LINGUIST List 15.1591

Wed May 19 2004

Review: Syntax/Typology: Cristofaro (2003), 2nd review

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  1. Frank Lichtenberk, Subordination

Message 1: Subordination

Date: Tue, 18 May 2004 22:44:02 -0400 (EDT)
From: Frank Lichtenberk <>
Subject: Subordination

Cristofaro, Sonia (2003) Subordination, Oxford University Press.
Announced at
[Another review of this book appears in --Eds.]

Frantisek Lichtenberk, Department of Applied Language Studies and
Linguistics, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.

The book under review is a major cross-linguistic, typological study
of subordination (as defined by the author). It is impressive in its
scope and some of its findings, but there are also, in my view, some
problematic issues.

Broadly, the volume can be divided into three major parts. Chapters
1-4 provide the background and set out the basic premises and
assumptions. Chapters 5-7 deal with the three basic types of
subordination: complement relations, adverbial relations, and relative
relations. It's these chapters that present the major empirical
results. Chapters 8-11 deal with general issues arising from the
findings, such as comparison of the types of subordination,
explanations for the phenomena found, and prospects for future
research. There are also several appendices, one of which gives
information on the constructions and their properties found in the
languages in the sample.

In any large-scale cross-linguistics study, defining the phenomenon to
be investigated is an important issue. Cristofaro opts for a strictly
non-structural definition of subordination: ''By subordination will be
meant a situation whereby a cognitive asymmetry is established between
linked SoAs [states of affairs], such that the profile of one of the
two (henceforth, the main SoA) overrides that of the other
(henceforth, the dependent SoA).'' (p. 33). This property of
subordination is referred to by Cristofaro as ''the Asymmetry
Assumption''. While a functionally/cognitively based definition of the
phenomenon under investigation may be necessary in a cross-linguistic
study, a very strict application of such a definition may have as its
consequence exclusion of certain syntactic constructions that other
linguists would regard as qualifying for inclusion. And this is what
happens here. Cristofaro leaves out from her investigation of
relative relations what she calls ''non-restrictive relatives''
(including asserting relative clauses), because the profile of the
state of affairs that a non- restricting relative expresses is not
overridden by that of the other state of affairs (which would normally
be thought of as being expressed in the main clause). Conversely, the
definition allows for inclusion of constructions that would
traditionally not be considered to involve subordination. Cristofaro
compares the English sentence (1.3) ''After she drank the wine, she
went to sleep'' and a corresponding sentence in Mandarin and says
(p. 2): ''... the notion of subordination is independent of the way in
which clause linkage is realized across languages. For instance, the
English sentence in (1.3) involves a clause that would be identified
as subordinate under most traditional criteria. However, the
corresponding Mandarin Chinese sentence in (1.4) involves two
morphosyntactically independent clauses.'' The translation of the
Mandarin sentence is 'After s/he drank the wine, she went to
sleep'. While reading the subsequent chapters of the book, the reader
may need to remind himself/herself of what Cristofaro means by

Cristofaro's adoption and strict application of a
functionally/cognitively based definition of subordination has further
relevance, which has to do with another methodological principle
adopted in the study, although the former does not entail the latter.
The methodological principle has to do with heavy reliance on
translation in determining whether a given construction in a certain
language involves subordination or not. In cases where the source of
the data does not provide information about the assertional value of a
given construction type (and this, according to Cristofaro, is the
usual case), ''[t]he solution ... is to assume that the translation
used preserves the conceptual organization of the linked SoAs in the
original sentence'' (p. 41). This strikes me as a risky assumption to

There is one more general premise that Cristofaro assumes that has
important methodological implications, and that is the premise that
''all languages are able to express any cognitive situation, and all
the ways in which a particular cognitive situation is expressed should
be taken into account'' (p. 49). This allows her to include cases
where ''the relevant situation is only inferred from the context, if
that is the standard means to express that situation in the
language. [footnote omitted]'' (ibid.). Inference, then, can be
subsumed under subordination, in the absence of a syntactic
construction. Since, as Cristofaro assumes, all languages must be able
to express the same ''cognitive situations'', then if ''a particular
construction is the only means available in a language to express a
particular semantic relation between SoAs ... one has to assume that
the relevant construction can express all of the cognitive correlates
of that semantic relation, including subordination'' (p. 46).
Consequently, ''there may be cases where one has to regard a
particular construction as an instance of subordination independently
of how it is translated'' (ibid.). There may, then, be a conflict
between the assumption that all languages may express the same
''cognitive situations'' and how a certain construction is translated,
and in such cases the former takes precedence.

The purely functional/typological definition of subordination and its
narrow application, the reliance, up to a point, on translation, and
the assumption that all languages can express the same ''cognitive
situations'' involving subordination may be controversial to various
degrees, but it is impossible to tell whether Cristofaro's findings
would be materially affected if the notion of subordination was
applied differently, if translation was not such a strong guide,
and/or if one did not assume that all languages can equally express
relations between states of affairs.

In investigating the three types of subordination relations
(complement, adverbial and relative), Cristofaro pays particular
attention to two main structural properties of clauses that express
subordinate states of affairs. One is the verb forms employed.
Following Stassen (1985), Cristofaro distinguishes between two main
types of strategy: balancing and deranking. In the balancing strategy,
the ''subordinate'' clause contains verb forms that are equivalent to
those found in independent clauses. In the deranking strategy, the
subordinate clause contains verb forms not found in independent
clauses; for example, certain distinctions (such as tense, aspect, and
mood) are not expressed, or certain special forms are used not found
in independent clauses. The other main structural characteristic of
subordinate clauses that Cristofaro pays close attention to is the
coding of participants, in particular the non-expression of certain
arguments, and the expression of certain arguments as possessors or

Chapters 5-7 form the empirical heart of the book. Of these, the one
on complement relations is the most extensive one. It is in this
chapter that Cristofaro discusses two concepts that are crucial to the
interpretation of some of the findings concerning two of the three
subordination types, complement and adverbial. One of these is
predetermination, the fact that ''some of the semantic features of the
linked SoAs are predetermined by the nature of the relation itself''
(p. 111). For example, with 'want' as the main verb, the dependent
state of affairs cannot be temporally located at a time earlier than
the state of wanting. The other concept is that of semantic
integration, which has to do with how tightly or how loosely the two
states of affairs are interconnected. For example, in a causative
relation one state of affairs is brought about by the other (causing)
state of affairs. (For an earlier discussion of the notion of semantic
integration see Giv�n 1980, 1990.) In addition to predetermination
and semantic integration, what may also be of relevance in some cases
is the fact that the dependent state of affairs is unrealized or that
there is will or interest on the part of a participant that a
dependent state of affairs be realized.

In dealing with complement relations, Cristofaro adopts Noonan's
(1985) classification of complement-taking predicates (modal,
manipulative, propositional attitude, etc.). The central finding of
the study of complement strategies in the languages in the sample is
expressed in the form of the Complement Deranking-Argument Hierarchy,
formulated in terms of the types of complement-taking predicates:

Modals, Phasals > Manipulatives ('make', 'order'), Desideratives > 
 Perception > Knowledge, Propositional attitude, Utterance

If, in a given language, deranking is used at a certain position on
the hierarchy, it is also used at all the positions to the left on the
hierarchy. And, if, in a given language, A and S arguments are not
expressed in the subordinate clause at a certain position on the
hierarchy, they are not expressed at any of the positions to the left.
A number of tables at the end of the chapter provide supporting
evidence for the hierarchy as well as other generalizations.

As far as adverbial relations are concerned, Cristofaro considers the
following subtypes: purpose, three kinds of temporal relation
('before', 'after', and 'when'), reality conditions (but not
counterfactual conditions), and reason. As is the case with
complementation, the factors of predetermination, semantic
integration, and will/interest are relevant. For example, in an
'after' relation the two states of affairs are, by definition,
sequenced in a certain way; and there is a high degree of semantic
integration in purpose relations. Cristofaro establishes two major
hierarchies for adverbial relations. Tables providing supporting
evidence conclude the chapter.

