Monthly Archives: April 2008

Clausal syntax of German

Clausal syntax of German. By Judith Berman. (Studies in constraint-based lexicalism.) Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications, 2003. Pp. 200. ISBN 1575863626. $25.

Reviewed by Ivan Ortega-Santos, College Park, MD

Based on her 2000 University of Stuttgart dissertation, Judith Berman’s book focuses on the status of subjects, complement clauses, and the debate on the existence of traces in German, a language with relatively free word order and a relatively rich morphology. In particular, B discusses verb-second constructions, so-called ‘subjectless’ clauses, expletives and agreement, weak-crossover, long-distance dependencies, the distribution of subordinate clauses, and the cooccurrence of correlative pronouns and embedded clauses. The framework used is lexical-functional grammar (LFG). B’s goal is not only to shed light on such topics but also to present their relevance for the theory of LFG in general.

After presenting the LFG framework, B studies verb-second phenomena and the free distribution of subjects and objects. Such discussion, together with the fact that the subject may be included in VP-topicalizations, leads her to conclude that syntactic functions in this language are not structurally encoded but rather identified by morphology (Ch. 3, 23–44). As to the status of subjects, B argues that German is consistent with the subject condition (the requirement that every sentence have a subject (Baker 1983)) in spite of the fact that certain kinds of finite clauses can or must occur without a lexically realized subject. Such apparent counterexamples would be explained by the satisfaction of the subject condition by the verbal agreement morphology (Ch.4, 45–74).

With regard to the debate on the (non)existence of traces, B defends the view that local word-order alternations do not involve an antecedent-gap configuration, but nonlocal dependencies do. The fact that in German free word order is restricted to the local clause suggests that morphology identifies the syntactic functions only locally. Under this view, in the case of nonlocal dependencies an empty category in the local domain of the predicate is necessary to guarantee the right predicate-argument relation (Chs. 5 and 6, 75–121), an analysis in the spirit of Bresnan 2001. In addition, B argues that sentential arguments bear the same grammatical function as the corresponding nominal or prepositional arguments, in contrast to the traditional LFG analysis. Other proposals are that in German, there is a thematic as well as a nonthematic es, and that finite clauses in sentence-initial position are obligatorily left-dislocated.

This work not only is remarkable as the first-large scale treatment of German syntax in LFG, but it also discusses different hot topics within that theory (e.g. the subject condition or the status of traces).

Modality in Slavonic languages

Modality in Slavonic languages. Ed. by Björn Hansen and Petr Karlík. Munich: Otto Sagner, 2005. Pp. xxiv, 388. ISBN 3876909163. €23 (Hb).

Reviewed by George Cummins, Tulane University

This volume contains the proceedings of the Regensburg-Brno conference on modality held at the University of Regensburg, November 2004, and co-hosted by Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic. It presents twenty-four papers by Slavists from twelve nations. The papers are divided into four parts: ‘New perspectives on modality in semantics’, ‘New perspectives on modality in language contact, ‘New perspectives on modality in language change’, and ‘New perspectives on pragmatic and cultural aspects of modality’. The variety of topics and theoretical approaches is stimulatingly rich. I list only a few without giving their full titles: modality and semantic maps (Ferdinand de Haan), force dynamics and Russian impersonal modals with dative subjects (Egbert Fortuin), formal modal logic and reference (Mojmír Dočekal), the typology of irrealis and modal structures (Vladimir Plungian), the grammaticalization of modals as seen in a Slavic parallel corpus (Johan van der Auwera, Ewa Schalley, and Jan Nuyts), epistemic modality and evidentiality (Viktor Xrakovskij), the new Regensburg diachronic corpus of Russian (Roland Meyer), modality in OCS and other historical varieties of Church Slavonic (Radoslav Večerka, Eva Pallasová, and Alla Kozhinova), modality in speech act theory and pragmatics (Björn Wiemer, Hanna Pulaczewska, and Milada Hirschová).

