Most people modify their ways of speaking, writing, texting, and e-mailing, and so on, according to the people with whom they are communicating. This fascinating book asks why we 'accommodate' to others in this way, and explores the various social consequences arising from it.
The book is published in the Cambridge Syntax Guides series and treats the syntax of Chichewa, a Bantu language spoken in Malawi, Zambia, and Mozambique. The objective of the series is to provide a detailed description of the main (morpho-) syntactic structures of a specific language to both theoreticians and descriptivists. The series is not bound to any particular framework. The book is intended for students interested in linguistic theory and its application to a specific language.
Among the grammatical structures that are covered by the book are subject and object agreement, preverbal TMA (tense/mood/aspect)-affixes, argument changing postverbal affixes, as well as discontinuous noun phrases, sentence complementation, relative clauses, and question formation. The description is supplemented by discussions pertaining to the relevance of the respective phenomena for grammatical theory, in particular for the relationship between syntax and the lexicon.
The book is rather short with only 149 pages. It is divided into seven chapters, and includes a table of contents, list of abbreviations, references, and an index.
CHAPTER BY CHAPTER SUMMARY
The first chapter provides an introduction to the general grammatical features of Chichewa, the emphasis being on the noun class system. As is the case with Bantu languages in general, every noun belongs to one of several (in Chichewa 18) noun classes. Noun class membership is (in most of the cases) indicated by a class affix, which is prefixed to the noun stem. The noun class of a noun determines the agreement within the nominal and verbal domain. There has been some debate in the literature concerning the status of the nominal prefixes as either belonging to syntax (Carstens 1991, Myers 1991) or to morphology (Bresnan and Mchombo 1995). Chapter 1 sketches out the argument.
Chapter 2 starts with phonetic and phonological aspects of Chichewa orthography. It provides a phoneme-grapheme-relation chart (p. 10), which is useful for the pronunciation of the examples. The chapter further addresses vowel harmony, syllable structure, phonotactic restrictions, stress, and tone. Some of these aspects re-occur in later chapters, where they serve to provide arguments for syntactic structure (tone) or the lexical integrity of the verb stem (vowel harmony, syllable structure).
Chapter 3 provides on overview of clause structure in Chichewa. It covers word order, agreement markers, sentential verbal complements, and modal verbal morphemes as well as the imperative and the subjunctive.
Changes in the basic word order that are possible in Chichewa initiate the discussion about the status of subject and object marker that has been a topic of discussion also in other Bantu languages since Bresnan and Mchombo (1987). In line with the pioneering article, Mchombo argues that the object marker has a pronominal function when it cooccurs with the object NP. Evidence is cited from non-locality and from tonal processes indicating that the co-occurring object NP is outside the verb phrase. References for the discussion of object markers in other Bantu languages are cited which suggest a similar analysis. With respect to the subject marker, Mchombo follows Bresnan & Mchombo (1987) and argues for an ambiguous function of the subject marker in Chichewa. The subject marker can express grammatical as well as anaphoric agreement. Evidence for this claim comes from its obligatoriness in the verbal structure and the required proximity of subject NP and subject marker in languages like Kinande (Baker 2003). Issues such as agreement in modified noun phrases, subject-object reversal, locative inversion, and agreement with conjoined NPs are raised in order to provide further areas of evidence for the grammatical status of the subject marker.
Sentential verbal complements share with preverbal modality morphemes and the imperative that they require the verb in the subjunctive mood under certain circumstances. Examples are provided in this chapter.
Chapter 4 provides an overview over the formation of relative clauses, clefts, and questions and also discusses discontinuous constituents. Mchombo treats all these structures under one heading because they have all been accounted for by movement in GB-style theories. Apart from presenting the data the goal of this chapter is to argue against a movement analysis for all of the cases.
There are three ways of relative clause formation in Chichewa: either by the relative marker -mene, by tonal marking, or by the relative marker -o (neglected in the literature so far). Each is treated in a short subsection. A fourth subsection is devoted to the treatment of relative clauses in theory. Mchombo argues against a movement analysis as Chichewa "routinely exploits the resumptive pronoun strategy through the presence of the object marker" (p. 44, though the example given on p. 41 lacks the object marker). Therefore, the NP in anaphoric agreement with the object marker is a non-argument phrase, whose structural position is licensed by discourse.
Questions in Chichewa can be formed with the question word either in situ or by means of a cleft construction, both for objects and for subjects. For subjects, the difference lies in the tone pattern of the verb whose shape indicates either a declarative sentence when in situ or a relative clause when the subject is in a cleft construction. The discussion of theoretical aspects of question formation provided in the book follows the discussion given in Bresnan & Mchombo (1987). The in situ construction with subject questions lends crucial evidence to the claim made in the latter and retained throughout the present book that the subject marker functions both as grammatical as well as anaphoric agreement in Chichewa.
Chichewa allows for discontinuous constituents, i.e. for complex NP constituents whose parts display free word order. The examples show that the possibility of discontinuous constituents is tied to the occurrence of object markers. Only constituents that appear with an incorporated object marker can be discontinuous (no examples of subject discontinuous constituents are provided though the introductory discussion leads one to assume that discontinuous constituents are also possible with subjects). This excludes oblique arguments and the theme in applicative constructions from discontinuity. Following Jelinek's (1984) proposal of referential linking, Mchombo argues against a movement analysis (e.g. Reinholtz 1999) for discontinuous constituents.
Chapter 5 treats argument structure and verb-stem morphology. Following other work on the internal organization of the verb in Bantu languages, the verb in Chichewa is differentiated into verb root, postverbal extensions and preverbal TMA-morphemes.
The claim is made that the reduced forms of demonstratives pronouns, focus- related verb-final morphemes and preverbal TMA-affixes are clitics that attach to a preceding/ following host. Clitic is understood as "the elements prosodically associated with, but not contained within, the verb stem [= verb root plus extensions, SZ], [...]. They could equally be designated inflectional morphemes without affecting the analysis in any way" (p. 74).
The reminder of the chapter is devoted to the causative and the applicative. Both are argument increasing verbal extensions which appear following the verb root. A short theoretical discussion of the lexical or syntactic nature of the causative extension is given following Simango's (1999) typology of causatives. In connection with the applicatives the issue of properties of double object constructions in Chichewa arises. Work by Bresnan & Moshi (1990) is followed concerning the grammatical areas to test object (a)symmetries: Word order, passivizability, cliticization, and reciprocalization show that in Chichewa applicative constructions only the beneficiary has object properties. (If the applicative introduces an instrumental instead of a beneficiary it is the instrumental that bears object properties.) With respect to extraction, however, only the patient can be extracted to the cleft structure. When the beneficiary is extracted the object marker needs to be present on the verb in the relative clause. References are given throughout the chapter for other Bantu languages that show asymmetric object properties.
Chapter 6 discusses further issues pertaining to the argument structure of the verb. It discusses extensions that reduce the number of arguments in the sentence. Passive is discussed first and examples are given of the combination of the passive with applicative and causative. As in other languages, in the passive the subject is demoted and the number of arguments is reduced by one. The stative works similarly: the subject NP is eliminated and the object NP is converted into the subject. The similarities and differences between passive and stative constructions are dealt with in separate sections. It is being argued that the stative is more restricted than the passive as it applies only to transitive verbs which have the thematic role of agent and patient/theme. As all transitive verbs can get passivized, the stative forms a proper subset of the passive.
The chapter also exemplifies formation of reciprocals and reflexives in Chichewa. A lengthy discussion argues against an analysis of the reflexive on a par with the reciprocal as a detransitivizing morpheme (as proposed for Bantu languages e.g. by Matsinhe (1994) for Tsonga). The chapter closes with an overview of unproductive affixes.
Chapter 7 illustrates the processes that motivate the verb stem as a domain of linguistic processes. Reduplication and nominal derivation show that it is the verb stem (i.e. the verb root plus all extensions) that serve as the basis for these processes. Also compounding of verb-object sequences is mentioned (though explanatory notes are missing how this relates to the verb stem as relevant domain for linguistic processes).
The remainder of the chapter is devoted to the question if there is an internal organization towards the ordering of the morphemes in the verb stem. Baker's (1985) syntactic approach to morpheme order (Mirror Principle) as well as Hyman's (1991) proposal of a morphological template are critically reviewed for Chichewa.
Unfortunately, the book is not as clearly organized and accessible as is promised on the back cover. The book assumes a firm knowledge of both LFG (Lexical-Functional Grammar) and GB-style theories (i.e. Government & Binding, Principles and Parameters, Minimalist Program) in order to follow the theoretical discussions. A number of issues in Bantu (morpho-)syntax are both tied to and make most sense within the LFG framework. No outline of the relevant or differentiating characteristics of the frameworks is given, the book starts discussing the phenomena right away. For example, "Although the theory together with its machinery will not be discussed here, it will be implicit in the analyses." (p.57); "Again, without going into the technical details of the theory, the architecture and technical apparatus, the theory of LFG is germane to meeting the stated requirements." (p. 74). Therefore the book fails to meet the characteristics of the series that promises an "accessible introduction to the methods and results of the theoretical literature"
The need for explanation is even more justified if one considers that the theoretical observations are meant to show the interested student how the study of African languages, specifically Bantu languages, has contributed to progress in grammatical theory.
Furthermore, the book displays an imbalance with respect to the depth and style in which the grammatical phenomena are described and discussed. This might be partly due to the fact that the book is largely based on previous work of the author. It provides detailed discussions about e.g. the agreement markers, discontinuous constituents, the stative, and the relation between reciprocal and reflexive. Very short treatments are given for phonological phenomena that are referred to throughout the book (vowel harmony and tone), and the causative (despite the scholarly attention it has received according to the author, p.75). Some aspects are treated so briefly that they become doubtful without further discussion. One example is the author's statement that fixed stress is common in Bantu languages. He gives examples from Swahili, a Bantu language that, unlike Chichewa, does not have tone but stress (p. 14f). Another example is the claim that Chichewa has the basic properties of non-configurational languages as it shows free word order and syntactically discontinuous expressions (p. 50). However, as the examples in the book show, these properties only arise when the object marker is present on the verb.
The organization could be improved too. The overview of the grammatical structures, which is promised in the series description, is disrupted because crucial aspects of the language's grammar re-appear at different places in the book. Agreement e.g. is treated at various places throughout the book (sections 3.2, 4.8, 4.10, without cross-references) as are aspects of double object constructions: Chapter 4 shows that the objects in ditransitive constructions in Chichewa do not behave alike. Double object constructions are officially introduced only in chapter 5 when discussing the applicative (p.80). Furthermore, one finds headers that do not refer to what follows (5.3), inconsistent morpheme boundary marking (p. 14ff), repetition, and generally few or unspecific cross-references.
In sum, the book provides interesting insights and examples from Chichewa for (morpho-)syntactic structures that are discussed in the literature on Bantu languages as well as on other languages. However, the book could have benefitted from more and better editing.
Baker, Mark C. 1985. The Mirror Principle and Morphosyntactic Explanation. Linguistic Inquiry 16:373-415.
Baker, Mark C. 2003. Agreement, dislocation, and partial configurationality. In Formal approaches to function in grammar: In honor of Eloise Jelinek, eds. Andrew Carnie, Heidi Harley and MaryAnn Willie, 107-132. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Bresnan, Joan, and Mchombo, Sam A. 1987. Topic, pronoun, and agreement in Chichewa. Language 63:741-782.
Bresnan, Joan, and Mchombo, Sam A. 1995. The Lexical Integrity Principle: Evidence from Bantu. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 13:181-254.
Bresnan, Joan , and Moshi, Lioba. 1990. Object Asymmetries in Comparative Bantu Syntax. Linguistic Inquiry 21:147-185.
Carstens, Vicki. 1991. The Morphology and Syntax of Determiner Phrases in Kwiswahili, University of California at Los Angeles.
Hyman, Larry M. 1991. Conceptual Issues in the Comparative Study of the Bantu Verb Stem. In Topics in African Linguistics, eds. Salikoko S. Mufwene and Lioba Moshi, 3-34. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Jelinek, Eloise. 1984. Empty Categories, Case, and Configurationality. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 2:39-76.
Matsinhe, Sozinho. 1994. The Status of Verbal Affixes in Bantu Languages with Special Reference to Tsonga: Problems and Possibilities. South African Journal of African Languages 14:163-176.
Myers, Scott. 1991. Tone and the Structure of Words in Shona. New York: Garland.
Reinholtz, Charlotte. 1999. On the Characterization of Discontinuous Constituents: Evidence from Swampy Cree. International Journal of American Linguistics 65:201-227.
Simango, Ron. 1999. Lexical and Syntactic Causatives in Bantu. Linguistic Analysis 19:69-86.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Sabine Zerbian is a Ph.D. student at the Linguistics Department at Humboldt-University and a research assistant at the Center for General Linguistics (ZAS) in Berlin, Germany, working on the prosodic and syntactic expression of focus in Southern African Bantu languages. Areas of interest are the syntax and phonology/tonology of wh-questions, as well as subject and object agreement and its relation to information structure.