A feature-based syntax of functional categories

A feature-based syntax of functional categories. By Michael Hegarty. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2005. ISBN 3110184133. $109.20 (Hb).

Reviewed by Antje Lahne, University of Leipzig

In this book, Michael Hegarty provides a study of the nature of functional categories in a minimalist model of grammar. The central point of the theory is a feature-based analysis of the structure and mapping of functional categories. It is then shown that this approach accounts for a number of syntactic phenomena, including Germanic V2, as well for data from language acquisition and specific language impairment (SLI).

Ch. 2 (‘A feature-based derivation of functional heads’) investigates the function and form of functional categories in a movement-based generative model of grammar. H rejects the concept of features projecting automatically and invariantly onto preidentified categories, and proposes an analysis of functional categories as matrices of morphosyntactic and semantic features (along the lines advocated by Alessandra Giorgi and Fabio Pianesi in their work of the late 1990s). Functional categories, being originally complex, are made up of distinctive bundles of features. These bundles are feature matrices that are mapped onto functional categories in the numeration. There are principles that constrain this mapping process. Ordered checking operations are guaranteed by ordered feature sequences.

Ch. 3 (‘Germanic verb-second and expletive subjects’) shows how this approach can be implemented to account for Germanic verb-second phenomena (in an approach similar to that taken by Owen Rambow and Beatrice Santorini in the mid-1990s) and expletive subjects in Germanic languages. Crosslinguistic variation is explained by differences in feature ranking and divergent constraints on features, which can result in different matrices of features being projected as functional categories.

Ch. 4 (‘Aspects of clitic placement and clitic climbing’) applies the aforementioned mapping principles to account for data involving clitic placement and clitic climbing in Romance languages.

Ch. 5 (‘Tenseless clauses and coordination’) provides an analysis for coordination structures of the type He should check out the book tomorrow and her return it on Saturday, and shows that it also covers small-clause complements of perception verbs.

Ch. 6 (‘The acquisition of functional features’) examines various syntactic constructions in early child English. The author argues that the same operations of functional-category construction are at work in child and adult grammar. The observed differences between the two systems are explained by child language operating on more limited feature inventories, which results in limitations for the number of functional categories projected within a clause.

Ch. 7 (‘The acquisition of adult functional features’) focuses on the development from child to adult grammar, yielding a more comprehensive explanation for the given data by assuming a development in the representational resources of functional features.

Ch. 8 (‘The representation of functional categories as a factor in specific language impairment’) applies the approach developed in the book to data on SLI. Basically, SLI is defined as a deficit in the representational resources required to project multiple functional categories within a single clause.

H’s book is a thought-provoking contribution, presenting several ideas that would merit being worked out in more detail. For example, the notion of functional categories entering the derivation as complex elements (i.e. made up of multiple features) contradicts basic assumptions of the cartographic approach to syntactic structures associated with work of Luigi Rizzi in the late 1990s. It would therefore be a rewarding enterprise to implement the idea of originally complex functional categories sketched out in the book more consequently (thus yielding a system opposing Rizzi’s more recent ‘local simplicity’ approach) and to write out explicitly how the mapping of functional features from the lexicon to the numeration works, and how the notions of ‘feature sequence’ and ‘ordered feature satisfaction’ can be implemented in a minimalist model (presumably not by referring to linearity rules).

A point of criticism is that the publisher’s use of endnotes rather than footnotes is a completely unnecessary nuisance to the reader. Overall, the value and interest of this contribution lies in the fact that it convincingly shows that a feature-based approach to grammar design has the potential to bring forth effective analyses and correct predictions in many fields of syntactic research.