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Date: Mon, 20 Feb 2006 12:04:42 +0100 (CET) From: Ferid Chekili Subject: Thinking Syntactically: A Guide to Argumentation and Analysis
AUTHOR: Haegeman, Liliane TITLE: Thinking Syntactically SUBTITLE: A Guide to Argumentation and Analysis SERIES: Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics PUBLISHER: Blackwell Publishing* YEAR: 2005
Ferid Chekili, Department of English, Faculté des Lettres, University of Manouba, Tunisia.
''Thinking Syntactically'' contains five chapters, each divided into two parts: discussion and exercises. The textbook is intended for ''introductory syntax classes'' (p.x). The author describes the aim of the book as follows (p. vi): ''...to reconstruct and to illustrate as explicitly as possible the thinking behind generative syntax. In other words, the aim is to illustrate how to ''think syntactically''.
Chapter one (Introduction: the Scientific Study of Language) deals with the definition of Linguistics as a science, together with the implications of such a definition. Like other sciences, Linguistics is argued to be based on the relationship between data observation and theory development, i.e. 'induction', and also on further refining initial hypotheses (i.e. 'deduction'). Like other sciences, Linguistics is also shown to be systematic and explicit, and to display economy and doubt. The ultimate aim is explanation of the data. This is illustrated by the relation between English subject-auxiliary inversion and question. To explain the impossibility of subject-verb inversion - as opposed to subject-auxiliary inversion - it is necessary, she argues, to consider other languages. Implicit in the discussion, is the importance of structure and how it relates to and determines interpretation.
In chapter two (Diagnostics for Syntactic Structure), she presents a number of tests for constituent structure, including substitution, question formation, movement, ellipsis, clefting and pseudo-clefting, and coordination. She also adduces arguments in support of a particular structure of the VP and of a more articulated hierarchical structure that is subject to binary branching. Investigation of the NP shows the need for a specifier position having agreement and subject properties. This leads to extending the concept of specifier to the sentence. The approach she uses in the book and that she wants the reader/student to learn is illustrated here: starting from a given set of data, she formulates hypotheses, tests these using further data, then examines the predictions of these claims, looks for counterexamples, draws conclusions (analysis)on the basis of different types of motivations (empirical-e.g. substitution- and theoretical-e.g. the hypothesis that structure is related to interpretation (p.79)): this is called argumentation.
Chapter three (Lexical Projections and Functional Projections): This chapter refines the representation of the structure of the sentence: the sentence is taken to be a projection of I(nflection) which relates to V(erb) either by raising V to I (French) or by lowering I to V (English). The triggering factor is argued to be the 'strength' of the inflection. Also discussed are the operations of Merge and Move. So is the verb in relation to its arguments. The auxiliaries be and have are analysed as verbs whereas modal auxiliaries are taken to be inflectional elements. Finally, some initial theoretical motivations for a VP-internal subject position are presented.
Chapter four (Refining Structures: from One Subject Position to Many): In order to better capture the relationship between form and meaning, she argues, in line with others, for a VP-internal subject position: the VP-internal subject hypothesis. The chapter uses both theoretical and empirical arguments in favour of this claim: theoretically, such a position would not only eliminate the exceptional status of the VP by assuming that it too has a specifier, but would also explain the thematic relation between the verb and the subject. The empirical motivation comes from the distribution of floating quantifiers and that of the subject NP in existential sentences. Finally, she provides evidence for the existence of intermediate specifier positions of the projections headed by the auxiliaries through which the subject moves successive cyclically on its way from Spec VP to Spec IP.
Chapter five (the Periphery of the Sentence): The last chapter focuses on the periphery of the sentence where illocutionary force is encoded, namely, the complementizer phrase (CP). The derivation of questions is shown to involve the operation Move. The distinction between short movement and long movement is explained and the latter is shown to involve certain intervention effects. Relative clauses are argued to involve the same kind of mechanisms and are subject to the same kind of constraints as those elaborated for interrogative clauses.
The chapters progress from simple to more complex and all begin with an overview and end with a summary, a fact with obvious pedagogical value.
The author makes explicit the concepts and methodology (experimentation, types of data, induction/deduction, prediction, theory...) that the generative syntactician uses implicitly. For example in chapter one, she offers a clear and simple explanation of the definition of Linguistics as the 'science of language', using analogies from outside Linguistics; in chapter two, she makes a clear and insightful presentation of the concept of structure, representation, the motivations for layered structure... . Similarly, she spells out what other introductory textbooks use implicitly. For example, whereas other textbooks would take certain things for granted, here, every step of the analysis is commented upon; e.g. whereas others would simply give a definition of 'head' and 'projection', she emphasizes the deductive nature of the definition (101-102). Particulary interesting is the way she makes the reader/student think in advance about the various aspects of the analysis by e.g. addressing them directly and prompting them to think about a given problem. (cf. e.g. the discussion of VP-layering and of adjunction -pp92ff.)
In her argumentations (e.g. for constituent structure), she uses processes that are popular among linguists (movement, deletion, focus...) thus fulfilling a dual purpose, namely, motivating the particular claim she is making and describing the process in question.
The way she makes explicit the proposed syntactic structures and interpretations gives the book a less abstract nature. Similarly, her extensive use of attested data (on top of the experimental or constructed ones) though not obligatory, add a real-world dimension to the analysis.
Finally, another strong feature of the book is that every move that is made in the course of the analysis is accounted for and related to the general goal of teaching the reader how to ''think syntactically''. To achieve this goal, some of the most important issues in syntactic theory (successive cyclicity, shortest move, subject/object asymmetries...) are presented and discussed. To achieve the same goal, she explains at length (in chapter five) what may count as evidence: because attested examples are at times impossible to find (as in the case of ungrammaticality), or may not constitute evidence for a given hypothesis (cf. the discussion in chapter five) we must rely on constructed sentences to test our hypotheses.
The exercises, which cover a sizeable portion of the book, do not simply serve an illustrative/applicative purpose. Some further explore the predictions of the analysis proposed in the text; others bring additional information, raise further issues not considered in the body of the text, or show the reader how concepts developed to deal with English work in relation to less familiar languages (cf. e.g. the structure of VSO languages including Arabic, Celtic and Greek in the exercises part of chapter four).
The book also contains a number of minor methodological weaknesses:
There is some repetition. However, this may be necessary at times when dealing with beginners.
Although in general, the book is fairly accessible to its intended audience, it is not certain the targeted introductory syntax classes need or understand the technical discussion about theory-building that she presents in chapter one.
Going through the book, the reader cannot help experiencing a feeling of 'deja-vu': the presentation and discussion, though couched in a different model, are at times reminiscent of the ones in Haegeman (1991). Most of the ingredients come from the latter but the aim for which they are presented is different.
There is very little discussion of acquisition aspects of language. This is surprising in a textbook aiming at showing how explanatory adequacy can be attained. (cf. e.g. the discussion in chapter one or the discussion of binary branching (102ff.))
The originality of the book should not be overestimated, I believe: all introductory textbooks in syntax aim, implicitly or explicitly, not only at presenting the theory and the facts of language, but also at showing the reader/student how the syntactician goes about doing his work. In other words, such books also aim to teach how to ''think syntactically''. Of course, here, this is done more consciously and explicitly.
Although the author does not aim at providing detailed analyses of the facts of syntax, at times, the proposed analyses raise doubts precisely because of their sketchy nature: For instance, the analysis of negation and do-insertion (179-181) is not convincing as it introduces a disjunction between NOT (assuming it is an adjunct) and other adjuncts: only NOT can block lowering of I onto V because I, she argues, must remain filled when NOT is present. Compare (1) and (2):
(1) a. John -ed always buy the paper b. John always bought the paper (2) a. John -s not eat chocolate b. *John not eats chocolate
The explanation in terms of the semantic characteristics of negation - independently of whether it is correct or not- raises questions: when do we take into consideration semantics in our syntactic analyses and when do we not do so? This is important and ought to have been further commented upon here even if it has been -both by the author herself and others (see references in fn4, p.217)-elsewhere.
At times, the analysis takes short-cuts. For example, in investigating whether VPs also have a specifier position on a par with NPs and IPs (p.245), instead of following the procedure she normally adopts and tries out several possibilities, the author hits on the right solution immediately by proposing that the specifier of VP is the subject. After all, in previous models, VP specifiers were taken to include adjuncts and quantifiers.
Finally, the analysis of Standard Arabic (SA) sentence structure (exercise 6 of chapter four) according to which agreement obtains in the typical configuration -spec, head in IP- which she uses to account for the agreement in (3):
is somewhat confusing for the reader who is not familiar with the relevant literature as he will certainly wonder about the agreement - in Gender - of (4)((1b) in the book under review):
(4) katab-at Mona risaalat-an
which obtains in the absence of a Spec,IP position (cf. e.g. Chekili 2002 and references there).
Chekili, Ferid. 2002. Agreement Asymmetries and the Lexical/ Null Subject Parameter. Al'Arabiyya, Journal of the American Association of Teachers of Arabic 35:87-127.
Haegeman, Liliane. 1991. Introduction to Government and Binding Theory. Oxford. Basil Blackwell.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
The reviewer is professor of English and Linguistics at the University of Manouba, Tunisia. He is currently working at Nizwa College of Education, Oman as part of a cooperation program. His research interests include Syntax, the Syntax-Morphology interface, Comparative Syntax, and SLA.