way would be for its Spec to be occupied with an agreeing element, then the agreement can serve as the label. So even atoms that cannot label (even cannot label inherently) can serve to interfere with other elements serving as labels. This forces EPP movement in English so that agreement can resolve the ambiguity that stifles the MLA.

Question: how are non-finite TPs labeled? If they are strong, then there is no problem. But clearly they generally don’t display any agreement (at least any overt morphology). Thus, for infinitives, the link to “rich” morphology is questionable. If non-finite Ts are weak, however, then how can we get successive cyclic movement? Recall, the DP must remain in Spec T to allow for labeling. Thus, successive cyclic movement should make labeling impossible and we should get EPP problems?  In short, if a finite T requires a present subject in order to label the “T’”, why not a non-finite T?  A puzzle.

Question: I am still not clear how this analysis applies to Existential Constructions (EC). In an earlier lecture, Chomsky insisted (to reply to David P) that the EPP is mainly “about” the existence of null expletives (note: I didn’t understand this as I said in comments to lecture 3).  Ok: so English needs an expletive to label “T’” but Italiina doesn’t. It’s not that Italian has a null expletive, but that it has nothing in Spec-T as nothing is required.  So, what happens in English?  How exactly does there help label the “TP”?  Recall, the idea is that in {XP,YP} configurations there isn’t an unambiguous most prominent atom and so the common agreement features serve as the label. Does this mean that in ECs there and the T share agreement features?[6]  I am happy enough with this conclusion, but I thought that Chomsky took the agreement in ECs to be between the associate and T. Thus the agreement would not be between T and there but between T and the associate. How then does there figure in all of this?  What’s it doing?  Let me put this another way: the idea that Chomsky is pursuing is that agreement provides a way for the MLA to find a label when the structure is ambiguous. The label resolves the problem by identifying a common feature(s) of XP and YP and using it to label the whole. But in ECs it is standardly assumed that the agreement is not with the XP in Spec T but an associate in the complement domain of T.  So, either it is not agreement that resolves the labeling problem in ECs, or there has agreement features, or ECs are, despite appearances, not {XP,YP} SLOs.  At any rate, I am not sure what Chomsky would say about these, and they seem central to his proposal. Inquiring minds want to know.

[1] Chomsky seems to say that phase heads (PH) determine the label. I am not at all sure why we need assume that it’s the PH that via the MLA determines the label. It seems to me that MLA can function without a PH head being involved at all to, as it were, “choose” the label. What is needed is that the MLA be a phase level operation that applies, I assume, at Transfer. However, I may be wrong about how Chomsky thinks of the role of PHs in labeling, though I think this is what Chomsky actually says.
From what I can tell, MLA requires that the choice of label respect minimal search and that it be deterministic. I have interpreted this to mean, that the MLA applies to a given set of elements to unambiguously choose the label. It is important that the MLA does not tolerate labeling ambiguity (i.e. in a given structure exactly one element can serve as the label and it will be chosen as the label) for this is what forces movement and agreement, as we shall see. However, I do not see that the MLA requires that PHs actually do the labeling (i.e. choose the label). What is needed is that in every set, there be a uniquely shallowest potential label and that the MLA choose it.
I am not clear why PHs are required (if they are) to get the MLA to operate correctly. This may be a residue of an idea that Chomsky later abandons, namely that all rules are products of properties of the phase head. Chomsky, as I noted, dumps this assumption at the end of lecture 4 and this might suffice to liberate the MLA from PHs.  Note it would also allow for matrix clauses to be labeled. Minimal search is generally taken to be restricted to sister’s of probes. PHs then do not “see” their specifiers, making labeling of a matrix clause impossible. Freeing the MLA from PHs would eliminate this problem.
[2] Reminder: this is not an explanation. “Rich agreement” is just the name we give to the fact that T can do this in some languages and not in others. How it manages to do this is unclear. I mention this to avoid confusing a diacritical statement for an explanation. It is well known, that rich morphological agreement is neither necessary nor sufficient to license EPP effects, though there is a long tradition that identifies morphological richness as the relevant parameter.  There is an equally long tradition that realizes that this carries very little explanatory force.
[3] ‘R(X)’ means root of X.
[4] Chomsky uses this to derive the Postal effects discussed by Koizumi and Lasnik and Saito that indicate that accusative case marking endows an expression with scope higher than its apparent base position. Chomsky thinks that this movement really counterintuitive and so thinks that the system he develops is really terrific precisely because it gets this as a consequence.  It is worth pointing out that if case were assigned in Spec-X configurations as in the earliest MP proposals, the movement would be required as well. I am sure that Chomsky would not like this, though it is pretty clear that Spec-X structures are not nearly as unpleasant to his sensibilities as they once were given that this are the configurations where agreement licenses labeling. That said, it is not configurations that license agreement per se.
[5] Chomsky does suggest that in head raising he raised head “labels” the derived {X,Y} structure. If so, then maybe one needs to label the VP before the V raises. I am frankly unclear about all of this.
[6] A paper I wrote with Jacek Witkos on ECs suggested that in ECs there inherited features from the nominal it was related to (it started out as a kind of dummy determiner and moved) and that the agreement one sees is not then directly with the associate. This would suffice here, though I strongly doubt that Chomsky would be delighted with this fix.

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