Lisa Selkirk

As a grad student at MIT (1968-1972) I was interested in both phonology and syntax. I found myself particularly interested in sound patterns that showed an influence of syntax, and in the end opted to write a thesis in this area, which I called The Phrasal Phonology of English and French. It dealt with diverse aspects of the phonology of English function words and with the phonology of French liaison patterns, expanding the theory of syntax- driven phonological boundary placement offered in The Sound Pattern of English. My graduate education at MIT at that time gave me a profound interest in the nature of the distinct types of grammatical representation and in the interfaces between these in the architecture of the grammar. With time, the understanding of what constitutes phonological representation has expanded beyond what was envisaged in The Sound Patterns of English. My own contribution in this area has been primarily to show motivation for a properly phonological hierarchical constituent structure that is independent of, but systematically related to, syntactic structure. This prosodic constituency in phonological representation is argued to provide the characteristic domains for most apparently syntax-sensitive phenomena of the phonology and phonetics. The question of just how linguistic theory should characterize the effect of syntactic constituency or the syntactic derivation on phonological domain structure continues to be a central theme in my own research (see for example my article ‘The syntax-phonology interface’ to appear in The Handbook of Phonological Theory, 2 ed., edited by Riggle, Goldsmith and Yu.) Another gift of my graduate education at MIT was an understanding of the advantage to be gained empirically and theoretically by thinking modularly. This has been especially important in trying to understand the intonational pitch pattern of sentences, which in a language like English is subject to a multitude of factors that relate not only to the phonology of prosodic constituency and stress prominence in the sentence, but also to semantic/pragmatic factors like focus, discourse- new status and discourse-givenness, as well as to the tonal representation of the sentence and its phonetic interpretation, and to the effects of the phonetic interpretation of prosodic constituency and prominence, to cite just the grammatical influences. The perspective that coming to an understanding of intonation involves solving the puzzle of just how all these pieces fit together, and of just what contribution each is responsible for making, has given what I think are positive results. (My labors in this area are ongoing, in particular in work with Jonah Katz on phonetic evidence for making a semantic distinction between contrastive focus and discourse-new, and in work with Angelika Kratzer on the semantics and phonology of (contrastive) Focus and Givenness in English.)

It is not possible to say at this point that major issues in the theory of the syntax- phonology interface, or even in the theory of the relevant aspects of phonological representation, have been resolved to the point of achieving broad consensus. Too little data on these questions is available from the world’s languages, or even from single languages, and too few competing theoretical perspectives have been articulated and evaluated with respect to the data available. There have simply been too few scholars at work in this area, perhaps because investigation of these questions requires thinking beyond the confines of single components of grammar and in particular the readiness to overcome what has come to seem a practical, even natural, divide between phonology and phonetics on the one hand and syntax, semantics and pragmatics on the other.