Forms of language less different than we thought

Language is essentially a system of pairs composed of a sound (or sign) and a meaning. Interlocutors produce or perceive spoken or signed language and, through these signals, manage to communicate or understand their meaning. American linguist Noam Chomsky's Minimalist Program places an emphasis on the interface between phrase structure, on the one hand, and the grammatical components that produce sounds or signs and give them meaning, on the other. Seen in this way, the role of syntax is to create an appropriate structure that can be interpreted just as well by its phonological/phonetic component as by its semantic/pragmatic component.

Composed of syntacticians, semanticians and phonologists, the Groupe de recherche sur les interfaces syntaxiques (Syntactic Interfaces Research Group), directed by Lisa Demena Travis from Université McGill, has taken on the mission of determining the theoretical concepts required for a better illustration of the transmission of information from the syntactic module to the phonological and semantic modules.

Some of the group's researchers are taking a particular interest in Ojibwe, an Algonquin "agglutinative" language in which words are formed by joining a group of concepts that require several words in an "isolating" language such as English or French. The researchers have discovered phonological devices indicating the same delimitations within an Ojibwe word that are found within a phrase in an isolating language.

This discovery supports recent hypotheses that a strong correlation exists between the structure of a phrase and the morphological structure of a word. But we must not allow this similarity between the two types of languages (agglutinative and isolating) to make us forget the mechanisms that distinguish them and on which some of the team's researchers are focusing their attention.


Groupe de recherche sur les interfaces syntaxiques


Lisa Demena Travis, Université McGill

Regular members

  • Glyne Piggott, Université McGill
  • Bernhard Schwarz, Université McGill
  • Junko Shimoyama, Université McGill