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area of research, but few major studies followed it, and several of those seem to have been condemned to the status of unpublished Ph.D. dissertations.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.