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Review of  A Typology of Purpose Clauses

Reviewer: Lilián Guerrero
Book Title: A Typology of Purpose Clauses
Book Author: Karsten Schmidtke-Bode
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Syntax
Issue Number: 21.3177

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AUTHOR: Karsten Schmidtke-Bode
TITLE: A Tpology of Purpose Clauses
SERIES: Typological Studies in Language 88
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
YEAR: 2009

Lilián Guerrero, Instituto de Investigaciones Filológicas-Universidad Nacional
Autónoma de México


With the publication of the book ''A typology of purpose clauses'', Karsten
Schmidtke-Bode has provided a valuable addition to a growing body of literature
on complex constructions, in particular to our understanding of purpose
constructions. There are two major problems related to purpose clauses. Firstly,
they are traditionally classified inside the adverbial domain -- usually
together with reason, result and cause relations (Thompson and Longacer 1985;
Dixon and Aikhenvald 2009) -- but they show structural and semantic similarities
with certain complement relations, e.g. time reference and a strong preference
for argument sharing (Givón 2001, Cristofaro 2003). Secondly, although most
reference grammars tend to include a pair of examples on purpose situations,
they usually exemplify the same kind (e.g. same-subject or different-subject
only, affirmative clauses, intransitive verb in the main unit). As a result, the
data found in reference grammars might reduce the possibility of an in-depth
typological analysis of the complexity of purpose relations.

This book constitutes the first comprehensive typology of purpose clauses. Based
on a sample of 80 languages, including English, the study addresses descriptive
and theoretical issues involving purpose relations inside the domain of complex
constructions. The central aim is to uncover the properties that unify but also
differentiate the linguistic expressions encoding purpose in the languages of
the world. It seeks to establish universal tendencies of morpho-syntactic
characteristics based on conceptual features, communicative functions, and the
cognitive-psychological mechanisms involved in language use.

The book contains four chapters and a conclusion. Chapter 1, the introduction,
sets up the aims and scope of the study, and lays out the organization of the
information. Chapter 2, ''Theoretical and methodological foundations,'' delineates
important theoretical and methodological matters. This section first offers an
excellent review of the literature regarding typological generalizations;
special attention is paid to how to build a representative sample and the
premises behind functional-typological work. A functional definition of purpose
clause is presented in §2.3; the author adopts Jackson’s definition when saying
that the purpose of a particular action is understood ''as a reason formulated in
terms of [the] intended outcome'' (1995: 57) of that action (p. 18). This
definition is then restated in conceptual features to ensure cross-linguistic
compatibility, e.g. Intention, Action, and (desired) Result (p. 19). Finally, a
complete list of the languages taken into account is provided. At the same time,
this chapter gives the reader the opportunity to become acquainted with certain
conceptual frameworks.

Chapter 3, ''The grammar of purpose,'' moves toward the central aim of the study,
and provides an in-depth description of the grammatical characteristics of
purpose clauses, e.g. tense, aspect and mood information, argument realization,
connectors, adverbial markers, and so on. The author first defines the notion of
''constructions'' (Croft 2001) and argues that the formal features they contain
and the syntactic categories they define are both language-specific. The formal
features -- here named ''gestalt features'' -- are organized into two groups
(primary vs. secondary): (i) aspects such as the verb form, the argument
structure configurations, the clause-linking markers; (ii) properties related to
the morphology, word order and certain semantic and pragmatic idiosyncrasies
associated with purposive constructions. Compared to the description provided
in the first part, the semantic and pragmatic issues are only briefly mentioned.
Negative purpose ('lest') constructions are also included in the sample, but
most of the analysis is devoted to affirmative purpose clauses.

Throughout this chapter, the author justifies the proposal that a construction,
the ''primary'' and '''secondary' gestalt features, as well as the syntactic
categories they define, are all language-specific. This assumption correlates
with the fact that languages usually make use of more than one structure to
encode a purpose relation. Then, although Ute, Mandarin, Krongo, and English
purpose clauses are structurally very different, the constructions coding this
semantic notion can be characterized and compared by the occurrence of one or
several of those features. The chapter also contains a quantitative analysis and
a discussion of probabilistic implications of the occurrence of such features.

