LINGUIST List 14.2225

Fri Aug 22 2003

Review: Syntax: Williams (2003)

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  1. Georges Rebuschi, Representation Theory

Message 1: Representation Theory

Date: Fri, 22 Aug 2003 13:34:47 +0000
From: Georges Rebuschi <>
Subject: Representation Theory

Williams, Edwin (2003) Representation Theory, MIT Press, Current
Studies in Linguistics.

Announced at

Georges Rebuschi, ILPGA, Sorbonne Nouvelle (Universit� de Paris III)


Both the VP Internal Subject Hypothesis and Larsonian shells, in which
a small ''v'' takes the agentive NP as its specifier and a VP as its
structural complement, illustrate the asymmetric c-command of the
Theme by the Agent; the functional layers above (whether IP, AgrSP or
TP), display the same asymmetry; finally, whether only one Wh-Phrase
moves to the left periphery or several do, the ''subject'' wh- P will
also asymmetrically c-command the oblique one.
In the author's view, such shape preservation cannot be coincidental,
and stipulating ''equidistance'' without even defining ''distance'' to
evade the fact that intersecting dependencies are created by the
movements of the arguments from within VP/vP to IP is at best missing
what Williams takes to be the central fact about natural language
sentences, namely, that they should not be described as one structure,
but as a series of structures which, in the unmarked cases, entertain
this shape preservation or isomorphism, dubbed ''representation''.

_Representation Theory_ (RT) is thus a programmatic book that
endeavours to develop a new grammatical model, in which each level --
Theta Structure or TS, Case Structure: CS, Surface Structure: SS,
Focus Structure :FS, etc.) ''represents'' the preceding one,
distortions between them being governed by one of several factors: -
the independent requirements of the representing structure itself
(e.g. Hungarian FS requires that the focused phrase precede the finite
verb, independently of its theta-role and case);

- ''blocking'' (cf. Williams 1997): any more specific structure
 blocks or bleeds less specific ones;
- another functional factor, which amounts to saying that if
 a mismatch between levels Ln and Ln+1 renders the next
 mapping, from Ln+1 to Ln+2, isomorphic, it is tolerated.
Note besides that intra-level movement is possible,
thereby allowing the word order at Ln-1 to differ from that
at Ln+1 without any misrepresentation happening.


Chapter 1, 'Economy as Shape Conservation,' first illustrates the
basic tenets of RT and its way of dealing with distortions in the
domain of derivational morphology and compounding. Bracketing
paradoxes (cf. the ambiguity of (1a), vs. its absence in (1b) below)
are functionally determined: ''[x[y z]] means [[x y] z] only if [x[y
z]] is not generable'', which is precisely not the case when a
relative clause does the job, as in (1b).

(1) a a beautiful dancer
 b a person who dances beautifully

Next, the domain of theta/case relations is examined, and Exceptional
Case Marking is analyzed as another type of bracketing paradox, since
the non-isomorphic Case Structure (CS) [[believe Mary] to be alive] is
the ''most isomorphic structure that satisfies the strictures of
[that] level'' wrt. the TS [believe [Mary to be alive]].
Finally, Holmberg's Generalization (the fact that, in Scandinavian
languages, object shift must be accompanied by verb movement) is
argued to be more satisfactorily accounted for by ''a constraint on
mapping one representation into another, than as a constraint on the
coordinated movements, within a single tree, of the items it pertains
to'' or by massive remnant movement.

Chapter 2, 'Topic and Focus in RT,' introduces further levels: FS, SS,
and Quantification Structure or QS (which also takes care of Topics):
SS ''represents'' QS, and FS ''represents'' SS.
Heavy NP Shift (traditionally viewed as rightward movement of the
object NP over a PP) is analyzed as an instance of (short) scrambling,
i.e. a mismatch between CS and SS, which is ''tolerated because of the
SS,FS match''. Comparing the following sentences, Williams note that
(2c) is only felicitous in a corrective context, a question taken up
in more detail in chapter 9.

(2) a John gave to Mary [all the money in the SATCHEL]
 b John gave [all the money in the SATCHEL] to Mary
 c *John gave to MARY [all the money in the satchel]

Once QS has been introduced in the model, a fundamental dimension of
cross-linguistic variation is provided, because conflicts that arise
between the requirements of the various levels may be resolved
differently. Thus, Williams proposes that, in German, isomorphism
between SS and QS ranks higher than isomorphism between SS and CS,
whilst the reverse holds for English, whence the existence of more
cases of scopal ambiguities in the latter than in the
former. Hungarian and Spanish focusing word order is also tackled, and
so is Russian word order with quirky subjects.

In Chapter 3, 'Embedding' is dealt with. According to the general
architecture of RT, the Level Embedding Conjecture says that each
clause type is embedded at the very level at which it is
defined. Thus, clause union at TS results in serial verb structures,
clause union at CS, in infinitive complementation; indirect questions
governed by bridge-verbs are only embedded at SS, the level at which
wh-movement is hypothesized to take place; finally, since
non-bridge-verbs like 'exclaim' resist wh-extraction from their
complement, they must only be embedded at FS. (In German, V2 sentences
are also defined at FS, whereas V-final ones are defined at SS).
The author also argues that his model offers a natural derivation of a
generalized version of the Ban on Improper Movement, and introduces a
further level, Predication Structure/PS, intermediary between CS and
SS, thereby simultaneously accounting for (''structural'') nominative
assignment/checking in English (at CS) vs. quirky/inherent
subject-marking in Icelandic (at TS) and for the distinct levels at
which control and predication subjects must be defined in Russian.

Chapter 4, 'Anaphora,' develops a typology of anaphoric elements by
assigning different anaphors to different RT- structures or levels:
tight co-arguments are defined at TS, and long-distance anaphors, only
at SS. Well-known cases, such as the opposition between Dutch 'zich'
and 'zichzelf', or Reinhart and Reuland's findings concerning the
''logophoric'' use of reflexives in English are dealt with in this
spirit: just as embedding takes place at the level at which the
embedded structure is defined, so are anaphors submitted to various
locality conditions, depending on the level for which they are
defined. Locality and the type of antecedent needed (theta, A, or A')
are thus closely correlated.

Chapter 5, entitled 'A/A'/A''/A''',' associates locality and (type of)
target as examined in the preceding one with reconstruction. It is
shown that the A/A' distinction must be relativized or generalized
both with respect to movement proper (wh-movement, defined at one
level) and with respect to scrambling (a case of misrepresentation
between two levels); moreover, reconstruction effects are shown to
follow from the architecture of the model.

In chapter 6, 'Superiority and Movement,' what is standardly analyzed
as multiple Wh-movement is argued to be a case of ''real'' movement
for the first Wh-Phrase, which has wide scope, but sheer scrambling
for the following one(s) -- this scrambling being due to the strong
D-linking flavour of multiple Wh- sentences: a distinction must
consequently be established between wh-dependencies, which are
established at PS, and Wh-movement proper, which occurs at SS).

Chapter 7, 'X-bar Theory and Clause Structure,' proposes a series of
axioms that fix the number of juncture-types of X- bar theory
(C-adjunction is allowed). Cinque's (1998) functional heads' hierarchy
is adopted, but, crucially, those heads need not project: if they are
realized by affixes/features, they simply percolate down to the next
(lexical) head, with which they thereby lexicalize a subsequence of
that functional structure. Besides, a process of ''Reassociation'' is
defined, which allows a sort of morphological restructuring such that
the two sequences [[X>Y]>T] and [X>[Y>T]] (where the caret denotes the
head- complement relation) are stipulated to be equivalent. Williams
then endeavours to demonstrate that the Head Movement Constraint and
Relativized Minimality are sheer effects of his specific approach to
X-bar structure.

Chapter 8, 'Inflectional Morphology,' further develops the foregoing
ideas, in particular adding to Reassociation the rule ''Flip'' which
allows two items [A>B] to appear in the reverse order [B<A] (and vice
versa). Taken together, these two rules allow quite some freedom in
the linear order morphemes can exhibit across languages, but crucially
not too much -- possibly exactly what is empirically required. They
also account for departures from Baker's Mirror Principle, which is
itself argued to derive from the architecture of RT and the specific
X'-theory developed in the book.
This ''morphological'' approach is also applied to Verb Raising (or
Clustering) in Dutch and in Hungarian: once again, massive remnant
movement is shown to be unnecessarily complex and unmotivated, whereas
the difficulties raised by more ordinary feature-checking theories are

In Chapter 9, 'Semantics in Representation Theory,' Williams suggests
that each RT level possibly contributes to the meaning of expressions
(up to utterances), noting however that existential closure of
implicit arguments may well already take place at TS, leaving other
quantificational aspects of interpretation to QS.
An important feature of this chapter is the dual theory of focus it
offers. Whereas Logical Focus (LFocus) partitions a sentence between
what is logically presupposed and what is not, Information Focus
(IFocus) manifests itself linearly by the heavy stress that must be
carried by the word 'blue' in 'John compared the red hat to the BLUE
hat'. Here, there is no logical presupposition, but mere
''I(nformation) Presupposition''; the relevant level thus cannot be
FS, but yet another, AS (for Accent Structure). A consequence of this
approach is that, in corrective utterances, which typically copy the
preceding sequence of words, IPresupposition (bracketed below) may
include LFocus, as in the following dialogue:

(3) A 'It was JOHN that Bill heard.'
 B 'No, [it was John that Bill] SAW'

Crucially, however, the reverse never holds: AS (and the Information
Structure it feeds) simply appears after FS in any derivation.
Various forms of ellipsis (VP-ellipsis, [counter-]Focus- ellipsis,
Gapping) are also dealt with in this last chapter, in the spirit and
with the techniques anaphora was in chapter 4.


As noted earlier, _Representation Theory_ is very much a programmatic
book, whence the presence of many gaps and loose ends in the
demonstrations and the evaluation of empirical and/or theoretical
consequences, generally acknowledged by the author.
In this context, the wide coverage of cross-linguistic data (examples
from Germanic, Romance and Slavic languages, but also, outside of the
Indo-European family, Japanese, Hungarian, Swahili and a variety of
lesser-known ones, are examined) must certainly be welcome.
Williams also notes himself that the increasing number of levels or
structures he must posit is a methodological difficulty. However, he
writes (p. 58): ''The limiting case is an RT with exactly the same
number of levels as there are functional elements in the structure of
a clause in the corresponding Checking Theory [...] Even if this
limiting case turned out to be correct, RT would NOT thereby become a
notational variant of Checking Theory, because the architecture is
different, and the architecture makes predictions that Checking Theory
is intrinsically incapable of.''

Leaving aside data already summarized above, one more such prediction
is made on p. 193-194, where the tools and architecture of RT
naturally explain why Gapping is possible when two TPs are
coordinated, but not when two CPs are (''--'' indicates a gap):

(4) a John saw Mary and Bill -- Pete
 b *I think that John saw Mary and that Bill -- Pete

Clearly, this phenomenon is all the more difficult to account for if
one adopts the recent Minimalist suggestion that C is sensitive to
T. But in RT, the data fall in naturally because (a) control of the
''--'' element under T is defined at the level at which T is
introduced (CS or PS), and (b) CP embedding takes place much later (at
SS); there is thus just no way to independently derive any well-formed
CP with a (non-controlled) gap under T (as ''that Bill -- Pete''), and
coordinating that CP with a well-formed one will not help.
Given that FS and AS are distinguished, Williams also predicts in
chapter 9 that the two facts that (a) in some languages, such as
English, neutral focus is on the right, whilst it is on the left in
others, such as Hungarian, and that (b) the focused constituent itself
is right accented or left accented (again, as in English and
Hungarian) should NOT be correlated, but confesses he cannot
illustrate this lack of connection. I am therefore happy to contribute
the references to Hualde et al. (1994) and Elordieta (2002), because
this disassociation is exactly exemplified by the Northern Biscayan
variety of Basque, in which focused XPs must immediately precede the
lexical participle+inflected auxiliary cluster, but in which the most
prominent syllable in any phrase, non-focused OR focused, is final.

Although it is conceptually fascinating, the book also has its
shortcomings, some of which are probably due to the editorial policy
of the book series. Thus, I have noted the absence of a badly needed
list of abbreviations, or the date ''1982'' as the year of publication
of Chomsky's _Barriers_, both in the text and in the references.
But the author himself should have been careful enough to replace, for
instance, his numerous references to Richards's (1997) dissertation,
now that a (revised) commercial version of it exists, namely Richards
Moreover, some passages are fairly difficult to understand. To take
but one example, in chapter 8, the author derives the Swahili order
AgrS-T-AgrO-V of inflected transitive verbs on the basis of T taking
AgrS as its functional complement (an issue he acknowledges is not
without problems), supplemented by the stipulation that T is lexically
encoded as an prefix, and AgrS as a stem; this is a bit confusing, as
one would expect T to be a suffix, thereby automatically triggering
Flip. But there is more to it: the main tense morphemes in Swahili are
in fact stems (past tense -li- is etymologically connected with one of
the copula stems, present tense -na- with the possessive use of the
preposition na, 'with', and future -ta- with the stem -taka 'want');
thus, if, as is usually assumed, AgrS is a prefix, [T>AgrS] will
naturally undergo Flip, yielding [AgrS<T], without any further ado.
At a more general level, Williams could also have noted potential
problems for his theory. We have seen that the Level Embedding
Conjecture axiomatically guarantees that certain complex objets (such
as CPs) do not appear in the derivation before some processes have
been completed (recall the account of the ungrammaticality of
(4b)). On such a theory, I keep wondering how Kayne's (1980) discovery
that the French Wh-Phrase below was licensed by its higher trace t'
receiving Case in COMP (today's Spec,C) from the matrix verb, as in
(5), can be explained away (Hungarian displays the same phenomenon,
see Chomsky (1981: 174, citing Horvath), and some hypercorrective
idiolects of English, as noted by Radford (1988)).

(5) Qui crois-tu [t' [t �tre le meilleur]]?
 who think you to-be the best

The difficulty is this: if Exceptional Case Marking and infinitival
clause embedding both take place earlier than CP embedding, it should
be just impossible for 'qui' to get case-marked (cf. '*Je crois Jean
�tre le meilleur') and the subordinate IP string should consequently
be ruled out. Consider an alternative: the embedded clause is a wh-
clause; therefore, it should not be embedded before SS, but SS is,
again, a level at which Case marking cannot apply. I may well have
missed something, but I can think of no way out.

Returning to the methodological problem set by the fairly large number
of levels or representations Williams defines, I would like to
underline the fact that it is precisely this large number that enables
him to address in detail questions that have been left aside in the
Minimalist Program, as acknowledged by Chomsky himself at the
beginning of his famous Chapter 4, where he wrote: ''Notice that I am
sweeping under the rug questions of considerable significance,
notably, questions about what in the earlier Extended Standard Theory
framework were called 'surface effects' on interpretation. These are
manifold, involving topic-focus and theme-rheme structures, figure-
ground properties, effects of adjacency and linearity, and many
others. Prima facie, they seem to involve some additional levels or
levels internal to the phonological component, postmorphology but
prephonetic, accessed at the interface along with PF (Phonetic Form)
and LF (Logical Form). If that turns out to be correct, then the
abstraction I am now pursuing may require qualification.'' (Chomsky
1995: 220).
In a sense, it is then tempting to regard Williams's work as attempt
at rationalizing the 'surface effects' mentioned by Chomsky (cf. the
SS, FS and AS RT-levels), and to assimilate his QS with that part of
LF that actually deals with scope. However, since he also has defined
other levels before SS/SpellOut, and since he considers that the
RT-levels are not related by movement, but by (mis)matching or
(mis)representation (whereas movement is level-internal), the book
definitely represents a real alternative to Minimalist derivations --
the more so as it predicts that Wh-movement determines nesting
dependencies, whereas (his account of) scrambling (which, recall,
includes secondary Wh-P movement) creates ''(the appearance of)
intersecting dependencies'', and as reconstruction may only be defined
for the relations created by movement or by those -- earlier --
relations ''misrepresented'' in the scrambling cases.


Chomsky, N. 1981. Lectures on Government and Binding.
 Dordrecht, Foris.

Chomsky, N. 1995. The Minimalist Program. Cambridge
 (Mass.), MIT Press.

Cinque, G. 1998. Adverbs and Functional Heads. Oxford:
 Oxford University Press.

Elordieta, A. 2002. 'On the (im)possibility of prosodic
 focus marking in embedded contexts in Northern Bizkaian
 Basque.' In X. Artiagoitia, P. Goenaga and J. A. Lakarra
 (eds.), Erramu boneta: Festschrift for Rudolf P. G. de
 Rijk (Bilbao, Universidad del Pais Vasco), 153-177.

Hualde, J. I., G. Elordieta, and A. Elordieta. 1994. The
 Basque Dialect of Lekeitio. San Sebastian: ASJU
 Supplements, #34.

Kayne, R. 1980. 'Extensions of Binding and Case-Marking.'
 Linguistic Inquiry 11, 75-96.

Radford, A. 1988. Transformational Grammar. Cambridge:
 Cambridge University press.

Richards, N. 2001. Movement in Language. Interactions and
 Architectures. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Williams, E. 1997. 'Blocking and Anaphora.' Linguistic
 Inquiry 28, 577-628.


Georges Rebuschi is professor of general linguistics at the Sorbonne
Nouvelle. His main interests are syntactic parametrization, and the
syntax/semantics interface. He published a collection devoted to
Basque linguistics in 1997, and co-edited a book on the Grammar of
focus in 1999. He is currently working on the syntactic typology, and
correlated variable semantics, of left-dislocated (or left- hanging),
free relative clauses.
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