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Review of  Asymmetry in Grammar

Reviewer: Ahmad R. Lotfi
Book Title: Asymmetry in Grammar
Book Author: Anna Maria Di Sciullo
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Semantics
Subject Language(s): Chinese, Mandarin
Russian, Old
Book Announcement: 14.2481

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Date: Mon, 15 Sep 2003 02:12:58 -0700 (PDT)
From: Ahmad R. Lotfi <>
Subject: Asymmetry in Grammar" Vol. I (2003)

Di Sciullo, Anna Maria, ed. (2003) Asymmetry in Grammar,
Vol. I: Syntax and semantics, John Benjamins Publishing

Reviewed by Ahmad R. Lotfi, English Dept., Azad University at


"Asymmetry in grammar: Syntax and semantics" is a
collection of 16 generative papers on the questions of
asymmetry in syntax (12 papers) and semantics (4 papers)
that were originally presented in a conference on
Asymmetry in Grammar held at the Universite du Quebec
a Montreal in May 2001.

(1) Antonia Androutsopoulou and Manuel Espanol
Echevarria in "French definite determiners in indefinite
contexts and asymmetric agreement" (pp 11-26) focus on
French definite articles heading DPs with no definite

J'ai mange du pain.
I have eaten of the bread
'I ate bread.'

Such an 'expletive' determiner is claimed NOT to be
generated under D, but raised to that position. The
expletive determiner may disappear if there is a
prenominal adjective and a count noun. The authors
explain this in terms of partial N-raising to a
projection where N and the prenominal adjective agree.
This is in harmony with Kane's (1994) antisymmetric
approach. The agreement relation is asymmetrical in
that the feature content of heads is necessarily richer
than that of specifiers.

(2) Daniela Isac's "Restrictive relative clauses vs.
restrictive adjectives: An asymmetry within the class
of modifiers" (pp. 27-49) proposes that "the semantic
relation between a restrictive relative clause (RRC)
and its 'head' Noun is similar to the relation between
an intersective or extensional Adjective and a Noun"
in that "both are Specifiers of some nominal functional
projection ..." (p. 27). She proposes a configuration
in which a Conjunction Phrase is the complement of D.
In prenominal relative constructions the second NP
conjunct is empty while in postnominal ones, it is the
first NP conjunct that is empty. If and only if the RC
contains an open, unsaturated argument position, the
modified Noun will be overt.

(3) Edit Jakab in "Asymmetry in case: Finish and Old
Russian nominative objects" (pp 51-84) examines Finish
and Old Russian constructions in which the direct object
is case-marked as nominative rather than accusative. The
author argues that in modal infinitivals the NP direct
object merges with nominative case in Spec-VP in a
lexical domain while direct object pronouns move from
the functional projection DP in the complement position
of VP with an accusative case because they are
functional categories.

(4) In "Resumption and asymmetric derivation" (pp 85-98),
Cedric Boeckx proposes that resumption is due to
stranding under A-bar movement. Then for 'the book that
I read (it)' as the target, the derivation begins with
[DP D/the[CP[that[I T0[VP read[book]]]]]] and results in
[DP D/the [book]j[CP[which tj]i [C0[I T0 [VP read[ti]]]]]]
via the raising of a bare NP (Kayne 1994). Resumptive
pronouns are like Floating quantifiers (e.g. in Irish)
in this respect, and (as stranded D-heads) are confined
to D-linked contexts.

(5) Julie Anne Legate in "Reconstructing non-
configurationality" (pp 97-116) discusses the asymmetries
between arguments and adjuncts in Warlpiri syntax. Such
asymmetries include (a) the subject binding an object,
but not vice versa, (b) a pronoun bound by the subject
being ungrammatical as an object but grammatical as an
adjunct, (c) agreement clitics having different paradigms
for subject and object agreement, and (d) suppletion in
infinitival complementizers depending upon what controls
the embedded PRO subject. She argues that both symmetric
and asymmetric constructions can be explained in a single
framework in which the verb phrase is hierarchical with
word order permutations due to movement.

