LINGUIST List 16.2278|
Thu Jul 28 2005
Review: Semantics/Syntax: Borer (2005)
Editor for this issue: Naomi Ogasawara
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Structuring Sense, Volume 1: In Name Only
Message 1: Structuring Sense, Volume 1: In Name Only
From: Sanjukta Ghosh <san_subhyahoo.com>
Subject: Structuring Sense, Volume 1: In Name Only
AUTHOR: Borer, Hagit
TITLE: Structuring Sense, Volume 1
SUBTITLE: In Name Only
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/15/15-745.html
Sanjukta Ghosh, Research Scientist, Language Technologies Research Centre,
International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad
[Structuring Sense, Volume 2: The Normal Course of Events, by Hagit Borer,
was reviewed in http://linguistlist.org/issues/16/16-2184.html --Eds.]
[Angle brackets have been replaced by square brackets throughout.
Material immediately following a closing square bracket is to
be understood as subscripted; also the notations "max" and "min".
This book is an excellent thought-provoking work by a great intellectual
mind of current linguistic world written from a non-conventional
perspective challenging generative as well as lexical frameworks. The book
under review 'In Name Only' is the first of a three volume work
entitled 'Structuring Sense', by Hagit Borer. Difference between word and
structure is the subject matter of this series. The question addressed in
these volumes is how words can mean many things but structures cannot. The
significant shift proposed in these three volumes explains linguistic
competence only from the syntactic computation, thus shifting the load
from the lexicon of a language. Borer selected two most important areas of
a language, viz. nominal structure and predication in the first two
volumes (third volume under preparation) to establish the theory proposed.
The reading of the first volume of the book leads to a desire for the
reading of the second volume without which the theory proposed seems to be
The volume I is divided into three parts. The first part sets the stage
for the whole series by introducing the theoretical mechanism in the first
two chapters. The second and third part covers the entire area of nominal
structure covering topics like interpretation of Proper Nouns, mass-count
distinction, quantifiers and measure phrases, classifiers, singular-plural
distinction and definite as well as indefinite articles. The difference
between these two parts lies in the choice of the language taken: while in
the second part English nominal structure is focused with some relevant
examples taken from Hebrew, Chinese etc, the third part exclusively
discusses other than English data for accounting language parameters.
Borer develops a new model of linguistic analysis (similar to some extent
to the constructionist and neoconstructionist approach) which she calls
Exo-skeletal approach in opposition to endo-skeletal where properties of
the higher structure is projected from the lexicon. This lexicon-driven
view is opposed in this work where listeme is considered nothing more than
a sound-meaning pairing giving an encyclopedic knowledge. Syntactic
properties typically associated with listemes like argument structure and
category type are properties of the structures in exo-skeletal approach.
When listemes are selected to form a part of the conceptual array, they
are not an ordered pair in an unmarked Lexical-Phrasal domain (L-D).
Alongside the encyclopedia, the grammar has a functional lexicon
comprising of the grammatical formatives in the forms of features like
[+pl], [+pt] as well as independent grammatical formatives like [the [+def]].
Some grammatical formative merges with L-D and projects some functional
Functional heads have open values which are assigned range by a variety of
means like f-morphs and abstract head feature (direct range assignment)
and other operators such as independent morphemes like quantifiers and
discourse operators (responsible for indirect range assignment). Open
values are denoted with a subscript which marks its category membership
like the following [e]d. The system does not predict a one-to-one
correspondence between these open values and range assigners because it is
theoretically possible for an operator to bind more than one variable.
However, the reverse is not possible as double marking of one open value
by two operators is not allowed as natural languages do not allow a double
marking. The derivation converges just in case the phonology dispenses a
representation for the combination of (head + head feature).
There is a discussion on the inflection vs. derivation account within the
framework in chapter 2 where Borer separates form and function in the
domain of inflection. She assumes while more than one head feature can be
realized on a single L-head, those features are neither ordered nor
hierarchically organized. Some phonological regularities are associated
with the realization of the feature combination but at morphological level
there is no ordering. The argument is supported with data from Hebrew
where form failing to predict function in the inflection domain and the
order of inflection marking differs from one instantiation to another. So
the function of inflection is clearly regular and syntactic but no
prediction can be made about the forms.
Thus setting the stage of the main work for the remaining two more
sections of the book, Borer takes up the issue of interpretation of proper
name and common-name in the third chapter. She came to the conclusion that
the distinction is neither the property of the lexicon nor can be
explained by a type-shifter. Rather, this distinction emerges from two
distinct syntactic structures in which range is assigned differently.
Proper name interpretation emerges only when a noun is in D, and such a
noun may move to D either by overt movement as in Italian or by covert
movement as in English. In case the noun moves to D, it has a head-feature
called [def-u] which assigns range to [e]d. She also argued that like
definite articles, proper name behaves like a discourse anaphor taking its
reference from discourse. On the other hand, in presence of an article in
both the languages nouns are interpreted as common nouns occurring in NP
and range-assignment to [e]d is done by the articles.
Chapter 4 introduces two more functional open values [e]DIV and [e]# for
accounting mass vs count distinction. Open value [e]DIV is responsible for
classifying or dividing function and is assigned range by either the
plural markers and the indefinite article in English. A very interesting
proposal by the author here is all noun extensions are mass in all
languages (here differing from Chierchia (1998) who proposed this only for
classifier languages) and count as well as mass are grammaticality
constructed notions corresponding to different pieces of syntactic
structures. Borer argued that plural inflection is actually a classifier
inflection and there is no language where they coexist in a single
structure (though both plural and classifier may be present as two
different strategies in a language). Chierchia's system was unable to
account for the questions like why classifier languages cannot have
plurals with classifiers or why the languages with grammatical plural
cannot have classifiers. Borer answers this question by saying that
classifiers and plural markers compete for the same functional projection
or an open value [e]DIV can be assigned range by either a classifier which
is an independent f-morph or a plural marker which is an abstract head
She also argues that mass nouns are not inherently plural but unmarked for
either mass or count and mass interpretation is defined from a default
interpretation associated with the absence of a dividing structure. Bare
plurals cannot be a function of singulars, but rather follow from the role
of the plural as 'stuff divider'. Apples as a bare plural does not consist
of singular apples, therefore individual cannot be created by a dividing
She argues further for a #P position dominating the Cl[assifier] Phrase
which is responsible for the assignment of quantity to stuff or to
divisions of it. Absence of Cl max gives rise to mass interpretation and
absence of #P leads to non-quantity interpretation for bare plurals and
determinerless mass nouns with generic interpretation. Bare plurals and
mass nouns share the undetermined nature of the quantity involved and
failure to show telicity of the event.
In the next chapter Borer tries to account for a null [e]d licensing. She
assumes that strong quantifiers, unlike weak ones, merge a copy in D°,
where they assign range over [e]d. Determiners which bind [e]d in this
way are called D-determiners. Some of these are every, each, all, any,
both and they do not allow the or this before them as these words also
merge in the same D position.
Cardinal and weak quantifiers are ambiguous between a strong
presuppositional reading with a movement to D and a weak reading with a
null D. If they have a strong reading they bind [e]d, thus existential
closure is blocked and the resulting expression behaves like a proper noun
or a definite description.
If [e]d is bound with a D-determiner, there is no longer a variable in D
and depending on the properties of the determiners (like if they are
quantifiers such as each and every), the resulting expression is
With examples from English and Hebrew, Borer concludes that any approach
which tries to reduce the scopal properties of indefinites to a single
structure is insufficient for analyzing certain specificity markers (the
example given from Hebrew). The scope of the quantifiers as well as
definiteness and indefiniteness reading emerge from a specific syntactic
placement of determiners and the open values which they assign range to.
So the properties of QP (#P) and of DP are responsible for derivation of
strong vs. weak reading of quantifiers, cardinals and indefinites.
Chapter 6 investigates the nature of null #P and the properties of the
definite article. Particularly the ungrammaticality of the construction
where both definite and indefinite articles occur like * the a cat is
discussed in the first section. It is conjectured that both these articles
compete for a same structural position, which cannot be D° but must be
either Cl° or #°or both. She concludes that both the and a compete for the
same #P position resulting ungrammaticality of the aforesaid construction.
The relation between telicity and definite descriptions is also attributed
to the fact that in those constructions [e]# is assigned range. This leads
to the conclusion that determinerless mass nouns and bare plurals are not
Comparing the ungrammaticality of *the a with the grammatical structures
where definite article the co-occurs with weak quantifiers like few, many
and cardinals, it is concluded that the and a are only heads of the
quantifier phrase and they must project to #max. Whereas others can be
either Fmin of Fmax, occupying either head/specifier position. She also
explains in this context why 'all the' is an acceptable construction in
spite of 'all' being a strong quantifier. 'All', according to this author,
is a modifier of DP and occurs at the Spec of DP which is unique to it.
All other strong quantifiers compete with the for merging into D slot and
therefore are not permitted together with it.
Coming back to proper nouns again, in this chapter Borer proposed that
they must assign range to both [e]# and [e]DIV because they are neither
mass nor plural and no other quantifier is allowed with them to assign
range over them. With the presence of a quantifier, a proper noun becomes
a common noun.
In the last section of the chapter discussing Chinese data Borer proposed
that Classifiers can assign range to both [e]DIV and [e]#. There is an
interesting proposal to merge cardinal and classifier node coming from
Simpson (forthcoming) mentioned by the author which she also can
accommodate in her theory. In that case, the specifier position will be
taken by the number and the head of the phrase and the range assigner will
be the classifier. Singular interpretation emerges in this system with the
classifier not because that is specified for singular but because of the
structure identifies [e]DIV and [e]# and no other value for [e]# is
provided. The plural classifiers are inherently quantificational and
assign range to [e]#. For a strong interpretation of Num-Cl-N
construction, Num movement to D is proposed and cardinals assign range to
[e]d . Weak interpretation emerges [e]d when is bound by an existential
operator. Strong interpretation of bare Classifier and Noun in some
Chinese dialects suggests that Cl can assign range to [e]d also.
Part III of the book analyzes extensively Hebrew nominal system
particularly definite articles, structure of singulars, the distribution
of cardinals (chapter 7) and the classifiers as well as the measure and
container phrases (chapter 8) using the same tool. The data presented in
these two chapters elaborates the interaction between the range
assignments by various means and the emerging syntactic and semantic
properties of the nominals.
The last chapter concludes the book by discussing the language variation
in relation to universal properties of language. It is proposed in this
system that ultimately all variations are properties of range assigners to
functional open values and these properties are morpho-phonological
properties as f-morphs, abstract head feature or potential phrasal
projections. The direct impact of this proposal is claimed to simplify the
task of language acquisition. It leads to the point where syntactic
acquisition becomes the task of matching the properties of phonological
forms of the grammatical formatives with the set of otherwise unchanged
grammatical computational operations. In this theory language parameters
are the properties of the morpho-phonology only.
In this connection, I am tempted to share certain observations from Bangla
(popularly known as Bengali), a classifier language of Indo-Aryan family.
While analyzing the classifier system of Bangla, I found out that they
essentially do two types of job: one is quantification/counting and
another is of individuation, a cover term for me for denoting specificity-
definiteness-focusing effect. The classifiers can be graded based on these
two properties. A default classifier which can be used with categories
such as N (both common noun and proper noun with certain pragmatic
effect), Q, Num, Dem, V is /Ta:/ and I proposed in absence of any overt
determiner in this language the classifier takes some of the jobs of overt
D in certain construction. This can be translated in Borer's term they can
assign range not only to [e]DIV and [e]# but also to [e]d.
For people like me who work in Syntax-Pragmatics interface, Borer's theory
looks to be extremely positive. If a grammatical description were to make
only projection and compositionality the relevant factors determining the
interpretation of utterances, then one would be forced to leave
interpretation entirely, without residue, to the social conventions of the
language. That type of picture would leave no role for the speaker, whose
freedom to anchor an utterance in its context would become vacuous. On the
other hand, If the speaker constructs a syntactic template before filling
it with the lexical items she has the choice to opt for a certain template
for a specific reason (say specificity or focusing) from two allowed by
grammar. This work, in this way, does not snatch the speaker's freedom
The Functional open values of Borer resemble the predicates of the
predicate logic and the functional elements, which assign range to them,
are the arguments. The predicate as we know is a constant, therefore, is
the property of the language universals whereas the parameters are set
with the argument-like functional elements which are variables. The recent
research in neurobiology also supports the existence of a distinct
predicate-argument structure in the human brain and the information
processing happens in two different ways based on this distinction.
Borer's work is probably guiding us towards a right path which can explain
the intra as well as the interlinguistic variations more satisfactorily.
Chierchia, Gennaro. 1998. 'Reference to kinds across languages'. Natural
Language Semantics 6:339-405.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Currently I am working as a research scientist in Language Technologies
Research Centre(LTRC) of International Institute of Information
Technology, Hyderabad, India. In LTRC, my primary responsibility is to
give linguistic input for English-Bangla as well as English-Hindi Machine
Translation system. I was awarded Ph.D. degree in 2004 in Syntax-
Pragmatics Interface studies of Bangla by University of Hyderabad. My
research interests include syntax, pragmatics, philosophy of language and
cognitive linguistics. I also taught in University of Hyderabad as a guest
lecturer from July 2002 to December 2004.
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