LINGUIST List 14.2489

Fri Sep 19 2003

Review: Comparative Ling/Ling Theory: Miller (2002)

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  1. Gulsat Aygen, Nonfinite Structures in Theory and Change

Message 1: Nonfinite Structures in Theory and Change

Date: Fri, 19 Sep 2003 02:22:10 +0000
From: Gulsat Aygen <>
Subject: Nonfinite Structures in Theory and Change

Miller, Gary D. (2002) Nonfinite Structures in Theory and Change,
Oxford University Press.

Announced at

Gulsat Aygen, Department of Linguistics, Reed College.


Nonfinite constructions have been studied as a means to understand
finiteness and clausal architecture in syntactic theory. Conjugated
Infinitives (a.k.a. Inflected Infinitives), observed initially in
Portuguese, Italian, Hungarian (Rouveret 1980, Raposo 1987) have been
one of the major motivations for including agreement features in
syntactic theory (Chomsky 1986). Until recently, our definition of
''finiteness'' has been shaped by evidence indicating certain
syntactic domains with constraints on extraction, and the presence of
nominative subject. Finiteness and nominative case licensing have
been accounted for by the presence tense and/or agreement features
within a clause (Rouveret 1980, George and Kornfilt 1984, Raposo 1989,
and Chomsky 1986 among others). The book under review is a solid
research substantiating this line of research, accounting for the
evolution of nonfinite constructions from finite constructions within
a feature based analysis. The analysis follows the [+/-Tense] and
[+/-Agreement] line of research and is supported by empirical evidence
from both synchronic and diachronic analysis of these constructions in
Indo-European languages. The novel analysis of prototypical
infinitives as belonging to a mood category is one of the major
contributions of this book. The theoretical framework adopted is the
theory of case as developed by Schutze (1997) with modifications to
account for Accusative/Nominative case checking on subjects of
nonfinite constructions. The book is an invaluable contribution to
both syntactic theoreticians and historical linguists.


The term nonfinite is used with reference to prototypical infinitives,
gerundials and participles that have no subject person agreement.
Miller argues that these structures belong to a mood category because
it is in complementary distribution with other formal moods and co-
occurs with modal adverbs. The prototypical infinitive is observed to
have five properties: 1. mood category membership 2. complementary
with other moods 3. licensing of modal adverbs 4. licensing of control
5. a [+/- N] feature

In terms of diachronic change in nonfinite structures, Miller argues
that the most basic type of structurally or functionally motivated
change is reanalysis, and assumes three classes of syntactic change
(following Willis 1998):

1. performance changes, i.e. increased frequency
2. parametric change
3. non-parametric change

Chapter 1 presents the assumptions underlying the analysis and some
working hypotheses about the nature of case and agreement. Schutze
(1997)'s Accord and Spec/Head Case checking mechanism is adopted: The
phi features and case features are checked locally against the
features of a predicate-related head. Both sets of features must be
checked at once. Infinitival constructions that can check Nominative
in Latin are discussed.

Chapter 2 focuses on nonfinite tense and argues that 'to' and '-ing'
in English have equivalent event structures. English infinitives
correspond to irrealis and prospective contexts whereas gerundials
correspond to factive and completive structures. Reflective verbs
(epistemic, declarative, factive) require complements with independent
tense. A syntactically interesting note in this chapter regards
Ancient Greek infinitive complements: as tense-aspect marked
complements of reflective verbs, infinitives have an independent
temporal interpretation, whereas as complements of other predicates
they are atemporal.

In Chapter 3, Miller follows Landau (1999) in distinguishing partial
and exhaustive obligatory control, and discusses theories of control
based on the following:

1. binding relation between external argument and infinitive marker
2. movement and trace
3. feature attraction
4. lack of embedded subject position

This chapter is an attempt to account for diverse empirical facts from
Portuguese, Welsh, Hungarian and West Greenlandic. In the languages
studied, PRO is not licensed in subjunctive and other complement
clauses. PRO is licensed by the type of mood and/or lack of agreement.
The argument is that PRO and lexical subjects are not in complementary
distribution, and that it can receive/check any case since it has no
specified phi or case features.

Chapter 4 includes a discussion of conjugated and non-conjugated
infinitives in Portuguese, Hungarian and Welsh. Miller proposes that
languages have two types of infinitives: clauses with inherent phi
features allow lexical or pro subjects and yield to conjugated
infinitives; clauses with no inherent phi features allow PRO and trace
in the subject position that yield to non-conjugated infinitives. A
striking example is Welsh where previously nonfinite clauses without
tense or agreement are reanalyzed as finite (pp. 90-3). The Greek
construction which cooccurs with the particle na and is obligatorily
inflected for person an number agreement is analyzed as an infinitival
based on the evidence that standard weak crossover tests indicate that
the subject can be PRO and the embedded clauses can be selected by a
determiner. Miller argues that neither of these properties is
characteristic of subjunctives.

