LINGUIST List 15.2133

Thu Jul 22 2004

Review: Typology: Frajzyngier & Shay (2003)

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  1. Viatcheslav Iatsko, Explaining Language Structure through Systems interaction

Message 1: Explaining Language Structure through Systems interaction

Date: Wed, 21 Jul 2004 00:32:35 -0400 (EDT)
From: Viatcheslav Iatsko <>
Subject: Explaining Language Structure through Systems interaction

AUTHORS: Frajzyngier, Zygmunt; Shay, Erin 
TITLE: Explaining Language Structure through Systems Interaction
SERIES: Typological Studies in Language 55
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins 
YEAR: 2003
Announced at

Viatcheslav Iatsko, Katanov State University of Khakasia

Since the authors of the book under review don't define its genre, I
will take the liberty to state that this book is a monograph that can
be of interest to a wide variety of persons engaged in linguistics:
undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate students, researchers, and

The monograph is focused on theoretical foundations and applications
of Systems Interactions approach developed by the authors. This
approach is a methodology for the description of relationships among
main language systems, such as lexicon, morphology, syntax, and
phonology. Within this approach language is considered to be a complex
organism consisting of forms that interact with one another in the
coding of various functions.

In order to investigate different types of lexical, morphological, and
syntactic systems, the authors drew data from languages from different
families: English, Polish, Russian, French, Welsh, German, Spanish
(Indo-European); Hausa, Gidar, Lele, Hdi, Mandara, Mina, Mupun, Hona,
East Dangla (Chadic); Arabic, Hebrew, Amharic (Semitic); Songhay
(Nilo-Saharan); Lango (Nilotic); Kiyaka (Bantu); Krongo
(Korodofanian); Dhalo (Kushitic); Malay (Indonesian); Tagalog
(Philippinian); Japanese (Altaic); Mandarin. Most extensively are used
data from Polish, Mina, Gidar, and Hdi.

The book comprises 2 parts, 12 chapters, a References section, and
three indices: of languages, of authors, of subjects. Part I consists
of chapters 2-8 that deal with various coding means; part II includes
chapters 9-12 that discuss specific features of several functional
domains. Of these chapters the biggest are chapters 1, 3, 5, 11; the
shortest are chapters 6, 7, and 12. Chapter sizes will be taken into
account in my review: longer chapters will get a more detailed

Chapter 1. 

This chapter is entitled ''Introduction: Theoretical and
methodological foundations'' provides important information about
theoretical principles and notions underlying the research. They are:
the principle of functional transparency, the notion of formal coding
means, the notion of functional domains, and the notion of systems
interaction in the coding of functional domains.

The principle of functional transparency implies that 1) every
utterance in discourse must be transparent with respect to its
relationship to preceding and following discourse; 2) the role of
every constituent in the utterance must be transparent within the
applicable functional domain. Functional transparency applies only to
those domains that are grammaticalized in a given
language. Consequently, the scope of functional transparency is not
the whole language, but only the functional domain of the
utterance. For example, Mandarin hasn't grammaticalized agent-patient
dichotomy, and these roles do not have to be transparent to the
hearer, though they may be transparent in other languages (p.8-9).

Means of coding functional domains, grammaticalized in the language
comprise lexicon, inflectional and derivational morphology, linear
order, and phonology. These coding means must meet the following
requirements: they must be independent, that is, the use of a given
means must not be triggered by any other element occurring in the
clause; two different features belonging to the same domain can not be
coded on constituents of the same construction.

A functional domain is defined as ''a class of mutually exclusive
types of expressions constructed by a set of specific means of
coding'' (p.26). The authors reasonably note that contemporary
syntactic theories do not distinguish between the functional domain
and the coding of the domain reflecting a lack of distinction between
means and function. The book discusses the following functional
domains: locative predication coding, semantic relations coding, and
reference systems.

The principle of systems interaction in the coding of functional
domains excludes the possibility of having one function coded by
different means within the same construction. If several coding means
have functions within one functional domain, these means are in
complementary distributions such that each means codes a different
subdomain. The notions and principles mentioned above constitute a
basis for a new approach in cross linguistic analysis developed by the
authors. As they correctly state, contemporary typological studies
make use of the notion of prototypical grammatical categories that are
based on languages, with which the linguist is most familiar. Pointing
out drawbacks of extending the notion of prototype to cross linguistic
typology, the authors suggest an innovative methodology that implies
the description of functional domains that have been grammaticalized
in the languages in question, and then comparing the internal
structure of a given functional domain across languages. I can suggest
calling this methodology ''functional comparative analysis''. Though I
agree with the authors I'd like to point out that a linguist
conducting research, no matter how he tries, is anyway influenced by
the knowledge of his mother tongue and other languages. To the best of
my knowledge, the degree if this influence and its distinctions,
haven't been studied yet. I can only conjecture that two linguists
would get different results if they apply the same methodology to one
and the same object of study if they have different language
backgrounds. As it will be shown later the authors themselves couldn't
avoid adopting some prototypes.

I have paid so much attention to the first chapter of the book because
it well reflects its advantages and disadvantages. They will be
summarizes later; meanwhile I'd like to note the following. 1)
Analyzing linguistic structures the authors make emphasis on form,
rather than on meaning: ''Within the proposed approach there exist no
functional domains, individual functions or individual meanings,
except as they are coded by the formal means of a given
language... . In our view, meaning ... exists only within a given
language and only to the extent that the language codes it through
some formal means'' (p. 3). I can't help agreeing with this
thesis. But I can't help noticing that there is no isomorphic
correlation between linguistic form and meaning; it is common
knowledge that one and the same form can code different meanings, and,
on the contrary, one meaning can be represented by different
meanings. In such cases, as it will be shown later, systems
interaction methodology proves to be insufficient and must be
supplemented with semantic analyses.

2) On page 19 the authors state that ''the presence of inflectional
coding affects the forms of discourse'' substantiating this statement
by the example from Polish ''Moi starzy mowia'' (I can not use here
diacritics), in which, according to the authors, possessive pronoun
occurs without its head. I can't help agreeing that in Polish as well
as in Russian and other languages with inflectional coding possessive
pronouns and adjectives can occur without their heads, but as for this
specific example, the authors are wrong. Possessive pronoun in the
sentence given above modifies ''starzy'', which is sure to be a
substantivized adjective, with which the possessive pronoun agrees in

It's interesting to notice that due to gender, number, and inflection
coding there are much more substantivized adjectives and participles
in Russian, and Polish than in English. Unlike English Russian can
substantivize almost any participle producing much shorter discourse
unites. For example (unfortunately I can not use here Cyrillic
characters) participle ''ukushennyi'' should be rendered into English
by at least 6 words - ''a man bit by some animal''. Perhaps this holds
for other Slavic languages and all languages with the same type of
coding. This fact hasn't been given due attention yet in contrastive
analyses and the book under review doesn't consider it also, though it
provides a convincing explanation for it.

3) The authors sometimes resort to categorical statements that can
hardly be accepted in language analysis. For example one of the
sections in Chapter 1 is entitled ''Agreement and government do not
exist, but disagreement and insubordination are not
tolerated''. Denial of agreement's existence is too strong a
statement, especially if we take into account that the authors use the
term ''agreement'' in their notation system (see, for example
sentences' parsing on p.14) and write: ''We take agreement, like all
other types of inflectional coding, to be an independent coding
means'' (p.21). Perhaps it's a rhetorical device used to attract
readers' attention.

4) The chapter, as well as the whole book, abounds in misprints that
may baffle the reader. For example on p. 20, example (17) a question
mark is placed after the second Polish sentence, and in the English
translation - after the first English sentence. Actually both Polish
sentences may be interrogative. A question mark is missing in Polish
sentence in example (27). I am not going to list all misprints
scattered all over the book. I am just stating that the book could
have been much better proofread.

Chapter 2. 

''Interaction of the lexicon with other coding means'', shows that the
defining characteristics of lexical categories and subcategories are
based on grammatical systems of individual languages. Accordingly,
languages with similar grammatical systems will have similar lexical

This chapter can be divided into two parts. The first part proposes a
model of lexicalization that provides criteria for determining what
lexical categories exist in a language. The model is based on the
principle that if a function has been lexicalized no grammatical means
is used to code it when its lexical form coding is used. If a lexical
item is used in a function other than that for which it has been
lexicalized within a given functional domain, special morphological
and/or syntactic means must be used to code the function of that item.
Such an approach allows each lexical category in a language to be
described independently of other categories in a language. Any lexical
category may contain subcategories that code specific semantic
functions or that allow for the formation and functioning of other
coding means. The authors illustrate the proposed model with an
examination of the category ''Adjective'' in Mupun.

The second part of the chapter illustrates how the proposed model may
lead to the discovery of a lexical subcategory, in this case the
subcategory of inherently locative nouns in Gidar.

