The Minimalist Programme

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As noted in the previous chapter, no theoretical studies taking a Minimalist Programme have been undertaken on mood in Dholuo, apart from the study by Oluoch (2004). Most studies in Dholuo that are relevant to this study have been conducted within the framework of Functional Grammar, the standard theory of Generative Transformational grammar, Semantic Field Theory, and one study which combines the theories of Autosegmental Phonology (dominant), CV Phonology and Metric Phonology. Although these theoretical frameworks have their merits, in this study the Minimalist Programme as presented in Chomsky (1995) is used. In what follows, I shall focus on aspects of this theoretical framework that are relevant to the study. Every task requires a tool and in this research, the Minimalist Programme is that tool. It is part of the generative tradition of linguistics. I hope the study will contribute to the Minimalist Programme’s further development and refinement since most linguistic theories including the Minimalist Programme are informed and inspired by Indo-European languages, mainly English. As far as I know, not much has been done in terms of applying the Minimalist Programme to the study of African languages. This chapter will discuss the theoretical framework, theoretical literature and philosophical background. The Minimalist theory will be discussed with a focus on how and why Minimalism was developed, the shortcomings of Chomsky’s phrase structure over Government and Binding (GB), why Minimalism is used as a departure from GB, how it differs from GB, its main tenets, challenges and the role of morphology.

Philosophical background

From the Generative Grammar point of view, language is innate. Children are born with some internal unconscious knowledge of grammar, known as universal grammar (UG), and being equipped with it and exposed to a language, can construct the grammar of the language they are exposed to (Haegeman, 1994:14). Humans are equipped with a language faculty, which comprises a component called competence, also known as I-language (Crystal, 1991:170), and performance, also known as E-language (Crystal, 1991:118).
Competence is the tacit knowledge that one needs to speak a language. It is the knowledge of an ideal speaker-listener in a completely homogenous speech community who knows the language perfectly and is unaffected by such grammatically irrelevant conditions such as memory or other limitations. It is the knowledge about a particular language that cannot be measured. This tacit knowledge of language is found in every speaker but it varies from individual to individual. Competence is a property of an individual that provides one with the ability to perceive the relationships of linguistic elements. One can then produce an infinite number of sentences using only a finite number of rules. Competence also allows the native speaker to make assessments about the grammaticality of expressions. One’s intuition helps one to judge the well-formedness or ill-formedness of grammatical sentences. It is the perfect, unconscious knowledge of the rules, that is, implicit knowledge.
Performance is the actual use of the language in concrete situations (Chomsky, 1965:4). Performance is the actual use of language. Performance varies from person to person. The performance systems access information stored in the cognitive system and use this information. Performance and cognitive systems are components of the language faculty.
Based on these presuppositions, Generative Grammar meets the conditions for an adequate grammatical model, because it achieves observational adequacy in specifying the difference between grammatical and ungrammatical sentences on phonological, morphological and syntactic grounds. The grammar as a model of competence can generate only the well-formed sentences of a language. It also strives for descriptive adequacy by formulating the rules and regulations of the language structure, which are based on the native speaker’s intuition about the well-formedness of the language properties. It accounts for the systematic relationships among the sentences of a language and attempts to define or describe the language in terms of word order, sentence formation and language typology. By providing good reasons for rules of the grammar, explanatory adequacy is achieved. According to Chomsky (1986: 53), every grammar of a specific language has to meet these conditions. Generative Grammar strives for explanatory adequacy by giving us a principal way in which language is learnt by children and human beings.
Chomsky’s quest was to develop a universal theory of language, where specific grammatical descriptions of all the different languages contribute to developing the properties of universal grammar (UG). The universality condition states that any adequate linguistic theory should provide a powerful theoretical mechanism for adequately describing the grammar of any natural language. Devices such as phrases and sentences are used when rules are proposed to describe or account for a language and if these devices are suggested for a given language it should be possible to use them in many languages. Hence universal rules account for other languages as well.
The Minimalist Programme is a development of the generative enterprise. In the Minimalist Programme, structures are represented and generated to account for language phenomena using the smallest set of devices for the linguistic system to be as economical as possible. It is morphosyntactic and can be used to describe the morphosyntax of mood in Dholuo. According to Crystal (1991:226), morphosyntax refers to grammatical categories or properties where the criteria for definition of both morphology and syntax apply. The description of the characteristics of words and number in nouns constitutes a morphosyntactic category, since the contrasts affect syntax. This is because a singular subject requires a singular verb which requires a morphological definition like the plural inflection suffix marker -s. Other morphological definitions include traditional properties like singular, perfect, indicative, passive, accusative and third person. This, with reference to the Minimalist Programme, applies to word formation processes like derivation and inflection and how these words lead to the structure building process through feature checking.

The Minimalist Programme

Chomsky (1993) proposes to make X-bar theory redundant, but x-bar structures follow directly from the structure building process, which combines two elements, words or phrases, selecting one as the label. Maximal projections are the furthest an element projects, hence, some elements can be words and at the same time maximal projections. X-bar categories are projections, which are neither words nor maximal. Chomsky (1993) favours a universal (specifier-) head- complement order.
Chomsky (1993) concentrated on X-bar theory to develop more general ways of restricting the power of transformation. The theory was made possible by separation of the lexicon from the Phrase Structure (PS) rules and the introduction of syntactic features in aspects, which generalise the treatment of lexical categories as sets of features to both lexical and phrasal categories. In the underlying X-bar theory, a category-neutral base component classifies expressions as bundles of features and allows lexical categories to be non-transformationally related simply by virtue of important features. With regard to phrase markers in the Minimalist Programme, the development of X-bar theory in the late1960s was an effort to resolve the tension between explanatory and descriptive adequacy. The lexicon was separated from computations eliminating a redundancy between lexical properties and PS rules and allowing PS rules to be reduced to the simplest context free form. X-bar theory sought to eliminate such rules only leaving the general X-bar theoretic format of UG. It was assumed that the PS rules would be able to be eliminated (Webelhuth, 1995:3, 23, 395).
In X-bar theory, most phrasal constituents have heads on which the other elements of the constituents are dependent. X represents lexical categories that can be heads of phrases. The lexical categories may be subcategorised, depending on whether or not they take a complement and on the kind of complement they take.
The items involved in the sub-categorisation of lexical heads are interpreted as semantic arguments of the predicates denoted by the lexical heads. X-bar theory provides for the projection of phrasal categories from lexical categories and creates a hierarchical organisation of categories. The notion of ‘head of a phrase’ is made explicit. A lexical head X and its complements form a constituent X-bar and any specifiers of this form with it a higher-level constituent X-bar (Horrocks, 1987:63, 99, 101).
The Minimalist Programme keeps the specifier-head and head-head relationships of X-bar theory (Chomsky, 1993:6). This replaces the notion of government and case assignment and is substituted by case-feature checking which can make a derivation crash at interface level if not checked. The lexical items from the lexicon are transformed into a specifier-head or head-complement relationship leading to the following typical structure known before as maximal projection (Chomsky, 1981:29).
The Minimalist Theory preserves the idea that all information is projected from the lexicon into a main concept for all phrases and presupposes a cross-categorical symmetry from all of them. In the Minimalist model, the structure building process is driven by necessity.
Structures are built only if licensed by morphological or lexical evidence of the language.
A language can produce a partial tree which has no Spec, that is, the subject is dropped. See the example below:
(31) O- nen- o ot
He is seeing the house.
There is no overt subject in the above sentence. The nominal features of person, gender and number are attached to the verb and they are rich enough to recover the content of the missing subject. The personal prefix marker o- is attached to the verb so that the verb has an inflectional morpheme and the contents of the dropped subject are recovered. See also section 4.8 example 62. The pronominal prefix marks person and number and it is attached to the verb root in the infinitive form.
The following structure represents the construction in the previous example:
The verb neno- ‘to see’ rises to the head Agreement Subject (AGRS1/AGRS) to have its morphological agreement features checked. It inflects for agreement of person and number when used with a covert subject.
In the Minimalist Programme, words are moved around for checking purposes. Inflectional features are checked for their grammaticality by this process. INFL no longer exists according to the split-INFL-Hypothesis (Pollock, 1989:365-424); it is now separated into TNS, agreement subject (AGRs) and agreement object (AGRo) phrases. TNS and AGR phrases ascertain that properties of the verb are checked by raising them. Properties of the NP (Determiner Phrase) are the case features. The checking process ensures that NP and VP are properly paired.
This new approach of Generative Grammar reflects the morphology of SVO languages like Dholuo. In Dholuo, verb morphology goes beyond the inflectional features of AGR and TNS. Dholuo has aspect instead of tense. In Minimalism, there are inflectional and derivational nodes that check whether the verb has the appropriate features. They become separate heads during the structure building process. However, the present study concentrates on mood. The Minimalist approach can account for Dholuo modal features through feature checking which is morphologically driven for structure building. Therefore, the structure building process of Dholuo mood morphology fits into the basic sentence structure of Chomsky (1993:7). Some challenges arose and modifications were made as some inflectional heads have been introduced for the lexical feature checking of mood.
The auxiliary Onego, which is derived from a full verb, becomes lexicalised after the derivational prefix o- and the infinitive suffix marker -o has been incorporated into the auxiliary and the derivational process is complete. There are no morphemes to be checked off. Therefore, the original verb nego (‘to kill’) is changed into the auxiliary onego and the verb and the auxiliary can be used in one construction (Oluoch, 2004). See the example below:
(32) Ò – nèg- ò ó- nég Otieno
DRPR- necessary-INF 3P/SG – Kill ACC-name
He ought to kill Otieno.
The following structure reflects the morphology drive, which involves structure building of the construction (32) above. It is feature driven and the feature checking aids the structure building. The number of heads and specifiers in the tree is also feature driven. These features are lexical or morphological and every new item is assigned a head. The difference between the main verb and the auxiliary in the above sentence is tonal. Hence, the creation of a new tonal head (TM1/TM) is needed. In constructions where the tone of the auxiliary never changes, whether in the completive or incompletive, this head is not included since there is no structure building in such cases.
In the above structure, the object is raised from the NP position in the VP to (SPEC/AGROP) to check the accusative structural case features. The verb first rises from inside the VP to (T1/T) to have its incompletive tonal aspect features of the sentence checked. Then it moves again to (AGRS1/AGRS) to check its subject agreement. The lexicalised auxiliary also moves out of the VP to (MOD1/MOD). It finally moves to the tone head (TM1/TM) to distinguish its low tone pattern, which differentiates it from the related main verb, which has a high tone.
Tone in Dholuo has a grammatical function and can be used to mark aspect3. Modal auxiliaries and principals govern tone assignment in mood in Dholuo. Largely, Dholuo mood is tonal and tone is a structural morpheme; as a suprafix, tone is the last feature to be checked. The modal auxiliary is structural and tonal. This will be discussed in detail in Chapter Five under categories of mood in Dholuo and possible word formation processes on the auxiliary.
From the example above, the modifications to the basic sentence structure of Chomsky (1993:7) include the introduction of some inflectional heads in mood constructions for lexical feature checking. These include checking for mood (MOD1/MOD) and tone (TM1/TM) after the AGRSP, where the tone of the auxiliary varies in the completive and incompletive and for tonal distinction in a situation where an auxiliary is used together in a construction with a related verb. The inflectional node for tense (TNS1/TNS) in Chomsky’s basic sentence structure is also replaced by (T1/T), since Dholuo does not have tense, but has aspect and this is tonal. Dholuo case features are structural (not marked morphologically/no morphological case features), but to keep the structure, the subject and object move out of the VP for nominative case features to be checked under the specifier of the AGRSP and the accusative case features to be checked under specifier of the AGROP. The main verb always moves to (T1/T) for aspectual feature checking and to (AGRS1/AGRS) for checking agreement features of person.
Cook and Newson (1996:312) drew on Chomsky’s work on Universal Grammar, as presented in Chomsky (1993, 1995 and Lansik and Saito (1992), to give an overview of the Minimalist Programme as discussed below.
From the early 1960s, Generative Grammar’s objective was to abstract general principles from the complex rule systems devised for particular languages, leaving rules that were simply constrained in their operations by these UG principles (Chomsky, 1995:388).
Verbs in Minimalism are given their inflectional properties and forms in the lexicon. An already inflected verb is inserted into its base position in the VP and does not have to move anywhere to be inflected. The inflectional nodes check that the inserted verb has the appropriate features, instead of adding inflections to a bare verb. Inflections originate in the lexicon and are checked against the positions to which they move. If a verb is already inflected, its movement to check its features can covertly take place at the LF (semantic). If the checking procedure is satisfied, it results in a grammatical sentence. However, if the wrong verb is inserted, checking is not satisfied and the sentence is ungrammatical (for example, the use of ‘like’ instead of ‘likes’).
(33a) John likes fruits.
(33b) *John like fruits.
The verb is inserted into the VP as present tense third person singular. In order to check its tense features, it rises first to the TNS position, and then to AGR to check its agreement features. The verb is not raised until the LF accords it with procrastinates.
The Minimalist Programme has developed directly from the GB approach. It reduces the levels of structural representation to the minimum of LF and PF.
Minimalism draws on the principles of full interpretation, economy and procrastination. The principle of economy requires that all representations and processes used to derive them be economical. This leads to Minimalism. The defining characteristic of the Minimalist Programme is that the smallest possible set of devices to account for language phenomena should be used if the linguistic system is to be as economical as possible (in terms of its representation and the generation of structures). The economy of representation requires that representations of syntactic structures contain only the required elements. This condition results in the principle of full interpretation, which states that there are no redundant elements in the structure of a sentence. Each element plays some role, be it semantic, syntactic or phonological, and each element must be interpreted in some way. The procrastination principle explains the different verb movement properties and that movement operations should be delayed for as long as possible.
In Minimalism, grammar is restricted to the bare minimum. Adopting a checking theory of verb movement enables simpler views on issues like word order and case assignment.
In Minimalism, structures are constructed in a piecemeal fashion. In GB on the other hand, D-structure was presented as a complete structure and little was said about the internal process of its formation. It was an all-at-once operation (Chomsky, 1993:21).

