Monthly Archives: July 2011

The Tocharian verbal system

The Tocharian verbal system. By Melanie Malzahn. (Brill’s studies in Indo-European languages and linguistics 3.) Leiden: Brill, 2010. Pp. xxviii, 1036. ISBN 9789004181717. $213 (Hb).

Reviewed by Michael W Morgan, Indira Gandhi National Open University

Tocharian, the northeastern-most Indo-European (IE) language family, has only recently come into its own as a mature field of study. Tocharian consists of two fairly different language varieties, Tocharian A and Tocharian B, attested in thousands of manuscript fragments (mostly of Buddhist texts) discovered in the Tarim Basin of Chinese Turkestan in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Thankfully, the longstanding lack of linguistic interest in Tocharian is gradually being remedied, not least with this volume. A revision of Malzahn’s habilitation thesis, this is a complete and thorough treatment of the Tocharian verbal system.

After a brief introduction to the phonological system and sound laws (, limited generally to those which affect the verbal system), the first half of the book systematically presents the verbal system of Tocharian, while the second half is a verbal index or dictionary. The treatment of the verbal system begins with a brief overview. Chs. 3–5 discuss verbal endings, valency, and voice. The interplay between categories of voice, valency, and transitivity in Tocharian are of general theoretical interest.

There then follows a thorough discussion of all Tocharian tense/mood forms. Chs. 7–14 treat the preterit system and Ch. 15 deals with the imperfect. Chs. 16–22 discuss the subjunctive, and the optative is the topic of Ch. 23. Chs. 24–36 examine the present system (355–495). Finally, the imperative is dealt with in Ch. 37.

Tocharian is rich in forms, and as it differs in many important ways from what is generally viewed as ‘standard’ IE, it is especially important for revising reconstructions of the Proto-Indo-European verbal system. In each chapter, both synchronic facts (and disputes) and diachronic developments are discussed. Synchronic facts include a list of all stems belonging to a given valency, tense, or mood class, as well as differences between Tocharian A and B and variation within Tocharian B. In addition to careful summaries of earlier proposals, M also presents her own usually quite reasonable conclusions and does not hesitate to indicate when the question is still open.

The verbal index lists all attested forms of all Tocharian verbal stems, as well as analysis, interpretation, supporting examples, and notes on semantics and etymology. The two halves complement each other perfectly: the first half is organized according to inflectional forms, the second half according to stems.

This volume is a treasure trove of information on the Tocharian verb, and Indo-Europeanists and Tocharian specialists alike will want it on their reference shelves. It will also be a useful reference for those studying the transmission of Buddhism.

Quantitative methods in cognitive semantics

Quantitative methods in cognitive semantics: Corpus-driven approaches. Ed. by Dylan Glynn and Kerstin Fischer. (Cognitive linguistics research 46.) Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 2010. Pp. vi, 395. ISBN 9783110226416. $150 (Hb).

Reviewed by Ksenia Shilikhina, Voronezh State University

Quantitative methods in cognitive semantics explores the potential and limits of corpus data and statistical methods in semantics. In the two introductory chapters, Dylan Glynn presents an overview of corpus-driven cognitive semantics and Kerstin Fischer reviews quantitative methods in linguistics.

Section 1, ‘Corpus methods in cognitive semantics’, opens with Dirk Geeraerts’s article, ‘The doctor and the semantician’, a methodological discussion of empirical versus introspection-based research traditions in semantics. Though the need for empirical research in cognitive semantics is evident, John Newman’s article, ‘Balancing acts: Empirical pursuits in cognitive linguistics’, claims that usage-based practices and methodologies in cognitive linguistics have their limits and should not be overestimated. In ‘Does frequency in text instantiate entrenchment in the cognitive system?’, Hans-Jörg Schmid shows that the idea of frequency and its relation to the cognitive importance of linguistic elements is not fully understood.

Section 2, ‘Advancing the science: Theoretical questions’, addresses the issues of statistical analysis of grammatical patterns. Stefan Fuhs applies collostructional analysis to English durative constructions in his article, ‘The aspectual coercion of the English durative adverbial’, and Martin Hilpert uses the same statistical procedure in ‘The force dynamics of English complement clauses: A collostructional analysis’.

