In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Juncture and Boundary

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • The Functional Perspective Based on Trubetzkoy’s Grenzsignale
  • Division of Labor Between Representational and Derivational Means of Influencing Phonology

Linguistics Juncture and Boundary
Tobias Scheer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 April 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0074


This article is about the question of how morpho-syntactic information impacts phonology. Its broad subject matter is thus the morpho-syntax-phonology interface. Note that inquiry is restricted to the direction mentioned: there is also literature on how phonology conditions morpho-syntactic computation, which is not discussed here. There are two ways for morpho-syntax to affect phonology: by inserting an object into the linear string that is interpreted by the phonology, or by arranging the chunks that are submitted to phonological interpretation in a specific way. The former proposes a representational, the latter a derivational management of phonology. The derivational means of influencing phonology is implemented by inside-out interpretation (i.e., the idea that morpho-syntactic structure is interpreted phonologically from the most to the least embedded item). This genuinely generative device was introduced in the mid-1950s and successively known as the transformational cycle, the phonological cycle, cyclic derivation, and finally today as derivation by phase (in syntactic quarters). On the representational side (which has been a tradition since the 19th century), carriers of morpho-syntactic information that were inserted into the linear string have successively incarnated as (juncture) phonemes, SPE-type boundaries (# and the like), and prosodic constituency (the Prosodic Word, etc.), each being representative of its time. That is, carriers of morpho-syntactic information were (juncture) phonemes when phonemes were the basic units in phonological theory, they were made segments in SPE (# was supposed to be a [-segment] segment) when the basic phonological units were segments and finally became autosegmental domains (prosodic constituency) in the early 1980s when all areas of phonology were autosegmentalized. Since the early 1980s, the two channels that import morpho-syntactic information into phonology are each associated with a specific theory: Lexical Phonology is the derivational theory of the interface, while Prosodic Phonology organizes its representational management. The question of how exactly both can or should coexist is examined in Division of Labor Between Representational and Derivational Means of Influencing Phonology. Another question from the 1980s that has moved up on the agenda in the current minimalist environment is whether there should be a representational channel of communication at all: Direct Syntax approaches hold that no carriers of morpho-syntactic information are ever inserted into phonology. Instead, phonological instructions make direct reference to morpho-syntactic structure and labels (see Direct Syntax vs. Prosodic Phonology).

General Overviews

Scheer 2011 offers a thematic, theory-by-theory, and also chronological guide through the history of the interface, written from a journalistic point of view, focusing on cross-theory generalizations and looking at interface theories through the lens of cognitive science (it includes an introduction for linguists to this field). The directionality that is not covered in this article (i.e., when phonology impacts the workings of morpho-syntax) is discussed in Scheer 2011. Lehiste 1965 provides an overview of structuralist juncture. Inside-out interpretation (cyclic derivation) and its various implementations are described by Bermúdez-Otero 2011. Overviews of Lexical Phonology and Prosodic Phonology are available in Kaisse and Zwicky 1987 (during theory building) and Kaisse and McMahon 2011 (post hoc) for the former, in Inkelas and Zec 1995 (during theory building) and Selkirk 2011 (post hoc) for the latter theory.

  • Bermúdez-Otero, Ricardo. 2011. Cyclicity. In The Blackwell companion to phonology. Edited by Marc van Oostendorp, Colin Ewen, Elizabeth Hume, and Keren Rice, 2019–2048. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

    Past and present of the genuinely generative idea that interpretation of morpho-syntactic structure is inside out, written from the point of view of a modern incarnation of Lexical Phonology (which does not take over all of the luggage of the 1980s).

  • Inkelas, Sharon, and Draga Zec. 1995. Syntax-phonology interface. In The handbook of phonological theory. Edited by John Goldsmith, 535–549. Oxford: Blackwell.

    State of the art of Prosodic Phonology in the mid-1990s (before OT kicked in and prosodic constituency was OTed).

  • Kaisse, Ellen, and April McMahon. 2011. Lexical phonology and the lexical syndrome. In The Blackwell companion to phonology. Edited by Marc van Oostendorp, Colin Ewen, Elizabeth Hume, and Keren Rice, 2236–2257. New York: Wiley-Blackwell.

    Post-hoc overview of the Lexical Phonology enterprise, its empirical and conceptual heart as well as of modern incarnations.

  • Kaisse, Ellen, and Arnold Zwicky. 1987. Introduction: Syntactic influences on phonological rules. Phonology 4:3–11.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0952675700000749

    Early survey of Lexical Phonology. Sometimes early texts are not really superseded by more recent surveys, since they provide conceptual and empirical detail that is no longer on the agenda but do give insight on how and why a theory was founded.

  • Lehiste, Ilse. 1965. Juncture. In Proceedings of the fifth international congress of phonetic sciences. Edited by Eberhard Zwirner and Wolfgang Bethge, 172–200. Basel, Switzerland: Karger.

    Summary of the structuralist take on the interface, written at the close of the structuralist period.

  • Scheer, Tobias. 2011. A guide to morphosyntax-phonology interface theories. How extra-phonological information is treated in phonology since Trubetzkoy’s Grenzsignale. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

    Book-length presentation of interface theories since Trubetzkoy in chronological order, theory by theory. Based on an introduction to cognitive science for linguists, the second part provides a thematic bundling of settled questions and those still up for debate.

  • Selkirk, Elisabeth. 2011. The syntax-phonology interface. In The handbook of phonological theory. 2d ed. Edited by John Goldsmith, Jason Riggle, and Alan C. L. Yu, 435–484. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

    State of the art of Prosodic Phonology written from a post-hoc perspective regarding the 1980s and 1990s and presenting current issues such as the implementation in OT. Selkirk presents her match theory of prosodic structure construction, but the challenge raised by the minimalist phase-based environment (prosodic islands) is not discussed.

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