The papers presented by the editors are especially interesting and stand out for their elegance and persuasiveness. Pavel Caha and Petr Karlík’s ‘Where does modality come from?’ analyzes Czech modal adjectives such as viditelný ‘visible’ using minimalism, distributed morphology, and Karlík’s work on Czech microsyntax. The verbal roots in question must be able to assign an external theta-role and must be able to license their internal arguments by structural case. Czech morphology distinguishes the nomen agentis formant -tel- and the adjective formant -n-. Psych-verbs and intransitives can’t form these modals, but unergatives, a subclass of intransitives, can form agentive nouns in -tel-, such as cestovatel ‘traveler’. The first morpheme in words like viditelný assigns the external theta-role, while the second is introduced into the syntax by an index and binds the internal theta-role inside it. Evidence from Czech shows that this is a natural solution, one with implications for the theory of the lexical origin of word-formation processes. Björn Hansen’s ‘How to measure areal convergence: A case study of contact-induced grammaticalization in the German-Hungarian-Slavonic contact area’ measures the areal clines of polyfunctional modal predicates using bundles of weighted features (isopleths). Slavic languages culturally and historically closest to German show its influence clearly, with the single exception of Slovene. The more remote Bulgarian and Russian show no influence, nor does the typologically distant Hungarian.

This volume is a thought-provoking contribution to modality theory and will be of interest to Slavists, general linguists, and students of semantics, pragmatics, formal linguistics, and modal logic.

Multiple wh-fronting

Multiple wh-fronting. Ed. by Cedric Boeckx and Kleanthes K. Grohmann. (Linguistics today 64.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2003. Pp. 292. ISBN 1588114198. $169 (Hb).

Reviewed by Sharbani Banerji, Ghaziabad, U. P. India

Multiple wh-questions do not show the same syntactic effects in all languages. The positions to which wh-phrases (whPs) move show typological variation, as well as variation within a language depending on the interpretation of the whPs. Thus, superiority effects too show typological variation. With Noam Chomsky’s minimalist program as the theoretical base, this collection of eleven papers tries to unravel the mysteries of wh-movement in various languages. The two most important works that have served as the background for most of the papers are Catherine Rudin’s (1988) work ‘On multiple questions and multiple wh-fronting’ and a series of works (e.g. 1997) by Željko Bošković on multiple wh-fronting.

In the ‘Introduction’ (1–15), the editors present a brief overview of the topic. In the first paper, ‘Symmetries and asymmetries in multiple checking’ (17–26), Cedric Boeckx compares the pattern of multiple wh-fronting attested in Bulgarian with that in Serbo-Croatian, and explains the differences by underlining the distinction between Match and Agree. In ‘On wh-islands and obligatory wh-movement contexts in South Slavic’ (27–50), Željko Bošković shows that all of the differences between Bulgarian and Serbo-Croatian multiple wh-fronting constructions can be traced to the PF status of the Bulgarian interrogative C. ‘On the nature of multiple fronting in Yiddish’ (51–76), by Molly Diesing, concentrates on the issues of superiority and landing sites of multiple wh-fronting in Yiddish and its status in the overall typology of multiple wh-fronting. Marcel den Dikken, in ‘On the morphosyntax of wh-movement’ (77–98), makes a distinction between question-word phrases, echo-question phrases, and indefinites in terms of [+/–Wh] and [+/–Focus] features, and claims that wh-fronting targets different Specs. In ‘German is a multiple wh-fronting language!’ (99–130), Kleanthes K. Grohmann proposes a typological tripartition of wh-movement into zero, singular, and multiple wh-movement languages. He then argues that German is, on the one hand, like Bulgarian, and on the other, like Italian.

