[SCHEER] On the lexical character of intermodular communication

On the lexical character of intermodular communication

Tobias Scheer


Abstract: All theories of the morpho-syntax – phonology interface at least since the emergence of the generative approach practice two-channel  translation, i.e. the conversion of morpho-syntactic structure into  phonological units by two distinct mechanisms, one lexical (or list-type:  morphemic information stored in the lexicon, i.e. Vocabulary Insertion), the other computational (boundary information, i.e. #, units of the Prosodic Hierarchy etc., which are not stored). It is argued that computational  translation does not qualify for intermodular communication because  computational systems that can read two distinct vocabularies (of the sending and the receiving module, what Jackendoff calls bi-domain specificity) are modular monsters. They defy the purpose of modularity (computational systems are not all-purpose but domain-specific, i.e. can only process information belonging to their own domain) and make interface devices pointless: if modules can parse the vocabulary of their neighbors, no translation is needed in the first place. It is therefore suggested that the translation of both morphemic and boundary information must be lexical. Within language (phonology – phonetics interface) and beyond, the generalization of lexical translation as the regular interface of a module-based cognitive system is then examined in a second step: all modules possess a lexicon on their input side which translates variable inputs into the uniform to-be-computed vocabulary. Objections against lexical translation that are raised on the Faculty of Language blog are discussed (e.g. is lexical translation the odd man out in the cognitive system?). Finally, it is argued that the translation of real-world items into cognitive categories (e.g. the association of wave lengths with colors perceived) is also list-based. Lexical translation thus appears to qualify as the general mechanism that manages intermodular communication (internal to the cognitive system) as well as the relationship between cognitive categories and the real world.

Scheer, Tobias. 2020. “On the lexical character of intermodular communication”. Radical: A Journal of Phonology, 1, 183-239.