By Sari Pietikäinen, Alexandra Jaffe, Helen Kelly-Holmes, Nik Coupland
Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users"
Date: Mon, 12 Dec 2005 09:06:44 -0500 From: Michael T. Putnam Subject: The Syntax of Old Norse
AUTHOR: Faarlund, Jan Terje TITLE: The Syntax of Old Norse SUBTITLE: With a survey of the inflectional morphology and a complete bibliography PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press YEAR: 2004
Michael T. Putnam, Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, University of Michigan
The last couple of decades have evidenced a revitalization of interest in the time-honored discipline of historical linguistic inquiry. Traditionally, historical linguistics has concerned itself primarily with phonological issues and has paid much less attention to aspects of syntax. Since the instantiation of the Principles-and-Parameters (P & P) framework in generative syntax, many issues in diachronic syntax have been revisited and reassessed through the lens of modern theoretical concepts. Surprisingly, relatively few studies have been devoted to the historical syntax of one particular language or language family applying current syntactic theory. In his text ''The Syntax of Old Norse'' Jan Terle Faarlund seeks to provide an analysis of the syntax of Old Norse within the basic Principles-and-Parameters enterprise. The last comprehensive presentation of Old Norse syntax existing to date is Marius Nygaard's ''Norrøn syntax'', published in Dano-Norwegian in 1906. Faarlund's contribution is therefore a welcome edition being the first comprehensive treatment of Old Norse syntax in a century and being the very first edition of such a volume in English.
Aside from providing substantial empirical data from Old Norse, Faarlund's text faces two principle challenges, challenges the author readily admits. First, Faarlund hopes that his descriptive work ''will be of interest to students and scholars working on historical Germanic linguistics, diachronic syntax, or Scandinavian languages, as well as to philologists and others interested in Nordic languages, civilizations, and history'' (p.xi). Recognizing that his target audience may not be well versed on the latest nuances in generative syntactic theory, Faarlund condenses his discussion of core theoretical concepts to Chapter 1 consisting of only six pages. Although the author introduces other components of the theory in future chapters describing individual structural and phrasal units, i.e., noun phrases, verb phrases, etc., everything is presented on a ''need-to-know'' basis. In my opinion, this presentation of theory does not get bogged down in more theory-internal arguments and makes this work readable to those unfamiliar with recent trends in modern syntactic thought. Second, a fundamental concern of generative linguistic inquiry centers on descriptive and explanatory adequacy. Perhaps the most poignant methodological stumbling block is the assumption that a true description of the internal grammatical competence of Old Norse speakers is impossible. To combat this shortcoming, Faarlund posits ''any description of speakers' internalized grammar, whether dead or alive, is a hypothesis of this kind, since the actual object of study is never available to direct observation'' (p.1). The latter aforementioned challenge is more of a philosophical issue, however the former, namely, integrating current syntactic theory into an analysis of Old Norse for both linguist and non-linguist alike, determines the success or failure of this volume. As argued in this review, I feel that Faarlund's text successfully lays out the essential aspects of syntactic theory while subtly providing data and argumentation that challenge current claims in the theory. In this regard, ''The Syntax of Old Norse'' is successful on this account.
The structure of this volume is as follows: Chapter 1 offers brief definitions and explanations on Old Norse, the sources from which empirical data was extracted and fundamental linguistic (syntax) considerations. Faarlund introduces the role of phrase structure in universal grammar (X-bar theory), binding, c-command relations and adjunction in this initial chapter. As stated above, Faarlund utilizes these fundamental tools discussed in this introductory chapter to development further theoretical considerations in later chapters. Chapters 2 and 3 discuss the phonology and inflectional morphology of Old Norse. Although the central focus of this text is the syntactic structure of Old Norse, the existence of these chapters is intended to function ''as an aid to the understanding of the inflectional patterns which play a role in syntax'' (p.7). At any rate they assist those unfamiliar with Old Norse texts with resources that can help familiarize them with data presented in future chapters. The remainder of the chapters in the book provides an in depth breakdown of the various key components of Old Norse syntax: Chapter 4 introduces the noun phrase in Old Norse. Chapters 4 and 5, discussing Determiner Phrases and Adjective Phrases respectively, build upon the fundamental claims established in Chapter 4. Chapter 7 concerns itself with prepositional phrases, and Chapter 8 focuses on the verb phrase. The remainder of the book (e.g., Chapters 9, 10 and 11) analyzes sentential-level phenomena, i.e. finite sentences, subordinate clauses and reflexive binding.
Although the goal of this volume is to present a concise, simplified theoretical model to explain empirical data from Old Norse, occasionally the author fails to provide fundamental details to basic aspects of the theory. Take for example the morphosyntactic agreement properties of determiner phrases (DPs). Faarlund outlines the distinction between structural and lexical case (p. 21) but offers little explanation as to how structural case is licensed in the theory presented in his book. Functional projections responsible for agreement phenomena such as this (AgrP) are not mentioned in this text. The displacement of nominal elements into the ''middle field'' takes place by means of adjunction (cf. Section 9.7). It is therefore left open how agreement features such as phi- and case-features are accounted for even in this basic presentation of syntactic theory. Another problem with the presentation of theory in this book is the occasional lack of references of key topics in the subject index. For example, Faarlund introduces the concept of semantic roles (p.21-23) and elaborates further on their importance in constructing the verb phrase in Chapters 6, 7 and 8. For readers unfamiliar with current syntactic theory, this is a central concept. Unfortunately, the term ''semantic role'' is not mentioned in the subject index.
Another shortcoming of this book is the lack of inter-textual reference to certain theoretical formulations within the text's presentation of theory. In Chapter 4 (Noun Phrases) the author introduces an intermediate functional projection between the determiner phrase (DP) and the noun phrase (NP) that he labels the 'Reference Phrase' (p. 56-7). The existence of a referential phrase as an intermediary is not an established component of mainstream theory, but is rather a personal invention of the author himself (Faarlund, p.c.) (See however Putnam 2006 for similar arguments). In the latter chapters that discuss sentential phenomena and more global aspects of syntactic theory, the author incorporates footnotes to give proper credit to previous scholars and literature. My last slight criticism concerns the final chapter on reflexive binding. Due to the relatively short length of the chapter and its almost pure theoretical content, perhaps it would have been more appropriate to integrate these data into early sections of the text (cf. Sections 3.7.4 and/or 8.2).
Aside from these minor quibbles, the book is a tremendous success. The piecemeal presentation of the theory is clear and systematic, especially to the non-syntactician. The expansion of theoretical knowledge is subtle and not overwhelming, and is always accompanied by a healthy dose of relevant data to illustrate and support these assumptions. The data sets themselves are a treasure trove of information that challenges certain long-held theoretical assumptions. For example, in his treatment of relative clauses in Old Norse, the author notes that relativization may cross clause boundaries. Certain examples serve as potential counter-examples to the allegedly universal restriction that a subject cannot leave a clause introduced by a complementizer (p. 263). Discontinuous XPs also abound in the data, in particular prepositional phrases (PPs) and verb phrases (VPs). From a glance, these data also force a reinvestigation of constraints on local and non-local (i.e. long) head movement. The wealth of data will benefit future studies aiming at linguistic change/parameter setting in Scandinavian syntax as well as other typological comparisons with both related and distinct language families.
Whether or not this volume on the syntax of Old Norse is intelligible to scholars outside of linguistics remains to be seen. In hindsight it may have perhaps been more appropriate to be a little more 'theory savvy' in approach. Leaving that aside, Faarlund's ''The Syntax of Old Norse'' stands as a strong companion reference work to more philologically-based introductory works such as Gordon's ''Introduction to Old Norse'' (1981). The discreet introduction of theoretical nuances (e.g. referential phrases) and the wealth of empirical data make this text of great interest not only for historical linguistics but also for those involved in more theoretical research.
I thank Jan Terje Faarlund for engaging in personal communication with me about this text.
Gordon, E. V. (1981) An Introduction to Old Norse 2nd Edition. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Putnam, Michael T. (2006) ''Prolific Scrambling: A Radical Approach to Middle Field Scrambling in West Germanic.'' Ph.D. dissertation, University of Kansas.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Mike Putnam is a Lecturer/Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Michigan. His research focuses on theoretical syntax, Germanic linguistics and contact linguistics.