As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am in the process of co-editing a volume of commentary essays on Syntactic Structures (SS). The volume is scheduled to be out just in time for the holidays and will, I am sure, make a great gift. Nothing like an anniversary copy of SS with a compendium of essays elaborating its nuances to while away the holidays. I mention this because the project has got me thinking about how our theories of grammar have changed over time. And this brings me to the topic of today’s question: are all morphemes created equal?
Interestingly, GG theories answer this question differently. SS and Aspects sharply distinguish, at least theoretically, between two kinds of morphemes: those that enter derivations via lexical insertion, and those that enter transformationally. In this way, these theories make a principled distinction between grammatical vs non-grammatical formatives and track their grammatical differences to different G etiologies.
Later theories (take GB as the poster child) distinguish lexical vs functional morphemes, but, and this is important, there appears to be no principled distinction here. The latter more closely track important G features, but both types of formatives enter derivations in the same way (via lexical insertion or heads of X’ projections) and are manipulated by the same kinds of rules. The main difference (which I return to) is that some lexical items require specific grammatical licensing conditions (e.g. reflexives, pronouns, wh-elements) while others don’t (there is no grammatical licensing condition for ‘cat’ or ‘husband’). Functional elements are also often designated “closed class” items, but this classification carries no obvious theoretical import, at least within the theory of grammar. Rather, the designation is descriptive and adverts to the statistical frequency of these elements. Grammatically speaking, it is unclear what makes an expression “functional” beyond the fact that we designate it as such.
Minimalist accounts fall roughly on the GB side of these issues. This, I believe is unfortunate for the earlier distinction between lexical and grammatical formatives is, IMO, worth a modern investigation. Before saying a few words why I believe this, let me indulge my penchant for Whig History and illustrate the distinction contrasting the older Lees-Klima binding theory with the more modern GB view. Readers be warned, this will not be a short excursus.
Let’s start with the Less-Klima (LK) (1963) account. The theory invokes the following two rules. They must apply when they can and they are ordered so that (1) applies before (2).
X-NP1- Y- NP2 - Z --> X- NP1-Y- pronoun+self-Z, (Where NP1=NP2, pronoun has the f-features of NP2, and NP1/NP2 are in the same simplex sentence and).
X-NP1-Y-NP2-Z --> X-NP1-Y- pronoun-Z (Where NP1=NP2 and pronoun has the f-features of NP2).
As is evident, the two rules have very similar forms. Both apply to identical NPs and morphologically convert one to a reflexive or pronoun. (1), however, only applies to nominals in the same simplex clause, while (2) is not similarly restricted. As (1) obligatorily applies before (2), reflexivization will bleed the environment for the application of pronominalization by changing NP2 to a reflexive (thereby rendering the two NPs non-identical). The rule ordering effectively derives the complementary distribution of bound pronouns and reflexives.
An illustration will help make things clear. Consider the derivations of (3a). It has the underlying structure in (3b). We can factor this as in (3c) as per the reflexivization rule (1). This results in converting (3c) to (3d) with the surface output (3e) carrying a reflexive interpretation.
(3) a. John1 washed himself/*him
b. John washed John
e. John washed himself
What blocks John likes him with a similar reflexive reading? To get this structure requires that Pronominalization apply to (3c). However, it cannot as (1) is ordered to obligatorily apply before (2). Once (1) applies we get (3d) and this is no longer has a structural description amenable to (2). Thus, the application of (1) bleeds that of (2) and John likes him with a bound reading cannot be derived.
This changes in (4). Reflexivization cannot apply to (4c) as the two Johns are not in the same clause. As (1) cannot apply, (2) can (indeed, must) as it is not similarly restricted to apply to clausemates. In sum, the inability to apply (1) allows the application of (2). Thus does the LK theory derive the complementary distribution of reflexives and bound pronouns.
(4) a. John believes that Mary washed *himself/him
b. John believes that Mary washed John
e. John believes that Mary washed him
There are other features of note:
· *LK Grammars code for antecedence: Anaphoric dependency is grammatically specified. In other words, just as the antecedent of a reflexive is determined by (1), the antecedent of an anaphoric pronoun is determined by (2). If one understands “NP1 = NP2” to mean that the two nominals must (at least) have the same semantic value (i.e. that NP1 semantically binds NP2) then what the equality expresses is the idea that the grammar codes semantic binding and semantic antecedence. This has two consequences. First, that the grammar codes binding dependencies, not (co-)referential dependencies. Second, there is no analogue of GB’s Condition B, which grammatically states an anti-binding restriction. (1) and (2) together determine the class of anaphoric dependencies. There is no specific coding for disjoint reference or anti-anaphora.