On the whole, authors' conclusions in Chapter 2 seem quite sound;
nevertheless, we again com across doubtful interpretations of some
examples. Analyzing Polish example ''Profesor a glupi''
(Professor+conjunction 'but'+silly) the authors state that one can
have a noun in the subject function and an adjective or verb in the
predicate function, but one cannot reverse the order of constituents
(*Glupi a professor) since the subject would then be more predicative
that the predicate. If the authors had punctuated properly they would
have found out that both variants are grammatical and the degree of
predicativness is the same: ''Profesor, a glupi'', ''Glupi, a
profesor''. Denouncing the idea of prototypical categories drawn from
English the authors have overlooked the fact that punctuation in such
languages as Polish and Russian plays much more important role than in
English. In my country high school teachers illustrate to the students
importance of punctuation by the sentence ''Kaznit' nel'zia pomilovat'
(Infinitive-'execute' + negation-'can't' + infinitive - 'pardon'). If
the comma is placed after the first infinitive the sentence acquires
the meaning: ''Execute him/her, he/she cannot be pardoned''. If the
comma is placed after the negation the sentence acquires the meaning:
''Pardon him/her, he/she cannot be executed''. Actually, punctuation
in Russian and Polish is a separate coding means. This fact has been
completely ignored by the authors.

Chapter 3.

This chapter is entitled ''Coding through linear order''. This term
means the coding of a function through the position of an element with
respect to some reference point. The authors give evidence that only
the verb is a potential reference point for coding through linear
order. Considering the function of third person agreement the come to
a conclusion that in a clause with a nominal subject verb and noun can
not be distinguished by phonological means and coding 3d person
singular through the verbal suffix marks the lexical categoriality of
the verb. Analyzing English constructions with the verb ''give'' the
authors provide convincing evidence that the English construction with
two nouns following the verb has the function of coding the first noun
as beneficiary and the second noun as an object. The authors also
discuss some specific features of coding through linear order in
languages of different types: dual-branching, left branching,

Chapter 4. 

''Coding through nominal inflexion'' is focused on case marking. It
demonstrates that case marking is an independent coding means and that
the presence of nominal inflection increases the number of linear
orders available in a language and thereby the number of functions
that may be coded by linear order. The authors discuss some functions
of the accusative and genitive cases and discourse implications of
case coding. This chapter, along with some interesting conclusions,
such as coding non affected object by the genitive case in Polish,
default role of the accusative, contains some not well substantiated
and somewhat obvious statements. On p. 99 the authors, without
providing any evidence, state that the accusative case cannot be used
when the clause is negative.

This statement seems strange. Consider the following example from
Russian: ''Ia ne vizhu knigu'' (I + not see +book, I can't see the
book). This sentence is sure to be negative and the noun ''knigu'' is
in the accusative case. Similar examples can be found in Polish and in
other Slavic languages. It's interesting to note that in some
declination types (Russian has 4 main types of declination, each
subdivided into three subtypes) forms of the accusative coincide with
the forms of nominative and genitive cases. For example ''Ia ne vizhu
tebia'' (I + not see + you, I can't see you). Here the accusative form
of the pronoun ''tebia'' (you) coincides with the form of the genitive
case (second type of pronominal declination). It should be noted that
the authors discuss negative accusative constructions later, in
chapter 11 (see below). Analyzing discourse differences between
Polish and English the authors examined 100 pages of Polish written
discourse to come to the conclusion: ''The differences between English
and Polish can be explained by the fact that a noun in Polish is
marked by the inflexion for its role in the clause while a noun in
English is not. Adding a predicate or auxiliary in English allows the
role of the noun to be coded through linear order'' (p.111). This
statement is rather obvious and even trivial. These differences
between analytical and synthetic languages have been known in
linguistics since the 19th century and are reflected in numerous
textbooks. Cf. Blokh's (1983, p.32) words in a textbook for
undergraduate students: ''Synthetical grammatical forms are realized
by the inner morphemic composition of the word, while analytical
grammatical forms are built up by a combination of at least two words,
one of which is a grammatical auxiliary ... . Synthetical grammatical
forms are based on inner inflection, outer inflection, and

Chapter 5. 

''Interaction of phonology with other coding means'' deals with the
problem of the relationship between phonology and other coding means,
specifically linear order and morphology. The authors propose that one
function of the phonological component in some languages is to code
internal structure of the utterance. They managed to prove that the
function of the form with the underlying final vowel is to mark a
phrasal boundary while the function of the form with reduced vowel
codes phrase-internal position. For example, in Polish and Russian
nasal variant of third person pronouns codes the pronoun as belonging
to the same phrase as the preceding word, while the palatal variant
indicates that the pronoun doesn't belong to the preceding phrase and
so should be interpreted as belonging to a separate phrase. In some
Chadic languages a demonstrative pronoun that undergoes assimilation
with the preceding syllable is coded as belonging to the preceding
syntactic init. In Welsh soft mutation of consonants after the article
is the marker of the feminine gender of the noun.