(6) Maria Cristina Cuervo in "Structural asymmetries but
same word order: The dative alternation is Spanish" (pp.
117-144) argues that in double-object constructions of
the language, the dative is a low applied argument that
an applicative head with a dative clitic licenses. She
claims that the optionality of clitic doubling in
Spanish is only apparent, and that "the clitic-
doubled sentences correspond to the double-object
construction" (p.120). She concludes that argument
structure and thematic roles are both due to syntactic
structures with no independent semantic level to be
mapped onto syntactic structures.

(7) "On the asymmetry of the specificational copula
sentence" (pp. 145-163) by Jaqueline Gueron deals with
BE in English. The article deals with predicational,
specificational, and pseudo-cleft copula sentences:

(a) Moby Dick is John's favorite book. (PRED)
(b) John's favorite book is Moby Dick. (SPEC)
(c) What/the book John bough was Moby Dick.

She proposes that BE augmented with a [+ LOC] F
triggers the specificational construal. It is
semantically asymmetrical in that its subject
(contrary to its goal) is referential, but also
symmetrical for such sentences as 'my opinion of
Philadelphia is your opinion of Edinburgh'. She
argues that "copula BE is construed under merger
with its complement as the agr morpheme of a
predicate" (p. 161).

(8) In "The asymmetry between depictives and
resultatives in Chinese", (pp 165-185) Niina Zhang
focuses on the syntactic structures of secondary
predication constructions in Chinese. In this
language, depictives precede primary predication verbs
(Vpri) while resultatives follow them. She proposes
that secondary predication constructions are encoded
by xP, which is an extended projection of XP headed by
the lexical item X to the effect that x is either
realized by *de* or by head-raising. Such syntactic
structures are sensitive to the manner of realization
of xP, the semantics of Vpri, and the specificity of
the shared arguement.

(9)Thomas Ernst in his "Adjuncts and word order
asymmetries" (pp. 187-207) deals with word order
variation, and proposes that only the direction of
complements is parameterized with respect to heads
while Specs are always to the left. He maintains
that C- (content) and F- (function) complexes bring
about F-dir(ection) and C-dir(ection) respectively
to the effect that F-dir is always LEFT while C-dir
is always RIGHT. "The directions associated with the
two complexes are universal. However, while F-dir is
active for all languages, C-dir may be either active
or passive" (p.189).

(10) In her "Wh-asymmetries" (209-249), Manuela Ambar
is concerned with asymmetries in wh-structures
cross-linguistically and hierarchy of the interface
between syntax and discourse. These asymmetries
include--among others--the possibility of wh-in-situ
in questions vs. its impossibility in exclamatives.
For Ambar, the CP system--as the interface between
Discourse and IP--is split in nature so that
"EvaluativeP and AssertiveP are related to Ground,
Focus and XP (TopicP) to Universe of Discourse"
(p. 211). She distinguishes 4 types of languages with
regard to their Wh-questions correlating with the
properties of the inflection system of each language,
and those of its determiner system together with
subject raising and the un/availability of V-movement.

(11) In his contribution, "Three arguments for remnant
IP movement in Romance" (pp 251-277), Jean-Yves Pollock
aims at sketching three arguments to support the claim
that Remnant Movement is needed to replace much of
covert movement and head movement analyses in Romance.
These arguments are concerned with Stylistic Inversion,
Subject Clitic Inversion, and Complex Inversion in
Modern French. They are all cases of Remnant IP
movement with the difference that in each case the
Remnant IP targets a different layer of the Comp

(12) In "The clause structure of extraction
asymmetries" (pp 279-299), Anna Maria Di Sciullo,
Ileana Paul, and Stanca Somesfalean deal with the
complement/non-complement asymmetry in English,
Romanian, and Malagasy. They propose that the
differences in extraction among these languages are
due to how the EPP feature is satisfied in each. While
the strong D feature of T brings about the movement of
the subject to [Spec, IP] in English, Romanian D
feature is weak so that the subject moves out of the
vP for the sake of topicality. In Malagasy, on the
other hand, objects cannot undergo A-bar movement.
It follows that in some passive-like constructions
of the language, the object moves to the subject
position first with wh-movement as a kind of focus
movement. They hypothesise that "[a]symmetry is a
property of grammatical relations, it is not a
property of specific grammatical constituents"
(p. 280).

