The syntax and semantics of split constructions

The syntax and semantics of split constructions. By Alastair Butler and Eric Mathieu. New York: Palgrave, 2004. Pp. xii, 223. ISBN 1403921121. $79.97 (Hb).

Reviewed by Asya Pereltsvaig, Cornell University

This volume examines split constructions, focusing mostly on French. It attempts to give a principled account of the intervention effects they exhibit. The main proposal is that all constructions sensitive to weak islands are really split constructions. The authors offer an analysis in semantic terms ‘but one that does not obliterate the role of syntax’ (xi).

Ch. 1 is the introduction to the problem explored in the book, namely the observation that strings exhibiting splitting are more restricted than their ‘fill movement’ counterparts. Thus, these splitting constructions are subject to intervention effects. Previous approaches to this problem are reviewed here as well, including syntactic (e.g. ECP-based and relativized minimality-based), pragmatic, and semantic approaches. Section 1.4 outlines the authors’ proposal.

Ch. 2 deals with a range of wh-constructions that give rise to intervention effects, which are argued to be split constructions. Different types of wh-constructions are discussed here, including single wh-in-situ constructions and combien-constructions in French, single and multiple wh-in-situ constructions in Korean and German, interrogatives with wh-adjuncts and interrogatives that question out of scope-restricting contexts, and partial wh-constructions in German.

Ch. 3 examines negative constructions, specifically those involving negative polarity items and the so-called N-words. After introducing the phenomena, the authors review previous proposals (including both semantic and syntactic views). Then, the question of what French N-words really are is addressed in Section 3.4. The authors assimilate these negative constructions to other types of split constructions, namely those where a bare operator is separate from its noun restrictor.

Ch. 4 introduces the proposal and outlines the theoretical machinery necessary to account for various split constructions examined in the book. The minimalist syntactic system is briefly introduced together with the logical tools used by the authors, such as propositional logic, predicate logic, predicate logic with anaphora, and predicate logic with barriers. The authors show that predicate logic with barriers imposes interface conditions, which allows them to account for the relevant splitting constructions.

Ch. 5 further elaborates on the proposal by introducing additions to the predicate-logic-with-barriers system developed in Ch. 4 and showing how this system can account for the range of intervention effects with respect to negative polarity items, N-words, combien-constructions, and the various wh-constructions examined in Ch. 2.

The book is complete with an appendix that gives all the necessary definitions used in the predicate-logic-with-barriers system. Overall, the book gives an interesting new look at a range of previously unrelated phenomena and provides an interface account for them.