Special Issue "Escaping African ‘Islands’"

A special issue of Languages (ISSN 2226-471X).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 2 December 2022 | Viewed by 271

Special Issue Editor

Prof. Dr. Jason Kandybowicz
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Linguistics Program, The Graduate Center, City University of New York, New York, NY, USA
Interests: formal syntax; African linguistics; field linguistics; islands

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

We are pleased to announce a call for papers for a Special Issue of Languages, entitled “Escaping African ‘Islands’”, devoted entirely to islands and their porousness/absence in African languages. To the best of our knowledge, the volume will represent the first of its kind in the literature.

The phenomenon of islandhood has played a central role in generative syntactic theory ever since Ross’s (1967) seminal work. Island effects have long been regarded as evidence for domain-specific innate constraints on language and, as such, have been cited as one motivation for the need for universal grammar. Decades of literature on islands have uncovered similarities in island effects across a wide range of languages, leading to the conclusion that a number of Ross’s island constraints are candidates for language universals. The languages surveyed that have given rise to this impression, however, tend not to be African languages.

Within the past few years, though, a number of works focused on the nature of islands in African languages have uncovered a trend in which one or more classic “island” configuration is transparent for A-bar dependency formation. Kandybowicz et al. (to appear) show that adjunct clauses of all varieties (e.g. conditional, temporal, and reason clauses) in Ikpana are fully transparent for A-bar extraction. Schurr et al. (2021) demonstrate that in Shupamem, all clausal configurations typically held to have island status (e.g., sentential subjects, relative clauses, clausal complements of nouns, adjunct clauses, factive clauses, etc.) are fully transparent for long-distance A-bar dependency formation. Hein & Georgi (2021) and Korsah & Murphy (2019) argue that sentential subject constructions, definite relative clauses, clausal complements of definite nouns, reason adjunct clauses, factive clauses, and embedded questions fail to have island status in Asante Twi. Hein (2020) shows that factive clauses and clausal complements of nouns are fully transparent for A-bar extraction in Limbum. Keupdjio (2020) points out that extraction out of definite relative clauses, clausal complements of definite nouns, temporal clauses, factive clauses, and embedded questions is possible in Medumba. Gould & Scott (2019) show that Swahili definite relative clauses are A-bar porous, while Scott (2021) argues that both temporal and reason adjunct clauses in Swahili permit A-bar extraction from within. Finally, Georgi & Amaechi (2020) demonstrate that non-clausal domains classically defined as “islands” in Igbo are transparent for A-bar dependency formation, but, similar to Medumba, require pronominal resumption.  

These findings, while both surprising and highly consequential for generative theory, are not unprecedented. Over the course of the generative inquiry into islands, evidence for cross-linguistic variation in island constraints has emerged from time to time. For example, Stepanov (2007) cites examples of acceptable sub-extraction from complex subjects in Russian, while Kiss (1987) and Georgopoulos (1991) present cases of successful subject sub-extraction in Hungarian and Palauan, respectively. With regard to extraction from adjunct clauses, Yoshida (2006) presents a case of genuine variation in island constraints based on data from Malay, while Faarlund (1992), Kush et al. (2018), and Bondevik et al. (2021) note instances in which temporal and conditional finite adjunct clauses in Norwegian fail to have strong island status. Instances of successful escape from complex NPs in French, Italian, Spanish, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, and Hebrew have also been documented in the literature (see Cinque 2010, 2020 and Sichel 2014, 2018 for references and critique). Other instances of island-escape have been noted in the literature. Phillips (2013a,b) draws a distinction between “surface island variation” and “deep island violation”. Instances of the former involve cases in which variation in island sensitivity reduces to independently motivated differences in structural possibilities, which give rise to the appearance of variability in island effects without the need to assume variation in the underlying constraints themselves (see Cinque 2010, 2020 and Sichel 2014, 2018 for analyses of apparent counterexamples to strong islandhood along these lines). Instances of the latter involve cases that cannot be plausibly connected to independently motivated differences in structure, suggesting true variation in the island constraints themselves. Do the porous “islands” observed in African languages represent instances of surface island variation or do they reveal that island constraints are cross-linguistically more variable than previously believed?

This Special Issue brings together research on African languages that seemingly represent counterexamples to classical island constraints in order to address the issue of the universality of island constraints and enrich our understanding of the nature of islands. Articles submitted for consideration of publication should both document instances of purported “island violations” in African languages and provide argumentation for the claim that escape (i.e. movement) took place in such cases. Articles should also discuss whether the “violations” in question reflect instances of “surface island variation” or “deep island violation” in Phillips’ (2013a,b) sense and, if possible, speculate on why the relevant domains do not have island status in the language(s).  

We request that, prior to submitting a manuscript, interested authors initially submit a proposed title and an abstract of 400-600 words summarizing their intended contribution. Please send it either to Guest Editor Jason Kandybowicz ([email protected]) or to the Languages Editorial Office ([email protected]) by 12 September, 2022. Abstracts will be reviewed by the Guest Editor for the purposes of ensuring proper fit within the scope of the Special Issue. Full manuscripts will undergo double-blind peer-review.

  • Abstract submission deadline: September 12, 2022
  • Notification of abstract acceptance: October 3, 2022
  • Full manuscript deadline: December 2, 2022

Prof. Dr. Jason Kandybowicz 
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • island insensitivity
  • extraction from islands
  • probe-agree into islands
  • A-bar relations across island boundaries
  • African languages

Published Papers

This special issue is now open for submission.
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