LINGUIST List 14.2771

Tue Oct 14 2003

Review: Discourse Analysis/Syntax: Englebretson (2003)

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  1. Catherine Fortin, Searching for Structure

Message 1: Searching for Structure

Date: Mon, 13 Oct 2003 14:06:36 +0000
From: Catherine Fortin <>
Subject: Searching for Structure

Englebretson, Robert (2003) Searching for Structure: The Problem of
Complementation in Colloquial Indonesian Conversation, John Benjamins,
Studies in Discourse and Grammar 13.

Announced at

Catherine Fortin, University of Michigan.


In this book, Englebretson argues against the existence of
complementation as a grammatical structure in Indonesian, based on an
analysis of a corpus of spontaneous, conversational colloquial
Indonesian data. He does this through an analysis of three grammatical
structures in Indonesian which have typically been analyzed as
complementation: juxtaposed clauses, material introduced by the
discourse marker bahwa, and serial verbs. He also considers
'complementation strategies' (as defined by Dixon 1995), that
Indonesian uses in lieu of a grammatical structure of complementation
per se; the strategy he analyzes in detail herein is epistemic
expressions with the suffix -nya. He concludes that none of these
constructions offer any concrete evidence for complementation as a
syntactic structure in colloquial Indonesian; however, he also shows
that, semantically, these structures are similar to complementation
structures cross-linguistically. Overall, he argues convincingly that
in colloquial Indonesian, 'although traces of complementation are
indeed observable in the data, complementation per se is not a robust
category for Indonesian language-users' (90).

The author, working within a discourse-functional perspective,
maintains several theoretical and ideological beliefs which set his
work apart from that of many others who work within a more formalist
framework. Namely, he holds that grammar must be understood as
emerging from frequency and use; that the existence of grammatical
structures must be proven, not a priori assumed in an analysis; that
pragmatic factors are of critical importance; and that linguistic
structure is language- particular and diverse. He also firmly holds
that grammar is best analyzed in chunks larger than a single clause or
sentence, as it naturally and spontaneously occurs in discourse (as
Englebretson puts it, 'the actual language produced by real
native-speakers in natural interactional context' (12)), rather than
from elicited statements and grammaticality judgments. In particular,
he points out that grammaticality judgments with respect to a
colloquial variety of language are often incorrect, as language
attitudes among educated speakers tend to be highly prescriptive, so
that they are paradoxically often hesitant to accept structures that
they view as 'incorrect' albeit that they have produced themselves.


Chapter 1: Preliminaries

In this section, Englebretson presents an overview of his methodology,
the corpus used for this study, and a brief sketch of Indonesian

It is important to note that Englebretson maintains a strictly
syntactic definition of complementation, i.e. 'the grammatical
situation of one clause serving as the subject or object of another'
(29). Consequently, the central aim of this study is to determine
whether Indonesian makes use of a morphosyntactically-defined category
of complementation, as defined above, or whether it instead uses
alternate strategies to express the range of concepts that are
cross-linguistically represented as grammatically defined structures,
following Dixon's (1995) view that 'all languages have to express
roughly the same, universal, range of semantic concepts, and the
observation that not all languages do this by means of the same
grammatical resources' (24). Instead of beginning his analysis with
the 'null' hypothesis that complementation exists in colloquial
Indonesian, and then setting out to disprove it, he takes an alternate
route: he hypothesizes that complementation does not exist in
colloquial Indonesian, and looks for evidence that it does.

It is also important to note that, following the author's
discourse-functional perspective, the basic unit of spoken language is
not taken to be the clause, but instead the Intonation Unit (IU),
which is largely defined by acoustic cues. Generally speaking, an IU
is taken to be 'a stretch of speech uttered under a single coherent
intonation contour' (Du Bois et al. 1993: 47).

Chapter 2: Juxtaposed clauses

Juxtaposed clauses are defined here as 'a series of clauses which can
stand on their own as main clauses'(38) and which are not linked by
any overt connective material. The author argues that 'interclausal
relations for these constructions are simply inferential, based on
semantic and pragmatic factors' (35). These may be divided into two
main types: framed instantiations (which represent a certain semantic
relationship between two clauses) and non-framing (which may encode
conditional, causal, adversative, concessive or temporal
relationships). He investigates the role of prosody in framed
instantiations, determining that they occur with three basic types of
prosody; interestingly, he claims that the degree of conceptual
integration between the juxtaposed clauses is reflected by the

Englebretson follows many avenues in his quest for evidence for
complementation as a grammatical structure. It is worth spending a
little time reviewing his methodology with respect to a single
structure (in this case, framed instantiations) as a general
illustration of his analysis. For one, he argues that the prosodic
break between the clauses within a framed instantiation is telling,
with respect to ruling out complementation as a grammatical structure:
'since predicates and core arguments are typically conceived of as a
single unit, an utterance which displays discontinuity and conceptual
separation is not a good candidate for predicate plus core argument'
(54), i.e., not complementation.

Englebretson also appeals to more traditional tests to determine
whether a clause is syntactically treated as an argument of a
preceding verb. There are two kinds of transitive clauses in
Indonesian, described by Englebretson (following Wouk (1989) and
Cumming (1991), inter alia): Agent Trigger (AT) and Patient Trigger
(PT). The 'trigger' of the clause is its 'subject', and is the only
argument which can be shared in clause combining (18). (In standard
written Indonesian, the trigger is normally marked by verbal
morphology and word order; this is not always the case in the
colloquial variety.) As a diagnostic of the argumenthood of the second
clause of a framed instantiation (i.e., its status as a
syntactically-defined complement), Englebretson considers whether this
clause can be promoted to 'subject' with the use of a PT form of the
verb in the first clause: if the second clause in a framed
instantiation is able to be promoted to subject with the use of a PT
form of the verb in the preceding clause, he argues, this would
indicate that this second clause is a true syntactic argument (i.e., a
grammatical complement) of the verb in the first clause.

He examines a variety of specific constructions in turn, and
ultimately concludes that a small number of these (4.18% of the total
set of framed instantiations in his corpus, to be exact) do seem to
contain enough evidence of syntactic complementation to prohibit him
from completely ruling out its existence in these cases. However, he
argues convincingly that this evidence is limited and 'circumstantial'
(88), and despite it, that 'Indonesian seems not to have grammaticized
complementation as a robust category' and that 'complementation in the
corpus is simply epiphenomenal, and not a grammatical category at
all.' Throughout, however, he presents evidence that semantically, at
least, these framed instantiations in Indonesian are very similar to
complementation structures cross-linguistically.

Chapter 3: Complementizers in context: An analysis of bahwa

In this chapter, Englebretson considers clauses that are linked by
overt connectives. He presents a detailed analysis of bahwa (a word
with no lexical meaning that traditionally has been analyzed as a
complementizer), illustrating its distribution and varying functions.
Englebretson suggests that this word is best analyzed as a discourse
marker and that its 'putative role as a complementizer is simply a
reflection of... larger, discourse-level functions' (94). He also
argues that bahwa functions as a sociolinguistic marker of formal
speech (it is entirely limited to the two formal speech events in his
corpus, where it occurs fairly frequently), and claims that it occurs
only in speech events which are more closely modeled on standard
written Indonesian than in the colloquial, interactive variety.

In line with his general methodological perspective, he argues that
what needs to be explained is the occurrence of bahwa, not its
absence. In terms of further ruling out bahwa being a complementizer
(i.e., being able to subordinate the following clause), he presents a
variety of syntactic evidence: for example, he argues that bahwa is
able to introduce entire stretches of discourse, not just a single
clause, and that it may be separated from the clause it putatively
introduces by other material. In sum, he concludes that he has not
been able to present any evidence for analyzing bahwa as a
complementizer, and that in many of the cases discussed, such an
analysis is not even possible (123).

Chapter 4: Verbs in series

In this chapter, Englebretson considers verb serialization, which he
defines as 'the occurrence of two (or more) adjacent verbs with no
intervening material, which occur in the same IU, and which share at
least one argument' (128). He thoroughly describes the different
types of serial verb constructions, typologized according to which
argument is being shared, which type of semantic relationship they
encode, and whether the verbs are linked by an overt connector.

Serial verbs in Indonesian have traditionally been analyzed as
'reduced complements', where the second verb is an argument of the
first. However, Englebretson argues that there is no prosodic evidence
to justify a biclausal analysis of juxtaposed verbs, and that these
should instead be analyzed as monoclausal, yet containing a complex
predicate (126). Toward this end, he presents evidence demonstrating
that serial verb constructions are prosodically and syntactically
similar to clauses containing a single verb. Finally, he concludes
that for serialized verbs as well, 'there is little to no evidence
that these forms in colloquial Indonesian actually are grammatical
complements' (151).

Chapter 5: Epistemic -nya constructions

In this chapter, Englebretson analyzes the epistemic -nya construction
as an example of a Dixonian complementation strategy. Unlike the other
constructions he considers in this book, this construction has not
previously been analyzed as complementation, but he argues that it
fulfills a similar range of semantic and pragmatic functions as the

He provides a preliminary analysis of the widely varying functions and
use of -nya, along with a preliminary hypothesis as to how they are
related. While he acknowledges that much work remains to be done in
this area, this work nonetheless represents the first analysis of
-nya, and as such is quite an important contribution.

The author provides evidence that -nya has many apparently disparate
functions, including its use as a possessive marker, an
identifiability marker, a pronominal marker, and adverbial marker, as
a framing device; and as a means of encoding evidentiality, the
speaker's attitude towards a proposition, or the speaker's assessment
of how it should be situated in the larger discourse. Again, this
analysis is an extremely valuable contribution. However, the 'cline of
grammaticalization... across these various functions' (171) which
Englebretson hypothesizes to account for this morpheme's distribution
is suffers slightly in comparison to the rest of his arguments in this
book, which are generally extremely well-motivated.

Chapter 6: Conclusion

In the final chapter, the author addresses potential criticisms to the
discourse-functional approach he has taken in this analysis. He
further argues that with this analysis he has demonstrated the need
for linguistic categories in general to be argued for and justified on
a language-particular basis (188). This point is well taken, but it
perhaps seems unnecessarily controversial (from a more formalist
perspective) when he states that 'a realistic view of what grammar is
[is that] linguistic structures need to be understood and treated as
language- particular, not language-universal' (189). However, he
quickly qualifies this, and tidily sums up his overarching viewpoint,
by saying ''complementation' is a useful label to describe the
relationship which exists in many languages between a
semantic/pragmatic situation of such as framing and epistemicity, and
the syntactic situation of one clause serving as argument of
another... [on the other hand, there are] languages in which these
relationships are not encoded grammatically', as he has convincingly
shown to be the case for colloquial Indonesian.


This book is carefully and clearly written, with obvious attention to
detail. The empirical data chosen successfully illustrates the
author's arguments. The chapters are logically structured and well
summarized, making his line of argumentation easy to follow and
evaluate. Regardless of an Indonesianist's theoretical orientation,
this book provides a myriad of interesting arguments and empirical
data, and as such should be of interest.

Furthermore, this study makes several significant contributions to the
literature available on Indonesian:

First, colloquial Indonesian differs lexically, grammatically and
phonologically from standard written Indonesian in many ways:
affixless verbs, and the presence of certain verbal affixes, for
example. However, much of previous work on Indonesian has focused on
the standard written variety. This work represents one of the few
studies on the colloquial variety.

Second, this study also has potential cross-linguistic
implications. Only a few other researchers have examined
complementation in naturally-occurring conversational data in any
language (Thompson and Mulac 1991, Thompson 2002). However,
colloquial Indonesian is 'an especially good candidate for
investigating the possibility of diversity of complementation, since
it does not make use of any of the resources described in the
literature to indicate that a clause is functioning as an argument of
another clause' (4), such as grammatical subordination,
finite/nonfinite verbs, and case marking on nominals. Englebretson
therefore seeks to define the ways in which Indonesian expresses 'the
semantic resources which tend to be encoded cross- linguistically by
complementation' (4).

Finally, this work is the first to propose a comprehensive description
and characterization of the clitic -nya in colloquial Indonesian, with
the intent of accounting for all of the morpheme's 'multiple and
overlapping functions' (16), including uses as a marker of possession,
identifiability, nominalization, pronominal arguments, and adverbs.

A few criticisms can be suggested here, but are not intended to
detract from the work as a whole. First, a methodological concern,
which the author himself does address: in a purely corpus-based study,
the lack of a given structure cannot be taken as an unequivocal
demonstration that this structure is ungrammatical. Although the
author supplements his corpus with elicited native speaker judgments
where necessary for his arguments, these are not always entirely
adequate (or even accurate), given the colloquial form of the language
under study and the prescriptive attitudes of many speakers. It is not
clear how this conundrum may be satisfactorily resolved.

Second, in line with his assumption that grammar must be understood as
emerging from frequency and use (142), Englebretson assigns a
surprising amount of status to frequency of a given construction
within his corpus in his argumentation.

Finally, it is not clear which, if any, discourse- functional
theoretical framework of grammar the author subscribes to. While this
is not necessarily a criticism of the work on its own terms, its
absence is keenly felt by the Indonesianist with an interest in
theoretical syntax. The tantalizing question of how the phenomena he
describes here might structurally be accounted for by a theory of
grammar remains, and one hopes that it will be addressed in future


Cumming, Susanna. 1991. Functional change: the case of Malay
constituent order. New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Dixon, Robert M.W. 1995. Complement clauses and complementation
strategies. In Frank R. Palmer, ed. Grammar and meaning: essays in
honour of Sir John Lyons. 175-220. New York: Cambridge University

Du Bois, John W., Stephan Schuetze-Coburn, Danae Paolino and Susanna
Cumming. 1993. Outline of discourse transcription. In Jane A. Edwards
and Martin D. Lampert, eds. Talking data: transcription and coding
methods for language research. 45-89. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Thompson, Sandra A. 2002. 'Object complements' and conversation:
towards a realistic account. Studies in Language 26.1: 125-164.

Thompson, Sandra A. and Anthony Mulac. 1991. The discourse conditions
for the use of the complementizer that in conversational
English. Journal of Pragmatics 15: 237-251.

Wouk, Fay. 1989. The use of verb morphology in spoken Jakarta
Indonesian. Ph.D. dissertation: UCLA.


Catherine Fortin is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Linguistics
at the University of Michigan. Her research interests include the
morphosyntax of Indonesian and other Austronesian languages,
particularly with respect to argument structure.
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