LINGUIST List 14.2481

Thu Sep 18 2003

Review: Syntax/Semantics: Di Sciullo, ed. (2003)

Editor for this issue: Naomi Ogasawara <>

What follows is a review or discussion note contributed to our Book Discussion Forum. We expect 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 review." Then contact Simin Karimi at


  1. Ahmad R. Lotfi, Asymmetry in Grammar, Vol. I: Syntax and Semantics

Message 1: Asymmetry in Grammar, Vol. I: Syntax and Semantics

Date: Thu, 18 Sep 2003 11:22:05 +0000
From: Ahmad R. Lotfi <>
Subject: Asymmetry in Grammar, Vol. I: Syntax and Semantics

Di Sciullo, Anna Maria, ed. (2003) Asymmetry in Grammar, Vol. I:
Syntax and semantics, John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Announced at

Ahmad R. Lotfi, English Dept., Azad University at Esfahan


''Asymmetry in grammar: Syntax and semantics'' is a collection of 16
generative papers on the questions of asymmetry in syntax (12 papers)
and semantics (4 papers) that were originally presented in a
conference on Asymmetry in Grammar held at the Universite du Quebec a
Montreal in May 2001.

(1) Antonia Androutsopoulou and Manuel Espanol Echevarria in ''French
definite determiners in indefinite contexts and asymmetric agreement''
(pp 11-26) focus on French definite articles heading DPs with no
definite interpretation:

 J'ai mange du pain.
 I have eaten of the bread
 'I ate bread.'

Such an 'expletive' determiner is claimed NOT to be generated under D,
but raised to that position. The expletive determiner may disappear if
there is a prenominal adjective and a count noun. The authors explain
this in terms of partial N-raising to a projection where N and the
prenominal adjective agree. This is in harmony with Kane's (1994)
antisymmetric approach. The agreement relation is asymmetrical in that
the feature content of heads is necessarily richer than that of

(2) Daniela Isac's ''Restrictive relative clauses vs. restrictive
adjectives: An asymmetry within the class of modifiers'' (pp. 27-49)
proposes that ''the semantic relation between a restrictive relative
clause (RRC) and its 'head' Noun is similar to the relation between an
intersective or extensional Adjective and a Noun'' in that ''both are
Specifiers of some nominal functional projection ...'' (p. 27). She
proposes a configuration in which a Conjunction Phrase is the
complement of D. In prenominal relative constructions the second NP
conjunct is empty while in postnominal ones, it is the first NP
conjunct that is empty. If and only if the RC contains an open,
unsaturated argument position, the modified Noun will be overt.

(3) Edit Jakab in ''Asymmetry in case: Finish and Old Russian
nominative objects'' (pp 51-84) examines Finish and Old Russian
constructions in which the direct object is case-marked as nominative
rather than accusative. The author argues that in modal infinitivals
the NP direct object merges with nominative case in Spec-VP in a
lexical domain while direct object pronouns move from the functional
projection DP in the complement position of VP with an accusative case
because they are functional categories.

(4) In ''Resumption and asymmetric derivation'' (pp 85-98), Cedric
Boeckx proposes that resumption is due to stranding under A-bar
movement. Then for 'the book that I read (it)' as the target, the
derivation begins with

[DP D/the[CP[that[I T0[VP read[book]]]]]] and results in 
[DP D/the [book]j[CP[which tj]i [C0[I T0 [VP read[ti]]]]]] 

via the raising of a bare NP (Kayne 1994). Resumptive pronouns are
like Floating quantifiers (e.g. in Irish) in this respect, and (as
stranded D-heads) are confined to D-linked contexts.

(5) Julie Anne Legate in ''Reconstructing non- configurationality''
(pp 97-116) discusses the asymmetries between arguments and adjuncts
in Warlpiri syntax. Such asymmetries include (a) the subject binding
an object, but not vice versa, (b) a pronoun bound by the subject
being ungrammatical as an object but grammatical as an adjunct, (c)
agreement clitics having different paradigms for subject and object
agreement, and (d) suppletion in infinitival complementizers depending
upon what controls the embedded PRO subject. She argues that both
symmetric and asymmetric constructions can be explained in a single
framework in which the verb phrase is hierarchical with word order
permutations due to movement.

(6) Maria Cristina Cuervo in ''Structural asymmetries but same word
order: The dative alternation is Spanish'' (pp. 117-144) argues that
in double-object constructions of the language, the dative is a low
applied argument that an applicative head with a dative clitic
licenses. She claims that the optionality of clitic doubling in
Spanish is only apparent, and that ''the clitic- doubled sentences
correspond to the double-object construction'' (p.120). She concludes
that argument structure and thematic roles are both due to syntactic
structures with no independent semantic level to be mapped onto
syntactic structures.

(7) ''On the asymmetry of the specificational copula sentence''
(pp. 145-163) by Jaqueline Gueron deals with BE in English. The
article deals with predicational, specificational, and pseudo-cleft
copula sentences:

(a) Moby Dick is John's favorite book. (PRED)
(b) John's favorite book is Moby Dick. (SPEC)
(c) What/the book John bough was Moby Dick. 

She proposes that BE augmented with a [+ LOC] F triggers the
specificational construal. It is semantically asymmetrical in that its
subject (contrary to its goal) is referential, but also symmetrical
for such sentences as 'my opinion of Philadelphia is your opinion of
Edinburgh'. She argues that ''copula BE is construed under merger with
its complement as the agr morpheme of a predicate'' (p. 161).

(8) In ''The asymmetry between depictives and resultatives in
Chinese'', (pp 165-185) Niina Zhang focuses on the syntactic
structures of secondary predication constructions in Chinese. In this
language, depictives precede primary predication verbs (Vpri) while
resultatives follow them. She proposes that secondary predication
constructions are encoded by xP, which is an extended projection of XP
headed by the lexical item X to the effect that x is either realized
by *de* or by head-raising. Such syntactic structures are sensitive to
the manner of realization of xP, the semantics of Vpri, and the
specificity of the shared arguement.

(9)Thomas Ernst in his ''Adjuncts and word order asymmetries''
(pp. 187-207) deals with word order variation, and proposes that only
the direction of complements is parameterized with respect to heads
while Specs are always to the left. He maintains that C- (content) and
F- (function) complexes bring about F-dir(ection) and C-dir(ection)
respectively to the effect that F-dir is always LEFT while C-dir is
always RIGHT. ''The directions associated with the two complexes are
universal. However, while F-dir is active for all languages, C-dir may
be either active or passive'' (p.189).

(10) In her ''Wh-asymmetries'' (209-249), Manuela Ambar is concerned
with asymmetries in wh-structures cross-linguistically and hierarchy
of the interface between syntax and discourse. These asymmetries
include--among others--the possibility of wh-in-situ in questions
vs. its impossibility in exclamatives. For Ambar, the CP system--as
the interface between Discourse and IP--is split in nature so that
''EvaluativeP and AssertiveP are related to Ground, Focus and XP
(TopicP) to Universe of Discourse'' (p. 211). She distinguishes 4
types of languages with regard to their Wh-questions correlating with
the properties of the inflection system of each language, and those of
its determiner system together with subject raising and the
un/availability of V-movement.

(11) In his contribution, ''Three arguments for remnant IP movement in
Romance'' (pp 251-277), Jean-Yves Pollock aims at sketching three
arguments to support the claim that Remnant Movement is needed to
replace much of covert movement and head movement analyses in Romance.
These arguments are concerned with Stylistic Inversion, Subject Clitic
Inversion, and Complex Inversion in Modern French. They are all cases
of Remnant IP movement with the difference that in each case the
Remnant IP targets a different layer of the Comp domain.

(12) In ''The clause structure of extraction asymmetries'' (pp
279-299), Anna Maria Di Sciullo, Ileana Paul, and Stanca Somesfalean
deal with the complement/non-complement asymmetry in English,
Romanian, and Malagasy. They propose that the differences in
extraction among these languages are due to how the EPP feature is
satisfied in each. While the strong D feature of T brings about the
movement of the subject to [Spec, IP] in English, Romanian D feature
is weak so that the subject moves out of the vP for the sake of
topicality. In Malagasy, on the other hand, objects cannot undergo
A-bar movement. It follows that in some passive-like constructions of
the language, the object moves to the subject position first with
wh-movement as a kind of focus movement. They hypothesise that
''[a]symmetry is a property of grammatical relations, it is not a
property of specific grammatical constituents'' (p. 280).

(13) In his paper, ''Interpretive asymmetries in major phrases'' (pp
301-313), Greg Carlson deals with the asymmetry noun phrases, verb
phrases, and adjective phrases share with regard to ''the sort of
interpretations these phrases may have before, and after, the addition
of their associated functional categories. While the major phrases can
be used either to make reference to type or token information, only
type information is available within the lower reaches of the phrase''
(301-302). For NPs, the token is available when the DP is added. Verb
denote eventualities rather than individual events unless the token
information is found above the VP, e.g. via tense. Also APs denote
eventuality prior to the addition of a copula.

(14) In ''Configurational properties of point of view roles''
(pp. 315-344), Peggy Speas and Carol Tenny are concerned with the
extent to which pragmatic information is represented in syntax. They
propose that syntax constrains lexical items and their asymmetric
projections within which semantic roles are determined. They focus on
the five pragmatic roles of speaker, hearer, source, self, and pivot
organized in a hierarchy according to the scope relations between
their syntactic heads.

(15) In his paper, ''Contrastive Topic and proposition structure''
(pp. 345-371), Chungmin Lee observes that (in Korean, among some other
languages) Contrastive Topic is different from non-contrastive Topic
in that the former is topical and focal while the latter is not focal
but topical. Also that CT is different from contrastive focus as the
latter is associated with disjunctive question.

(16) James Pustejovsky in his ''Categories, types, and qualia
selection'' (pp. 373-393) develops a classification of types for
natural language semantics focusing on qualia structure--''[a]
structural dif- ferentiation of the predicative force for a lexical
item'' (374), and its possible role in asymmetric selection. Type
coercion as ''a semantic operation that converts an expression, alpha,
to the type expected by a governing function, beta'' (p. 382) is shown
to be related to asymmetries in grammatical selection with semantics
distinguishing between natural and functional types.


Irrespective of the theoretical/empirical quality of each of the
contributions, the volume as a whole fails to give a unified account
of asymmetry in grammar. The volume does not go far beyond a
conference proceedings. At the level of individual papers (as my
summary above suggests), asymmetry is not even always the major theme
of contributions. At best, the contributions marginally support (if
not 'merely don't contradict') Di Sciullo's Asymmetry Theory. I do not
think of this as the weakness of any single paper but indicative of
the fact that asymmetry in grammar is still far from being qualified
as ''part of the initial state of the language faculty, enabling human
beings to develop the grammar of the language to which they are
exposed, to interpret and to quickly generate the expressions of this
language in a relatively short peiod of time'' as Di Sciullo proposes
(as a mere possibility, to be fair to her) in the introduction to the
volume (p. 3). As represented in the papers in this collection,
asymmetry is NOT a unified and well-defined component of real-time
speakers' mental grammar of a human language but a a wide range of
diverse (and possibly unrelated) phenomena in human languages
REFLECTED ASYMMETRICALLY (for whatever reason) here and there in the
theoretical mechanism with which we try to explain the language
faculty, i.e. generative grammar. In other words, asymmetry remains a
property of our theoretical model (rather than a mysterious property
of the language faculty, one that must be good for something after
all, otherwise the nature had not put it there! And unfortunately, one
that if we fail to find any application for, we might simply get rid
of our scruples by labelling it as an exaptation or something!) unless
a unified account of such phenomena in a (generative) theoretical
framework is afforded to support the claim that asymmetry is really
needed for developing grammar, and interpreting and generating
language expressions. This is still an ambitious goal that at least
this volume fails to achieve.


Kane, R. (1994). The Antisymmetry of Syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Ptress.


Ahmad R. Lotfi, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of linguistics at the
English Department of Azad University at Esfahan. His research
interests include minimalist syntax, second language acquisition
studies in generative grammar, and Persian linguistics.
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue