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Review of  Main Clause Phenomena

Reviewer: Francesc González i Planas
Book Title: Main Clause Phenomena
Book Author: Lobke Aelbrecht Liliane Haegeman Rachel Nye
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Semantics
Book Announcement: 24.1030

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This volume focuses on Main Clause Phenomena (henceforth MCP) or Root Transformations/Phenomena (henceforth RT or RP), which are terms often used as synonyms. MCP are syntactic phenomena related to main clauses and a limited type of subordinate clauses (the so-called “root-like” clauses), and are unavailable in the major group of embedded clauses. Most papers in this volume explore the syntactic nature of MCP within the cartographic framework, but there are also contributions in the minimalist framework, as well as some that relate the syntax of MCP with semantic and pragmatic interfaces.

The volume is divided into an introductory paper and two parts. In their introduction (“Main Clause Phenomena and the privilege of the root”, pp. 1-19) the editors describe the origins of the topic and the most important phenomena and present an outline of the book.

Part I (“Explaining Main Clause Phenomena: The bigger picture”) is a collection of seven papers in which different theoretical explanations for MCP are explored. The first paper in Part I, “Augmented structure preservation and the Tensed S Constraint,” by Joseph E. Emonds (pp. 21-46), is a minimalist revision of Edmonds’ (1970, 1976) seminal ideas on the topic, where he postulates a set of label-less projections or “Discourse Shells” that permits root movements for Structure Preservation. Against Rizzi’s (1997) split-CP hypothesis, Emonds argues that unlabeled Discourse Shells are the best way to analyze the clausal left periphery.

“Root transformations & quantificational structure,” by Richard K. Larson and Miyuki Sawada (pp. 47-78), gives a semantic analysis of the (non-)availability of RT in asserted adverbial adjuncts (‘because’-clauses) and presupposed adjuncts (‘when/before/after’-clauses). They propose a “semantic closure” account in which RT are available in adverbial clauses that correspond to the scope of quantification, but not in those corresponding to the restriction.

Shigeru Miyagawa’s paper (“Agreements that occur mainly in the main clause”, pp. 79-112) focuses on allocutive agreement in Souletin Basque and politeness marking in Japanese as two manifestations of a same phenomenon, i.e. an implementation of the hearer (or second-person) agreement in main clauses that involves a Speech Act layer (Speas & Tenny 2003, Haegeman & Hill 2010).

Focusing on the absence of argument fronting in English adverbial clauses, in “The syntax of MCP: Deriving the truncation account” (pp. 113-134) Liliane Haegeman proposes that MCP restrictions in embedded clauses are bound to locality conditions on movement. In earlier work (e.g., Haegeman 2003), she proposed that MCP restrictions are explained by a reduced structure of the CP layer, the so-called “truncation” account; but in recent work (e.g., Haegeman 2010), she has proposed that these restrictions are explained by the movement of an abstract operator that blocks fronting operations. In this paper, Haegeman revisits the truncation account and derives it from an intervention-based account.

“Towards an interface definition of root phenomena” (pp. 135-158), by Cécile De Cat, explores a pragmatics-syntax interface account for MCP. De Cat identifies different kinds of data that syntactic approaches cannot account for (the gradience in acceptability within clause types, the variable behaviour of peripheral adverbial clauses, and the existence of root phenomena in “fragments”) and that can only be explained by the interpretive component.

In “Explaining matrix/subordinate domain discrepancies” (pp. 159-176), David W. Lightfoot argues that discrepancies between matrix and subordinate domains can be explained through Universal Grammar principles and acquisition principles. Following the degree-0 learnability approach, Lightfoot proposes that children learn only from simple structures and cannot learn operations manifested only in embedded clauses, i.e. in more complex structures.

The final paper of Part I is “Parenthetical main clauses – or not? On appositives and quasi-relatives”, by Mark de Vries (pp. 177-202). The paper discusses two construction types: appositive relative clauses and quasi-relatives. De Vries argues that syntactic and semantic characteristics canonically associated with main clauses do not always go together. Following this perspective, he shows that appositive relative clauses and appositions are related, and that relativization as such and parenthesis are independent phenomena. On the one hand, the syntactically subordinated status of appositive relative clauses are due to an abstract relative operator in their structure, and the semantic main clause effects attested in appositive relative clauses are due to their construal as parenthetical specifications of the anchor. On the other hand, quasi-relatives lack a relative operator and are qualified as coordinated main clauses or inserted as regular parentheticals.

Part II (“The phenomena”) is divided into three thematical groups of papers: in section A, there are three papers on particles and agreement markers related to MCP, in section B, there are four papers on complementizers and verb-second (henceforth V2), and in section C, there are three papers on adverbial clauses.

The first paper in section A is “Topic particle stranding and the structure of CP” (pp. 203-228), by Norio Nasu. He argues for the existence of a projection above the CP layer that encodes the speaker-addressee interactions. He examines syntactic and pragmatic characteristics of topic particle stranding (i.e. a topic particle without an overt topic phrase), sentence-final particles and politeness marking in Japanese. Following Speas and Tenny (2003), he concludes that topic particle stranding occurs in a Speech Act domain above ForceP (Rizzi 1997).

In “Splitting up Force: Evidence from discourse particles” (pp. 229-256), Marco Coniglio and Iulia Zegrean propose to split ForceP (Rizzi 1997) into two distinct projections: Illocutionary Force and Clause Type. This proposal captures the cross-linguistic properties of discourse particles at the discourse level (the modification of the illocutionary force reflecting the speaker’s attitude) and their syntactic restrictions (each clause type licenses a different set of clausal particles).

The final paper in section A is “The syntactic position of Polish ‘by’ and Main Clause Phenomena” (pp. 257-278). Barbara Tomaszewicz observes in this paper that the position of the irrealis particle ‘by’ in Polish conditionals correlates with constraints on MCP: when ‘by’ is in a C-head position, MCP are precluded, and when it is in a lower position, MCP are available. Following Haegeman (2010), she suggests an intervention-based account where ‘by’ moves to a C-head position in conditional clauses. Specifically, a world operator moves to Spec,CP and acts as an intervener for MCP.

The first paper in section B is “A main clause complementizer” by Virginia Hill (pp. 279-296). This paper focuses on Romanian (assertive) main clauses that display the complementizer ‘că.’ She proposes that ‘că’ is the spell-out of Force head, and the re-iteration of ‘că’ when is possible reflects the re-iteration of ForceP in the structure of the left periphery. Finally, Hill relates the re-iteration of ForceP to the need of locality for the C-to-T feature inheritance (Chomsky 2008).

In “The status of complementizers in the left periphery” (pp. 297-318), Rita Manzini argues for the nominal nature of complementizers. She compares the complementizer-headed structures with headed relative and free relative clauses and concludes that complementizers are more similar to free relatives than headed relatives.

Irene Franco’s “Minimality and embedded V2 in Scandinavian” (pp. 319-344) focuses on the syntactic and interpretive properties of V2 subordinate clauses in Scandinavian languages within the cartographic approach. She argues that the final interpretation of each embedded clause is the result of the specific derivation of such a clause, which derives from the information structure. Embedded V2 and topicalization result from V-to-Fin and D-linking of a Topic, which is an operator that A'-moves through Spec,FinP. The ungrammaticality of this derivation in certain clause types is explained as the result of an operator intervention effect.

The final paper in section B is “Against a uniform treatment of second position effects as force markers”, by Krzysztof Migdalski (pp. 345-364), in which two constructions are investigated: V2 in Dutch and second position cliticization in Serbo-Croatian. In this paper, Migdalski challenges the view that V2 is a force marker. He investigates the history of V2 and clitic-second position and concludes that second position effects encompass a number of different operations, only some of which can be argued to mark force.

The first paper in section C is “The syntax-discourse interface in adverbial clauses”, by Yoshio Endo (pp. 365-384). The paper discusses the typology of adverbial clauses in Japanese. Based on insights from traditional descriptive Japanese grammarians, Endo shows that structures of the different adverbial clause types are directly related to the point at which they are merged with the main clause.

In “Subjunctive mood, epistemic modality and Main Clause Phenomena in the analysis of adverbial clauses” (pp. 385-404), Vesselina Laskova discusses the two types of adverbial clauses —central and peripheral clauses— in relation to the properties of the Bulgarian non-past verbal form, which is an instantiation of subjunctive mood. She argues that the distribution of the bare non-past verbal form is an argument in favour of the distinction between central and peripheral clauses and shows that Bulgarian peripheral clauses can be subdivided into two subgroups: premise and adversative clauses.

The final paper is “On two types of adverbial clauses allowing root-phenomena,” by Werner Frey (pp. 405-430). In this paper, Frey distinguishes a third type of adverbial clauses. He argues that central adverbial clauses —which do not allow MCP— are licensed syntactically by the host’s verbal projection, and peripheral adverbial clauses —wich do allow MCP— are licensed syntactically by Force in the host’s periphery. Moreover, adverbials of the third class are not syntactically licensed at all, being only semantically linked to their associated clause by a specific discourse relation.


This book is inspired by the conference “GIST2: On Clause-Typing and Main Clause Phenomena” (p. 1), which took place in 2010 at the University of Ghent (Belgium),, but it is not only a relevant selection of papers. A great effort was made in the review process in order to strengthen links between the authors of the various papers. The final result is a useful resource for scholars and advanced students who are interested in MCP and the clausal architecture, although the volume presupposes familiarity with the cartographic approach (e.g. Rizzi 1997) and early works on the topic (Emonds 1970, 1976; Hooper & Thompson 1973).

Without neglecting the origins of the topic, the volume draws “new horizons” for future research on the MCP. The set of reviewed papers highlights various aspects of MCP that should be taken into account in future research:

(i) MCP are not a homogeneous class of phenomena that can easily be accounted for by the same type of explanation (see Miyagawa’s and De Cat’s papers); in some cases the authors need to use an analysis that recovers the performative component in the syntax of the sentence (Ross 1970), and in others it seems that the assertive value of clauses (Hooper & Thompson 1973) does not become something so important as it was believed.

(ii) Syntactic approaches alone do not suffice to explain the MCP accurately; but they must provide explanations that take into account the interpretative component of grammar (semantics and pragmatics) (see especially Larson & Sawada’s and De Cat’s papers).

(iii) It is possible that the derivation of certain types of clauses related to the presence or absence of MCP is parameterized, so that similar (or identical) results are achieved in different ways in different languages (see e.g. Yoshio Endo’s paper for Japanese and English adverbial clauses).

Regarding observation (i), Miyagawa’s paper shows that there are three types of clauses in relation to (un)availability of MCP (cf. De Cat’s paper). The first type is the “P-root” clause (main clauses, ‘say’ complement clauses, and ‘because’ clauses), which appear to allow all MCP; the second one is “Semi-root” clause (‘believe/know’ complement clauses and indirect questions), which allow a group of MCP; and the third one is the type “Non-root” clause (‘deny / be surprised’ complement clauses), which prevent MCP. Following these observations, De Cat proposes a clausal typology wherein P-roots are performative and have an independent information structure, Semi-roots have only independent information structure, and Non-roots are not performative and have not an independent information structure. Regarding MCP related to performative level of the clause, several papers in this volume offer analyses based on Speas & Tenny (2003), who proposed a Speech Act layer in the top of the CP area. As for the information structure, an analysis of the left periphery à la Rizzi (1997) explains the MCP in P-root and Semi-root clauses. Finally, the Split-CP hypothesis combined with the operator-intervention account (or the truncation account, see Haegeman’s paper for a discussion) can explain the unavailability of the MCP in the Non-roots. In this sense, these articles show that the cartographic approach has significant advantages over other theoretical approaches.

However, De Cat’s and Larson & Sawada’s papers demonstrate that exclusively syntactic approaches cannot explain satisfactorily all the casuistry of MCP. Specifically, Larson & Sawada’s paper shows that the semantics of the sentence is involved in the derivation of adverbial clauses, so that the quantification scope is established as a relevant factor to allow or not the MCP. This does not mean that it is possible to remove the syntactic explanation of MCP and transfer all responsibility to the semantic component. If we adopt a theoretical model such as cartography, in which the syntactic derivation is determined by semantics, then each semantic interpretation must correspond to a different syntactic derivation, which does not exclude any of these components, but it does combine them. A similar consideration can be made as for the relationship between syntax and the interpretive component in the line of Speas & Tenny’s (2003) proposal.

Since Haegeman (2003), central and peripheral adverbial clauses have become a recurring topic in the studies on MCP. Progress in the study of these clauses has brought new hypotheses such as the “truncation” and “intervention”-based accounts (see Haegeman’s paper). However, the papers of the last section show new data that should be taken into account in future research, for which a unified analysis should be explored.

It should be noted that the volume contains other interesting contributions. First, Emonds’ minimalist paper is a doubly valuable contribution: because (i) it comes from the author of early benchmark studies on MCP (Emonds 1970, 1976), and (ii) it shows an alternative analysis to cartography, which is the dominant model in the volume. In this regard, Manzini’s non-cartographic paper is interesting because it contributes significantly to relating MCP and research lines seeking parallelisms between CP and DP. Finally, I would like to highlight Hill’s paper, which has a topic related to the MCP that is a very current one: the presence of complementizer ‘that’ in intermediate positions. She proposes a ForceP iteration in different parts of the left periphery, so that instantiations of Force head is through the complementizer ‘că’ in Romanian. This phenomenon, a version of which also occurs in Catalan or Spanish, should be studied if it can be cross-linguistically related to other complementizer-doubling phenomena (e.g., the Ibero-Romance and English recomplementation, see Demonte & Fernández-Soriano 2009; González i Planas in press; Radford 2013; Villa-García 2012).

In conclusion, the papers collected in “Main clause phenomena: New horizons” map out new ways in the research on MCP. I believe that this volume will become an important reference on the matter.


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Demonte, Violeta & Fernández-Soriano, Olga. 2009. Force and finiteness in the Spanish complementizer system. Probus 21: 23-49. DOI: 10.1515/prbs.2009.002

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González i Planas, Francesc. In press. On quotative recomplementation: Between pragmatics and morphosyntax. International Journal of Language Studies. Available in:

Haegeman, Liliane. 2003. Conditional clauses: External and internal syntax. Mind and Language 18:317-339. DOI: 10.1111/1468-0017.00230

Haegeman, Liliane. 2010. The movement derivation of conditional clauses. Linguistic Inquiry 41:595-621.

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Hooper, Joan & Sandra A. Thompson. 1973. On the applicability of root transformations. Linguistic Inquiry 4: 465-491.

Radford, Andrew. 2013. The complementiser system in spoken English: Evidence from broadcast media. In Victoria Camacho-Taboada, Ángel L. Jiménez-Fernández, Javier Martín-González, & Mariano Reyes-Tejedor (eds.), Information structure and agreement, 11-54. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Rizzi, Luigi. 1997. The fine structure of the left periphery. In Liliane Haegeman (ed.), Elements of grammar: Handbook in generative syntax, 281-337. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Ross, John. 1970. On declarative sentences. In Roderick Jacobs & Peter Rosenbaum (eds.), Readings in English transformational grammar, 222-272. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

Speas, Peggy & Carol Tenny. 2003. Configurational properties of point of view roles. In Anna Maria Di Sciullo (ed.), Asymmetry in grammar, 315-344. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Villa-García, Julio. 2012. Recomplementation and locality of movement in Spanish. Probus 24: 257-314. DOI: 10.1515/probus-2012-0011
Francesc González i Planas (Universitat de Girona) is a graduate in Agronomic Engineering (University of Girona), Linguistics (University of Barcelona), and master’s in Catalan and Spanish as second languages (University of Girona). He is currently a 3rd year PhD candidate at the University of Girona. He worked as an adjunct lecturer in the Department of Philology and Comunication at the University of Girona and is a collaborator member of the LIDIAGC research group (Grup de Recerca en Lingüística Diacrònica i Gramàtica Comparada) at the University of Girona. His research interests include complementizer doubling, main clause phenomena, information structure, and quotative constructions in the Romance languages.