Chapter 5 includes the properties of two non-matrix mood formatives in
West Greenlandic where Case is argued to be compatible with PRO
subjects. Lexical and pro subjects require the presence of agreement
morphology. Miller shows that assignments of non-structural case to
the clause can block the checking of structural case inherently.

Chapter 6 argues that one core type of SC is ­verb/-tense in French,
Portuguese and English. The presence of subject-predicate geometry is
the justification of its clausal nature. The contrast between English
and French in terms of reflective verb infinitival complements is
accounted for the a ]+Accord] in French that allows Nominative case
checking within the lower clause, and the [- Accord] in English, that
requires the subject to check its Accusative case in the higher

Chapter 7 argues that ECM constructions is an innovation in Old
English (like French and Dutch) in disallowing ECM by requiring
reflective verb infinitive complements to be [+Accord]. Miller argues
that the [- Accord] setting was reinforced by new causatives that were
reanalyzed from object control verbs.

Chapter 8 is a historical overview of English infinitive structures.
Infinitive 'to' is argued to belong to a category M (infinitival
marker) and is predicted to be different from ''for''. for NPs are
argued to be reanalyzed as to INFs.

Chapter 9 discusses the properties of ''-ing'' and t-less infinitives.
Miller proposes that the only difference between a participle relative
and a perception verb complement in English is that participle
relative adjoins to D/NP, whereas, a perception verb complement is

Chapter 10 develops a theory of English gerundials and argues that ''-
ing' is underspecified for feature [N]; when it is positive, DP
becomes a poss-ing construction. Chapter 11 presents a historical
account of the English gerund. Chapter 12is significant in that it
accounts for the spread of English from nominal to clausal
categories. The idea of the morpho-supercategory is presented.


Miller (2002) argues that clauses with inherent phi features yield
conjugated infinitives and that clauses that lack phi features yield
prototypical infinitives. He proposes that a mood category is crucial
to the analysis of infinitives. His empirical evidence is based on
both synchronic and diachronic data from Indo-European languages.


This book presents a thorough, interesting, and informative work from
a novel perspective. It presents an encompassing study of nonfinite
structures. From a syntactic point of view, it argues for a very
interesting account of inflected infinitives which I believe, deserves
to be followed up with further research on non-Indo-European
languages. The theoretical implications of this book provide a novel
analysis of Agreement as Mood. Miller (2002) provides a line of
research on finite/non-finite structures in terms of relevant features
on the relevant functional heads. Mood being involved in nominative
case licensing is a brand-new idea that could help us account for the
clausal architecture of non-tense/non-agreement structures in English
subjunctives as well as structures/languages with no overt tense
and/or agreement. This approach could also clear the view in syntactic
studies where mood and tense, modality, and tense are equated
depending on the properties of languages. The infamous
Tense/Aspect/Modal (TAM) label utilized for such ambiguities in
studies on functional categories could be re-studied for a better
understanding of the clausal architecture
cross-linguistically. Although the analysis presented in the book is
consistent in terms of its framework, and valuable to readers working
on any framework, it could benefit from recent work in syntactic
theory, particularly Chomsky (2000) and Pesetsky and Torrego 2001 for
Nominative case analysis, Huang (1989) for the discussion of control
structures. I strongly recommend this book to linguists working on
subject-case licensing and finiteness as well as to those interested
in historical syntactic change in finite/non-finite constructions.


Aygen, Gulsat. 2002. Finiteness, Case and Clausal Architecture. Ph.D
Dissertation. Harvard University. Cambridge.

Chomsky, Noam. 2000. Phases. Cambridge: MIT Press.

George, L. and Jaklin Kornfilt. 1981. Finiteness and Boundedness in
Turkish. in Binding and Filtering, ed. Frank Heny, p 105-128. London:
Croomhelm Ltd.

Huang, C.-T. James. 1989. ''Pro-drop in Chinese: a generalized control
theory'' in Jaeggli O. and K. Safir (eds.) The Null Subject Parameter,
Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 185-214.

Pesetsky, David and Esther Torrego. 2001. Tense to C: Causes and
Consequences. In Ken Hale: A Life in Language. ed. Michael Kenstowicz,
MIT Press, 355-426.

Raposo, E. 1987. Case Theory and Infl-to-Comp: The Inflected
Infinitive in European Portuguese. LI 18, 85-109.


Gulsat Aygen did her undergraduate work at Bogazici University in
Istanbul, Turkey, and received a PhD in linguistics from Harvard
University. Her interests include syntax, syntax/semantics interface,
clausal architecture of finite and nonfinite constructions,
particularly Tense, Aspect, Mood and Modality in Turkic languages. She
is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at Reed College.
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