LINGUIST List 13.547

Wed Feb 27 2002

Review: Black, Quiegolani Zapotec Syntax

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 Subscribe to Blackwell's LL+ at and donate 20% of your subscription to LINGUIST! You get 30% off on Blackwells books, and free shipping and postage!


  1. Andrew Carnie, Black, Quiegolani Zapotec Syntax: A Principles and Parameters Account

Message 1: Black, Quiegolani Zapotec Syntax: A Principles and Parameters Account

Date: Tue, 26 Feb 2002 21:50:37 -0700 (MST)
From: Andrew Carnie <carnieU.Arizona.EDU>
Subject: Black, Quiegolani Zapotec Syntax: A Principles and Parameters Account

Black, Cheryl, A. (2000) Quiegolani Zapotec Syntax: A
Principles and Parameters Account. SIL International and
University of Texas at Arlington, xvi+349pp, paperback ISBN
1-55671-099-2, US$29.00, Publications in Linguistics 136

Andrew Carnie, University of Arizona

The world of linguists seems to be roughly divided
into those who love to play with language exotica,
linguistic puzzles, and language for language's sake, and
those who are interested in theory (of whatever variety)
for theory's sake and about models of linguistic structure.
Those of us who like to do both; that is like to see our
theories motivated and empirically grounded in languages
yet at the same time see our descriptions of language
theoretically informed, are often disappointed by the
selection of books available today. I often find that
descriptive grammars don't contain the information I want
to know, whereas strictly theoretical works leave me pining
for some descriptive content. Cheryl Black's book on
Quiegolani Zapotec (henceforth QZ) syntax is a pleasing
exception to this trend. In this book, Black brings the
careful, detailed, and thorough grammatical description
which we associate with SIL grammars together with a
sophisticated and theoretically informed, albeit somewhat
out of date, analysis.
	The book, which is a slightly revised version of her
1994 University of California Santa Cruz dissertation, is
divided into an introduction which sketches the theoretical
perspective of the book (essentially that of late GB, or a
conservative version of early minimalism), and three major
sections: a grammatical sketch, a discussion of clause
structure and A-bar dependencies, and finally a section on
the structure of constituents smaller than the clause.
	In the first section, the second chapter provides a
very clear description of verbal and nominal morphology,
which is crucial for understanding the syntactic
descriptions which follow. This chapter not only runs
through the aspectual, mood, possessive, and valency
changing morphology, but also through the structure of the
pronominal morphology, including a discussion of whether QZ
has pro and PRO. Chapter 3 outlines a sketch of the basic
syntax of the language. QZ is a fairly strict VSO language,
with all the typological properties predicted thereof.
Black presents descriptions of various kinds of copular
constructions, existential constructions, passives,
unaccusatives, raising constructions, causatives, various
question constructions, negatives, focus and topic
structures. Chapter 4 was one of my favorites in the book.
It examines how anaphora and other binding phenomena work
in Zapotec. Interestingly, QZ lacks a clear distinction
between anaphors and pronouns, and further seems to lack
certain kinds of condition B and C effects. We thus find
examples like (1) and (2) below:

(1)	r-wii noo noo
	h-see 1ex 1ex
	"I see myself" or "we see ourselves" (Black: 74)

(2) 	r-e Mblid lo xsaap Mblid
	h-say Mary face daughter Mary
	"Mary said to her daughter" (Black: 76)

However, other restrictions on the distribution of nominals
do emerge. For example, R-expressions can't be anteceded by
a pronominal:

(3)	*r-e men lo xsaap Mblid
	h-say 3 face daughter Mary
	"She-i said to Mary-i's daughter

And quantified nominals, including quantificational
pronouns, cannot be bound at all. This kind of data is an
important challenge to standard binding theory, and is
important new data for the area.
	Chapter 5, at the beginning of the second section of
the book, outlines a number of theoretical issues to be
addressed in the rest of the work:

(i) how many functional projections are necessary?
(ii) how VSO order is obtained: by verb movement as
 proposed by McCloskey (1991) and Koopman and Sportiche
 (1991), or by subject adjunction to V (lowering) as
 proposed by Chung (1990) and Choe (1986).

Throughout the book, she argues that for QZ, at least,
needs only VP, IP, NegP and CP and that a verb raising
approach is the best way to derive VSO.
	The distinction between topic and focus, both
structurally and semantically is the domain of chapter 6.
Black provides a number of arguments, from morphology and
position, that topic and focus involve different structural
realizations in the language. I have to admit that this was
one chapter that I initially found quite confusing, but in
retrospect, I suspect it was because Black uses the terms
"topic" and "focus" in a different way than that I am
familiar with. As I understand it, the usual meanings of
topic is "old information" and focus refers to "new
information". This is not the way Black uses the terms,
however. Indeed we find some almost bewildering statements
such as the idea that focus construction can be used when
"either new or old information" (pg 103) is introduced. It
becomes clear later that Black uses the term focus to refer
to contrastive focus, rather than informational focus. "The
focus marker in QZ has the discourse function of picking
one referent out of a group to highlight" (Black: 110),
but I wish this had been made clearer from the beginning.
The theoretical account of when focus and topic
constructions are licensed is framed in terms of proper
government. This seems quite anachronistic for a book
published in 2000 (an issue which I will return to below).
	Questions and relative constructions are the focus of
the next chapter. QZ seems to exhibit a typological pattern
attested in other VSO languages (such as Irish), but not
widely dealt with in the theoretical literature. It does
not allow wh-in-situ at all, yet allows a maximum of one
wh-movement. In the appendix to the book, Black outlines a
variation on Rizzi's (1990) wh-criterion, which accounts
for this (and four other typologically attested patterns),
based on whether wh-elements appear in adjoined positions
or specifier positions; how many such positions are
available; and at what level of representation the criteria
apply. Chapter 7 also includes some discussion of the
landing site of wh-movement relative to question particles
and pied piped prepositions.
	Chapter 9 takes on the unusual requirement found in QZ
that negative indefinite pronouns must be fronted and shows
how this is an argument in favor of the verb movement
account of VSO order. Chapter 10 builds on chapters 7, 8
and 9, and looks at the interaction between topic, focus,
wh-questions and negative fronting. Black shows that focus
and wh-questions are in complementary distribution and seem
to target the same position (interestingly, not the
specifier of CP, but a position adjoined to a polarity
functional head lower than C). By contrast, fronted
negative elements occupy the specifier of this Polarity
phrase. The argumentation here is classical and well
founded, but there is one gap in the analysis. Black fails
to show us that PolP and IP are not identical, and that the
extra functional head is necessary (except for semantic
reasons and to head the negation prefix) .
	The third section of the book is more eclectic, but
concentrates on the structure of constituents smaller than
the clause. Chapter 10 looks at both the internal structure
of VPs and verbless copular constructions in QZ. Black
examines data from VP coordination in QZ, similar to that
observed for Chamorro by Chung (1990), that seems to point
towards a subject-adjunction analysis for verb initial
order. She correctly points out that an alternative
analysis of these "VP" coordination structures, using IP
coordination with a null third person pronoun allows us to
maintain the verb-raising analysis motivated by the
discussion in previous chapters.
	The second half of chapter 10 and the entirety of 11
are best dealt with together, since they both center around
the question of non-verbal categories: copular
constructions and noun phrases. Like many other verb-
initial languages, these constructions seem to be
possessor/subject final. The standard analysis of these
phenomena has the nominal elements undergoing head-movement
to some functional position higher than the
possessor/subject. For NPs, the N raises to D (as proposed
by Ritter 1988) and for copular constructions the N raises
to T (as proposed by Carnie 1995). Black rejects the N-
raising analysis of DPs in QZ on the basis of the fact that
adverbs modifying the N appear string-adjacent to it, not
at the presumed source of the movement.

