LINGUIST List 12.2787

Wed Nov 7 2001

Review: Givon, Syntax: An Introduction, 2 volumes

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  1. Jonathan White, Review of Givon: Syntax, Volumes I and II

Message 1: Review of Givon: Syntax, Volumes I and II

Date: Wed, 07 Nov 2001 11:22:34 +0100
From: Jonathan White <>
Subject: Review of Givon: Syntax, Volumes I and II

Giv�n, T. (2001) Syntax: An Introduction. John Benjamins Publishing
Company, Volume 1: xvi+500pp, paperback ISBN 1-58811-066-4, $29.95,
hardback ISBN 1-58811-065-6, $90.00; Volume 2: x+410pp, paperback
ISBN 1-58811-068-0, $26.95, hardback ISBN 1-58811-067-2, $80.00.

Jonathan White, H�gskolan Dalarna, Sweden

Chapter 1: The functional approach to language and the typological approach
 to grammar
This chapter sets out the historical and theoretical background to the
author's work. Givon argues that language cannot simply be viewed through
reflection, and that the communicative intent of the speaker is at least as
important. He contends that typology and the markedness of particular
constructions can only be viewed from a functionalist perspective. The book
is touted as a basic level textbook for students who have only had one term
of Linguistics tuition, and also as a reference book for grammar and
handbook on descriptive grammar.

Chapter 2: The lexicon: Words and morphemes
The discussion starts with the basic building blocks of grammar, namely
lexical items. Words are divided into content and function words, where
function words may be grammatical or derivational, thus full words like the
infinitive marker "to" are treated as grammatical morphemes. The point is
made that classification is not constant across languages, i.e. independent
words in one language may not be in another. The remainder of the chapter
focuses on the semantic, morphological and syntactic criteria for class
membership. The caveat is added that semantic classes should share
grammatical properties. Givon also considers minor word classes like

Chapter 3: Simple verb clauses and argument structure
The chapter begins with some crucial semantic notions surrounding any
discussion of verbs, namely the difference between states and events,
semantic roles and grammatical roles, and transitivity types. Givon then
introduces the basics of phrase structure. Some problems are noted,
including the encoding of morphology and semantic and pragmatic
relationships, and how the active and passive versions of a verb are
related. Verb classes are introduced, including constructions where the
predicate is discontinuous, such as serial verb constructions.

Chapter 4: Grammatical relations and case-marking systems
Givon begins the next chapter by discussing the differences between, and
relevance of, the notions of grammatical and semantic roles. He then takes
up the properties of grammatical roles in some detail, dealing with how
these roles are coded, and their syntactic behaviour. The universality of
the roles is considered as well, such as how subjects are expected to be
encoded or are expected to behave across languages. He also deals with
case-marking systems, providing a very comprehensive survey of what options
there are for each function type. The possibility of marking certain roles
in a serial verb construction is taken up, as is the marking of roles
through verbal morphology.

Chapter 5: Word order
Languages are classified in this chapter according to whether their word
order is rigid and mixed. For instance, English is a rigid word order
language since it is unusual to see anything other than subject-verb-object
order in simple main clauses and also in subordinate clauses, while German
is a typical mixed language, which allows verb-object order in main clauses
but object-verb in subordinate ones. The pragmatically marked nature of some
orders is noted, something which, Givon argues, complicates the situation a
great deal. The relation between word order and morphology are dealt with
next, such as, when independent words become morphemes, the order of a
"verb" and its complements may be preserved. The author continues with
flexible word order, which is seen as a more strongly pragmatically driven
option than mixed word order. Finally non-configurationality is addressed.
Givon suggests that this option may not need to be recognised, since there
is some marking of relations when the relevant words are non-adjacent, but
this is no longer required when the words are adjacent. Thus, non-typical
orders are morphologically marked.

Chapter 6: Tense, aspect and modality 1: Functional organization
Next there is a survey of the basics of tense, aspect and modality. The
semantic properties of the different aspect types are dealt with, then the
ways of encoding modality. The text does not simply focus on the syntactic
details, but also takes into consideration how pragmatics may be affected
through different speech acts. Givon then considers how marked the different
encodings are in discourse.

Chapter 7: Tense, aspect and modality 2: Typological organization
This chapter follows on from the last to focus on cross-linguistic aspects
of tense, etc., in particular, their morphological and syntactic
realisations. The fact that both full words and morphemes can be used in the
same language to encode the same relation is particularly of note.

Chapter 8: Negation
This chapter investigates the logical, pragmatic and cognitive status of
negation. The fact that negation comprises a separate speech act of its own,
namely a negative assertion, is noted. The discussion then turns to
syntactic matters. One major concern is the logical scope taken by the
negation and the syntactic consequences for these readings. Then the author
considers the typology of negation, focusing in particular on the
morphosyntactic differences between languages.

Chapter 9: Referential coherence 1: Pronouns and grammatical agreement
This chapter focuses on the syntactic and pragmatic status of pronouns.
Givon begins by classifying pronouns according to, among others, speech act
status and deixis, giving some different pronoun systems for
exemplification. Then he deals with grammatical agreement where pronouns may
be cliticised onto a verb, and which pronoun types usually trigger
agreement. Givon considers when pronouns are not needed to encode anaphora,
and how such changes can take place within languages' grammatical systems.
He finishes the chapter by looking at agreement effects within NPs, and how
other factors can trigger pronoun cliticisation, e.g. the marking of verb
type; and then introduces the topic of the final chapter in this first
volume, namely definiteness.

Chapter 10: Referential coherence 2: Reference and definiteness
Here the author investigates a classically pragmatic topic, namely reference
and definiteness. He begins by defining the universe of discourse, and the
place of quantifiers within that universe. He turns to indefinite reference
and its grammatical marking. Mood and its referential function are
discussed, as well as particular pronoun forms and referential functions. He
considers the difference between denotation and topic-hood, and ends by
considering the morphological and syntactic marking of definiteness.

Chapter 11: Noun phrases
The second volume deals with more clearly syntactic topics. Givon starts
with a discussion of the range of modifiers NPs can have, both restrictive
and non-restrictive, and what order they appear in. Examples are included
where modifiers have been extraposed, which Givon refers to as "scattered
NPs". Co-ordination of NPs is seen as problematic when morphology is
considered. In a language with extensive morphological marking on nouns, and
the relevant features on the conjuncts are non-identical, neutral values may
be chosen, or even the socially dominant value. For example in French, when
masculine and feminine nouns are co-ordinated, masculine agreement is
chosen. Clauses that are nominalised are seen to have typical verbal morphology.

Chapter 12: Verbal complements and clause union
This chapter deals with verb complements that are clauses (or clause union).
The author begins by taking the complementation process from a semantic
perspective. He shows how complementation manipulates the events encoded by
verbs. He presents how verbal complements may be encoded syntactically,
before focusing on causatives and similar examples. He then turns to clause
union from a typological perspective, i.e. whether a periphrastic
construction is used, or a serial verb one, and how Case marking is affected.

Chapter 13: De-transitive voice
This chapter deals with two kinds of what Givon refers to as de-transitive
voice, namely constructions derived from transitive verbs. He splits them
into semantic and pragmatic constructions. The semantic constructions
include reflexive and middle constructions, and the pragmatic include the
passive and antipassive constructions, the inverse (the "by"-passive). The
semantic and pragmatic effects of these constructions are presented, as well
as their syntactic reflexes cross-linguistically.

Chapter 14: Relative clauses
This chapter presents a detailed characterisation of the relative clause
construction. The author considers the noun head and its properties, namely
that the head is presupposed while the relative clause is new information,
if restrictive, or a parenthetical, if non-restrictive. Givon deals with the
issue of recoverability of deletion (namely when a relative pronoun is not
needed, "the man (who) I saw"). The different syntactic instantiations of
the relative clause are considered, such as which functions may be
relativised, so-called headless relatives, extraposition, etc. Finally the
syntactic complexity of the construction is investigated, including the
Complex NP Constraint and centre embedding.

Chapter 15: Contrastive focus constructions
This chapter deals with a topic very much in the functional domain, namely
how contrastive focus may be encoded. The pragmatics of focusing elements is
considered (the speaker must know the relevant information in order to use
contrastive focus, and must believe that the previous speaker is wrong about
something). Syntactic options are considered, including cleft sentences and
topicalisation. The contrastive use of negation and the narrowing of the
range of contrast possible after yes-no questions are also considered.
Encoding contrastive focus by intonation and morphology are also mentioned.

Chapter 16: Marked topic constructions
This chapter refers to the way in which topic-hood can be encoded in
sentences. Constructions that are considered include existential
constructions, topicalisation (Y-movement), left and right dislocation,
dative shift and raising. Their semantic and pragmatic effects are
considered as well as typological concerns. The relative markedness of these
methods is considered as well.

Chapter 17: Non-declarative speech-acts
This chapter is very much pragmatic in content. General features of speech
acts are presented, and then individual acts are focused on. Both
morphological and syntactic-typological perspectives are taken. The
interactions between these acts is dealt with at the end, with certain acts
seen as socially more acceptable than others.

Chapter 18: Inter-clausal coherence
In the final chapter of the second volume, the issue of how information is
presented at a textual level is considered. The difference between
subordination and co-ordination is dealt with, then the particular case of
adverbial subordinate clauses. How information presented in such a clause
interacts with that of other clauses is of particular interest. Also how
clauses may be linked syntactically is considered. Finally the typological
differences between languages are focused on.

This book is certainly an extremely detailed and thorough examination of
language from a functional perspective. The advantages, as I see them, are
the detailed typological perspective on phenomena and the sheer range of
languages considered. One gets a clear overview of the enormous variation
that exists in each restricted area.

Especially impressive is the fact that the relative markedness of various
options is considered, with frequency data from corpora included. This
mixture of detailed syntactic description and a look at actual language use
is a trend I for one would like to see more of.

There are some problems that I would mention though. One is the lack of a
glossary of terms. Givon uses terms that are sometimes not very common, to
me as a generativist at least ("de-transitive" verb is one that comes to
mind). I would have liked a glossary of terms that points out some of the
other names for the same phenomenon. This would be especially helpful seeing
as this book is touted as a student textbook. I appreciate that this would
add greatly to an already large two book volume, but I feel that as the
student is one of the intended readerships this would be helpful.

Another point is that competing theoretical positions are not mentioned. For
instance the section on phrase structure contains a long section of
criticisms of a phrase structure approach based on "de-transitive" verb-type
phenomena among others. The fact that transformations have been proposed
does not receive a mention. A short note to give the reader who is not au
fait with such literature would be appreciated.

My overall impression is that these books should be marketed for a higher
level of student and for researchers. I feel that the lack of glossary in
particular and also the very thorough treatment of typology in particular
would be overwhelming for most students, even if this book were used as a
reference book. Students who have already studied grammar for some time,
especially generative grammar, would appreciate the presentation of an
alternative treatment for phenomena they already know in some depth.
Overall, though, I would not hesitate to recommend this book to those who
want an in-depth reference work on syntax.

Phrase structure, syntax and semantics of adverbials, interfaces between
syntax and semantics and between syntax and morphology.
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