Chapter 4, ''Purpose clauses and complex sentences,'' constitutes the most genuine
and original aim of the book. It situates purpose clauses inside the domain of
complex constructions. The proposal, which was also mentioned in Cristofaro
(2003), is to analyze purpose constructions from a ''whole-language'' perspective
in a given language, that is, in comparison with adverbial, complement, relative
and even coordinated clauses. The second section of this chapter allocates
purpose clauses as an ''unmistakable structure'' (p. 157) that is similar to
complement clauses. The author later elucidates that the overlapping refers to
''individual purposive constructions and individual complement clause
constructions, i.e. neither all purpose clause constructions nor all different
complement clauses in a language need to be affected by such overlaps'' (p. 160).
Although several languages of the sample provide evidence for a ''purposive
complement'', it is more typical for a purpose clause to combine with a
restricted set of complement-taking predicates (p. 161). The last section moves
towards some explanation of the multifunction of purpose clauses in terms of
diachronic changes, e.g. the grammaticalization of motion verbs. This section
also addresses the possible origins of purpose clauses (see also Haspelmath 1989).

The last section entitled ''Conclusion and outlook'' provides an overview of the
main findings of the research and highlights the central idea that purpose
clauses constitute a very distinctive construction type that deviates in
important ways from the typical characteristics shared by many adverbial clauses
(p. 202). In addition, right from the introduction, the author nicely invites
the reader to check a complete appendix published on a companion website to this


This book represents an outstanding contribution to the analysis of a
construction that has rarely, if ever, been the central topic of large-scale
studies, namely, purpose relations. The book has various strengths in several
aspects -- particularly on the establishment of the major features defining
purpose relations cross-linguistically --, and it definitely contributes
relevant data demonstrating the special status of purpose in the typology of
clause combining.

The last two pages of Chapter 2 draw attention to previous work on purpose
clauses. Leaving aside language-specific information from the sample, the author
explains without difficulty that monographic studies on purpose are almost
unavailable for any other language except for English (Jones 1991) and the
recent cross-linguistic studies presented in Cristofaro (2003) and Verstraete
(2008). However, the discussion and claims presented in Chapter 3 and Chapter 4
are based almost exclusively on Cristofaro's characterization. It is true that
Cristofaro's work is central for the study of purpose, especially inside the
domain of adverbial subordination, but it is also true that similar approaches
have been discussed at length in other places: from the seminal work proposed by
Thompson and Longacre (1985) and revised in Thompson et al. (2007) to Kortmann
(1977) and Hengeveld (1998) and the recent proposal in Dixon and Aikhenvald
(2009). Some of these references actually discuss the status of purpose
relations and adverbial clauses in considerably more detail than is done in this

The analysis presented in this book is descriptive in nature, but it also makes
extensive use of frequency charts about particular features or combinations.
Information about frequency is certainly useful and expected in typological
studies, especially when supported by a detailed description. However, in this
particular case, the strong quantitative and statistical analysis is sometimes
overwhelming, perhaps because the data analyzed include only 218 constructions
from the 80 languages, or because -- after several charts describing the
patterns observed in the constructions-- one may expect some explanation and/or
motivation behind such patterns. Sadly, Chapter 4 does not show any quantitative
information about the tendencies to use the same purposive structure for other
adverbial, complement, or relative clauses. This makes it impossible for the
reader to have an idea whether the multi-functionality of purpose clauses is
widely extended in the languages of the world or whether it is observed in just
certain areas.

As far as the data under analysis, the discussion and claims are based on 218
constructions. It is unclear how many instances from those 218 constructions
belong to each language or how many different structures a language may allow.
It is also uncertain whether the author carefully reviewed all of the structural
expressions of purpose for each language of the sample or whether only those
examples found in the consulted grammar were counted. For instance, the claims
about Yaqui -- the language I am more familiar with -- are based on the examples
in Lindelfeld's (1973) work, which forces the author to state that purpose
clauses in Yaqui are either expressed by the Spanish loanword 'para que' ('in
order that') (p. 84) or by the suffix '-kai', classified as a ''general
subordinator ('that')'' (pp. 106, 174). In my fieldwork I have not found a
purpose clause containing 'para que' as a clause linker (but this loanword
appears in other Uto-Aztecan languages); also, the suffix '-kai' is not the
general subordinator in the language. In fact, '-kai' is limited to same-subject
constructions and, when used in a purpose clause, it must combine with the
desiderative verbal suffix '-bae' (see Guerrero 2006 and under review). One may
wonder whether it is the subordinator '-kai', the desiderative suffix, or both
features together that determines the purposive interpretation. Moreover, the
most common and productive purpose clause in the Yaqui language is the one
marked by the benefactive/finality postposition –'betchi'ibo' ('for'), and there
are no examples of this structure in the sample.