‘Deriving anti-superiority effects: Multiple wh-questions in Japanese and Korean’ (131–40), by Youngmi Jeong, studies anti-superiority effects in Japanese and Korean, and how the effect is avoided if there is an additional wh-element. The account does not rely on the empty category principle (ECP). Anikó Lipták, in ‘Conjoined questions in Hungarian’ (141–60), discusses conjoined multiple questions in Hungarian, providing evidence for a binary branching analysis of coordination. In ‘Persian wh-riddles’ (161–86), Ahmad R. Lotfi examines multiple wh-questions in Persian and proposes a timing analysis of the differences between wh-arguments and adjuncts in Persian. In ‘Non-wh-fronting in Basque’ (187–227), Lara Reglero offers an analysis of multiple questions in Basque, in the light of Bošković’s Attract-all-F approach. Joachim Sabel, in ‘Malagasy as an optional multiple wh-fronting language’ (229–54), analyzes (multiple) wh-questions in Malagasy, a wh-in-situ language that displays partial and full wh-movement as well.

The collection ends with ‘Multiple wh-fronting in Serbo-Croatian matrix questions and the matrix sluicing construction’ (255–84), by Sandra Stjepanović, who analyzes the positions to which whPs move in Serbo-Croatian .The behavior of multiple wh-phrases with respect to superiority in sluicing constructions reveals that sluicing must be a PF phenomenon.

Lexicography and the OED: Pioneers in the untrodden forest

Lexicography and the OED: Pioneers in the untrodden forest. Ed. by Lynda Mugglestone. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Pp. x, 293. ISBN 0199251959. $40.

Reviewed by Marcus Callies, Philipps-University Marburg

Lexicography and the OED, now available in paperback, is a collection of articles devoted to the endeavors in both lexicography and lexicology that led to the making of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the accepted authority on the evolution of the English language over the last millennium. Using much unpublished material from the archives of Oxford University Press and the Murray papers, an international team of scholars sets out to explore the development of this pioneering enterprise, focusing on the history, conception, and editing of the OED’s first edition, which was then published as the New English Dictionary on Historical Principles.

In the opening chapter ‘ “Pioneers in the untrodden forest”: The new English dictionary’, Lynda Mugglestone describes how the change of the principles of lexicography in the second half of the nineteenth century influenced and guided the dictionary’s conception and editorial process, and gives an overview of the many difficulties the editors encountered in the early stages. In ‘Making the OED: Readers and editors. A critical survey’, Elizabeth Knowles presents a detailed study of the many individuals who were involved in the making of the dictionary and how they interacted in the editorial process, focusing on the OED’s mostly outside volunteer readers, subeditors, and editors, among whom were such diverse figures as J. R. R. Tolkien, who worked on the staff of the OED in his early years, and J. C. Minor, the schizophrenic American surgeon and soldier who was a patient at Broadmoor Mental Asylum.

Using data extracted from the OED’s CD-ROM version, ‘OED sources’, by Charlotte Brewer, examines how the lexicographers determined the range and nature of the texts to be used for the quotations, revealing the dominance of canonical literary authors over nonliterary works, such as scientific texts. Noel Osselton compares the OED with similar endeavors by lexicographers in France, the Netherlands, and Germany in ‘Murray and his European counterparts’.

The following articles cover a range of specific topics. Anne Curzan, in ‘The compass of the vocabulary’, and Penny Silva, in ‘Time and meaning: Sense and definition in the OED’, investigate the selection of entries and the writing of the definitions for the OED, and Dieter Kastovsky, in ‘Words and word-formation: Morphology in OED’, looks into the OED’s organizational principles to include complex lexical items, with etymology being the all-important criterion. Eric Stanley examines the policies adopted by the editors toward the use of Old, Middle, and Early Modern English texts in ‘OED and the earlier history of English’, while Michael Rand Hoare and Vivian Salmon (‘The vocabulary of science in the OED’) and Michael K. C. MacMahon (‘Pronunciation in the OED’) deal with linguistic registers and pronunciation, respectively.

