Monthly Archives: January 2008

The function of function words and functional categories

The function of function words and functional categories. By Marcel den Dikken and Christina M. Tortora. (Linguistik aktuell/Linguistics today 78.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2005. Pp. 293. ISBN 9789027228024. $162 (Hb).

Reviewed by Asya Pereltsvaig, Stanford University

This volume is a collection of papers presented at the 19th Comparative Germanic Syntax Workshop, held at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. The papers selected for this volume all address the question of the function of function words and functional categories. This is a brief outline of the contributions in the volume.


C. Jan-Wouter Zwart challenges the widely adopted hypothesis that morphological properties of functional heads (in this instance, on the left periphery) are responsible for whether a language does or does not exhibit verb second. Instead, he places verb second in the domain of narrow syntax and analyzes it as a positional dependency marking strategy. Verb second is also the topic of Ute Bohnacker’s article, which examines the second language acquisition of this phenomenon by Swedish learners of German.


The article by Josef Bayer, Tanja Schmid, and Markus Bader concentrates on the functional superstructure of embedded control infinities with zu, focusing on German (but discussing also Dutch and Bangla). They argue that while ‘extraposed’ zu-infinitives are CPs with a null functional head, ‘intraposed’ zu-infinitives that exhibit no clause-union properties cannot be taken to be null-headed CPs: they project no further than VP. The C-head once again plays an important role in the paper by Marc Richards and Theresa Biberauer, which concerns itself with the question of how best to explain the distribution of expletives in the Germanic languages. Their central hypothesis is that expletives may only be merged in the specifier positions of phase heads—C and v. The former introduces expletives such as German es, while the latter is the merge-site of English-type there-expletives. The contribution by Marika Lekakou is related in as much as she is concerned with the question of whether reflexive markers such as German sich and Dutch zich are argumental lexical categories or dummy functional categories (like the expletives). She argues that while German sich can be either an argument or what she calls a marker of valency reduction, Dutch zich is systematically an argument. The article by Guido Vanden Wyngaerd is concerned with constructions in English where the simple present is used episodically, namely sports commentaries and performatives. His central observation is that all such constructions denote an event of ‘very short duration’ (in contrast to languages like Dutch).


The final two papers in this volume are concerned with functional categories in the nominal domain. The article by Marit Julien is a detailed study of possessive noun phrases throughout Scandinavian, bringing together an impressive array of empirical facts and discussing them against the background of a uniform base configuration, with surface variation resulting from movement operations in the course of the overt syntactic derivation. The paper by Dorian Roehrs zooms in on the left periphery of the extended noun phrase, looking at fillers of the D-head. His central claim is that the approach to phrases like us linguists that takes the pronoun to be in D is correct; yet, he argues that all D-elements are moved to D from a lower functional category.


Overall, this volume makes an excellent contribution to the study of microparametric Germanic syntax as well as to syntactic theory in general.

Written communication across cultures: A sociocognitive perspective on business genres

Written communication across cultures: A sociocognitive perspective on business genres. By Yunxia Zhu. (Pragmatics and beyond new series 141.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2005. Pp. xvii, 215. ISBN 9027253846. $126 (Hb).

Reviewed by Aleksandar Čarapić, University of Belgrade

What is the best way to approach the comparison of intercultural business genres? What persuasive orientations can be embedded in English and Chinese cultural and rhetorical backgrounds? What are the main persuasive strategies used in English and Chinese business correspondence? How are they similar or different, and what causes such similarities and/or differences? What are the implications of the research for learning and teaching business language in cross-cultural communication? These major questions underlie the research in Yunxia Zhu’s exciting study, Written communication across cultures.

The volume consists of nine chapters. In addition to a brief introduction to the book, Ch. 1, ‘Introduction and outline’, brings in the necessity for developing a theoretical framework for genre comparison. It discusses genre in relation to a ‘stock of knowledge’ that is shared in a relevant discourse community in specific sociocultural contexts. Ch. 2, ‘Communication across cultures’, focuses on cross-cultural aspects as a part of the theoretical groundwork for comparing Chinese and English genres, and discusses sociocultural, organizational, and interpersonal levels for studying the business genres involved. Specifying the main theoretical framework for intercultural genre analysis, Ch. 3, ‘Conceptual framework: A dual perspective’, proposes a model for genre comparison, emphasizes genre-intertextuality interaction, and promotes cross-cultural genre study from sociocognitive and intercultural viewpoints based on English and Chinese literature related to genre analysis.

An overview of the research design, its methodology, data, questionnaires, and interviews, and of the method of analysis is given in Ch. 4, ‘Research design’. Both Ch. 5, ‘Comparing English and Chinese sales letters’, and Ch. 6, ‘Comparing English and Chinese sales invitations’, apply the proposed model with regard to the specific differences that different genre types impose. Ch. 7, ‘Comparing English and Chinese business faxes’, focuses on business faxes as a relatively new business genre, showing the possibilities of extending the use of the approach to high-tech-related business genres, thus going beyond business genres and involving the influence of technology on genre writing in general.

Ch. 8, ‘Cross-cultural genre teaching’, considers implications of the proposed framework for the processes of learning and teaching genre, and applies previous findings to cross-cultural genre learning with respect to pedagogical issues in English and Chinese curricula. Ch. 9, ‘Summaries and conclusions’, offers a working definition of genre from a cross-cultural standpoint based on the previous findings.

Written communication across cultures has made several great contributions. First, as one of the first books to study the cross-cultural business genre, it conceptualizes this field with a sociocognitive and intercultural dimension. Second, it presents an in-depth theoretical exploration of business discourse by considering discourse community, cognitive structuring, and the deep semantics of genre and intertexuality. Third, it offers an insider’s perspective on cross-cultural comparison by soliciting professional members’ intracultural and intercultural viewpoints about the target cultures. As such, the book is a valuable read for scholars interested in intercultural communication, applied linguistics, (critical) discourse analysis, contrastive rhetoric, interlanguage pragmatics, sociolinguistics, and other interdisciplinary fields.