(4)	x-pk in nzeb
	pos-dog small girl
	"the girl's small dog"

If the head movement analysis is correct, we'd predict the
order _xpk nzeb t win_ (the order found in Arabic and
Hebrew for such constructions). So instead, she proposes
that specifiers in [-V] categories in QZ are rightwards. In
the interim between the initial writing of this
dissertation (1994) and its publication date, two very
different analyses of the order in (4) have been proposed
for the related constructions in Irish, which allow us to
maintain the head-movement analysis, without parameterizing
specifier direction. One is the multiple functional head
account of Duffield (1995) and the other is the
underspecified phrasality approach of Carnie (2000). While
it is reasonable, from a continuity perspective, for a
dissertation author not to entirely revise his or her
analysis in light of work published between writing and
publication, a published dissertation should include at
least pointers to the literature that has appeared on the
topic since the dissertation was written. Again I return to
this concern below. The last chapter of the book looks in
detail at the unique way that QZ allows numeral quantifiers
to scope over nominal referents in a complex NP and
assimilates the construction to Schwartz's (1988) Plural
Pronoun Construction.
	I have a great deal of respect for the work presented
in this dissertation; it is thorough, interesting,
readable, informed, and informative, but I do have one
serious criticism of the work, as a recently published
research monograph. As alluded to above, this book is the
published version of Black's dissertation, written in 1994.
The theoretical approach Black adopts was dated even when
the manuscript was first written. Now, with a publication
half a decade later, the theoretical content of the book
seems very out of date. This does not mean that the
material is not still of theoretical interest, but merely
that the theoretical devices Black introduces are of much
less use. I really wish she had taken the time to at least
acknowledge that between 1994 and 2000 some significant
work on the topics had occurred, even if this was in the
form of footnotes or an "update" chapter. Nonetheless, some
of the issues she raises, e.g. the need to parameterize the
Wh-criterion, still require significant research to account
for in the minimalist approach. Similarly the binding facts
in chapter 4 are a challenge to all the approaches to
binding that I am familiar with. Indeed the empirical
content of Black's work stands up to the test of time, and
therein lies the strength of this work: it is an empirical
treasure trove written by someone with a theoretically
sophisticated eye.

Carnie, Andrew (1995) Head Movement and Nonverbal
 Predication. Ph.D. Dissertation, MIT.
Carnie, Andrew (2000) On the Notions Xo and XP. Syntax 3.2,
Chung, Sandra (1990) VPs and Verb Movement in Chamorro.
Choe, Hyon-Sook (1986) An SVO Analysis of VSO Languages and
 Parameterization: A study of Berber. In S. Berman, J. Choe,
 and J. McDonough (eds) NELS16.
Duffield, Nigel (1995) Particles and Projections in Irish
 Syntax. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers
Koopman, Hilda and Dominique Sportiche (1991) On the
 Position of Subjects. Lingua 85:211-258.
McCloskey, James (1991) 'Clause Structure, Ellipsis and
 Proper Government in Irish', Lingua 85, 259-302.
Ritter, Elizabeth (1988) A Head-movement Approach to
 Construct-State Noun Phrases. Linguistics 26, 909-929.
Rizzi, Luigi (1990) Relativized Minimality. Cambridge: MIT
Schwartz, Linda (1988) Asymmetric Feature Distribution in
 Pronominal 'Coordinations'. in Barlow and Greenberg (eds).
 Agreement in Natural Language: Approaches, Theories,
 Descriptions, Stanford: CSLI. pp 237-249.

Andrew Carnie is an assistant professor of syntactic
theory at the University of Arizona. His interests
include phrase structure, copular constructions, verb
initial order, and Celtic languages. He recently published
two books: The Syntax of Verb Initial Languages (ed. with
Eithne Guilfoyle, 2000, Oxford University Press) and an
introductory syntax textbook, Syntax: A Generative
Introduction (2001) Blackwell.
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue