Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Note on Levine (2010) and So-Called Movement Paradoxes

Levine (2010) criticizes an analysis of the ass camouflage construction (ACC) proposed by Collins, Moody, and Postal (2008). In the ACC, the possessor of the noun ass acts as a binder and controller while the head noun does not, but at the same time the head noun strictly controls agreement:

(1) John and Mary's ass is (*are) making theyself mad. (Levine 2010, example 21)

In Collins, Moody, and Postal's (CMP) analysis, the possessor starts out in a lower position (the base position of the subject) and moves into the possessor position (where the NP [__'s ass] occupies the higher subject position, Spec-IP). As CMP themselves point out, this analysis requires giving up basic assumptions about movement; namely, that the derived position must c-command its base position.

Levine (2010) rightly criticizes CMP's analysis, and offers a different one in the framework of HPSG, where binding and agreement are determined by different features. However, he then goes on to draw an unwarranted conclusion regarding theory comparison. Basically, his argument goes like this: (1) the movement analysis does not fit in with the basic architecture of the theory within which it is couched; (2) the theory he offers follows straightforwardly from assumptions of the HPSG architecture that he adopts; (3) therefore, the HPSG theory is to be preferred.

However, this conclusion does not follow at all. I can adopt a movement theory architecture (as I usually do in my own work), but reject CMP's analysis of the ACC (which I did, as soon as I read it). It is true that some researchers working within a movement architecture make the methodological mistake of trying to analyze all grammatical phenomena as movement, but this is a mistake in some instances and not an inherent flaw in the architecture. Other researchers working within the same basic architecture offer competing non-movement accounts of the same grammatical phenomena (witness binding and control, both of which some have tried to analyze as movement, and others have argued are not movement at all). In fact, working within a movement-style architecture, I could even adopt Levine's own analysis of the ACC!

So, while Levine's criticisms of CMP are right on target, his broader conclusion is not. In fact, one could go further and point to an issue that proponents of non-movement theories often raise in support of their theories, but which in fact undermines them. This is the issue of what some have called "movement paradoxes." These are often cited as showing that movement is entirely the wrong approach. Basically, a constituent that has moved is ungrammatical in the position it is claimed to move from:

(2) (Sag 2010, example 55)
a. That Kim is ready, you can rely on __.
b.*You can rely on that Kim is ready.

Proponents of non-movement theories embrace this, claiming that in filler-gap dependencies, the filler and the gap do not have to match in category.

However, this mismatch has been shown to be quite limited, and works in only one direction. Recent work by Alrenga (2005) and Takahashi (2010) has shown that the generalization is the following (adapted from Takahashi 2010):

(3) A clausal constituent (CP) is allowed to move only if its base-generated position is one in which an NP is allowed to appear.

Both Alrenga and Takahashi offer movement-based accounts of this generalization.

The point that I wish to make is that the very limited nature of this mismatch screams out for an explanation. Mismatches should not be embraced as something that the very architecture of a theory should allow, as non-movement approaches do; rather, they should be banned, and an explanation for the one exception that exists should be sought. Non-movement approaches that embrace category mismatches predict that they should arise all over the place, when in fact they do not. For instance, you never see the converse of the generalization and example above: a case where a CP but not an NP is allowed, but suddenly under movement the NP is allowed. This never happens:

(4) a. *I hoped a good result.
b. *A good result, I hoped.
c. I hoped that a good outcome would result.

The verb hope allows a CP but not an NP; it still does not allow an NP when the NP moves. If category mismatches were fully general, we should find such cases. That we do not indicates that the theory that bans them is on the right track. A theory that embraces category mismatches will have to stipulate conditions that ban all but the one described in (3).


Alrenga, Peter (2005). A Sentential Subject Asymmetry in English and Its Implications for Complement Selection. Syntax 8: 175-207.

Collins, Chris, Simanique Moody, and Paul M. Postal (2008). An AAE Camouflage Construction. Language 84: 29-68.

Levine, Robert D. (2010). The Ass Camouflage Construction: Masks as Parasitic Heads. Language 86: 265-301.

Sag, Ivan (2010). English Filler-Gap Constructions. Language 86: 486-545.

Takahashi, Shoichi (2010). The Hidden Side of Clausal Complements. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 28: 343-380.