Monday, 14 September 2015

Allosemy---- No thanks.

On Allosemy

It seems like I am always complaining about the status of semantics in the theory of grammar. I complain when its ignored, and then I complain when its done in a way I don´t like, I complain and complain.   Today is not going to be any different.

At the ROOTS IV conference, we had a number of lexical semantics talks, which clearly engaged with meaning and generalizations about root meaning. Then we had the morphology talks.   But I´m not convinced those two groups of people were actually talking to each other.  Now, the thing about Distributed Morphology is that it doesn’t believe in a generative lexicon, so all of the meaning generalizations that are in the lexicon for the lexical semanticists have to be recouped (if at all)  in the functional structure, for DM and its fellow travellers, me included. This is not a deep problem if we are focusing on  the job figuring out what the meaning generalizations actually are in the first place, which seems independent of arguing  about the architecture.  But  there is also a danger that the generalizations that the lexical semanticists are concerned about are perceived as orthogonal to the system of sentence construction that morphosyntactians  are looking at.   Within DM, the separation of the system into ROOT and functional structure already creates a sharp division whereby meaty conceptual content and grammatically relevant meanings are separated derivationally.  This in turn can lead to a tendency to ignore lexical conceptual semantics if you are interested in functional morphemes, and to suspect that the generalizations of the lexical semanticists are simply not relevant to your life (i.e. that they are not part of the `generative system´).  To the extent that there are generalizations and patterns that need to be accounted for, we need to look to the system of functional heads proposed to sit above the verbal root in the little vP.  But more challengingly, we need to relate them via selectional frames to the sorts of ROOTS they combine with in a non ad hoc manner.  If, in addition, we require a constrained theory of polysemy, the problem becomes even more complex.  I think we are nowhere close to being able to solve these problems.  Perhaps because of this, I think that standard morphological  and syntactic theories currently do not yet engage properly with the patterns in verb meaning, by which I mean both constraints on possible meanings, and the existence of constrained polysemies.  I contend that the architecture that strictly separates the conceptual content of the root from the functional structure in a derivational system must resort to crude templatic descriptive stipulations with which to handle selection.  This architecture also obscures the generalizations surrounding polysemy.  

One of the interesting talks in the conference that was one of the few that attempted to integrated worries about meaning into a system with DM-like assumptions, was the contribution by Neil Myler. Neil was interested in tackling the fact that the verb have in English is found in a wide variety of different constructions, and he was interested in giving a unified explanation of that basic phenomenon.  To that extent, I thought Neil´s contribution was excellent, and I agreed with the motivation, but I found myself  uncomfortable with some of the particular tools he used to put his story for have  together.  The issue in question involves the deployment of  Allosemy.  

Let me first complain about the word Allosemy. It´s pronounced  aLOSSemi, right? That´s how we are supposed to pronounce it. Of course, doing so basically destroys all recognition of the morphemes that go into making it , and renders the word itself semantically opaque even though it is perfectly compositional.
I hate it when stress shift does that. 
Curiously, the problem with the pronunciation is similar to the problem I have with  its existence in the theory, namely that it actually obscures the semantics of what is going on, if we are not careful with it.

Let´s have a look at how Allosemy is deployed in a  series of recent works by Jim Wood, Alec Marantz and Neil Myler (We could maybe call them The NYU Constructivists for short). I am supposed to be a fellow traveller with this work, but then why do I feel like I want to reject most of what they are saying ??   Consider the recent paper by Jim Wood and Alec Marantz, which you can read here .

So to summarize briefly, the idea seems to be that instead of endowing functional heads with a semantics that has to remain constant across all  its instantiations, we give a particular functional head like little v  N possible semantic meanings, and then say that it is allosemic.   In other words it is N-ways ambiguous depending on the context.    This allows syntax to be pure and autonomous.  As a side effect this means that meaning can be potentially built up in  different ways, and the same structure can have different meanings. The cost?   

COST 1: In addition to  all the other listed frames for selection and allomorphy, we now have to list for every item a subcategorization frame that determines the allosemic variants of the functional items in the context of insertion. (Well, if you like construction grammar……)

COST 2:  Since the mapping between syntactic structure and meaning can no longer be relied upon, there is no chance of semantic and syntactic bootstrapping for the poor infant trying to learn their language.  I personally do not see how acquisition gets off the ground without bootstrapping of this kind.

COST 3: (This is the killer). Generalizations about hierarchy and meaning correspondences like the (I think exceptionless) one that syntactic embedding never inverts causational structure is completely mysterious and cannot fall out naturally from such a system (see this paper of mine   for discussion).

PAYOFF:  Syntax gets to be autonomous again.
But wait. We want this exactly, Why?  Because Chomsky showed us the generative semanticists were wrong back in the sixties?

And anyway,  isn’t syntax supposed to be quite small and minimal now, with a lot of the richness and structure coming from the constraints at the interface with other aspects of cognition? Doesn’t this lead us to expect that abstract syntactic structures are interpreted in universally reliable ways?

Allosemy says that the only generalities are syntactic ones. Like `I have an EPP feature’ or` I introduce an argument’. It denies that there are any generalities at the level of abstract semantics.  I would argue rather that  the challenge is to give these heads a general enough and underspecified  semantics so that the normal compositional interaction with the rest of the structure these things compose with will give rise to the different polysemies seen on the surface. Allosemy is not the same as compositionally potent underspecification.  The strategy of the Woods and Marantz paper is to go for a brute force semantic ambiguity which is controlled by listing selectional combinations.  It is perfectly clear that this architecture can describe anything it wants to. And while one might be able to do it in a careful and sensible way so as to pave the way for explanation later on, it is also perfectly clear that this particular analytic tool allows you to describe loads of things that don’t actually exist!  So, isn’t this going backwards, retreating from explanatory adequacy?

Of course, the rhetoric of the Woods and Marantz paper sounds lovely and high-minded. The head that introduces arguments (i* ) is abstract and underspecified.   The kind of thing a syntactician can love.  (There is also another version of i* which is modulated by the fact that  a ROOT is adjoined to it, and this version is the one that introduces adjuncts and is influenced by the semantics of the ROOT that adjoins to it).  However, core i* is nothing nothing new, in fact it is a blast from the past (not in a bad way, in fact).  It is just a notational variant of the original classical idea of specifier, where it was the locus for the subject of predication (as in the the classic and insightful paper by Tim Stowell from 1982, Subjects across Categories here).  And the i* with stuff adjoined to it is what happens when you have an argument introduced by a preposition. So i* is only needed now because we got rid of specifiers and the generality of what it means to be a specifier. 

So. Allosemy. Can we just not do this?  

Wednesday, 9 September 2015



It’s been a while since New York, but I whisked away for vacation time immediately afterwards, from which I am only slowly recovering.  Many of you will already know that I am also on sabbatical this term, hanging out in Edinburgh, loosely affiliated with the University,  but trying to lay low.  This has in turn made August  a month of moving and organizational hecticness.  But productivity is slowly picking up.

ROOTS  IV took place in New York, June 29th- July 2nd,  the 4th meeting of its kind, organized brilliantly by Itamar Kastnar, Alec Marantz and the department at NYU and co-sponsored by NYU Abu Dhabi.  Check out the website for the panel discussion here, including a YouTube video of all the panel presentations, including yours truly here.   

Avid blog followers will recall that I expressed my fears in advance of this meeting that I might end up at the wrong party, i.e. that the workshop would largely be some kind of theory-internal Distributed Morphology discussion.  Alec debunked that notion forcefully and convincingly in his opening address. And indeed, one can see from the invited participants to this event, that we were not  all specifically classic DM-ers,  but came from a broad group made up of what Alec called `fellow-travellers’.  By this I think he meant those who broadly shared enough starting assumptions to actually get a meaningful and stimulating conversation going about details.  As a fellow-traveller, I offer some thoughts in this blog inspired and stimulated by being at this workshop and being part of the ROOTS IV event.   In the end, the conference split quite firmly into the morphologists (that group of fellow travellers) and the lexical semanticists who didn’t actually seem to be in the same conversation (but more about this in the next post).

