LINGUIST List 13.1242

Fri May 3 2002

Review: Syntax: Steedman (2002)

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  1. Viatscheslav Iatsko, Steedman (2002) The Syntactic Process

Message 1: Steedman (2002) The Syntactic Process

Date: Fri, 03 May 2002 13:35:14 +0000
From: Viatscheslav Iatsko <>
Subject: Steedman (2002) The Syntactic Process

Steedman, Mark (2002) The Syntactic Process. 
MIT Press, x+330pp, paperback ISBN 0-262-19420-1, $19.95 (hardback ed., 2000)

Book Announcement on Linguist:

Viatcheslav Iatsko, 
Department of English, Katanov State University of Khakasia.

[The hardback edition of this book was reviewed in --Eds.]

Mark Steedman's new work can be classified as a monograph, in which
this well known author attempts, on the one hand, to suggest a new
syntactic conception based on the assumption of transparent
relationship between syntax and semantics, and, on the other hand, to
specify some theses of generative grammar using psychological and
computational mechanisms. The book covers topics in formal
linguistics, intonational phonology, and computational linguistics and
can be of interest to post graduates and researchers engaged in
various branches of syntax.

The monograph comprises a preface, three parts, 10 chapters, a
"References" section, which is, in fact, an extensive bibliography on
the problems of syntactic research, and an author-subject index.

In the preface the author emphasizes his intention to develop a
simpler and more explanatory theory of such linguistic phenomena as
coordination, extraction, and intonational phrasing paying particular
attention to coordination and its interaction with other constructions
in a number of languages. This theory Prof. Steedman calls the theory
of Combinatory Categorial Grammar (CCG)

In the first (introductory) chapter the author substantiates the need
to develop a theory of grammatical operations that allows a unified
semantic representation to be built directly from surface forms. At
the same time Prof. Steedman points out some faults of derivational
conceptions, such as non-isomorphic correlation between the structure
implicit in a derivation and the structure implicit in interpretation;
inapplicability of derivational conceptions to languages with flexible
order of the words; viewing surface structure as a level of
representation. Chapter I is followed by the main body of the book,
which comprises three parts. The first two parts of the book are
concerned with language competence while the last one deals with
performance mechanisms and computational issues.

Part I, entitled "Grammar and Information Structure", can be
considered an introduction to CCG. It argues that the traditional
notion of surface structure can be entirely replaced by a freer notion
of surface constituency corresponding to information structure, and
that this is the only derivational notion of syntactic structure that
is linguistically necessary. Part I comprises chapters 2-5. Chapter 2
"Rules, constituents and fragments" provides some more detailed
information for a radical rethinking of the nature of surface
structure from coordination, parentheticalization, and intonation. The
author describes consequences that follow from assuming a rule-to rule
relation between syntax and semantics, such as 1) syntactic rules can
only combine or yield constituents, 2) only grammatical entities that
have interpretations are constituents, 3) syntactic and semantic rules
should have the property of monotonicity. The rest of the chapter
deals with crosslinguistic constraints manifested in coordination,
parentheticals, and intonation structure.

The main drawback of this chapter is its constant promises to discuss
some points later, which the author makes without indicating in what
part of the book this discussion can be found. Such references without
addresses occur almost on every page: "We will return to the nature of
the mapping and its consequences below" (p.12), "...a point to which I
return below" (p. 14,) "I will return to the question of the source of
these asymmetries" (p.15), "Again I will return to this question"
(p.16), "I will show later..." (p.17). In the next edition of the book
the author should avoid such stylistic faults.

Chapter 3 "Intuitive basis of Combinatory Categorical Grammars"
outlines CCG in terms of simple examples that motivate the individual
rule types. It opens with the description of notation system that is
needed to specify the kinds of things that a linguistic entity
combines with and the kind of thing that results. The notation system
adopted by the author is based on that one developed within the scope
of Categorial Grammar, that is why the author describes its basic
notions and principles outlining similarities between CCG, Lexical
Functional Grammar and Government Binding Theory and pointing out
differences between CCG, Tree Adjoining Grammar, Generalized Phrase
Structure Grammar, and Head Driven Phrase Structure Grammar. He also
discusses combinatory rules and combinators (the Bluebird, the Thrush,
the Starling) that are needed to build up his theory.

