Heidi Harley

What was the broad question that you most wanted to get an answer to during your time in the program?

I was (and still am) interested in the nature of the syntax/morphology/lexical semantics interface.

What is the current status of this question? Has it been answered? Did it turn out to be an ill-conceived question? If it?s a meaningful question as yet unanswered, please tell us what you think the path to an answer might be, or what obstacles make it a hard question.

At the time, syntax/morphology/lexical semantics interface issues were mostly understood in the field as being about the syntax-lexicon interface, and about mapping between independent levels of representation. I didn’t understand much about it at the time, but was very excited and inspired by two strands of work going on at the time among the faculty: Alec Marantz and Morris Halle’s Distributed Morphology approach to the syntax/morphology interface, and Ken Hale and Jay Keyser’s work on the syntax/argument structure interface. In both cases the answer seemed to be that the concept of ‘mapping’ was inadequately predictive/restrictive, and that a more principled and explanatory account was forthcoming if the relationship between the hypothesized representations was simply identity: it’s syntax all the way down, in Marantz’s phrase.

In the intervening years, this has turned out to be a very fruitful idea, in both directions, and I have not yet seen any convincing reason to let go of it. I think we have achieved a significant body of work in this unified perspective which has allowed a lot of insight into the workings of the relationship between UG and conceptual structure, and between UG and surface representations.

My classmate Colin Phillips and I organized a “Morphology/Syntax Workshop” at MIT as a satellite event at the 1994 LSA meeting in Boston, which then resulted in a MITWPL volume of the same name (MITWPL 21). It might be interesting to revisit the work in that volume and consider the differences in understanding that have emerged in the intervening 17 years.