It seems to me that at this conference, Distributed Morphology officially acknowledged in a common and public forum that root suppletion exists. Heidi Harley’s poster child case from root suppletion in Hiaki has stood up to scrutiny and we have to just suck it up.  
The DM-ers at the conference seemed to all reluctantly agree, including Alec  (Skepticism and vocal disagreement  from Hagit Borer notwithstanding). 

Since it is a little outside my world view, I took some time to reflect on the special status of roots within DM and what work it does in the theory.  In DM, recall, Roots are the only  listed thing there at the start of the syntactic derivation.   Unlike vocabulary items, they are not  late-inserted.   They also have no syntactic features on them inherently, and they usually come in at the lowest part of the tree  (more recent approaches also allow roots to be `adjoined’  to various syntactic heads, but we put this aside for now).  Roots are the creatures that anchor the whole derivation, within the theory of  Distributed Morphology, and which are the basis for the enclosing identity within which competition for insertion can be calculated.  They are also the identity that underlies allomorphy and allosemy in particular contexts.  What the fact of root suppletion does to this system is that, previously,  an abstract phonological representation could be thought to be a stand-in for the identity represented by a particular root.  But if there is root suppletion then that is no longer always the case, and the thing that is the same across all spell-outs of ROOTs in a context has to be much more abstract than that (Heidi makes this point in the article I linked to above. In that work, she argues for a system of abstract indices to track the identities we need).   I guess this is also the reason that the paradigm people believe in paradigms. Paradigms are probably a notational variant of the abstract indices idea (a sub-list  defined by features inside a single address).

To see how this affects the whole system, consider the nice *ABA generalization that Jonathan Bobaljik has famously proposed and discussed in his book on comparatives.  (Norbert discussed this work warmly in his blog earlier this summer here ). 

*ABA  is a constraint that makes references to a particular kind of situation where syntactic features are in a particular inclusion relation, ordered in a particular hierarchy.  In this situation, if   you have a vocabulary item that can spell out a lower position but a suppletive one that spells out an intermediate position, then you cannot revert to the first item to spell out the highest node.  Thus the claim is about the correlation between possible polysemies and syntactic structures—polysemy must respect the contiguity  of the inclusion relations in syntactic structure, as a constraint on the operation of the Elsewhere Principle.   A very interesting proposal, if true.  Now, what we need to understand about this pattern is that the statement of it also relies on correctly distinguishing cases of true suppletion from other kinds of phonological variants in the vocabulary items.  We all understand and accept cases of phonologically conditioned allomorphy, where the phonological rules present and active in the language create variations on the ROOT’s abstract representation due to phonological context.  But  there are also cases of phonological readjustment rules that exist in DM, which are sensitive to morphosyntactic context (not phonology), and which are not the same as any actual  phonological rule in the language, ( or even possible rule sometimes).   These abstract readjustment rules do not count as suppletion--- crucially do not `count’  as creating a B out of an A.  Essentially, you still have an A if you `phonologically readjust’.   There are many of us who do not like ad hoc phonological readjustment rules, just to preserve the fiction of phonological ROOT identity.   But according to Bobalijk (pc), readjustment rules were crucially taken into account in reaching the *ABA generalization in the first place.  (Thanks to Peter Svenonius for pointing this out to me).   Putting this together with the previous point, consider now the fact that  root identity is no longer underwritten always by  an abstract phonological representation, but by something MUCH more abstract, like an index.  Now  we need to make sure that  we have an architecture of the kind that constructs  ROOT identity across suppletive environments, while still maintaining an internal distinction between `related’  variants and suppletive variants of the same thing for the purpose of stating the deep Bobaljik generalization.   So what gives? Are suppletive variants `the same’?  Or are they `different’ , i.e. Bs as opposed to As in Bobaljik’s generalization? 

