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The atoms of language1


The first part of this review article summarises and evaluates the contents of the book, attempting to do justice to the wealth of perspectives it offers. The book considers phonological, morphological, syntactic and semantic features from the vantage points of approaches as diverse as typology, computational linguistics and formal theories like Head-driven Phrase Structure Grammar (HPSG) and Minimalism. The second part of the article discusses several of the unifying threads that run through the volume, including the internal and cross-linguistic validity and correspondence of features, as well as the boundaries between morphology, syntax and semantics. I argue for a syntactic treatment of what has been referred to as periphrastic tense constructions in Bulgarian (including the future and the perfect), which I believe ensures greater language-internal and cross-linguistic consistency in proposing features and assigning their values. After briefly examining animacy in Bulgarian, I conclude that the operation and classification of features can make drawing boundaries between semantics and morphosyntax especially difficult. Finally, a case is made for treating tense as at least partly morphosyntactic in English, in contrast to prevalent current assumptions about the strictly morphosemantic nature of tense cross-linguistically.

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Author’s address: Department of English and American Studies, St. Kliment Ohridski University of Sofia, 15 Tsar Osvoboditel Blvd., Sofia 1504,
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Artemis Alexiadou . 2005. Possessors and (in)definiteness. Lingua 115.6, 787819.

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Ann Copestake , Dan Flickinger , Ivan A. Sag  & Carl Pollard . 2005. Minimal Recursion Semantics: An introduction. Journal of Research on Language and Computation 3.2–3, 281332.

Greville G. Corbett 2008. Determining morphosyntactic feature values: The case of case. In Greville G. Corbett  & Michael Noonan (eds.), Case and grammatical relations: Papers in honor of Bernard Comrie (Typological Studies in Language 81), 134. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

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Marcus Kracht . 1997. Inessential features. In Christian Retoré (ed.), Logical aspects of computational linguistics: First International Conference, LACL ’96 (Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence 1328), 4362. Berlin: Springer.

George Lakoff . 1987. Women, fire, and dangerous things. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Geoffrey K. Pullum 1989. The great Eskimo vocabulary hoax. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 7, 275281.

Tal Siloni . 2003. Prosodic case checking domain: The case of constructs. In Jacqueline Lecarme (ed.), Research in Afroasiatic grammar II, 481510. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Arnold M. Zwicky 1986. German adjective agreement in GPSG. Linguistics 24, 957990.

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Journal of Linguistics
  • ISSN: 0022-2267
  • EISSN: 1469-7742
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-linguistics
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