In ‘Accounting for the role of situation in language use in a cognitive semantic representation of sentence mood’, Kerstin Fischer applies quantitative methods and embodied construction grammar to see how situation influences language use in human-robot interaction. Arne Zeschel’s ‘Exemplars and analogy: Semantic extension in constructional networks’ is an examination of collocations of the German adjective tief with nouns.

Section 3, ‘Advancing the science: Methodological questions’, opens with Stefanie Wulff’s contribution, ‘Marrying cognitive-linguistic theory and corpus-based methods: On the compositionality of English V NP-idioms’, which proposes a special compositionality measure for the semantic contributions of the components of these idioms. Dylan Glynn shows how statistical analysis helps in operationalization and verification of corpus data in ‘Testing the hypothesis: Objectivity and verification in usage-based Cognitive Semantics’. Timothy Colleman examines the semantic range of verbs attracted by the aan-Dative construction in ‘Beyond the dative alternation: The semantics of the Dutch aan-dative’. Dagmar Divjak uses corpus data and statistical analysis to offer a new perspective on Russian imperfective and perfective infinitives in her article, ‘Corpus-based evidence for an idiosyncratic aspect-modality relation in Russian’.

Section 4, ‘Towards an empirical cognitive semantics’, examines the general role of quantitative analysis in usage-based language research. Stefan Th. Gries and Dagmar Divjak address critical comments and objections against quantitative corpus research in their contribution, ‘Quantitative approaches in usage-based cognitive semantics: Myths, erroneous assumptions, and a proposal’. The final article of the volume, ‘Empirical cognitive semantics: Some thoughts’ by Anatol Stefanowitsch, looks at the future of cognitive semantics and discusses the problem of accepting empirical methods into the field.

The volume addresses fundamental questions of empirical approaches to language, e.g. to what degree does corpus reflect human linguistic experience, or how are statistical data to be interpreted in linguistic terms? This book offers a good overview of the advantages and shortcomings of a corpus approach and statistical analysis in cognitive semantics.

Second language acquisition of articles

Second language acquisition of articles: Empirical findings and theoretical implications. Ed. by María del Pilar García Mayo and Roger Hawkins. (Language acquisition and language disorders 49.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2009. Pp. ix, 272. ISBN 9789027253101. $143 (Hb).

Reviewed by Ana Diaz Collazos, University of Florida

Second language acquisition of articles is a collaborative work that consists of nine papers. The contributors mainly test the validity of the article choice parameter (ACP), posited by Tania Ionin in 2004. According to the ACP, languages encode definiteness or specificity, but not both. Speakers of article-less languages will encode specificity (referent identifiable by the speaker) rather than definiteness (referent assumed as identifiable by the hearer) in their second languages (L2s). Conversely, speakers of languages with articles will transfer first language (L1) articles into their L2s.

In the first part, Maria del Pilar García Mayo identifies different mechanisms of transfer that operate in Spanish learners of English. Ghuisseh Sarko compares speakers of Syrian Arabic and French in their English articles. Syrian Arabic encodes definiteness through an overt morpheme, but indefinite referents produce bare nouns, which produces a great variability that disallows for any generalization of the ACP. Marta Tryzna finds that the posited difference between definiteness and specificity is not consistent in the English production of Mandarin and Polish speakers. Lucy Kyoungsook Kim and Usha Lakshmanan, on the other hand, find evidence in favor of ACP with Korean L1 speakers, L2 English. According to Danijela Trenkic, it is not ACP but the saliency of the referent that plays a role in L2 articles. A speaker of L1 with articles tends to be accurate when producing L2 articles in contexts where it is necessary to identify the referent because it is less salient in the spectrum of common knowledge.

In the second part, Tania Ionin and Silvina Montrul study the acquisition of bare generics in English by Korean speakers, identifying two non-target-like patterns: bare nouns in specific referents and definite articles in generic referents. Fufen Jin, Tor A. Ǻfarlí, and Wim A. van Dommelen compare native speakers of Chinese and English in Norwegian as a second language. The different patterns shown within the same group of individuals cast doubt on the possibility of any generalization. Heather Goad and Lydia White find that Turkish speakers adopt a prosodic word representation in English that is not present in either language. Carol Jaensch finds that as the proficiency of Japanese speakers of German as a third language increases, the target use of definite articles does also, but omissions and substitutions still occur because appropriate phonological forms are mismatched to a [+/- definite] feature.

The contributors follow a uniform theoretical framework, methodology, and terminology, which allows a homogeneous development of ideas. However, the bulk of the findings suggests the impossibility of either proving or discarding the ACP, which makes this a work of a great scientific honesty. It is a useful guide for beginners and a necessary source for future research.

Time, tense and aspect in Early Vedic grammar

Time, tense and aspect in Early Vedic grammar: Exploring the inflectional semantics in the Rigveda. By Eystein Dahl. (Brill’s studies in Indo-European languages and linguistics 5.) Leiden: Brill, 2010. Pp. xviii, 475. ISBN 9789004178144. $185 (Hb).

Reviewed by Ilya Yakubovich, Moscow State University

The main challenge in studying the inflectional semantics of Early Vedic verb is the ‘timeless’ nature of the available corpus. The hymns of the Rigveda, unlike, say, the Homeric epic, do not refer to a sequence of mythical events with an established relative chronology, but fluctuate between the past, present, and unspecified events. An additional challenge is the rapid transformation of verbal inflectional features in the history of Indic. While the basic semantic opposition between present, aorist, and perfect stems remains essentially the same in Homeric, Classical, and Hellenistic Greek, the same contrast is blurred in later Sanskrit and eliminated in Middle Indic. This explains why a number of past scholars hypothesized that Early Vedic reinterpreted the inherited Late Indo-European contrast between  the aorist (simple past), imperfect (progressive, habitual, or ingressive past) and perfect (past extending itself into or relevant for the present) in discourse-functional terms.

The main accomplishment of Eystein Dahl’s book, a revised version of his University of Oslo Ph.D. thesis, is to demonstrate the continuity in the use of tense in late Indo-European and the language of the Rigveda. Using the conceptual apparatus of formal semantics, the author specifies various temporal and aspectual functions of Early Vedic tenses. He argues that some of these functions represent a domain of overlap between the imperfect and the aorist, the aorist and the perfect, or the perfect and the present, but others are compatible with only one member of these pairs. For example, both the aorist and the imperfect can have the ingressive and durative readings, but the progressive reading is available only for the imperfect. Similarly, the aorist and the perfect are compatible with expressing immediate past, but only the perfect can have the universal reading, in which function it competes with the present. While the degree of functional overlap between different stems appears to set the situation in Vedic apart from that in Homeric Greek, the two systems are in fact more similar than is assumed in recent scholarship.

After an introduction devoted to research history, the extensive Ch. 1 introduces the reader to the formal semantics of tense/aspect/mood features. Familiarity with the lambda-calculus is not a prerequisite to understanding the author’s argument, since D normally combines formal definitions with explanations in prose. Ch. 2 moves the discussion to the domain of Vedic morphosyntax. Its general purpose appears to be constraining the interpretation of tense/aspect/mood features based on clause-internal cues. Chs. 3–5, forming the core of the monograph, are devoted to the inflectional semantics of the present, aorist, and perfect systems, respectively.

Specific sections are devoted to the compositional interpretation of modal forms within each system, even though the limitations of the Early Vedic corpus frequently preclude definite conclusions.

Meaning in language

Meaning in language: An introduction to semantics and pragmatics. 3rd edn. By Alan Cruse. (Oxford textbooks in linguistics.) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp, xii, 497. ISBN 9780199559466. $45.

