Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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Author: Ray Jackendoff TITLE: Meaning and the lexicon SUBTITLE: The Parallel Architecture 1975-2010 PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press YEAR: 2010
Fredrik Heinat, Stockholm University
'The meaning and the lexicon: the parallel architecture, 1975-2010' is intended as a thematic/chronological outline of Jackendoff's linguistic theory, known as 'the parallel architecture'. The intended audience is, according to the publisher, ''linguists of all theoretical persuasions'', and the book should also appeal to ''cognitive scientists, philosophers, and anyone interested in how language operates in the mind, brain, and human communication''. It contains 13 chapters, all but the first previously published. The chapters are not ordered chronologically, but instead around three main themes. The first theme is the parallel architecture as a linguistic theory, the second deals with the relation between vision and language, and the third is constructions.
The first chapter, 'Prologue: the parallel architecture and its components', briefly introduces Jackendoff's parallel architecture and outlines the key concepts used throughout the book. It outlines how the three generative components of language -- syntax, semantics and phonology (presumably morphology should be included) -- interact. The second chapter, 'Morphological and Semantic Regularities in the Lexicon' (from 1975), attempts to formalize the relations between lexical items (so called lexical redundancy rules) and at the same time keep each lexical item's specific meaning intact.
The third and fourth chapters, 'On beyond Zebra: the relation of Linguistic and Visual Information'(1987) and 'The architecture of the linguistic spatial interface' (1996), both deal with how the brain encodes (visual) spatial information and linguistic information, and the interface between the two types. Jackendoff's proposal is that 3D models of lexical items should be on a par with conceptual, phonological and syntactic information.
In chapters 5 and 6, 'Parts and boundaries' (1991) and 'The proper treatment of measuring out, Telicity, and perhaps even quantification in English' (1996), Jackendoff extends the notion of dimensionality from chapters 3 and 4 to events and aspectuality. Chapter 5 focuses on the repetitive interpretation of sentences such as 'the light flashed until dawn' and how important the notions of path and boundedness are in the conceptual structure of phenomena as diverse as aspect, compounding and events. Chapter 6 deals with the 'measuring out' effect that exists in examples such as 'eat an apple' but not in 'eat apples', or in other words, that the first example is telic and the second atelic. In both chapters Jackendoff shows how conceptual notions that previously were thought to be primitives can be reduced even further when the notion of dimensionality in the spatial domain is extended to the domains of events and times.
The following chapters, 7-13 -- 'English particle constructions, the lexicon, and the autonomy of syntax' (2002), 'Twistin' the night away' (1997), 'The English resultative as a family of constructions' (2004), 'On the Phrase ''the phrase 'the phrase'''' (1984), 'Contrastive Focus Reduplication in English (the salad-salad paper)' (2004), '''Construction after construction'' and its theoretical challenges' (2008) and 'The Ecology of English Noun-Noun compounds' (2009), respectively -- all deal with the notion of construction. In these chapters Jackendoff provides analyses and arguments for maintaining purely syntactic principles (in contrast to versions of construction grammar in which every syntactic construction has a meaning) but at the same time allowing for meaningful constructions. The last chapter is the most recently published (2009). Here, Jackendoff argues, on the basis of English noun-noun compounds, that there is a generative component in semantics, just as there is in syntax.
In addition to these 13 chapters, some chapters have a few pages of remarks preceding them, in which Jackendoff puts the chapter(s) in context, regarding both time, and the development of the parallel architecture.
Even though all chapters (except the first) have been published previously, this volume has something new to offer the reader.
Firstly, Jackendoff has added notes that either develop alternative analyses, or simply inform the reader what problems some of his old analyses face in more recent implementations of the parallel architecture. Secondly, every thematic section is introduced by a short passage where Jackendoff puts the papers in the perspective of the research questions that were important at that time. Thirdly, some chapters have been revised, extended and edited to reduce unnecessary repetition of terms and technical machinery. Also, the papers contain very helpful cross-references to each other.
Since I write from the perspective of a linguist, it is difficult to evaluate how well suited the book is for other intended audiences, but I suppose that many in the broadest audience named in the blurb, 'anyone interested in how communication works', would get bogged down in theoretical technicalities and be somewhat disappointed. But from a linguist's point of view, the book is an excellent introduction to Jackendoff's parallel architecture. However, anyone well-versed in Jackendoff's theory would be all too familiar with the present papers and the issues that are dealt with, and will probably not find the book an essential read in the development of the theory.
The overall impression is that 'Meaning and the lexicon' is a book that raises a number of important questions regarding the interplay of syntax and semantics. Jackendoff clearly identifies linguistic phenomena that pose problems for several theories, modular as well as non-modular.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Fredrik Heinat holds a research position at Stockholm University. His
research focuses on the interaction between syntax, semantics and
morphology, more specifically in the realization or suppression of
arguments in relation to their licensing predicates. He's currently
investigating agent demoting constructions in Finnish, and light verb
constructions from a broader linguistic perspective. Other areas of
interest are psycholinguistics and experimental methods.