Reviewed by I. M. Laversuch Nick, University of Cologne
According to the authors, this reference was conceived not only for researchers specializing in comparative typology but also for advanced university students. With this readership in mind, the authors have taken considerable care to introduce key concepts and principles of generative grammar, complete with diagrams. Furthermore, each step in the process is meticulously illustrated with not one but several sample sentences extracted from a wide typological range of languages and language families. From Albanian, Arabic, and Avar, to Wolof, Yareba, and Yidiny, the sentences analyzed in the book are taken from seventy-four different languages from around the globe.
This impressive linguistic breadth stands as a compelling testament to the power of generative grammar to successfully account for the remarkable surface diversity and underlying unity which simultaneously characterize the world’s store of languages. With almost 700 sample sentences, this reference offers a refreshingly well-written, entirely logic-driven presentation of the ways in which a limited set of generative principles can be used to explain the seeming limitlessness of human linguistic expression. To do this, the authors begin with a concise introduction to the fundamental principles underlying generative grammar in Ch. 1. Each successive chapter is devoted to examining an individual level of grammar, beginning with the argument structure of the verb phrase in Ch. 2 and ending with illocutionary force and performative structure in Ch. 7.
All too aware that this surface structure might tempt some readers to skip ahead and dive headlong unprepared, the authors issue the following warning: the order of the chapters ‘reflects the unitary and gradual progression of [their] research’ (2), and reading the chapters out of turn may lead to unnecessary confusion. Part of the elegance of this work is that the hierarchical, recursive structure of the discussion which cleverly mirrors the perpetual inter-relatedness of the linguistic processes the authors trace from the deepest levels of lexical insertion up through to the highest levels of communicative intention. To help readers navigate their way through this intellectual travail, each chapter is further supplemented by an average of forty endnotes filled with alternative analyses, typological oddities, historical tidbits, and unresolved points of controversy. These comments will be greatly appreciated by dyed-in-the-wool generativists, and therein lies the crux of the book.
Given its degree of detail, this fast-moving book is entirely inappropriate for all but the most ardent follower of Noam Chomsky. Even those who are familiar with other generative frameworks may find this work somewhat disappointing, as comparatively little time or attention is given to exploring competing theoretical approaches. For Chomsky-enthusiasts with a keen interest in comparative typology, however, this volume will no doubt constitute a much welcomed, highly recommendable contribution to the field.