I for one would like to give up ad hoc phonological readjustment rules in favour of straight-up variant insertion, making these kinds of variations indistinguishable from  cases of suppletion (which we can no longer run away from theoretically, if Heidi is right). But then I am in danger of losing  *ABA.  Or rather, I would have to make *ABA a bit of telling historical detritus, a morphological patterning that shows us something real, but  indirectly and not synchronically.   I would also expect in that case to see  some evidence of   pure  *ABA where one only needs to compare two distinct forms without the help of phonological readjustment rules.  I don’t control the examples from the book well enough to know how much reliance there is on those in Bobalijk’s book to make the generalization. 

But in any case, there is a real tension here I think.   If there really is a generalization concerning the mapping between insertion and syntactic structure that relies on suppletive forms being different  in an important sense, then how does that reconcile with ROOTs having an identity across suppletive variants?

Morphologists: Help?

This has gone on too long.  In my next post on ROOTS IV, I will muse on semantics and the existence of Allosemy (or not).

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Anticipation: Roots


The recent meeting of syntacticians in Athens has whet my appetite for big gatherings with lots of extremely intelligent linguists thinking about the same topic, because it was so much fun.  

At the same time, it has also raised the bar for what I think we should hope to accomplish with such big workshops. I have become more focused and critical about what the field should be doing within its ranks as well as with respect to communication with the external sphere(s).

The workshop I am about to attend on Roots (the fourth such) to be held in New York from June 29th to July 3rd, offers a glittering array of participants (see the preliminary program here ), organized by Alec Marantz and the team at NYU.   

Not all the participants share a Distributed Morphology (DM)-like view of `roots’,  but all are broadly engaged in the same kinds of research questions and share a generative approach to language. The programme also includes a public forum panel discussion to present and discuss ideas that should be more accessible to the interested general public. So Roots will be an experiment in having the internal conversation as well as the external conversation. 

One of the things I tend to like to do is fret about the worst case scenario.  This way I cannot be disappointed.  What do I think is at stake here, and what is there to fret over in advance you ask?  Morphosyntax is in great shape, right?

Are we going to communicate about the real questions, or will everyone talk about their own way of looking at things and simply talk past one another?  Or will we bicker about small implementational issues such as should roots be acategorial or not? Should there be a rich generative lexicon or not?  Are these in fact, as I suspect,  matters of implementation,   or are they substantive matters that make actual different predictions?  I need a mathematical linguist to help me out here.  But my impression is that you can take any phenomenon that one linguist flaunts as evidence that their framework is best, and with a little motivation, creativity and tweaking here and there, that you can give an analysis in the other framework´s terms as well.   Because in the end these analyses are still at the level of higher level descriptions, and it may look a little different but you can still always describe the facts.  

DM in particular equips itself with an impressive arsenal of tricks and  magicks to get the job done. We have syntactic operations of course, because DM prides itself on being `syntax all the way down´.  But in fact, but we also have a host of purely morphological operations to get things in shape for spellout (fission, fusion, impoverishment, lowering what have you), which are not normal actions of syntax and sit purely in the morphological component.  Insertion comes next, which is regulated by competition and the elsewhere principle, where the effects of local selectional frames can be felt (contextual allomorphy and subcategorization frames for functional context).   After spellout, notice that you still get a chance to fix some stuff that hasn´t come out right so far, namely by using `phonological´ readjustment rules, which don´t exist anywhere else in the language´s natural phonology.  And this is all before the actual phonology begins. So sandwiched in between independently understood syntactic processes and independently understood phonological processes, there´s a whole host of operations whose shape and inherent nature look quite unique. And there´s lots of them. So by my reckoning,  DM has a separate morphological generative component which is different from the syntactic one. With lots of tools in it.

But I don´t really want to go down that road, because one woman´s Ugly is another woman´s Perfectly Reasonable, and I´m not going to win that battle. I suspect that these frameworks are inter translatable and that we do not have, even in principle, the evidence from within purely syntactic theorising, to choose between them.