Chapter 4 "Explaining constraints on natural grammar" defines the
space of possible CCGs more exactly, and summarizes the ways in which
some basic constraints on bounded and unbounded constructions,
including some apparently "nonconstituent" coordinations, emerge as
inevitable consequences of the theory. It also briefly considers the
way in which scope ambiguities for natural language quantifiers can be
handled within a strictly monotonic grammatical framework. The author
characterizes combinatory rules, described earlier, by the principles
of adjacency, consistency, and inheritance and analyzes asymmetries
associated with subject extraction and with heavy NP shift
constructions. Chapter 5 "Structure and intonation" concludes part I
by showing that the level of intonation structure can be directly
subsumed under surface syntax as it is viewed by the author. It also
shows that the level of information structure is captured in the
semantic interpretations that the grammar compositionally assigns
to the non standard constituents of surface structure/intonation
structure. This chapter covers a wide variety of tunes and
informational constituents that provide convincing evidence that the
same constraints apply in syntactic and prosodic domains, the latter
being reflected in information structure of sentences comprising theme
and rheme as its main components. The idea to distinguish between
background and focus as components of theme and rheme (pp.106-109)
opens up further possibilities of addressing a range of questions in
semantics and syntax.

Part II entitled "Coordination and word order" comprises chapters
6-7. It continues the development of the grammatical theory and
consists of two connected case studies. The first, in chapter 6
"Cross-serial dependencies in Dutch", concerns cross-serial multiple
dependencies characteristic of the verb raising construction in
Dutch. This phenomenon is examined in interaction with the earlier
account of extraction and coordination. This chapter has some
interesting generalizations concerning Germanic main-clause
order. Chapter 7 "Gapping and the order of constituents" looks at
gapping in English and Dutch, applying a new categorial theory of
medial gapping and verb-initial coordination to cover a wide range of
constructions and the full range of language universals.

Part III "Computation and performance" comprises chapters 7-10. It
turns to issues of computation and human grammatical
performance. Chapter 8 "Combinators and grammars" examines questions
of expressive and automata-theoretic power and the general nature of
the parsing problem for CCGs. Chapter 9 "Processing in context"
discusses a specific architecture for a parser, including the role of
semantic interpretation. It is at this point that the author
substantiates his earlier thesis of a direct relation between grammar
and processor. Chapter 10 "The syntactic interface" summarizes the
architecture of the theory as a whole, its role in acquisition and
performance. And its relation to other theories of grammar.

Generally, Prof. Steedman's monograph is based on two sound ideas 1)
to introduce the notion of information structure that can be directly
derived from surface structure, 2) to apply at once syntactic,
semantic,and phonological analyses so as to create a "combinatory" (in
Steedman's terms) theory. Both ideas are in no way new. The idea to
derive deep structures directly from surface structures was suggested
by me in Iatsko (1998a, 1998b). The idea of a comprehensive,
integrational approach to the analysis of linguistic units was
formulated and realized in lexicography by Y. Apresian (Apresian,
1986). Later I realized the same idea in the conception of
integrational discourse analysis (Iatsko 1998c, Iatsko
2002). Prof. Steedman's contribution belongs to the domain of syntax;
it is another manifestation of a revolutionary situation in
contemporary linguistics characterized by the competition between a
number of derivational and non-derivational conceptions.

The specific feature of this monograph is profound syntactic analysis;
it contains much material that can be widely used in further research
so as to establish a new paradigm in the field.


Apresian Y. D. (1986). Integrational description of language and a
defining dictionary. In: Voprosy yazykoznania. No 2. P.57-70. (In

Iatsko V. A. (1998a).Reasoning as a type of scientific
discourse. Abakan: Katanov State University of Kahakasia Press. (In

Iatsko V. A. (1998b). Textual deep structure . In: Text, speech,
dialogue. Proceedings of the first workshop. Brno: Masaryk University

Iatsko V. A. (1998c) Deep structure of proposition and deep structure
of discourse. In: Linguistics in Potsdam. No 4. P. 72-89.


V. Iatsko is a professor in the Department of English and Head of the
Computational Linguistics Laboratory at the Katanov State University
of Khakasia located in Abakan, Russia. His research interests include
text summarization, text grammar, TEFL, contrastive analysis of
English and Russian syntax.
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