LINGUIST List 12.1687

Thu Jun 28 2001

Review: Culicover & Postal, Parasitic Gaps (2nd rev.)

Editor for this issue: Terence Langendoen <>

What follows is another discussion note contributed to our Book Discussion Forum. We expect these discussions to be informal and interactive; and the author of the book discussed is cordially invited to join in. If you are interested in leading a book discussion, look for books announced on LINGUIST as "available for discussion." (This means that the publisher has sent us a review copy.) Then contact Simin Karimi at or Terry Langendoen at


  1. Cedric Boeckx, review of Culicover and Postal, Parasitic Gaps

Message 1: review of Culicover and Postal, Parasitic Gaps

Date: Thu, 28 Jun 2001 11:17:36 -0400 (EDT)
From: Cedric Boeckx <>
Subject: review of Culicover and Postal, Parasitic Gaps

Culicover, Peter W. and Paul M. Postal (2001) Parasitic Gaps, MIT Press,
hardback, ix, 447pp., Current Studies in Linguistics 35

Cedric Boeckx, University of Connecticut

Culicover and Postal's book aims at providing a survey of the research on
parasitic gaps. This, in their view (p. vii-viii) should include at least
six elements: (i) the factual uniformity and diversity of parasitic gaps;
(ii) the dividing line between parasitic gaps and pseudo-parasitic gaps,
(iii) a survey of the various theoretical proposals concerning parasitic
gaps, (iv) generalizations regarding salient properties of parasitic gaps
as they relate to category, agreement, word order, hierarchy, Case,
locality, pronouns, control, etc.; (v) an understanding of the history of
research on parasitic gaps; and (vi) as complete an account as possible of
the literature on parasitic gaps.
In my view, the authors have by and large achieved their aims in this
The volume contains both classic papers on the topic and more recent
pieces here published for the first time. It is divided into 4 sections.
Section 1 is historical. In a first chapter, Peter Culicover provides an
extensive survey of the research over parasitic gaps. Chapter 2 is a
reprint of Engdahl's classic 1983 paper that is widely regarded as the
work that initiated the study of parasitic gaps in generative grammar.
Chapter 3 is an updated version of Kiss's 1985 study showing the role of
Case in parasitic gap licensing, contrasting Hungarian and English.
Section 2 focuses on core properties of parasitic gaps. Chapter 4 is
another (more recent) contribution of Engdahl's which revisits some
aspects of her classic analysis on the basis of Swedish. Chapter 5 is an
interesting examination by Ouhalla of the relation between parasitic gaps
and resumptive pronouns. Chapter 6 is a paper by Levine, Hukari, and
Calcagno which provides arguments against equating parasitic gaps with
pronominal gaps. Chapter 7 is a paper by Postal focusing on pronominal
properties of parasitic gaps from a novel angle, that of licensing gaps.
Section 3 contains two papers distinguishing between genuine parasitic
gaps and pseudo parasitic gaps. In chapter 8, Kathol argues that Standard
German lacks parasitic gaps. Chapter 9 is a reprint of Postal's 1994 claim
that some apparent parasitic gaps are better analyzed as right-node raised
Section 4 deals with further, lesser discussed properties of parasitic
gaps. Chapter 10 is a comparison by Tellier between parasitic gaps in
French and English. Chapter 11 is a study by Munn of the relation between
parasitic gaps, pronouns, coordination. Chapter 12 is a reprint of
Kennedy's 1997 squib showing that apparent parasitic gaps inside elided
material are better analyzed as instances of ordinary pronouns resulting
from "vehicle change". The last chapter is another study by Postal, which
goes beyond the examples discussed by Kennedy to show that English has
genuine instances of parasitic gaps inside elided VP.
Although parasitic gaps have been the topic of intense research for over
20 years, and have figured in many textbooks, I agree with Culicover and
Postal's claim that a compendium solely devoted to parasitic gaps was
badly needed. This makes the book an indispensable companion to anyone
interested in the fascinating and ever more puzzling properties of
parasitic gaps. More specifically, Culicover's 70-page summary of the
findings on parasitic gaps should prove invaluable to students. I found
his overview of the major theoretical proposals concerning parasitic gaps
extremely clear. His detailed discussion of counterexamples to most of the
generalization concerning parasitic gaps is bound to be very useful for
future research on the topic. Likewise, the inclusion of many examples
from many unrelated languages is extremely useful.
The book also achieves a well-balanced combination of established claims
concerning parasitic gaps and little discussed, or so far overlooked
cases, which remain to be accounted for within a unified analysis (see, in
particular, the contributions by Levine, Hukari, and Calcagno, and by
Postal). Many chapters provide a wealth of examples which, having been
brought together within one volume, won't be ignored by future work on the
topic (or on related areas; see, e.g., the implications of Ouhalla's study
for resumptive pronouns).
I only have one minor (perhaps unavoidable) objection: the absence of any
paper discussing two very interesting proposals concerning parasitic gaps:
Nunes's (1995, 2001, in press) approach in terms of sideward movement, and
Nissenbaum's (1998, 2000) attempt to derive core properties of parasitic
gaps via standard mechanisms of movement and semantic composition.
Although Nissenbaum's approach probably came too late to be included in
the volume (its earliest incarnation dates back from 1998), a mention of
it in Culicover's summary would have been useful. Certainly, Nunes's
approach (going back to his 1995 thesis) should have been included (see
also the extension of it in Hornstein 2000). This aside, I reiterate my
assessment that "Parasitic Gaps" is a much-needed survey, and as such
deserves special attention.


Engdahl, E. 1983. Parasitic gaps. Linguistics and Philosophy 6, 5-34.
Hornstein, N. 2000. Move! A minimalist theory of construal. Oxford:
Kennedy, C. 1997. VP-deletion and nonparasitic gaps. Linguistic Inquiry
28, 697-707.
Kiss, K. E. 1985. Parasitic chains. The Linguistic Review 5, 41-74.
Nissenbaum, J. 1998. Movement and derived predicates: evidence from
parasitic gaps. In MITWPL 25, 247-295.
Nissenbaum, J. 2000. Explorations of covert phrase movement. Doctoral
dissertation, MIT.
Nunes, Jairo. 1995. The copy theory of movement and the linearization of
chains in the minimalist program. Doctoral dissertation, University of
Nunes, Jairo. 2001. Sideward movement. Linguistic Inquiry 32, 303-344.
Nunes, Jairo. In press. Linearization of chains and sideward movement. MIT
Postal, P. M. 1994. Parasitic gaps and pseudo-parasitic gaps. Linguistic
Inquiry 25, 159-186.

The author of this review is a 4th year graduate student in the department
of Linguistics at the University of Connecticut. He will be defending his
PhD thesis on "mechanisms of chain formation" (with special emphasis on
resumptive pronouns) in August 2001, and will be Visiting Assistant
Professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 2001-2002.
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue