LINGUIST List 14.2676

Fri Oct 3 2003

Review: Syntax/Hungarian: �. Kiss (2002)

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  1. Edit Jakab, The Syntax of Hungarian

Message 1: The Syntax of Hungarian

Date: Fri, 03 Oct 2003 14:31:02 +0000
From: Edit Jakab <>
Subject: The Syntax of Hungarian

�. Kiss, Katalin (2002) The Syntax of Hungarian, Cambridge
University Press.

Announced at

Edit Jakab, Asymmetry Project, Department of Linguistics,
Universit� du Qu�bec � Montr�al.


�. Kiss' work is a comprehensive and knowledgeable presentation
and analysis of Hungarian sentence structure as well as its extensive
literature. Although the ideas in the book are built on the
theoretical and methodological assumptions of generative grammar, the
approach is primarily empirical. The author's goal is to describe the
theoretically relevant facts of Hungarian syntax rather than to
provide the latest technical accounts for them.


In the Introduction, the author describes the general structure of the
Hungarian sentence which is a hierarchical structure dividing into a
topic part and a predicate part. The former contains the logical
subject of the predication (the notion of logical subject is
independent of the function 'grammatical subject'), while the latter
contains a verb-initial propositional center and the preverbal
operator positions: Negation-Distributive
Quantifier-Focus. �. Kiss emphasizes that this structure was
already attributed to the Hungarian sentence by Brassai in the middle
of the 19th century.

Chapter 2 is devoted to the discussion of the topic position and
related issues. The author argues that the Hungarian sentence has two
parts: the logical subject of predication, called 'topic', and the
logical predicate. It is important that the topic is not necessarily
linked to the function of subject (or any particular grammatical
function) despite the subject's tendency to be a topic. The topic
position is generally filled by elements bearing a [+human] feature,
consequently, [+human] accusative or oblique complements can often be
topics. Given that the topic denotes an individual present in the
universe of discourse, it must be a referring expression bearing the
features [+referential] and [+specific], and can not be an argument
containing an operator feature (e.g., a quantifier). A
non-referential phrase such as the latter may assume these features
and thus be topicalized only if it is contrasted.

The topic, occupying the specifier position of TopP, is an argument of
the verb binding an argument position in the predicate part. Therefore
although topic movement is A-bar movement, it is not operator
movement. When the sentence contains more than one topic, the author
assumes that the TopP is iterated. As �. Kiss herself points
out, it is theoretically open to question what triggers the movement
of more than one element to multiple specifier of TopP positions.

She distinguishes eventive (containing a stage-level predicate) and
stative (containing an individual-level predicate) sentences with an
invisible or visible TopP, respectively. The former have an event
variable which licenses a situationally or contextually bound empty
spatio-temporal element in the specifier of TopP. The latter (stative
predicates), on the other hand, must contain overt material in their
Spec-TopP position since they lack an event variable. However, both
sentence types may be, but not necessarily are, topicless if they
contain a logical operator.

In the last paragraph of this chapter, �. Kiss discusses
contrastive topic. She argues that non-referential and non-specific
elements such as bare nouns and quantifiers can also be topicalized,
but only if they are accompanied by a contrastive intonation. She
shows that these elements indeed occupy the Spec-TopP position.

The subject of Chapter 3 is the description of the minimal predicate,
in particular the flat VP structure. The author raises the question of
whether assuming such a structure is compatible with current
theoretical assumptions. She presents the structure of the minimal
predicate consisting of a VP and an AspP. Within the VP, V is
obligatorily the first element after which the arguments follow in an
arbitrary order. The arguments within VP, including the subject, can
be only referential. On the basis of the lack of any superiority
effect in wh-movement, she argues that there is no VP-external
position; it is allotted to the topic. Several pieces of evidence are
enumerated for a flat VP structure: the predominant lack of
subject-object asymmetries in the areas of binding, in particular
Binding Condition C (referring expression) and Weak
Crossover. However, anaphoric binding, which seems to be thematically
determined in Hungarian, suggests a hierarchical structure.

The author goes on introducing the functional projections that extend
the VP: modality, tense, mood, object and subject agreement. She
discusses object agreement, which is marked by a specific suffix on
finite verbs taking a definite object. She argues that AgrOP is not
the locus of accusative case checking since accusative assignment is
not connected to an invariant Spec-AgrOP position. One piece of
evidence comes from the fact that infinitives do not have an object
agreement suffix, yet they are able to take an accusative direct

The chapter ends with the discussion of what Hungarian linguistics
traditionally calls a prefix: a verbal modifier (VM). She argues that
VM must be treated as an independent syntactic unit, a lexically
selected complement, and she enumerates several reasons for this, the
most important of which is the fact that VM can be separated from the
verb by a particle or several particles, and it can raise to a
superordinate clause. Although there are several properties that
indicate the phrasal status of [the] VM, such as its ability to move
across a CP boundary, to undergo topicalization and focussing or to be
an elliptic sentence in itself, there is also evidence against this
status in that it cannot, for example, be coordinated with another VP.
Therefore, �. Kiss suggests a mixed status for VM in which it
would be able to function both as a phrase and a head: it moves to
Spec-AspP as a phrase after which it head-moves to V which has already
raised to Asp.

In Chapter 4, the author scrutinizes the question of focus and related
issues. She argues for an FP projection which immediately precedes the
extended VP, thereby achieving adjacency of focus and verb. She shows
that the main role of the focus is to identify the subset of a set of
individuals for which the predicate holds. She also enumerates other
elements, e.g., interrogative pronouns, negative adverbs of degree,
frequency, and manner, negative existential quantifiers etc., whose
inherent [+focus] feature makes them raise to Spec-FP. The author
further demonstrates the lack of the Superiority Condition among wh-
phrases in Hungarian. She also shows that multiple questions
requesting the identification of two individuals and those requesting
a pair-list response have different structures.

Chapter 5 examines quantification. The author discusses what positions
are allotted to quantifiers and she also describes their scope
properties. Accordingly, universal and positive existential
quantifiers are placed in the specifier of a functional projection,
DistP. Here, the quantifier assumes a distributive interpretation as
well as scope over the domain it c-commands. She points out that all
preverbal operator positions are scope positions. She also examines
noun phrase internal quantifiers whose extraction into the verb phrase
allows them to have sentential scope. Finally, she argues that certain
adverbs of frequency exhibit similar syntactic properties as

In Chapter 6, negation is under scrutiny. The author shows that both
the verb and the focus may be negated, i.e., preceded by the negative
particle projecting a NegP. The negation of the universal quantifier,
however, produces constituent negation.

�. Kiss describes negative concord in Hungarian by
demonstrating how the negative Hungarian se-pronouns operate. Their
interpretation is discussed as well: a se-pronoun receives an
existential reading when it has a [-specific] feature, whereas it is
universally interpreted when it has a [+specific] feature (e.g. when
it precedes the focus). She also gives an account of indefinite
pronouns in the scope of negation and shows their quantifier status.
The focus of Chapter 7 is the noun phrase. On the basis of their
distributional differences in the sentence, three noun phrase
projections are to be distinguished: the lexical noun phrase proper
surrounded by operators, the indefinite numeral phrase and the
definite determiner phrase.

A substantial part of the chapter is devoted to the discussion of
possessive constructions. It explains how the possessive relation is
realized morphologically as well as syntactically, and discusses
agreement and ''anti-agreement'' within possessive constructions. The
author also discusses the argument structure of different nominals;
deverbal event nominals can keep only one argument realized as a
possessor. On the other hand, the possessor expresses the object of a
nominalized transitive verb, and the subject may be realized as a by-
phrase. Lexically case-marked arguments and adjuncts either appear as
modifiers or may be extraposed.
In Chapter 8, the postpositional phrase is discussed. Postpositions in
Hungarian extend the noun phrase in a suffix-like manner, similar to
case endings functioning semi-independently. It is interesting that,
historically, case endings have developed from postpositions, and
still exhibit postpositional characteristics in certain
instances. They form a unit with the noun at the morphosyntactic
level; however, morphophonologically, they are to be considered two
separate entities.

When the postposition bears no suffix, it takes its complement in the
dative assigned by a ''possessedness'' morpheme. On the other hand,
the postposition is inflected when its complement is a personal

Chapter 9 describes existing assumptions and theories about non-finite
and semi-finite verb phrases. It discusses infinitival and participial
phrases that have the structure of an extended VP. The author points
out the salient difference between finite and non-finite verb phrases:
the latter does not need to be a VP before focus or negation, and so,
the verb may be preceded by a verbal modifier in AspP. She shows at
length how agreeing/inflected infinitives operate in Hungarian, their
distribution as well as their dative-marked subject.

She also points out how one type of adverbial participle may also take
a lexical subject, which is nominative-marked. She provides proposals
about the possible sources of the specific case of the subjects of
these non-finite constructions.

The function of the various non-finite categories is addressed as
well: the infinitive acts as a complement of the matrix predicate, the
adverbial participle is an adjunct, whereas the adjectival participle
is an attribute. The former two joined by an auxiliary or semi-
auxiliary verb may constitute a complex predicate as well.
Chapter 10 concludes the book with the formal treatment of movement
across boundaries and, thus, subordination as well. It talks about how
subordinate clauses are structurally identical to matrix clauses
except for the presence of a complementizer/subordinating operator in
the former. When embedded clauses constitute arguments, they are
associated with a pronoun which bears the case assigned by the matrix
predicate to the argument, in this case the embedded clause. This
pronoun also, in some sense, takes the place of the subordinate clause
in the matrix operator positions that are unable to take clausal

Embedded interrogative clauses are introduced by the complementizer
/hogy/ 'that' occupying C, whereas the wh-word itself is in the
specifier of the focus phrase, thus it does not create an island for
extraction. When a subordinate interrogative operator is associated
with a matrix interrogative pronoun, it may take matrix scope.

She also shows that complex sentences containing a bridge verb as a
matrix may represent a single domain for operator movement. Long
operator movement, complementizer deletion and the licensing of
parasitic gaps are discussed as well.


�. Kiss' book is a thorough and informative study as well as an
overview of Hungarian syntax, a work that reveals the author's vast
knowledge of the subject from both the traditional and the generative
perspective. In her analyses, she relies on books, articles, talks as
well as papers on Hungarian from all sources including her students,
teachers and colleagues from all over the world. Consequently, her
bibliography is extensive and well-informed.

She provides various proposals for all aspects of Hungarian syntax,
and then she amends them, so to speak. She uses comparison with
English throughout the book. For example, she draws parallel between
Hungarian and English subject-object asymmetries in Chapter 3, or
between Hungarian thematic hierarchy and English dative shift, which,
if thematically motivated, supports the former.

Lack of space allows me to concentrate on only a few issues for
discussion. In chapter 4, on the basis of the free postverbal order of
adverbs, the author argues against Brody's (1995) V-to-F movement in
sentences expressing identificational focus (p. 86). It seems to me
that the elimination of an adverb's possible occurrence between the
focus and the verb by just simply stating the Focus-V adjacency
requirement does not appear to be sufficient. This requirement does
not explain how Focus and V end up next to each other.

Another issue to select is the interesting phenomenon of inflected
infinitives. On the basis of Toth's (2000) thesis, the author claims
that in the case of an agreeing infinitive with a dative/ablative
case- marked subject it is actually the lack of agreement between the
controller of its subject and the matrix verb that allows for the
agreement. Landau (2003) demonstrates that the absence of matrix
agreement is only a necessary but not a sufficient condition for
licensing inflected infinitives. He argues that the other relevant
factor is the Tense of the infinitive, namely, its lack of
Tense. Since agreeing infinitives are untensed, they are not able to
define a tense domain distinct from the matrix. On the other hand,
tense mismatch is marginally possible when the infinitive is not
inflected, in other words, when it is tensed (cf. Jakab 2003 which
connects the agreement and tense features of Hungarian infinitives to
their restructuring properties).

Finally, I should mention that I found a minor but rather confusing
mix-up in the numbers of examples on page 18, 3-4 lines below example
(19): ''In Kratzer's approach the crucial difference between the
stage- level (19a,b) and the individual-level (12)-(13)...'' -- should
be stage-level (12)-(13) and the individual-level (19a,b).

All in all, �. Kiss' book is an excellent source for both
non-Hungarian linguists who will find various analyses of all
syntactic issues in Hungarian, and for Hungarians whom it enables to
brush up on or extend their knowledge of Hungarian sentence structure.


Brody, M. 1995. Focus and checking theory, in I. Kenesei, ed.,
Approaches to Hungarian 5: 29-44. Szeged: JATE.

Jakab, �. 2003. Agreement, Tense, Restructuring. The Licensing
of Hungarian Inflected Infinitives. Paper presented at CLA, Halifax.

Landau, I. 2003 (To appear). The Scale of Finiteness and the Calculus
of Control. NLLT.

Toth, I. 2000. Inflected Infinitives in Hungarian. Doctoral
dissertation. Tilburg University.


Edit Jakab did her undergraduate studies at Lajos Kossuth University
in Debrecen, Hungary, her graduate work at Indiana as well as
Princeton, and received a Ph.D. in theoretical and Slavic linguistics
from Princeton University. Her interests include comparative syntax,
syntax/semantics interface, the clausal structure of nonfinite
constructions, in particular, (Non-)Agreement, Tense, Mood and
Modality in Finno-Ugric and Slavic languages as well as in English.
She is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in linguistics in the
Asymmetry Project at UQAM.
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