· *Some operations have priority over others. A key feature of the LK approach is that reflexivization obligatorily applies before pronominalization. Were the operations either freely ordered or not obligatory then John hugged him would support the bound reading of the pronoun. In effect, the LK account embodies an economy conception wherein reflexivization is preferred to (is obligatorily ordered before) pronominalization. Absent this preference, locally bound pronouns would be grammatically generated. This point is made evident by considering a slight alternative version of the Pronominalization rule. Assume that we added the following rider to (2): NP1 and NP2 are not contained in the same simplex clause. This codicil is analogous to the restriction in (1), where Reflexivization is limited to clause-mates. Interestingly, this amendment allows (1) and (2) to be freely ordered. The clause-mate condition in (1) restricts application to clause-mated nominals and the one in (2) to non-clause-mated NPs. This suffices to prevent the illicit pronouns and reflexives in (3a)/(4a).
· * The LK approach is dependency centered not morpheme centered. (1) and (2) primarily code antecedence relations not morpheme distributions. A by-product of the dependency (in English) is the insertion of reflexive and pronominal morphemes. These are clearly surface morpho-phonological byproducts of the established dependency and can be expected to differ across languages. Stated more baldly, one can have reflexive and bound pronoun constructions without reflexives or bound pronouns. This gives the LK theory two distinctive characteristics when viewed with a modern eye. First, it distinguishes between morphemes that enter derivations from the lexicon and those that do not. Second, it endows this distinction between morpheme types with semantic significance. In the context of the Standard Theory, the LK background theory, bound pronouns and reflexives are semantically inert. Here Deep Structure exclusively determines semantic interpretation. Consequently, as reflexive and bound pronoun morphemes are not in Deep Structure but are introduced in the course of the syntactic derivation they must be interpretively impotent. There is one more interesting consequence, the LK conception rejects a central feature of later accounts: that morphological identity is a good guide to syntactic or semantic categorization. In other words, for LK theorists, the mere fact that bound pronouns and deictic pronouns have the same morpho-phonological shape in many languages is at best a weak prima facie reason for treating them as a unified syntactic class.
· *The binding rules in (1) and (2) also effectively derive a class of principle C effects given the background assumption that reflexives and pronouns morphologically obscure an underlying copy of the antecedent. The derivation, however, is not particularly deep. By stipulation, the rules retain the higher copies and morphologically reshape the lower ones into pronouns and reflexives. This has the effect of blocking the derivation of sentences like Himself kissed Bill, He thinks that John is tall, and (if the rules are ordered before WH-movement (aka Question formation) Who1 did he say t1 left. There are two noteworthy features of this account of principle C effects. First, as noted it is not deep for there is no reason for why the rules could not have been stated so that the higher copy (optionally) gets morphologically transmogrified. Were this possible all the indicated unacceptable sentences would be fully grammatically generated. Second, this version of principle C effects only holds for bound anaphors. It does not extend to co-referential dependencies, which fall outside the purview of this version of the binding theory. This is not, in itself a bad thing. As has been noted, there are well known “exceptions” to principle C where co-reference is tolerated. On the LK account, this is to be expected.
In sum: for LK the syntax outputs antecedent-anaphor dependencies. This is explicitly and directly coded in the relevant binding rules. The proposal has two central features: an economy condition in the guise of the preference for reflexivization over pronominalization and a distinction between formatives that enter derivations via rules like Lexical Insertion (e.g. words like cat, dog, the, this, deictic pronouns, etc.) and those that are the morphological by-products of rules of grammar (e.g. words like himself and certain bound hims that are morphological residues of established anaphoric dependencies).
 It must code more than this however for otherwise (2) could apply to the output of (1). It would suffice to block this to assume that some kind of syntactic identity is also required, e.g. that the two be tokens of the same type. For further discussion c.f. Hornstein 2001 and note 3.
 Figuring how to make this clear led to problems with the original LK account. For example, how exactly to code (i)? It does not semantically express (ii).
(i) Everyone hugged himself
(ii) Everyone hugged everyone
Interestingly this problem for the LK theory has an answer in contemporary minimalist approaches if we take binding to be a chain relation. In effect, the difference between the underlying form of (i) vs (ii) is that the latter has two selections of everyone in the numeration while the former has one. In other words, if we treat (1) and (2) as morphological spell out rules defined over chains, this problem disappears. C.f. Drummond 2011, Idsardi and Lidz 1997 and Hornstein 2001 for discussion. We return to this point again later on.
 Lasnik’s 1976 proposal for an anti-co-reference rule is built around the problems regarding “accidental” co-reference that this fact entails. Contemporary attempts to return to the LK vision have roughly followed Reinhart in assuming that the possibility of grammatical binding restricts extra-grammatical co-reference options.
 We must still assume that they are obligatory, but this is to block principle C effects (e.g. John saw John, and John said that Mary like John) rather than assure the complementarity of reflexives and bound pronouns.
 This is very much a Distributed Morphology conception, though in earlier theoretical guise.
 Recall that this assumption creates problems for quantified NP antecedents as remarked in footnote 3.
 C.f. Evans and Reinhart among others. Note, in addition, that there are virtually no extant cases of inverse binding, i.e. where a pronoun is anaphorically dependent on an antecedent it c-commands. Furthermore, even WCO configurations would seem to be underivable given the actual rules proposed. Nice as this is, it is worth recalling that this empirical success arises from codifying the stipulation that it is the higher/leftmost copy that is retained and the lower rightmost copy that gets morphologically altered.