However, there might be deep differences when it comes to deciding what operations are within the narrow computation and which ones are properties of the transducer that maps between the computation and the other modules of mind brain.  So it´s the substantive question of what that division of labour is, rather than the actual toolbox that I would like to make progress on.

To be concrete, here are some mid-level questions that could come up at the ROOTs meeting.

Mid-Level Questions:
A. Should generative aspects of meaning be represented in the syntax or the lexicon? (DM says syntax)
B.  What syntactic information is borne by roots? (DM says none)
C. Should there be late insertion or  should lexical items drive projection? (DM says late insertion)

Going down a level, if one accepts a general DM architecture, one needs to ask a whole host of important lower level questions to achieve a proper degree of explicitness:

Low-Level Questions
DM1: What features can syntactic structures bear as the triggers for insertion?
DM2: What is the relationship between functional items and features? If it is not one-to-one, can we put constraints on the number of `flavours` these functional heads can come in?
DM3: What morphological processes manipulate structure prior to insertion, and can any features be added at this stage?
DM4: How is competition regulated?
DM5: What phonological readjustment rules can apply after insertion?

There is some hope that there will be a discussion of the issues represented by A, B and C above. But the meeting may end up concentrating on DM1-5.

Now, my hunch is that in the end,  even A vs. B vs. C are all NON-ISSUES. Therefore, we should not waste time and rhetoric trying to convince each other to switch `sides’.  Having said that, there is good evidence that we want to be able to walk around a problem and see it from different framework-ian perspectives, so we don’t want homogeneity either. And we do not want an enforced shared vocabulary and set of assumptions.  This is because a particular way of framing a general space of linguistic inquiry lends itself to noticing different issues or problems, and to seeing different kinds of solutions.   I will argue in my own contribution to this workshop on Day 1, that the analyses that adopt as axiomatic the principle  of acategorial roots prejudges and obscures certain real and important issues that are urgent for us to solve.  So I think A, B and C need an airing.

If we end up wallowing in DM1-5 the whole time, I am going to go to sleep.  And this is not because I don’t appreciate explicitness and algorithmic discipline (as Gereon Mueller was imploring us to get more serious about at the Athens meeting), because I do. I think it is vital to work through the system, especially to to detect when one has smuggled in unarticulated assumptions, and make sure the analysis actually delivers and generates the output it claims to generate.   The problem is that I have different answers to B than in the DM framework, so when it comes to the nitty-gritty of DM2,3 and 5 in particular, I often find it frustratingly hard to convert the questions into ones that transcend the implementation.  But ok, it’s not all about me.

But here is some stuff that I would actually like to figure out, where I think the question transcends frameworks, although it requires a generative perspective. 

A Higher Level Question I Care About
Question Z.  If there is a narrow syntactic computation that manipulates syntactic primes and  has a regular relationship to the generation of meaning, what aspects of meaning are strictly a matter of syntactic form, and what aspects of meaning are filled in by more general cognitive processes and representations? 

Another way of asking this question is in terms of minimalist theorizing. FLN must generate complex syntactic  representations and semantic skeletons that underwrite the productivity of meaning construction in human language. What parts of what we traditionally consider the `meaning of a verb’  are contributed by (i) The narrow syntactic computation itself, (ii) the transducer from FLN to the domain of concepts (iii) conceptual flesh and fluff on the other side of the interface that the verb is conventionally associated with. 

Certain aspects of the computational system for a particular language must surely be universal, but perhaps only rather abstract properties of it such as hierarchical structuring and the relationship between embedding and semantic composition. It remains an open question whether the labels of the syntactic primes are universal or language specific, or a combination of the two (as in Wiltschko’s recent proposals). This makes the question concerning the division of labour between the skeleton and the flesh of verbal meaning also a question about the locus of variation. But it also makes the question potentially much more difficult to answer. To answer it we need evidence from many languages, and we need to have diagnostics for which types of meaning we put on which side of the divide.  In this discussion, narrow language particular computation does not equate to  universal. I think it is important to acknowledge that. So we need to make a distinction between negotiable meaning vs. non-negotiable meaning and be able to apply it more generally. (The DM version of this question would be: what meanings go into the roots and the encyclopedia as opposed to meaning that comes from the functional heads themselves).

