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Review of  Theoretical Approaches to Universals

Reviewer: Sergey Say
Book Title: Theoretical Approaches to Universals
Book Author: Artemis Alexiadou
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Syntax
Issue Number: 14.1691

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Date: Wed, 28 May 2003 00:14:44 +0400 (MSD)
From: Sergei Sey
Subject: Theoretical Approaches to Universals

Alexiadou, Artemis, ed. (2002) Theoretical Approaches to Universals,
John Benjamins Publishing Company, Linguistik Aktuell/Linguistics
Today 49.

Sergey Say, ILI RAN (Institute for linguistic research of the
Russian Academy of Sciences), Saint-Petersburg, Russia

This volume presents a selection of papers from the GLOW
conference on universals organized by the Research Center for
General Linguistics (Berlin), the Linguistic Department of the
University of Potsdam and the Dutch Graduate School in
Linguistics (Berlin, March 1999). The authors of the
contributions to the volume all share a generativist (in most
cases, a minimalist) background; the goal of the volume is to
enrich our knowledge of what is universal and what is language-
specific in linguistic structures, and in particular to answer
some of the following questions: "how are the primitive notions
of the structure building apparatus, Merge, Move, Agree or
Attract defined? (...) What does a typology of features look
like? (...) [H]ow are we to understand variation in morpho-
lexical features exactly? Finally, is it true that morphological
variation dispenses with the need for structural variation?" (p. 5).


The book opens with an introduction by the volume's editor,
Artemis Alexiadou. This introduction is itself divided into two
parts, the first containing a brief overview of the current
state of affairs in the universals research (with special
emphasis on convergences and discrepancies between generative and
functional-typological approach), the second giving a summary of
the contributions to the volume. The rest of the volume consists
of 9 papers and a subject index (with an in-built language
index). References are given after each paper.

The first paper of the book ("Universal features and language-
particular morphemes", by Maya Arad) elaborates on the well-known
view that assigns variation among languages to morphology
(Chomsky 1995). A specific formulation of this view is offered,
namely, that "there are three sources for language variation: the
inventory of roots a language has, the features it has selected
out of a universal inventory, and the way these features are
bundled together" (p. 15). In particular, Arad investigates those
features that are bundled together in the upper head in the VP-
shell; this head (commonly referred to as "little v") introduces
an external argument in its specifier and enters into a relation
with the object. Arad observes semantic and syntactic properties
of verbs denoting mental states (psych verbs) in a number of
languages (Italian and other Romance first of all); she
distinguishes between stative and agentive readings of Object
Experiencer verbs and ascribes this distinction to the type of
verbal morpheme with which the root is combined: it is either
"(standard) little v" or a morpheme labeled as "stative little
v". These "little v" morphemes are responsible for the syntactic
effects such as reflexivization, causativization and extraction
from the object (thus, in Italian, reflexivization is
ungrammatical with the stative reading of the ObjExp verbs).
Finally Arad proposes a preliminary typology of "little v"
morphemes, basing on the assumption that these morphemes have
three types of properties: verbalizing property (making a verb
out of a category neutral root), semantic content (agentive,
stative, inchoative, causative etc.) and transitivity. It is
shown that languages may put together different sets of features
into their "little v" morphemes. It is further generalised that
the same root can form different types of "verbs" when combined
with verbal morphemes of different types.

In the following paper ("Agree or attract? A Relativized
Minimality solution to a Proper Binding Condition puzzle"),
Boeckx examines the 'how likely' paradigm starting with the
contrast (=5 in Boeckx) originally reported in Kroch and Joshi
1 a. How likely to win is John? but
b. *How likely to be a riot is there?

This contrast has been recently taken as an argument for feature-
movement (Lasnik, 2002). However, Boeckx shows that Lasnik's
analysis is inadequate in a number of ways, both empirically
(further facts going against Lasnik's interpretation are
provided) and conceptually. In contrast to previous solutions to
the puzzle, Boeckx analysis shows that the contrast has nothing
to do with remnant movement or the Proper Binding Condition
("traces must be bound"). In other words, cases like (1b) should
be ruled out prior to the application of remnant movement. An
alternative analysis deeply implicates Relativized Minimality; in
particular, since 'how likely' is docomposable into a wh-part and
indefinite part, it is the latter that creates an intervention
and thus blocks the Agree between T and NP in (1b). By contrast,
the cases like (1a) are rescued by the presence of a D-feature on
the noun phrase being attracted, which allows Agree to succeed.
In general, Boeckx' analysis captures the basic 'how-likely'
paradigm without any appeal to remnant movement, distinct LF-
component, or move-F, and "[i]n so doing, [it] (...) lends
credence to the conceptually more elegant mechanism of Agree and
the One-cycle model of syntax (p. 58).

Fanselow and Cavar's contribution ("Distributed deletion")
addresses the problem of NP- and PP-split constructions in Slavic
and German, such as e.g. German. The following example is (5) in F&C):
2 Interessante Buecher hat sie mir keine aus Indien empfohlen
interesting books has she me none from India recommended
"She has not recommended any interesting books from India to me"

It is shown that XP-splits arise in the context of operator
movement only; they can retain (Pull splits) or invert (Inverted
splits) the order of the elements found in the continuous
counterpart. The authors convincingly show that previous analyses
(simple movement and base generation theories, first of all) face
serious problems when applied to these constructions. On the one
hand, the former approach cannot account for the (possible)
repetition of phonetic material (e.g. prepositions) in imperfect
splits and for the violation of standard islands for movement
(e.g. PP-islands); on the other hand, the latter approach
assuming base-generation of both parts in situ fail (among other
things) to adequately describe some linear order facts that in
fact call for the movement approach. The paradox is given
solution within the copy and deletion approach to movement (see
e.g. Chomsky 1995). The basic insight of F&C is that "deletion
may affect BOTH the upstairs AND the downstairs copy, but in a
partial way so, which yields the split XP construction". Such an
approach seems to be a kind of compromise between simple movement
and double base-generation and provides a unified analysis for
both NP and PP splits.

Frank, Hagstrom and Vijay-Shanker's article ("Roots, constituents
and c-command") addresses the problem of adequate syntactic
representation and the primitive notions of such representation.
The authors argue for the non-existence of primitive dominance
("dominance does not figure into grammatical explanation" p.
110); what they propose instead is the primitive status of c-
command. They show how such notions as roots and constituents
that have been traditionally defined with reference to dominance
can be redefined with reference to c-command only. Such an
approach leads to the distinction of "the categorial root" (the
node that determines the category of the tree as a whole) and
"the attachment root" (the node that provides the locus of cyclic
attachment). With respect to the notion of constituency much
effort is made in order to retain the validity of the claim that
"All and only constituents can be moved" (e.g. p. 123). Again,
constituency is re-defined without any reference to dominance.
The basic idea of the article may be indeed very influential for
the architecture of syntactic representation; it is shown that
the approach adopted in the paper makes it possible to capture
many generalisations with respect to such phenomena as movement,
ellipsis and conjunction in an elegant and economic fashion.
Finally, it is suggested as a theoretical possibility that
"perhaps constituency is verified at and useful for PF, while
syntax (and even perhaps LF) are not sensitive to issues of
constituency" (p. 133).

Kural's contribution to the volume ("A four-way classification of
monadic verbs") deals with the problems that emerge from the more
or less commonly accepted view according to which such verbs can
be divided into unaccusative and unergative verbs, as originally
proposed by Perlmutter (1978). Further research (most notably
Burzio 1986) has shown that unaccusative verbs are generated as
internal arguments inside the VP, while unergative verbs are
generated as external arguments outside the VP; besides, a bunch
of tests associated with this distinction has been proposed in
previous studies. In his paper, Kural takes up some seven of
these tests, namely, there-insertion, locative inversion, subject
case (ergative vs. nominative), agreement, and the possibility of
cognate objects, resultatives and way-construction. It is argued
that these tests "do not all test the same structural
properties", and that "the discrepancies in the behavior of some
monadic verbs across these tests can be explained naturally by
positing a four-way classification" (p. 142). A distinct
syntactic structure is proposed for each type of monadic verbs.
While verbs of being and the change of location verbs have the
same VP design as classic unaccusative and unergative verbs,
respectively, the other two types of monadic verbs distinguished
in the paper (namely, the change of state verbs and verbs of
creation) are endowed with a complex multi-layered structure each
involving an extra node (directional phrase and CAUSE phrase
respectively). It is finally shown that the differences in
syntactic structures typical of these verbs are tightly
associated with their broad semantic properties.

In the following paper ("On agreement. Locality and feature
variation", by Luis Lopez) a new approach to the operations Agree
and Move is offered, that makes it possible to get rid of some
unnecessary assumptions proposed earlier (e.g. "freezing effects"
and Global Economy framework, that allows operations that can
"look ahead" at future derivational steps). Instead, the
principle of Locality of Agreement is maintained, that limits
Agree to elements not separated by a maximal category. Quite
traditionally, Agree is understood as an operation that co-values
two sets of features. However, Lopez admits the possibility of
Agree between two terms with unvalued features: "[i]f both probe
and goal have unvalued features of the same type, they will
remain unvalued, with a twist: since they are now involved in the
Agree relation, these features will be co-valued" (p. 172).
Contrarily to Chomsky (1999) and in agreement with the Locality
of Agreement principle, movement is understood as a consequence
of the "tension" in the system created by the inability of Agree
between two items that are too distant for probing. These
theoretical assumptions are successfully used in the analyses of
structural case assignment, expletive constructions (a sketchy
typology of those is provided) and movement chains. It is shown
that feature co-valuation underlies these phenomena and that
ultimately Case assignment is only a variant of the agreement

Mateu and Rigau ("A minimalist account of conflation processes.
Parametric variation at the lexicon syntax interface") undertake
a minimalist analysis of conflation processes; they take Talmy's
(1985) original analysis as a starting point of their
investigation and acknowledge its descriptive adequacy. In
particular, they acknowledge the fact that various languages may
conflate semantic components like Figure, Motion, Path, Manner,
or Cause into the verb in different ways. Thus, for instance,
"conflation of motion with path is argued to be typical of
Romances [sic!] languages (...), whereas conflation of motion
with manner is typical of English" (p. 211). Mateu and Rigau's
insight is to give these facts a basically syntactic explanation
within a minimalist framework. For that purpose, they introduce a
number of phonologically null verbs such as GO, CAUSE etc. that
must be conflated (by means of simple Merge) with some other
element with phonological properties. Conflation of a full verb
(e.g. 'dance') with one or another phonologically null verb will
lead to the different syntactic structures that in their turn
correspond to some diagnostic constructions analyzed by Talmy.
While the former verb expresses the manner component, the latter
verb determines the cause/motion/state meaning of the
construction. As a consequence, the cross-linguistic variation
with respect to the conflation processes as analyzed by Talmy, is
reinterpreted by Mateu and Rigau as an epiphenomenon of
(un)availability of the relevant empty heads (CAUSE/GO/BE). The
various syntactic phenomena involving path constructions and
existential locative constructions are explained within this

Romero ("Morphological constraints on syntactic derivations")
addresses once again the problem of the sources of cross-
linguistic variation. He argues that languages differ in the
formal features they encode, although there is a universal set of
features available for the faculty of language. This selection is
idiosyncratic, although not completely arbitrary. The empirical
data Romero discusses include the cases when Person-Case
Constraint (PCC) is at work; this constraint states that dative
arguments are ungrammatical if the accusative is first or second
person, and agreement is overtly realized. Thus, Romero argues
that PCC shows up only if there are agreement features involved.
Romero's analyses of particular linguistic data aim at getting
rid of "looking-forward" properties triggering computations,
which is a desirable way of thinking for any minimalist study,
since "[i]f being (un)interpretable is an interface property,
then it cannot be relevant troughout [sic] the derivation" (p.

In the last contribution to the volume (Sabel, "Intermediate
traces, reconstruction and locality effects"), a Constraint on
Adjunction Movement (CAM) is introduced, according to which
"[m]ovement may not proceed via intermediate adjunction" (p.
260). To put it in a somewhat different way, this constraint
suggests that whenever an element is moved to an adjoined
position this element cannot move further and is "frozen in
place" in this position. Or, to rephrase the constraint once
again, movement can only proceed via specifier position. The
article is organized in such a way that first, a bunch of
phenomena are introduced that have been traditionally analyzed as
cases of successive-cyclic movement via intermediate adjunction.
These phenomena include weak crossover effects, locality
phenomena and reconstruction properties of moved elements with
respect to scope and binding properties. However, the in the
following section the author argues that if "the intermediate
adjunction hypothesis holds, several ad hoc devices are needed to
constraint the unrestricted use of this mechanism" (p. 269) and
that these devices are not independently motivated. Thus, an
alternative interpretation for various movement types are
offered, including wh-movement, quantifier raising, scrambling,
A-movement, empty operator movement, and head movement. Some
cases that have been traditionally used as an empirical basis for
intermediate adjunction are reanalyzed with the help of multiple
specifier positions.


Overall, this volume is a valuable contribution to the study of
the architecture of Universal Grammar (UG) and of the sources of
cross-linguistic variation. Taken together, the contributions to
the volume cover a wide range of theoretical problems (probably,
at the expense of evident unity between the papers). Some of the
papers provide very interesting insights in the study of
particular syntactic phenomena (e.g. Arad, Kural, Mateu and
Rigau) drawing attention to the previously unnoticed regularities
in natural languages. The stress of some other papers is on the
theoretical rather than empirical side; e.g. the papers by
Boeckx, Frank & Vijay-Shanker, Lopez and Sabel address the issues
that are very relevant for the development of the minimalist
program; their theoretical claims may have a very far-reaching
impact on the basic matters of the UG and can potentially appear
to be very influential for the future research. This distinction
is not meant to imply that theoretical issues in the
contributions are kept apart from discovering challenging
empirical regularities (a weighed balance between the two sides
can be found in e.g. Fanselow and Cavar's contribution). Although
there is a lot of controversy between the implications of
particular papers (e.g. Sabel's contribution employs "freezing
effects" in order to maintain his Constraint on Adjunction
Movement, while one of the aims of Lopez's analysis consists in
getting rid of these effects as they are considered to be
unwelcome for the general ideology of the minimalist program),
the volume is significant and useful in a variety of ways.

My main reservation with respect to the volume is two-fold.
First, I am not quite sure that the title of the volume
("Theoretical approaches to universals") is fitting for its
content. Indeed, the very word "universal" (as a noun) does not
appear in the majority of papers; moreover, the question of the
universality of particular phenomena is not directly addressed to
in some of them, either. Rather, it is the problem of cross-
linguistic variation that is discussed explicitly in some papers
(Arad, Romero) and it is only through the analysis of particular
constraints imposed upon this variation that the problem of
universality is tackled. Of course, universality of the basic
architecture of language is a prevailing principle for any
minimalist researcher, but still the title of the volume may seem
somewhat misleading.

Second, the cross-linguistic dimension of the volume is not
entirely convincing. It is explicitly stated in the introduction
by the editor that the goals that are chosen in the volume can
only be reached by comparative study of language. However, there
are some papers that are almost exclusively concerned with the
data from English (e.g. Boeckx' contribution). Many other contain
basically a comparison of English and one or two more languages
(e.g. German or Spanish). In general, the list of languages
referred to in the volume does not have but some 25 entries, out
of which only 10 are non-Indo-European languages and with only 7
languages spoken outside Europe, and only 3 outside Eurasia. In
general, dealing with particular languages seems to be somewhat
unprincipled and ad hoc in many cases. Moreover, there are a lot
of inaccuracies in this respect. E.g. on page 117 we read "(:) in
certain Slavic languages, including Bulgarian and Romanian
[sic]". It may be further mentioned that both Bulgarian and
Romanian are missing in the language index, although there are
examples from both in the volume (besides, the example on the same
page 117, and many others e.g. on page 251 are not properly introduced,
as it is not indicated what is their language). Being a native speaker
of Russian, I checked the three passages of the volume where Russian
data are discussed and found that ALL OF THEM are not perfect
(namely, the root is udiv- rather than udivl- in examples on page
34; a diacritic is missing in example (32) on page 225 and the
unstarred examples on page 284 are at best to be marked as
questionable according to my speaker's intuition.

Of course, these critical remarks do not undermine the fact that
the book under review could be highly recommended to anyone
interested in the recent advances in the basic issues of the
generative grammar.


Burzio, L. 1986. Italian syntax. Dordrecht: Reidel publishing.
Chomsky, N. 1995. The minimalist program. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Chomsky, N. 1999. Derivation by phase [MIT occasional papers in
linguistics 18]. Department of linguistics and philosophy, MIT.
Kroch, A. and A. Joshi. 1985. The linguistic relevance of tree-
adjoining grammar. Ms., University of Pennsylvania.
Lasnik, H. 2002. Feature movement or agreement at a distance? In:
A.Alexiadou, E. Anagnostopoulou, S. Barbiers and H.-M. Gaertner
(eds.). Dimensions of movement: From features to remnants.
Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Perlmutter, D. 1978. Impersonal passive and the unaccusative hypothesis.
In: Proceedings of the 4th annual meeting of the Berkeley
linguistic society. UC Berkeley.
Talmy, L. 1985. Lexicalization patterns: Semantic structures in lexical
forms. In: T. Shopen (ed.). Language typology and syntactic
description. Vol. 3. Grammatical categories and the lexicon.
Cambridge: CUP.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Sergey Say is a post-graduate student/assistant of ILI RAN (Institute for linguistic research of the Russian Academy of Sciences), Saint- Petersburg. His academic interests include ellipsis, word order, semantics and structure of the argument structure, and other (morpho-)syntactic matters in the Russian and Baltic languages. His basic intent is to study these phenomena in an anthropologically- oriented, typologically-backgrounded perspective.