Imperative clauses in generative grammar

Imperative clauses in generative grammar: Studies in honour of Frits Beukema. Ed. by Wim van der Wurff. (Linguistik aktuell/Linguistics today 103.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2007. Pp. viii, 352. ISBN  9789027233677. $180 (Hb).

Reviewed by Michael Alvarez-Pereyre, Sorbonne University

Although the morphosyntax of the imperative was fairly well described by encyclopedic grammarians at the beginning of the twentieth century, the first attempts to account for it are usually attributed to early generativists. These first models, however, were simplistic, which prompted the emergence of more elaborate theories throughout the realm of generative linguistics. This volume presents current generative research that examines the imperative in a range of Germanic, Romance, and South Slavic languages.

Wim van der Wurff’s introduction offers an extensive overview of the major morphosyntactic issues addressed in studies of the imperative. His historical perspective, however, is undermined by the lack of clear school boundaries between the numerous authors quoted—a reader unfamiliar with the field might believe a number of (now widely accepted) ideas and examples had come from the generative tradition, when they were originally meant to lambast generative models. However, it is to van der Wurff’s credit that he is more interested in discussing the strength of the arguments—which he does quite brilliantly—than in labeling their authors.

In ‘On the periphery of imperative and declarative clauses in Dutch and German’, Sjef Barbiers argues that a minimal morphosyntactic difference between the two languages accounts for the unequal distribution possibilities of their verbs. In ‘Featuring the subject in Dutch imperatives’, Hans Bennis makes the case for a specified feature for second person contained in the complementizer (C)-position in Dutch simple imperative sentences. In ‘Clitic climbing in Spanish imperatives’, Marcel den Dikken and Mariví Blasco propose comparative and independent justifications for the hypothesis that Spanish simple imperatives are not marked for tense, in contrast with subjunctives.

In ‘Topics in imperatives’, Hilda Koopman examines the contribution and interaction of several factors to explain object presence and position in Dutch imperatives and declaratives. In ‘Embedded imperatives’, Christer Platzack considers Old Scandinavian and its modern descendants and puts forward a set of structural requirements for embedded imperatives  possible in a language. In ‘How to say no and don’t: Negative imperatives in Romance and Germanic,’ Gertjan Postma and Wim van der Wurff examine a correlation between the absence of negated imperatives in certain languages and the fact that in most of these languages, an identical word serves as both anaphoric negator (e.g. no) and sentence negator (e.g. not).

In ‘Analysing word order in the English imperative’, Eric Potsdam proposes to assimilate the syntax of inverted imperatives (e.g. Don’t you help them) with that of superficially similar polar interrogatives. ‘On participial imperatives’, by Johan Rooryck and Gertjan Postma, explores a set of Dutch participial clauses used as directives. In ‘“Inverted” imperatives’, Laura Rupp advances an explanation of subject position variation in emphatic and negated imperatives. Finally, in ‘Pronominal clitics and imperatives in South Slavic’, Olga Mišeska Tomić offers a structural comparison of pronominal clitics in imperatives in Serbian/Croatian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, and Slovenian. The book concludes with indexes of languages, names, and terms.

It remains tenable that the most profound insights on imperative clauses have been proposed outside the framework of generative grammar. Also, such structuring parameters as intonation, gesture, and context, although increasingly mentioned in generative analyses, still deserve fuller treatment. However, no other school of thought has produced so many and such diverse morphosyntactic studies on what remains a (relatively) poorly-known linguistic object. This book presents a significant ongoing contribution to the field.