Monthly Archives: January 2010

Genus als grammatische und textlinguistische Kategorie

Genus als grammatische und textlinguistische Kategorie. By Ursula Doleschal. Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2004. Pp. x, 245. ISBN 3895863130. $159.32.

Reviewed by Alexander Onysko, University of Innsbruck

Doleschal’s book on gender in Russian is a welcome addition to research on grammatical gender. The book starts out with a brief overview of typological characteristics of gender languages before focusing on established views of the formal aspects of gender in Russian and on how gender agreement is realized in Russian. What makes D’s book particularly valuable is its functional-cognitive approach to investigating gender, which is laid out in the two most substantial chapters (4 and 5).

In line with proponents of associative networks (cf. Phonology and language use, by Joan Bybee, Cambridge University Press, 2003), D’s explanation of gender assignment is based on a postulate of morphological and semantic associative schemas that activate gender categories in the mind of a speaker. In her model, assignment rules are translated into associative schemas, and gender is assigned according to the overall associative strength of activated schemas. This provides an alternative to the problem of rule ordering and hierarchies of semantic and morphological rules (cf. Gender, by Greville Corbett, Cambridge University Press, 1991).

Hybrid nouns in Russian (e.g. nouns that are morphologically feminine but semantically male) give rise to gender-resolution strategies, which, in D’s model, show increased associative strength following the natural gender of the reference object. Her data specifically shows a predilection for the feminine gender if reference is highly personal and specific. General personal reference favors the selection of masculine gender, while impersonal general reference tends to be marked with neuter gender.

As far as the occurrence of gender in natural languages is concerned, D emphasizes the function of gender as a cognitive aid to classification and thus to structuring the mental lexicon. Furthermore, gender primarily serves the function of establishing reference in discourse. Thus, gender-specific forms alleviate the cognitive load of the recognition of information units by establishing anaphoric and cataphoric links to nominal referents.

Throughout her book, D supports her argumentation with excerpts from Russian literature and with data from questionnaire-based elicitations. While the various sources substantiate her analysis of the reasons for gender assignment and of the role of gender in discourse, the empirical evidence would need a broader quantitative basis to allow drawing general conclusions.

Overall, D’s study is a comprehensive account of gender in Russian, the motivations for its assignment, and to a lesser extent its functions in discourse. Chs. 1 to 3 offer a general picture drawing from established positions of gender research (specifically from Corbett 1991). Chs. 4 and 5 include the author’s approach to modeling gender assignment and to explaining the discourse functions of gender in Russian. The major contribution of D’s book lies in the application of associative schemas as factors of gender assignment. She answers the interesting questions of why gender systems that occur in language do not venture farther than the immediate functional explanation of cognitive categorization, and of how they are involved in the establishment and marking of reference in discourse.

It-extraposition and non-extraposition in English

It-extraposition and non-extraposition in English: A study of syntax in spoken and written texts. By Gunther Kaltenböch. Vienna: Wilhelm Braumüller Universitäts, 2004. Pp. 324. ISBN 3700314612.

Reviewed by Dan Michel, University of Florida

Gunther Kaltenböck’s It-extraposition and non-extraposition in English presents a functionalist account of the alternation between it-extraposition and nonextraposition in English. The book proposes that the early traditional extraposition analysis, where the CP subject is moved to object position, does not adequately account for this alternation. While the transformational analysis that K argues against is no longer in widespread use, the remainder of the book is not adversely affected by this. K’s proposal is that a functionalist account is needed in addition to any transformational theory.

Ch. 1, ‘Introduction’ (1–9), briefly states the work’s intention and describes the International Corpus of English (ICE-GB), a computerized million-word database composed of 300 spoken and 200 written texts in various categories. Drawing from this corpus, K demonstrates that it-extraposition is statistically the unmarked form (1,701 occurrences) and that nonextraposition is substantially rarer (217 occurrences). Ch. 2, ‘Previous studies’ (10–26), criticizes previous work on extraposition for the lack of corpora, or for insufficiently representative corpora. Ch. 3, ‘Defining the class’ (27–64), proposes working definitions for the investigated structures, while acknowledging that some constructions seem to rest in fuzzy areas. Helpful summary charts are provided.

Ch. 4, ‘Formal properties of it-extraposition and non-extraposition’ (65–153), is a detailed report, including forty-six tables, of the environments in which the structures under scrutiny appear in the corpus. Preliminary explanations regarding distribution of the constructions are presented, but detailed support is not provided until Ch. 5.

Ch. 5, ‘Functional properties of it-extraposition and non-extraposition’ (154–278), constitutes the heart of the book. First K presents a multitude of theoretical frameworks for information structure, finally settling on a topic-comment structure neatly summarized in two tables (180). K groups it-extraposition into two informational types: Type 1 (given complement extraposition), which is backward-looking to comment on an old topic, and Type 2 (new complement extraposition), which is forward-looking to present a new topic (181). Of these, Type 1 is statistically marked (28.5% of it-extrapositions). Nonextraposition is also divided into two types: Type 1 (given subject clause) is also backward-looking but is here unmarked (80.2% of nonextraposition), while Type 2 (new subject clause) is marked (251). Collapsing the two types of referential duties, it-extraposition clearly favors the introduction of new content while the less common nonextraposition favors reference to prior information.

Ch. 6, ‘Conspectus: Factors influencing the choice of non-extraposition’ (279–93), collects factors from Ch. 5 that influence the use of nonextraposition, including formality and weight (word count) and information status. Ch. 7, ‘Summary and conclusion’ (294–98), extols the value of utilizing a corpus and the need for functional explanation to account for the earlier observation that the two constructs ‘are not usually interchangeable in a given context’ (279). Overall, this book provides a wealth of extraposition data and commentary. In addition, this book is an example of how a large corpus-based study can force one to reconsider what is marked, and the potential reasons for that markedness.