Chapter 6.

In ''Agreement or coding on other constituents'' the authors consider
different approaches to agreement, prove that coding on the verb and
agreement are an independent coding means, and analyze functional
domains coded by agreement on the verb, such as: information status of
the participants (topic, focus), grammatical roles of participants
(subject, object), semantic roles of participants, and referentiality
of participants.

Chapter 7.

This chapter convincingly and logically argues against the widely held
belief that the function of nominal classification is to fulfill some
inherent human need to categorize the world, and describes interaction
between systems of nominal classification and other coding means in a
language. Nominal classification is considered to be a coding means
whose overall function is to enable operation of other coding
means. The authors prove that, systems of nominal classification
enable the existence of such coding means as agreement systems and
systems of deictic and anaphoric reference.

Chapter 8.

This chapter is concentrated upon the structure and functions of
'raising' constructions in which the subject of the embedded clause
appears as object of the matrix clause. The authors consider matrix
clause coding as an independent grammatical means that interacts with
and is complementary to other lexical, syntactic, and morphological
means. They show that it may have various functions: with the verbs of
perception and volitional verbs it often code epistemic modality. With
the verbs of perception matrix clause coding has the modal function of
coding direct, as opposed to indirect perception. With the volitional
verbs matrix clause coding indicates that the speaker considers the
event to be possible or real.

It should be noted that in Russian 'raising' constructions similar to
English ones are not used and to learn them is difficult for Russian
speaking students. This chapter provides materials that have some
practical applications in foreign language teaching.

Chapter 9.

In ''Determining the function of a linguistic form: the indirectly
affected argument and the external possessor'', the authors provide
ample evidence on the one hand against external possessor hypothesis,
according to which a construction, whose formal properties include the
presence of two noun phrases, one marked by the dative case and the
other by some other case, has the semantic function of coding
possession; on the other hand they prove that this construction, in
fact, codes the relationship of indirect affectedness between the verb
and the dative argument. Having studied data from Polish, the authors
show that the function of external possession doesn't exist in Polish,
a language for which this construction has been claimed, and that
Polish and other languages have grammaticalized the function of
indirect affectedness.

Chapter 10.

''Systems interaction in the coding of locative predication'' focuses
on locative predication in Mina, a Central Chadic SVO language. It
demonstrates interaction of the various coding means in the domain of
locative predication. These means include lexical items occurring as
predicates and complements; linear order; the prepositions, alone or
in combination; and some combinations of these means. The authors
managed to formulate rules that determine combinations of various
coding means to express locative predication. It turns out that in
Mina. The fundamental criteria for forming the locative predication
are the semantic class of the predicate and the semantic class of the
noun serving as the locative complement. If the predicate is
inherently locative nothing else is required to code the locative
nature of the predicate. If the predicate is not inherently locative a
predicator must follow the predicate.

If the noun that serves as a locative complement is inherently
locative, nothing else is required to mark the noun as a locative
complement. If the noun is not inherently locative a preposition must
be used to mark it as a locative complement. These rules formulated
for Mina are a good example of authors' methodology that can be
extended to the analysis of other languages.

Chapter 11. 

''Systems interaction in the coding of reference'' outlines specific
features of a number of subdomains in the domain of reference. The
authors provide for the existence of the following subdomains: deixis;
previous mention; 'known' referent'; de dicto and de re; definiteness;
'deduced' referent.

It is in this chapter where constraints on systems interaction
approach become obvious. It turns out that when applied to the domain
of reference this methodology must be supplied with a more profound
semantic analysis. For example, on p.271 the authors state that in
Russian the accusative case code a referent that is known, specific,
previously mentioned, or present in the environment of speech, while
the genitive case codes a referent that is not identifiable in any of
these domains. This statement is substantiated by examples of Russian
negative clauses, in which nouns without determiners are marked by the
genitive case, and nouns with determiners are marked by the accusative
case. Specifically, the authors give the following examples:

(57) A (conj) ischezli (disappeared) sovershenno (completely) ne
(negation) ostaviv (leave) sledov (traces - genitive)) dazhe (even) v
(in) literature (literature)

(58) A (conj) ischezli (disappeared) sovershenno (completely) ne
(negation) ostaviv (leave) eti (these) sledy (traces - accusative)
dazhe (even) v (in) literature (literature).

The authors provide the following translations: (57) And they have
completely disappeared without a trace, even in the literature; (58)
And they have completely disappeared, without those traces, even in
the literature.