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The main tenets of the Minimalist Programme

The Minimalist Programme is based on the principle of economy in the study of language and it attempts to formulate broad guidelines for the Generative Theory of universal grammar (Chomsky 1995). The model of the Minimalist approach to syntax strives for economy of representation in linguistic analysis and description to ensure that syntactic specification and derivational procedures contain only the essential elements. Minimalism equates a simple sentence with a maximal IP. The Minimalist Programme also seeks to enhance an interdisciplinary approach to linguistics as the theory can be used to analyse other languages as well. Economy is a basic principle of universal grammar, which postulates that the smallest possible set of theoretical and descriptive apparatus be used for the interpretation and representation of linguistic phenomena (Mwihaki, 2007). As a model of UG, the Minimalist Programme does not allow superfluous elements and captures the essential properties of language by making general statements. The Minimalist Programme therefore follows the tradition and philosophy of generative linguistics.
Generative grammar attempts to formalise the implicit rules that a person uses while speaking his native language. Innate language rules enable humans to learn their native language with minimum effort and time. Generative grammar sets rules to recognise grammatical sentences in a language and differentiate them from improper sequences of words or ungrammatical sentences in the same language. The grammar is a set of principles and parameters for the formation and interpretation of sentences, including phonological and semantic systems.
The Minimalist Programme also follows the generative assumption that the human brain contains a computation system for sentence structure that comprises sounds and meaning. Generative grammar gives a format for phrase structure. It assumes that grammatical function depends on the hierarchical organisation of constituent phrases, rather than the linear order of words. This organisation is captured by tree diagrams and includes ways in which syntactic relationships are maintained or altered in a structural change. The Minimalist Programme also follows the claim of the generative theory of UG that sentence structure edits the phonological and semantic structures and because of this, every sentence of a language should have a computational structure/syntax associated with the phonological structure/phonetic form and semantic structure/logical form. Syntax is the core of generative grammar with the PF and LF being the interface between grammar and other cognitive systems. In generative syntax, traditional concepts of subject, verb and object are referred to as specifier, predicate and complement. Traditional functional concepts of subject and object are now referred to as nominative or objective/accusative case. There are now also semantic roles as agent or theme in semantic terms.
Transformational Grammar is an approach to generative grammar, which describes a language through transformational rules. It goes a step further than structural grammar which focuses more on the sentence structures used for communication. Transformational Grammar analyses the words with reference to the underlying thoughts, including the use of the correct sentence structure. Transformational Grammar employs most of the linguistic tools such as syntax and context to explore the possible meanings of words.
The Minimalist Programme is different from generative syntax as it represents a modification of the latter.
The Minimalist Programme (1995) differs from complex grammars of the 1980s and Government and Binding (1981), which developed a modular view of syntax identified in terms of the concepts and principles and parameters. The Minimalist Programme differs from GB for the reasons discussed below.

1.1 Context of the study
1.2 Research problem
1.3 Objectives/aims of the study
1.4 Methodology
1.5 Motivation
1.6 Scope and limitations
1.7 The language situation in Kenya
1.8 Dholuo: the object of the study
1.9 Organisation of the study
1.10 Conclusion
2.1 Introduction
2.2 The state of research in Dholuo studies
2.3 Mood and Ambiguity
2.4 Literature on specific language analysis
2.5 Ambiguity
2.6 Models of ambiguity processing
2.7 Interpretation
2.8 Conclusion
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Philosophical background
3.3 The Minimalist Programme
3.4 The main tenets of the Minimalist Programme
3.5 Transporting lexical/morphological information from lexicon to interface
3.6 The role of morphology
3.7 Conclusion
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Dholuo phonetics, morphology and syntax
4.3 Dholuo phonetics
4.4 Tone
4.5 Dholuo syllable structure
4.6 Nouns in Dholuo
4.7 Dholuo personal pronouns
4.8 Dholuo verbs
4.9 Conclusion
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Mood as a syntactic/grammatical category
5.3 Auxiliaries
5.4 The basic sentence structure in the Minimalist Programme
5.5 The basic facts about mood in Dholuo
6.1 Introduction
6.2 Summary of the main findings
6.3 Suggestions for further research

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