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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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Journal of Linguistics
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