The Adverbial Deranking Hierarchy: 
Purpose > Before, After, When > Reality Condition, Reason

The Adverbial Argument Hierarchy: 
Purpose > Before, After, When, Reason, Reality condition

As far as relative relations are concerned, Cristofaro includes only
restrictive relativization in her study, and she includes only the
following grammatical functions: A, S, O, Indirect object and Oblique
object; not Possessor and not Object of comparison. Cristofaro adopts
a methodological principle that some might find surprising. (I do.) In
some languages a certain grammatical function cannot be relativized,
but the relevant noun phrase may be promoted, which permits
relativization. Thus, for example, in a language relativization may be
restricted to S and A functions, but noun phrases in other functions
may be promoted to S or A, which permits relativization. Cristofaro
regards such cases as relativization on the function before the
promotion; for example, relativization on O rather than on S. This is
because of the assumption that ''any given language should in
principle be able to express any given concept'' (p. 200) (see also
further above in this review). If a certain thematic role is normally
expressed in a certain grammatical function (say O), but promotion is
required for the purposes of relativization, this should count as
relativization on the non-promoted function ''because the same
conceptual situation is being expressed'' (ibid.).

Cristofaro establishes the following Relative Deranking-Argument 

A, S > O > Indirect object, Oblique

(A slightly different hierarchy holds specifically for the expression
and non-expression of aspect and mood, where there is a binary split
between A, S, and O at the left end and Indirect object and Oblique at
the right end.) The Relative Deranking-Argument Hierarchy is clearly
not all that different from Keenan & Comrie's (1977) original Noun
Phrase Accessibility Hierarchy, the distinction between indirect and
oblique objects not being always clear. As is the case in the
preceding two chapters, tables providing evidence for the hierarchy
are given at the end of the chapter.

The relativization hierarchy is significantly different from those
established for complementation and adverbial relations: it is stated
in term of grammatical functions rather than in terms of semantic
types (such as modal as opposed to desiderative, etc. predicates; and
purpose as opposed to temporal, etc. relations.) There is another
important difference between relative relations on the one hand and
complement and adverbial relations on the other: the semantic factors
of predetermination and semantic integration (and will/interest) are
not relevant to the hierarchy. This raises a more general question of
to what extent relative relations are comparable to the other two. I
will return to this later.

The individual hierarchies established for the three different types
of subordination are amalgamated into several global hierarchies in
Chapter 8. Two of them are given here:

The Subordination Deranking Hierarchy
Phasals, Modals > Desideratives, Manipulatives, Purpose > Perception > 
 Before, After, When, A relativization, S relativization > Reality 
 condition, Reason, O relativization > Knowledge, Propositional 
 attitude, Utterance, Indirect object relativization, Oblique 

The Subordination Argument Hierarchy
Modals, Phasals, A relativization, S relativization > Desideratives, 
 Manipulatives, Purpose > Perception > Before, When, After, Reason, 
 Utterance, Propositional attitude, Knowledge, Reality condition

O, Indirect object and Oblique relativization do not appear in the
Argument Hierarchy because only A and S arguments are relevant to
complement and adverbial subordination.

Phasals and Modals occur at the left end of both hierarchies, while
the Knowledge, Propositional attitude, and Utterance categories occur
at the right end of both. In almost all cases there is grouping of
subordination subtypes at the various positions on the hierarchies.
Only the Perception category stands by itself, on both hierarchies.

The global hierarchies reflect, to some extent, two sets of factors,
neither of which applies to all three types of subordination:
predetermination, semantic integration, and preference apply to
complementation and adverbial subordination, but not to
relativization, while accessibility to relativization applies only to
relativization, not to complementation and to adverbial
subordination. One could, then, wonder about the rationale for placing
relativization on the same hierarchies with the other two
types. Interestingly, however, on the Deranking Hierarchy, not all the
relativization subtypes group together: A and S vs. O vs. Indirect
object and Oblique.

Building on the work of others (Giv�n 1980, 1990; Haiman 1983, 1985;
Langacker 1987a, b, 1991), Cristofaro identifies some cognitive
factors that underlie the morphosyntactic properties of the
subordination constructions under investigation. One of these is
syntagmatic economy, specifically non-expression of predictable
information. Information in a subordinate clause may be predictable
because of predetermination or because of obligatory argument-sharing
between the clause expressing the main state of affairs and the one
expressing the dependent state of affairs. Information that is
recoverable may be omitted. This is what Cristofaro names the
Principle of Information Recoverability. Another factor that is
relevant is iconicity, which has to do with semantic integration:
''there is an iconic correspondence between semantic integration and
morphosyntactic integration'' (p. 251). Verbal deranking and
non-expression of arguments are manifestations of relatively high
morphosyntactic integration.