These absences or misconceptions do not contradict the findings of this
research. But the reader must be aware that there is not a real overview of the
encoding of purpose within a particular language. This is due to the fact that
the study does not provide any precise information on what range of purpose
constructions are used in each language of the sample, and/or how languages vary
in terms of the frequency or preference for one structure over another.

The author is certainly right when saying that the properties that define
purpose relations are closer to complementation rather than other adverbial
relations. However, this claim is not presented very clearly. Most of the
previous literature associates purpose clauses with other adverbials such as
reason, result and certain temporal clauses (see Verstraete 2008). But since the
initial definition of purpose includes the features of reason and result, such
as ''a purpose was conceived of a reason formulated in terms of an intended
result'' (p. 152), the author feels no need to formally distinguish purpose
clauses from reason/result in particular languages. The assumption of semantic
affinity, therefore, explains why purpose clauses are multifunctional. Due to
this circularity, the study assumes that precise definitions of adverbial
clauses are not needed, and just a pair of examples distinguishing purpose from
other adverbial interpretations is provided. In fact, the author decided to
focus on the diachronic development of purpose clauses (which is, of course,
crucial), rather than providing stronger evidence of the multi-functionality of
this construction, e.g. there is not a single language -- except English --
where the whole range of compatible interpretations are exemplified, e.g.
reason/result adverbial meanings, desiderative and manipulative complements, as
well as certain kinds of relative relations. This means that it is not possible
to evaluate the unique arrangement of gestalt features, and the semantic and
pragmatic information associated with such constructions (p. 199) in a single

These observations do not diminish the value of the work, instead they make
patent how difficult it is to provide an in-depth cross-linguistic study of a
particular construction, even when the definition is based in semantic-cognitive
features. In sum, this book is of great interest for anyone interested in
complex constructions. I definitely recommend the book to anyone interested in
the cross-linguistic study of the morpho-syntax and semantics of purpose clauses
and related constructions.


Cristofaro, S. 2003. Subordination. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press.

Croft, W. 2001. Radical Construction Grammar: Syntactic Theory in Typological
Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dixon, R.M.W and A. Aikhenvald. 2009. The Semantics of Clause Linking: A
Cross-Linguistic Typology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Guerrero, L. 2006. The Structure and Function on Yaqui Complementation. Studies
in Native American Linguistics 54. Munich: Lincom.

Guerrero, L. Under review. ''Goal, desire and finality: Different strategies for
the same purpose,'' International Journal of American Linguistics.

Haspelmath, M. 1989. From purposive to infinitive-A universal path of
Folia Linguistica Historica X/1-2, 287-310.

Hengeveld, K. 1998. Adverbial clauses in the languages of Europe. In: Adverbial
Constructions in the Languages of Europe. J. van der Auwera and D. O. Baoill
(eds), pp. 335-419. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Jackson, H. 1995. Grammar and Meaning: A Semantic Approach to English Grammar.
London: Longman.

Jones, C. 1991. Purpose Clauses. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Kortmann, B. 1997. Adverbial Subordination. A typology and History of Adverbial
Subordinators based on European Languages. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Lindelfeld, J. 1973. Yaqui Syntax. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Thompson, S. and R. Longacre. 1985. Adverbial clauses. In: Language Typology and
Syntactic Description: Complex Constructions, ed. T. Shopen, pp.171-284.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thompson, S., R. Longacre, and S. J. Hwang. 2007. Adverbial clauses. In:
Language Typology and Syntactic Description: Complex Constructions, ed. T.
Shopen, pp. 237-300. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Verstraete, J.C. 2008. The status of purpose, reason, and intended endpoint in
the typology of complex sentences: implications for layered models of clause
structure. Linguistics: 46:4, 757-788.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Lilián Guerrero has a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University at Buffalo. She is an associate researcher at the Seminar of Indigenous Languages in the Instituto de Investigaciones Filológicas-Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). Her main academic interests have been related to the syntax and semantics of Uto-Aztecan languages spoken in Northwest of Mexico, in particular the Yaqui language. Her recent publications deal with the syntax-semantic interface of complements relations, and she is currently engaged in the study of certain properties of argument structure in simple and complex constructions.