If the authors had given correct translation they would have realized
that (58) and its translation are ungrammatical and unacceptable. The
point is that the adverb ''sovershenno'' (completely) modifies ''ne
ostaviv'' (without leaving), but not the predicate ''ischezly''. The
correct translation of (58) should read: ''And disappeared without
leaving these traces at all, even in the literature''. This English
sentence is ungrammatical as well as its Russian counterpart. The
ungrammatical nature of both sentences can be explained in terms of
case grammar. The verb ''leave'' assigns a factitive thematic role to
the argument, if this argument is an abstract noun. Since factitive
denotes ''the object resulting from an action or state, having no
prior existence but coming by virtue of the action or state''
(Brinton, 2000; p.268), in the negative clause this existence is
denied. Hence we have semantic anomaly: negative form of participle
denies existence of ''traces'' while the determiner ''these'' implies
their existence. Negative clauses, in which a verb assigns to its
argument not a factitive, but some other role, can take
determiners. Cf. ''*He left without making these mistakes''
(''mistakes'' is a factitive); ''He left without doing these
exercises'' (exercises is a patient). The same holds for
Russian. Example (56), p. 271 ''Nu, ja eti tonkosti ne znaju'' (Well,
I am not aware of these fine points) is grammatical because
''tonkosti'' is a neutral, but not a factitive.

This short analysis provides evidence for one important constraint on
systems interaction approach suggested by the authors: this
methodology operates on condition that there is an isomorphic
correlation between form and meaning. In the case of homomorphic
correlation between them, this approach must be supplemented by a more
profound semantic analysis. Once more I have to point out authors'
carelessness in presentation of data. Commas are missing in examples
(67), (68), (69). An unpleasant impression is produced by the strange
spacing in (63), (67) and many other examples. In (67) two words that
must be separated by a comma (byl, iz) are merged into one word. By
the way, examples (59)-(66) all admit both cases: genitive as well as
accusative, contrary to authors' statement that some of them are
unacceptable. Actually these are examples of case alteration typical
of the genitive and accusative cases in Russian colloquial
speech. These examples are a good illustration of different forms
coding one meaning, and authors' attempts to impose their transparency
principle to account for the use of different cases seem a ridiculous

V. A. Beloshapkova, (1989; p. 426) writes: ''One shouldn't simplify
matters thinking that differences in a number of ... case forms are
always reflected in their meaning. Here (just like in phonology and
word formation) free alteration of forms is also possible....''

Chapter 12. 

''Conclusions, implications, and open questions'' outlines some
implications of the authors' work for the theory of functions in
phonology;the theory of the organization of the lexicon; the theory of
the linear order as a coding means; the phrase structure theory; the
methodology of discovering the function of a linguistic form; the
theory of grammaticalization.

In conclusion I'd like to summarize some advantages and drawbacks of
the book under review.

- The authors suggest an innovative systems interaction approach,
whose methodology can be successfully applied to investigation of
various linguistic phenomena. Nevertheless, functional transparency
principle restricts the application of this methodology to isomorphic
correlation between linguistic form and linguistic meaning. If this
correlation is homomorphic, systems interaction approach must be
supplemented by more profound semantic analyses.

- The monograph contributes to the development of creative thinking;
its language is simple enough to be understood by foreign readers
having a more or less decent command of English. It can be recommended
for a wide variety of linguists, from undergraduate to post doctoral
students, researchers and educators.

- Many works that analyze data from a number of languages belonging to
different families meet with the problem of correct linguistic
analysis if sentences' structures. Since annotated corpora for many
languages haven't been yet created the authors as I noticed in one of
my earlier reviews (Iatsko, Van Valin) should be consulted by native
speakers - professional linguists otherwise they make mistakes that
diminish quality if their research. Unfortunately, the authors of the
monograph haven't coped with this problem. It abounds in misprints,
careless presentation of data, and their wrong interpretations.

Generally, the monograph's style is somewhat doubtful: on the one hand
the authors display much enthusiasm about their approach using some
categorical statements; on the other hand they are careless about
important details. Such a style is more characteristic of junior
researchers, but not of esteemed scholars, who are, no doubt, Drs.
Frajzyngier and Shay.


Beloshapkova, V. A. (1989) The modern Russian language. Moscow:
Visshaya Shkola.

Blokh, M. Y. (1983) A course in theoretical English grammar. Moscow:
Visshaya Shkola.

Brinton, L. J. (2000) The structure of modern English. Amsterdam;
Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Iatsko, V. (2001) Review of Van Valin, An introduction to


V. Iatsko is a professor in the Department of English and Head of
Computational Linguistics Laboratory at Katanov State University of
Khakasia located in Abakan, Russia. His research interests include
text summarization, text grammar, TEFL, contrastive analysis of
English and Russian syntax.
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