Reviewed by Joshua Thusat, Northeastern Illinois University

The complex topic of how meaning is created through language is the subject of Alan Cruse’s Meaning in language. With a primary focus on reaching the ‘messy real world of meaning’ through key topics in semantics, C organizes his book into four parts: concepts of meaning in linguistics, meanings of words, grammatical meaning, and pragmatics. Although he writes for an audience of intermediate-level linguistics students, the first part works as a condensed review of views of meaning in linguistics that provides a necessary grounding for the rest of the book.

The first chapters of Part 1 introduce the logical terminology for the rest of the book, e.g. first- and second-order logic, quantification, and entailments. These chapters highlight the conceptual approach to meaning, as well as the classical approach, prototype theory, and dynamic construal and discusses problems with these approaches, while each chapter ends with an average of two discussion questions and suggested further readings.

Part 2 is broken down into lexical units, contextual variability of word meaning, paradigmatic sense relations, lexical hierarchies, and syntagmatic semantic relations. To a large degree, Part 2 is organized to move from the level of word constituencies to that of phrase and clause constituencies (nouns/noun phrases; argument structure; verbs and adjectives; prepositions and derivational affixes), and progresses clearly to Part 3, which is largely concerned with grammatical meaning. .

Finally, in Part 4, C introduces pragmatics to show how language is situated in discourse, rather than serving solely as an object of study. The discussion elucidates the basic elements of pragmatics: speech act theory, Paul Grice’s cooperative principle (CP), and Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson’s relevance theory. Politeness theory is discussed in terms of Geoffrey N. Leech’s Principles of pragmatics (London: Longman, 1983). Through Leech, whom he associates closely with the CP, C also includes several maxims that are often marginalized, those of generosity, praise, modesty, agreement, and sympathy.

C’s book is a concise, overarching handbook for students of linguistics that follows an understandable progression from word to grammar to context. The book does not always aim to simplify key concepts, which is why it is firmly placed at the intermediate level. In most cases, exercises and answers assist in engaging with the terminology, but a beginner in linguistics will need more introductory material.


Sinhala. By Dileep Chandralal. (London Oriental and African language library 15.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2010. Pp. xv, 296. ISBN 9789027238153. $165 (Hb).

Reviewed by Michael W. Morgan, Indira Gandhi National Open University

Sinhala (also known as Sin(g)halese) is the co-official language of Sri Lanka and first language of the majority of the island. Separated from the other Indo-Aryan sister languages by thousands of years and all of Dravidian South India, Sinhala has developed a number of features setting it apart from other Indo-Aryan languages.

The present volume describes Colloquial Sinhala. The introductory chapter gives background information on the language and its speakers (1–6), followed by a typological summary of Sinhala (7–20), highlighting its head-final, OV nature, as well as areas where it deviates from genealogical and typological expectations.

A brief introduction to the writing system (21–27) follows, though throughout the rest of the book examples are given in Roman transcription only. Compared with most modern Indo-Aryan languages, the phonology (28–39) of Sinhala is rather simple, with only retroflex stops and rhyming expressions giving clues to its roots.

The lexicon is discussed next (40–65), both vocabulary strata and word classes, as well as a short discussion of kinship terms. Sinhala nouns mark the indefinite rather than the definite; the form of the indefinite depends on the animacy of the noun. Verbs divide strictly into active, passive, and causative types.

Sinhala morphology is presented next (66–94). Noun morphology shows two features unusual in an Indo-Aryan language: Besides the indefinite markers mentioned above, the instrumental/ablative and genitive/locative cases are in complementary distribution according to animacy. Verb inflectional morphology is fairly simple, with voice (active, passive, causative, and causative-passive) and its intersection with transitivity being more important (and complicated) than tense (past and non-past). Also, Sinhala finite forms lack person, number, and gender distinctions. Passive and causative-passive forms in particular interact with the syntax in a number of unpredictable ways (95–99).

Next, argument structure types, classified as inactive or active, are treated in detail (100–28) under a total of twenty-two patterns. Dative- and agentive-marked subjects indicate unintentional, involuntary, or potential action, as well as inalienable possession; South Asian languages are famous for ‘quirky’ subjects, and the notion of subject in Sinhala is likewise controversial. Noun and verb phrase constructions are then discussed (129–51), followed by a chapter on grammatical relations (152–80) that discusses passives and causatives further. Passives in the strict sense are absent, and the passive form has a number of other uses (especially inactive, malefactive, and involuntary action). Causative constructions are well developed, with three basic types. Finally, various types of expanded sentences are discussed (181–206).