Finally, in ‘ “An historian not a critic”: The standard of usage in the OED’, Mugglestone takes up the paradigm shift in English lexicography and the changing role of the lexicographer from an authoritative language preserver to an impartial linguistic observer, while Richard W. Bailey, in ‘ “This unique and peerless specimen”: The reputation of the OED’, discusses the significance of imperialism, profit, and philology as driving forces behind the project. The volume is rounded off by three appendices: ‘OED sections and parts’, by Jenny McMorris, lists publication dates of the individual sections, parts, and volumes; ‘OED personalia’, by Peter Gilliver, provides short biographical notes of individuals who have contributed actively to the dictionary in several ways; and ‘The OED and the public’, by Bailey, gives a select bibliography of notices and reviews of the OED that appeared from the second half of the nineteenth to the first half of the twentieth century. The book closes with a ‘further reading’ section and a general index.

Although the volume focuses on the first edition, what is perhaps missing is a chapter sketching the OED’s development over the last century and the possibilities offered by its advancement into the electronic age. The fact that the dictionary is available both on CD-ROM and as an online publication, with revised entries from the envisaged third edition and additions of new words being published every quarter, has revolutionized the way scholars use it to search and retrieve information, and has made it an even more powerful research tool for linguistic inquiry, especially for studies in morphology, lexical and historical semantics, and etymology.

In sum, this collection gives some fascinating insights into the making of the OED and is an essential reading for lexicographers and students of English (historical) linguistics.

The morphosyntax of complement-head sequences: Clause structure and word order patterns in Kwa

The morphosyntax of complement-head sequences: Clause structure and word order patterns in Kwa. By Enoch Oladé Aboh. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. Pp. xi, 375. ISBN 019515990X. $60.50.

Reviewed by Silvia Kouwenberg, University of the West Indies, Jamaica

Niger-Congo displays word order patterns ranging from strictly VO to mixed VO/OV to strictly OV. The mixed pattern was made the subject of rigorous theoretical inquiry in Hilda Koopman’s 1984 study The syntax of verbs, which had wide-ranging implications for the then-prevalent views of synchronic word-order patterns and their historical status in Niger-Congo. It seemed then that Koopman’s work opened up an exciting and fruitful area of research, but few major studies followed it, and several of those seem to have been condemned to the status of unpublished Ph.D. dissertations. It is fortunate, therefore, that Aboh’s 1998 dissertation made it to publication.

Like the Kru languages of Koopman’s work, the Gbe languages that A studies display both VO- and OV-type word order. A takes the view that this variation is the surface manifestation of an underlying head-initial order, the surface order being derived via leftward movement (or lack thereof). The main thrust of this work is in its arguments for an articulated functional structure in both the nominal and the (extended) verbal domains of Gbe. In separate chapters, A provides an outline of the grammar of Gbe (with a focus on word-order variation and arguments in favor of the antisymmetry hypothesis), and then discusses the syntax of noun phrases (arguing for the split-D hypothesis) and of pronouns (where A argues that ‘strong’ pronouns have the status of lexical DPs); preverbal tense, aspect, and mood markers (where articulated IP and CP structures are proposed); object shift and verb movement (where A presents his analysis of surface OV orders); focus and wh-constructions; and argument topics and yes-no questions.

Of particular interest is A’s treatment of what has traditionally been thought of as word order resulting from V-to-I movement, or, where the split-IP hypothesis is adopted, to T°. Contra prevailing opinion, he maintains that T° is inaccessible for verb movement in Gungbe. Instead, the interaction between object shift and verb movement to Asp° causes the variation. Verb movement is claimed to apply whenever an aspect head is not morphologically realized. This solution runs up against the problem that the minimalist program—the framework adopted by A—makes movement dependent on morphology. A argues therefore that bundles of strong features in Asp° that the verb must check cause verb raising. His analysis has the advantage of being able to account for the placement of intervening material relative to the verb.

Although Gungbe, of which A is a native speaker, is the focus language, A also considers other languages within the Gbe cluster, including Fongbe, Gengbe, and Ewegbe. An unfortunate omission is the lack of discussion of the fieldwork methodology. By and large, the examples are clearly elicited rather than spontaneously produced, and one might have expected a discussion of the elicitation method as well as the kind of information that identifies the place of the informants within their society.

This work is an important contribution to the study of the syntax of the Gbe languages, and, by extension, other Kwa languages—hence the somewhat overly inclusive denotation in the title. Written within a minimalist framework, A argues his positions with care and illustrates with abundant data—two virtues that should make this study of interest and use also for nonminimalist readers.

Children’s discourse: Person, space and time across languages

Children’s discourse: Person, space and time across languages. By Maya Hickmann. (Cambridge studies in linguistics.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Pp. xviii, 392. ISBN 0521584418. $91.40 (Hb).

Reviewed by Mohammad Rasekh Mahand, Bu-Ali Sina University

Maya Hickmann tries to answer two main questions in her comparative study: What are the universal and specific features of language development in children? What are the different roles of structural and functional factors in this development? These questions are discussed with reference to three domains of child language: referring to entities, the representation of space, and the uses of temporal-aspectual markings. Narratives from English, French, German, and Chinese constitute the basis for H’s presentation. The book includes a complete review of different theoretical approaches to language acquisition.

The book is divided into two parts. Part 1, ‘Available theories and data’, begins with an introduction of the domains of child language and the aims of the book. Ch. 2 is a theoretical review of language acquisition, while Ch. 3 highlights some universal vs. language-specific properties of linguistic systems that bear on the developmental issues of language acquisition. In Ch. 4, H discusses the role of coherence and cohesion in the development of discourse, and in Ch. 5 she examines how children mark information status, with regard to both referring expressions and clause structure. H’s findings on referring expressions reach divergent conclusions about the rhythm, course, and determinants of acquisition. She also finds that the developmental evidence shows variable uses of clause structure across languages. Ch. 6 covers how spatial and temporal-aspectual markings are acquired. The literature on these two issues has two perspectives: one shows a universal tendency, and the other shows some crosslinguistic differences.

In Part 2, ‘A cross-linguistic analysis of children’s narratives’, H introduces the methodological issues (Ch. 7) and then devotes three chapters to animate entities, space, and time. In Ch. 8, ‘Animate entities’, H discusses the late mastery of obligatory newness markings in all languages. In addition, indefinite determiners are used systematically at around seven years old in Indo-European languages, postverbal positions at about ten in Chinese. In Ch. 9, ‘Space’, H reports her primary finding that ‘form variations in reference maintenance are massively determined by discourse factors’ (320) in all languages and all ages, despite crosslinguistic and developmental variations otherwise observed. The analysis also shows that there are differences with respect to the predicates that were used. French uses more static predicates compared to other languages, and the analysis of dynamic predicates shows wide differences in how narrators represent motion events across languages. Finally, in Ch. 10, ‘Time’, H analyzes temporal reference and shows that perfectivity and boundedness are related in all languages and that tense-aspect shifts were shown to take on discourse functions with increasing age.

Children’s discourse is a useful book for anyone interested in linguistics, psychology, and first language learning.

Meaning, expression and thought

Meaning, expression and thought. By Wayne A. Davis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Pp. 653. ISBN 9780521039048. $55.

Reviewed by Alessandro Capone, University of Messina

This book was written by a distinguished philosopher. It is difficult, nowadays, to find books that, in addition to displaying enormous erudition, exhibit clarity of thought and expression. Davis’s is one such book. The book is about a rational approach to language and communication and engages the readers with continuous attempts to revisit and revise the views on meaning by the great philosophers of the twentieth century, such as, for example, Paul Grice. This is an important volume that should be widely read.

This book deals with the principles of semantics and develops the classical doctrine that words conventionally stand for mental states, principally thoughts and ideas. Meaning consists in their expression. This ‘expression theory of meaning’ is put forward through the classical Gricean program. The author explains the meanings that words have in terms of speaker meaning. The book also deals with the important notion of (a speaker) having a certain intention in uttering a sentence. The intention underlying meaning is the intention to indicate in some way that certain thoughts and thought parts (‘ideas’) are entertained by the speaker. D argues that this definition can avoid the problems caused by the Gricean definition. This may very well be true, but some may argue that this theory is too weak to be really useful. Communication surely involves commitment to beliefs, not just to having ‘ideas’. A written utterance on the lecture room blackboard saying ‘Napoleon is an ass’ surely communicates somebody’s idea that Napoleon is an ass, but in default of an individual’s commitment to the belief ‘Napoleon is an ass’, I would take this to be a case of imperfect (or partial) communication (as are all cases of anonymous letters and messages).

Notions such as communication and reference are discussed at length in the book. D argues that the notion of thought crucial to meaning is a fundamental cognitive phenomenon that must be kept separate from belief and desire. He produces various arguments in support of the view that thoughts are complex units, and that the complexity of thought is at the basis of the compositionality of meaning. His thesis is distinguished from many other ‘language of thought’ theories. Finally, the author defends ideational and mentalistic theories of the sort he develops against the most influential objections.

One criticism I have is that D might have written a more informative section on propositional attitudes; but he will surely smile at this point, since he has written another thick book on similar topics (Nondescriptive meaning and reference, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

I am persuaded that this is a very balanced, critical, and informative book. It is a monumental volume and I must recommend it to all philosophers and linguists.

Notes grammaticales et lexique du Kiholu

Notes grammaticales et lexique du Kiholu. By Jan S. Daeleman. (LINCOM studies in African linguistics 58.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2003. Pp. 81. ISBN 389586756X. $65.80.

Reviewed by Benji Wald, Los Angeles, CA

As the title states, this book is an organized set of notes on Kiholu (Holu), a Bantu language straddling Angola and the DRC, most closely related to Kwezo and Pende. After a brief introduction identifying the location, sources of data, and affinities of Kiholu, Daeleman covers the language’s phonology (Ch. 1, 7–11), morphophonology (Ch. 2, 12–13), morphology (Ch. 3, 14–43), syntax (Ch. 4, 44–45), and lexicon (Ch. 5, 46–78).

As might be evident from the amount of space devoted to each area of linguistic analysis, the description is in the mold of early twentieth-century linguistic sketches, particularly of Bantu, with maximal attention paid to expected Bantu morphological characteristics. D’s chapter on syntax is unusually marginal, without the slightest indication of analysis, and is simply a two-page list of fifty-six decontextualized sentences with French translations. Contrary to the more usual practice for such linguistic sketches, no folktale or other example of naturally occurring Kiholu discourse stands in as a substitute for syntactic analysis. It is not clear that any of the examples are from coherent discourse rather than simply being elicited translations of sentences given in French, though a few examples seem to be from original Holu discourse, such as example 20, which translates as ‘Further on you come to a fork in the road and go to the right; if you go to the left you’ll get lost’. The experienced Bantuist could draw some minimal syntactic conclusions from the limited data presented, but certainly would have preferred some generalizations from the author. By contrast, tone is meticulously marked on every syllable, according to general Africanist tone-marking conventions, and the phonological transcription, though based on a brief presentation, indicates a careful and informed analysis, which can be considered authoritative as far as it goes.

In sum, the book is most useful to Bantuists who can understand the tacit synchronic and historical implications of the descriptions given, particularly for phonology and morphology. They can also recognize that the author is drawing on a much larger knowledge base. Such Bantuists can only regret the severe limitations on the present publication and hope that more detailed data, if not analyses, will be forthcoming. The book is much less useful to a more general linguistic readership for the same reason that Bantuists would like to see more—there is a lack of explicit theoretical concern that would, at the least, guide the author to the presentation of a richer array of data, with regard to which the lack of syntactic description in the present book is most salient.