Another major factor that Cristofaro identifies as relevant has to do
with the cognitive status of dependent states of affairs. Under the
Asymmetry Assumption (see further above), a dependent state of affairs
lacks an autonomous profile: its profile is overridden by that of the
main state of affairs. And while main states of affairs receive
sequential scanning, dependent states of affairs do not. This absence
of sequential scanning of dependent states of affairs motivates (but
obviously does not require) the absence of tense/aspect/mood
distinctions in clauses. And suspension of sequential scanning may
(but does not have to) result in a dependent state of affairs being
conceptualized as a ''thing'' rather than a process. This, in turn,
may result in the presence of nominal characteristics in clauses
encoding dependent states of affairs, such as case marking on, or
with, the verb and possessor forms, and perhaps also in the presence
of special tense/aspect/mood forms not found in independent clauses.

Cristofaro acknowledges that relativization is different from the
other two types of subordination: ''[a] counterexample to the analysis
just outlined is provided by relative relations''
(p. 287). Syntagmatic economy, which may be relevant to
complementation and adverbial relations with respect both to a lack of
tense/aspect/mood distinctions and to non-expression of arguments, is
not relevant to relativization. In relativization, the lack of
tense/aspect/mood distinctions results from the suspension of
sequential scanning of dependent states of affairs, which may also be
the case in the other two types of subordination. However,
non-expression of arguments (gapping) is not the result of a cognitive
principle; rather, it serves to identify the role of the relativized
element. It again makes one wonder how, if at all, relativization fits
in with the other two types of subordination in ''global''

Cristofaro proposes a number of implicational correlations concerning
various morphosyntactic properties of dependent clauses. For example:
presence of case marking or adpositions implies lack of expression of
person agreement; and non-expression of arguments implies non-
expression of tense/aspect/mood. A correlation is established if the
number of exceptions is not greater than one third of all the
significant cases.

In one of the appendices Cristofaro lists the information on the
languages in her sample on the basis of which she has formulated the
various hierarchies. Nevertheless, one would like to see sets of data
(sentences) from some of the languages to show how they follow the
hierarchies, the global hierarchies in particular.

In the concluding chapter Cristofaro makes some further general
points. Languages that contain only balancing strategies, languages
that contain only deranking strategies, and languages that contain
both balancing and deranking patterns for all types of subordination
are disfavored compared to languages that contain split
balancing-deranking systems where the two types are distributed in
accordance with the hierarchies. There is a functional/cognitive
explanation for that. The use of balancing strategies across the board
would result in some non- economic patterns (expression of predictable
information), while the use of deranking strategies across the board
would result in some loss of information (non-expression in the
absence of predetermination). Diachronically, the prediction is that
languages are more likely to undergo changes that lead to economic
and/or iconic patterns rather than vice versa.

At the very end Cristofaro points out that since her model of
subordination is a cognitively based one, then if it is valid, one
would expect there to be non-linguistic evidence for the concepts she
postulates, such as semantic integration between states of affairs and
the distinction between processes and things. At the moment, she is
not aware of any such evidence, but this should only serve as an
incentive for research.

There are aspects of Cristofaro's approach to subordination that many
linguists may find themselves in disagreement with, such as the
definition of subordination itself; nevertheless, this is an important
study which is bound to stimulate further research on subordination,
whether in individual languages or cross-linguistically.


Giv�n, Talmy. 1980. The binding hierarchy and the typology of
complements. Studies in Language 4.333-377.

__________. 1990. Syntax: A functional-typological introduction, vol. 
2. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Haiman, John. 1983. Iconic and economic motivation. Language 59.781-

__________. 1985. Natural syntax: Iconicity and erosion. Cambridge: 
Cambridge University Press.

Keenan, Edward L., and Bernard Comrie. 1977. Noun phrase accessibility
and universal grammar. Linguistic Inquiry 8.63-99.

Langacker, Ronald W. 1987a. Foundations of cognitive grammar, vol. 1:
Theoretical prerequisites. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

__________. 1987b. Nouns and verbs. Language 63.53-94.

__________.1991. Foundations of cognitive grammar, vol. 2: Descriptive 
application. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Noonan, Michael. 1985. Complementation. Language typology and
syntactic description, vol. 2: Complex constructions, ed. by Timothy
Shopen, 42-140. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Stassen, Leon. 1985. Comparison in universal grammar. Oxford: Basil


Frantisek Lichtenberk is a Senior Lecturer in Linguistics at the
University of Auckland. His research interests include cognitive and
functional linguistics, grammaticalization, and the Oceanic languages.
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