(13) In his paper, "Interpretive asymmetries in major
phrases" (pp 301-313), Greg Carlson deals with the
asymmetry noun phrases, verb phrases, and adjective
phrases share with regard to "the sort of
interpretations these phrases may have before, and
after, the addition of their associated functional
categories. While the major phrases can be used
either to make reference to type or token information,
only type information is available within the
lower reaches of the phrase" (301-302). For NPs,
the token is available when the DP is added. Verb
denote eventualities rather than individual events
unless the token information is found above the VP,
e.g. via tense. Also APs denote eventuality prior
to the addition of a copula.

(14) In "Configurational properties of point of view
roles" (pp. 315-344), Peggy Speas and Carol Tenny are
concerned with the extent to which pragmatic
information is represented in syntax. They propose
that syntax constrains lexical items and their
asymmetric projections within which semantic roles
are determined. They focus on the five pragmatic roles
of speaker, hearer, source, self, and pivot organized
in a hierarchy according to the scope relations between
their syntactic heads.

(15) In his paper, "Contrastive Topic and proposition
structure" (pp. 345-371), Chungmin Lee observes that
(in Korean, among some other languages) Contrastive
Topic is different from non-contrastive Topic in that
the former is topical and focal while the latter is not
focal but topical. Also that CT is different from
contrastive focus as the latter is associated with
disjunctive question.

(16) James Pustejovsky in his "Categories, types, and
qualia selection" (pp. 373-393) develops a
classification of types for natural language semantics
focusing on qualia structure--"[a] structural dif-
ferentiation of the predicative force for a lexical
item" (374), and its possible role in asymmetric
selection. Type coercion as "a semantic operation that
converts an expression, alpha, to the type expected by
a governing function, beta" (p. 382) is shown to be
related to asymmetries in grammatical selection with
semantics distinguishing between natural and functional


Irrespective of the theoretical/empirical quality
of each of the contributions, the volume as a whole
fails to give a unified account of asymmetry in
grammar. The volume does not go far beyond a
conference proceedings. At the level of individual
papers (as my summary above suggests), asymmetry is
not even always the major theme of contributions.
At best, the contributions marginally support
(if not 'merely don't contradict') Di Sciullo's
Asymmetry Theory. I do not think of this as the
weakness of any single paper but indicative of the
fact that asymmetry in grammar is still far from
being qualified as "part of the initial state of
the language faculty, enabling human beings to
develop the grammar of the language to which
they are exposed, to interpret and to quickly
generate the expressions of this language in a
relatively short peiod of time" as Di Sciullo
proposes (as a mere possibility, to be fair
to her) in the introduction to the volume (p. 3).
As represented in the papers in this collection,
asymmetry is NOT a unified and well-defined component
of real-time speakers' mental grammar of a human
language but a a wide range of diverse (and
possibly unrelated) phenomena in human languages
REFLECTED ASYMMETRICALLY (for whatever reason) here
and there in the theoretical mechanism with which we
try to explain the language faculty, i.e. generative
grammar. In other words, asymmetry remains a property
of our theoretical model (rather than a mysterious
property of the language faculty, one that must be
good for something after all, otherwise the nature
had not put it there! And unfortunately, one that
if we fail to find any application for, we might
simply get rid of our scruples by labelling it as
an exaptation or something!) unless a unified
account of such phenomena in a (generative)
theoretical framework is afforded to support the
claim that asymmetry is really needed for
developing grammar, and interpreting and generating
language expressions. This is still an ambitious goal
that at least this volume fails to achieve.


Kane, R. (1994). The Antisymmetry of Syntax.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Ptress.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Ahmad R. Lotfi, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of linguistics at the English Department of Azad University at Esfahan. His research interests include minimalist syntax, second language acquisition studies in generative grammar, and Persian linguistics.