Very welcome are discussions of the intersections of grammar with information structure (207–26), discourse (227–53), and pragmatics (254–71). Two texts (272–92) are followed by appendices on numbers, interrogative words, and verb paradigms (283–85).

This book, in addition to being an excellent reference grammar, discusses a number of important theoretical issues and is a welcome addition to the library of any linguist interested in Sinhala.

The linguistic structure of Modern English

The linguistic structure of Modern English. By Laurel J. Brinton and Donna M. Brinton. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2010. Pp. xx, 426. ISBN 9789027211729. $49.95.

Reviewed by Anish Koshy, The EFL University, Hyderabad, India

This is a revised edition of Laurel J. Brinton’s The structure of Modern English (John Benjamins, 2000). The book is organized in twelve chapters. Being a linguistic grammar intended for students and teachers of English with no background in language or linguistics, its detailed discussions are not limited to sentence structure (syntax) and parts of speech, but extend to phonetics, phonology, morphology, lexical and sentential semantics, pragmatics, and pedagogy. Also included is a useful glossary, and there is an online workbook linked to the book.

Ch. 1, ‘The nature of language and linguistics’ (1–15), is a general introduction to human language and linguistics. Phonetics is dealt with in Ch. 2, ‘Consonants and vowels’ (16–49), through English speech sounds and types of transcription. Ch. 3, ‘Phonology, phonotactics, and suprasegmentals’ (50–78), includes discussions of phonotactic restrictions and syllable structure, stress and intonation patterns, and phonological rules and processes. Ch. 4, ‘The internal structure of words and processes of word formation’ (79–112), deals in depth with word-formation processes in English.

Ch. 5, ‘Grammatical categories and word classes’ (113–42), discusses English word classes and their determination with inflectional and distributional tests. Ch. 6, ‘Lexical semantics’ (143–83), identifies various semantic and structural relationships, explores nouns and verbs by means of a feature matrix, and discusses metaphor. Ch. 7, ‘Phrasal structure and verb complementation’ (184–215), examines phrase-structure rules, subcategorization frames for verbs, and dependency relations, and introduces tree diagrams.

Ch. 8, ‘Adverbials, auxiliaries, and sentence types’ (216–42), introduces adverbials, prepositional phrases, and auxiliary formations to demonstrate the usefulness of the notion of an underlying structure. Ch. 9, ‘Finite and nonfinite clauses’ (243–93), is devoted to complex sentences containing embedded clauses, and uses tree diagrams to show their hierarchical structure. Ch. 10, ‘Sentence semantics’ (293–323), explores propositions in terms of predicates and arguments, focusing on thematic roles and various kinds of predication. Ch. 11, ‘Information structuring and speech acts’ (324–55), explores pragmatics through discussions of information structuring, the theory of speech acts, Gricean maxims, and various politeness strategies. The last chapter, ‘Linguistics in language teaching’ (356–84) by Howard Williams, discusses the role of linguistics in language pedagogy.

The book provides basic and detailed descriptions that are well suited to a non-specialist audience. While most of the materials are discussed in introductory books on linguistics, numerous examples drawn from the Corpus of Contemporary American English are novel and interesting. The presentation is simple and lucid, and relies on an eclectic range of theories in discussing various sub-domains of language.

The Siwi language

The Siwi language. By Seymour W. Walker. (LINCOM gramatica 31.) Munich: LINCOM Europa , 2010. Pp. 99. ISBN 9783895862489. $62.72.

Reviewed by Thomas R. Wier, University of Chicago

Siwi, the easternmost Berber language, is spoken in one of the most arid and ostensibly inhospitable climates known (the westernmost oasis in Egypt), so it is not surprising that its grammar has only rarely received attention from the outside world. Indeed, until the twentieth century, little had changed in the oasis since Alexander the Great visited it more than two millennia ago. This reprint of an early twentieth century grammar by one of the first western visitors to study the language represents an often flawed but welcome addition to LINCOM’s series of grammatical analyses.

The work provides a broad outline of the grammar following an outline common among late nineteenth and early twentieth century classicists and orientalists: rather than being organized according to domains like syntax, morphology, and phonology, each part of speech and construction type is enumerated separately (§1–146) with illustrations, and little in the way of chapter headings to group like subjects. Thus, grammatical categories like ‘gender’ (§40–58) and ‘number’ (§59–88) are formally parallel to syntactic categories like articles (§10–11) and morphological categories like comparison (§32–39). Seymour Walker asserts, though does not provide evidence to show, that Siwi nouns formally belong to the same syntactic category as adjectives, but groups them separately, presumably on morphosemantic grounds. After the general survey, W provides several useful appendices listing nouns (A1), adjectives (A2), and verbs (A3) in all their principal parts and showing any irregularities of the stem form necessary to speak the language. Thereafter, W provides a sample of rather less useful phrases (A4, e.g. Hit that dog for me!), weights and measures (A5), and an overview of the English translation of Siwani customs and legends.

At the most general level, it is helpful to have short grammar sketches like this, both for typologists and for those who do not intend to become specialists in the family. However, many aspects of this work make it especially hard to find generalizations about the structure of Siwi. Many times the author seems rather out of his depth, as when he says ‘[i]t is practically impossible to lay down any guide to its [ğ’s—TRW] pronunciation’ (22) or when he claims that ‘[t]here are no Regular conjugations of the Verb, every verb in Siwi being irregular’ (45), which rather begs the question. At other times W seems to confuse syntactic constructions with particular English lexical items, as when he says, in a section entitled ‘Auxiliary verbs’ that there are no auxiliary verbs in Siwi, though one can indicate possession by use of a conjugated preposition: for example, dêêdee ‘with, at me’, dêêdik ‘with, at thou [sic]’. Why the section was not entitled ‘verbs of possession’ or some such is rather mysterious.

Ultimately this book cannot be recommended for the use of the student learner, the traveler (should one find oneself in Siwa not knowing Arabic), or the scholar, except insofar as it provides a number of examples from which to start one’s further study in Siwa on first principles.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized on by .

Pragmatics across languages and cultures

Pragmatics across languages and cultures. Ed. by Anna Trosborg. (Handbook of pragmatics 7.) Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 2010. Pp. xiii, 644. ISBN 9783110214437. $279 (Hb).

Reviewed by Francesca Bargiela-Chiappini, University of Warwick, UK

The series Handbooks of pragmatics, to which this volume belongs, aims to offer comprehensive coverage of a large and varied field. Anna Trosborg has extensive experience in cross-cultural pragmatics acquired over a long career in academia. The international outlook of her work is reflected in the list of contributors, mostly very well-known scholars in key areas of pragmatics research and application. In the preface to the series, the editors remind us that ‘unlike other linguistic disciplines, pragmatics is defined by its point of view more than by its objects of investigation’ (v). It follows that all areas of linguistics can be approached from a pragmatic perspective by focusing on linguistic action in interaction.

This volume concentrates on trends and topics in four major areas of pragmatics across cultures: ‘Contrastive and cross-cultural pragmatics’ (Part 1), ‘Interlanguage pragmatics’ (Part 2), ‘Teaching and testing of second/foreign language pragmatics’ (Part 3), and ‘Pragmatics in corporate culture communication’ (Part 4). The first two parts, containing twelve of the twenty-one chapters, could be understood as defining the traditional core of cross-cultural pragmatics research. Teaching and testing is probably more readily associated with applied linguistics, and corporate communication is an area of interest relatively new to pragmatics. The introduction comments on the chapters and provides an overview of the field that less experienced readers will find useful before turning to the more specialized contents of individual chapters.

It is no coincidence that studies in contrastive, cross-cultural, and intercultural pragmatics are grouped together in this volume; as the editor notes (2), boundaries between the three sub-fields are difficult to trace. In general, contrastive pragmatics has treated ‘language differences as linguistic phenomena’ whereas cross-cultural and interactural pragmatics—the two terms often used interchangeably—have tended to turn to ‘culture’ for an explanation of interactional behavior. In doing so, issues of definitions and concepts of ‘culture(s)’ are bound to arise with pressing frequency and urgency. Many chapters are steeped in the dominant cultural paradigm in the sense that they appear to accept the idea of ‘culture’ as a system of shared values and norms and ‘cultures’ as discrete manifestations largely coextensive with nation-states or groups of nations. The statement ‘Language is culture—culture is language’ (2) has far-reaching epistemological consequences, whether we look at the field as a whole, the position of researchers within it, or the frameworks and methodologies that  they choose to deploy in their work.  The east-west dichotomy pointed out in Rong Chen’s chapter ‘Compliment and compliment response research: A cross-cultural survey’ (79–102), for example, indicates a need for more critical and reflexive approaches in cross-cultural pragmatics. Perhaps these debates will be incorporated in a future edition. Nonetheless, this volume provides us with an accessible and stimulating cross-section of studies by influential scholars in the field.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized on by .

Focus particles in German

Focus particles in German: Syntax, prosody, and information structure. By Stefan Sudhoff. (Linguistik aktuell/linguistics today 151.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2010. Pp. xiii, 335. ISBN 9789027255341. $158 (Hb).

Reviewed by Thomas Hoffmann, University of Osnabrück

As its subtitle suggests, Focus particles in German investigates the syntax, information structure, and prosody of German focus particles such as nur ‘only’ and auch ‘also’.

After a brief introductory chapter (1–4) outlining the scope and organization of the study, Ch. 2, ‘Theoretical background’ (5–31), provides an in-depth overview of S’s theoretical assumptions. In particular, he discusses the various linguistic levels that have been claimed to affect the focus particle construction, and presents the generative, modular view of grammar adopted in his analysis. Ch. 3, ‘The semantics of focus particles’ (33–57), shows that the semantic contribution of focus particles crucially depends on their interaction with the focus-background partition of a sentence. Moreover, S claims that these properties can be modelled equally well within either the alternative semantics or structured meanings frameworks.

Ch. 4, ‘Focus particles, syntax, and information structure’ (59–148), then argues that focus particles in German are best analyzed as VP-adjoined maximal categories that behave like adverbials and have a fixed syntactic position. Additionally, focus particles are shown to be sensitive to the independent focus-background partition of a sentence, with the domain of the particle being the sentence focus (except for stressed additive focus particles whose domain functions as a contrastive topic). In Ch. 5, ‘The scope of focus particles’ (149–71), S emphasizes that their scope is different from their domain. Among the variables that determine scope are several syntactic nodes (CP, DP, and PP).

Ch. 6, ‘The prosody of sentences with stressed additive focus particles’ (173–246), proceeds to an empirical investigation of focus particles, starting with a corpus study and several speech production and perception experiments on the prosodic realization of the constituent associated with the stressed additive particle auch. As these studies show, the associated element is normally marked by a high or rising pitch accent, while the particle itself exhibits a falling accent. However, the corpus data indicate that pronominal associated elements tend to be non-accented. Furthermore, S points out that in the prosodic marking of the associated element, continuous phonetic factors (such as the gradual realization of the F0-peak, F0-rise, and duration) seem to play a more important role than phonological marking (i.e. a specific accent type).

Ch. 7, ‘Focus particles and contrast’ (247–87), investigates the prosodic realization of the associated elements of unstressed focus particles and provides experimental evidence that these can carry contrastive as well as new information focus. As S argues, the actual type of focus is thus not determined by the particle but the overall information-structural properties of a sentence. Finally, Ch. 8, ‘Conclusion’ (289–91), provides a short summary of S’s main findings.

Not all readers might share S’s theoretical view on the mental architecture of grammar. Nonetheless, this book is an important contribution to a growing body of research that investigates the interaction of syntax, prosody, and information structure, and should therefore be of interest to those working in any of these three fields.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized on by .