There is an important further question lurking in the background to all of this which is of how the mechanisms of storage and computation are configured in the brain, and what  the role of the actual lexical item is in that complex architecture.  I think we know enough about the underlying patterns of verbal meaning and verbal morphology to start trying to talk to the folks who have done experiments on priming and  the timing of lexical access both in isolation and integrated in sentence processing.   I would have loved to see some interdisciplinary talks at this workshop, but it doesn’t look like it from the programme. 

Still, I am going to be happy if we can start comparing notes and coming up with a consensus on what we can say at this stage about higher level question Z. (If you remember the old Dr Seuss story, Little Cat Z was the one with VOOM, the one who cleaned up the mess).

When it comes to the division of labour between the knowledge store that is represented by knowing the lexical items of one’s language, and the computational system that puts lexical items together, I am not sure we know if we are even asking the question in the right way.  What do we know of the psycholinguistics of lexical access and deployment that would bear on our theories?  I would like to get more up to date on that. Because the minimalist agenda and the constructivist rhetoric essential force us to ask the higher level question Z, and we are going to need some help from the psycholinguists to answer it.  But that perhaps will be a topic for a different workshop.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Athens: Final Instalment

I would like to start off by saying, in case it wasn´t already perfectly obvious, that the posts I have been making are my own highly subjective highlights and interpretations from an extremely contentful and interesting event.  I am not even attempting to provide a proper transcript, and these are not even Minutes. They also have no official status, in the sense that the organizers have no idea what I am writing.  I thought I would start my last post in this fashion, because the final instalment will probably be even more subjective and interpretational than the previous ones.

I ended my last post with the assertion that it is hard to agree on the content and formulation of our field´s MLGs.  To illustrate this I take a toy example from  the realm of argument structure and think out loud for a bit.   Suppose I range my own commitments and things I consider consensual in a kind of hierarchical ranking going from most general to most specific. The most general level is shared I expect by all generative syntacticians, while the lowest reaches might start to get more contentious.

GG1:  The Language System discrete and symbolic, and makes crucial reference to hierarchy in its complex representations.  

GG2: A linguistic representation includes the formation of dependencies and relations.  These all seem to come with their own specific locality conditions.

MLGs (?) For Verbal Syn-Sem

1. There is a grammatically relevant notion of SUBJECT that cannot be defined purely by reference to thematic/semantic properties.

2. In  the linguistic expression of an event where both agentive and patientive participants are obligatorily represented,  the nominal constituent representing the Agent is always hierarchically superior to the nominal constituent representing the Patient in the syntactic representation (SYN-SEM generalization).

3. A monoclausal verbal structure cannot express more than one temporally non-overlapping dynamic portion (SYN-SEM generalization).

4. ARGUMENTS (thematic and notionally obligatory participants related to ta verbal expression) behave in a linguistically distinct way from ADJUNCTS.
(lots of sub-generalizations here related to the formation of dependencies into the two types).

5. Argument structure and aktionsart generalizations  are properties of  the verbal projection, not  properties of  verbal lexical items.
(Depending on who you talk to, there are different sorts of feeding relations between the lexical verb and the verbal structure it appears with).

6. In a phrase structure representing the verbal event,  argument structure projections such as CAUSE and PASSIVE appear inside (i.e. hierarchically closer to the root) than inflectional and ASPECT, and TENSE projections.  

Ok, that was just off the top of my head, and I was trying to state the MLG level in terms that would be acceptable to the maximum number of people who would consider themselves generative syntacticians.  Notice that I didn´t put in Burzio´s Generalization, or express (5) in terms of acategorial roots.  For the former, that´s because I couldn´t think of a way to express it in primes that I accept in a way that makes it both contentful and true; for the latter, I would not agree with (5) if I had to accept that extra analytic step. 

There are also a lot of other things I could write down there that I believe are correct (with a fair amount of good reason), but which I reckon that too many other people would take issue with, so they didn´t make it.  But where is the cut-off ? 

Another thing.  Groups of syntacticians that share more terms of art, will have more specific commitments in common. But are they MLGs really, or are they  just agreements about how to use the toolbox?  

Finally, some of the things one might want to write down as an MLG have been demonstrated and tested on only a small (and typologically narrow) set of the worlds languages. They are up there because they look good so far. There would be nothing on the list if  we had to confine ourselves to things that are true of every world language.   I think it is fair to concede that deep engagement with the facts and properties of currently less well understood languages can sometimes radically change the terms of the MLGs that ultimately turn out to be correct. (Dechaine was the leading voice of caution here).

It is worth emphasizing that the list above is both provisional and highly descriptive. Some of them may end up having a fan of sub-generalizations; some of them might end up being just be tendencies, or confined to certain language groups. 

In all of this, we must not lose sight of the fact that this list is not a list of Universals in the sense of Universal Grammar, since we all  think that whatever languages have in common, they have to be the abstract things that underwrite and give rise to these patterns and tendencies.  Once this is recognized, even tendencies and conditional generalizations are valuable, because they give insight into what those commonalities might be. It is an empirical issue what level of abstraction the common UG properties might exist. It might be just MERGE, plus a range of cognitive tendencies, learning biases, and 3rd factor design properties.

I found it a good exercise to try to write some of these things down. And I also found it an interesting exercise to see a whole room full of generative syntacticians trying to brainstorm a list together.   We can all agree broadly, but it is much harder to make the fine grained judgements that this kind of list requires in a consensual way.

But perhaps absolute consensus is neither possible nor desirable. The effort to transcend parochiality is good, but the list should have a more flexible and pluralistic status if it is going to have any good effects.

It certainly seems true to me that if we had such a list,  however imperfect, it could be immensely useful in guiding research questions and providing a platform for genuinely comulative advance, especially after we have made the effort to state our commitments in the maximally general way possible so as to communicate across frameworks, and ultimately across disciplines.   

What did We Accomplish?

I seriously hope that the subcommittee set up impromptu on the floor at Athens will manage to negotiate the minefield of the The List  and come up with something that at the very least can serve as a springboard for discussion and further hypothesis testing (replications and extensions). 

We also had a nice affirming experience in Athens in the sense that it was impossible to leave that event without thinking that syntacticians are serious,  smart and committed and doing a lot of good and responsible work.

Finally, we came up with a number of practical suggestions for how we can manage the outreach to schools, to the public, and to academics in other disciplines.  This was something we could all agree on.

So its all Good, Right?

The syntacticians at the Athens meeting are real live people, and so they straddle the whole spectrum of personality types  with respect to thoughts on the Road Ahead, and the reasons for the call----- Happy, Bashful, Sneezy, Sleepy, Grumpy, Dopey and Doc.  I want to concentrate for a moment on Happy and Grumpy.
Happy is the syntactician who was a little baffled by the terms of the call, and thinks that internal to syntax there is  no problem, no crisis, and no reason at all for this meeting.  Grumpy is the syntactician who sort of darkly suspects that the reason we have been so bad at communicating outside our own tribe is that we have some internal issues to resolve as well.   I speak as one who would classify herself as Grumpy in this regard.  I think, for example, my friend and colleague David Adger is Happy. (I hope David will not yell at me for this, but I think we have actually had this conversation).  This could just be a personality thing.  But if I can generalize, (and I know I am getting myself into trouble here)  I would say that Happy is a syntactician working in the US  or the UK who is comfortable using the canonical minimalist toolbox, terms and framework language.  Grumpy was usually living in non English speaking Europe, and often had fewer mainstream commitments at the implementational level.   I think Grumpy would be much happier if syntactic theorizing used a less parochial toolbox, emphasized generalizations at the MLG level more, and if it was a little bit more multilingual in its engagement with other implementational languages and of the bridging discourses to other disciplines.

I´m sure I´ve forgotten something, but it´s gone on too long already.