LINGUIST List 15.297

Tue Jan 27 2004

Review: Syntax: Svenonius, ed. (2002)

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  1. Phoevos Panagiotidis, Subjects, Expletives, and the EPP

Message 1: Subjects, Expletives, and the EPP

Date: Tue, 27 Jan 2004 10:21:56 -0500 (EST)
From: Phoevos Panagiotidis <>
Subject: Subjects, Expletives, and the EPP

Svenonius, Peter, ed. (2002) Subjects, Expletives, and the EPP, Oxford
University Press, Oxford Studies in Comparative Syntax.

Announced at

Phoevos Panagiotidis, Cyprus College


This book is a collection of seven original contributions (plus an
introduction by the editor) targeting graduate students of linguistics
as well as professional syntacticians and semanticists. The eight
chapters are as follows (contributors in parentheses): Introduction
(P. Svenonius), The 'Que/Qui' Alternation and the Distribution of
Expletives (K. T. Taraldsen), Icelandic Expletive Constructions and
the Distribution of Subject Types (O. Vangsnes), Expletives, Subjects,
and Topics in Finnish (A. Holmberg & U. Nikanne), The EPP in a
Topic-Prominent Language (K. �. Kiss), The Extended Projection
Principle as a Condition on the Tense Dependency (I. Roberts & A.
Roussou), Parameters of Subject Inflection in Italian Dialects
(M. R. Manzini & L. Savoia), Subject Positions and the Placement of
Adverbials (P. Svenonius).

The Introduction (Svenonius) looks at the issues pertaining to the
notion of ''subject'' and its multi-faceted character; it then turns
to the existence of expletive subjects, popularised through the study
of English 'there' and 'it' in generative grammar; it continues with a
discussion of the status of the Extended Projection Principle (EPP),
namely the requirement that all clauses have a subject. A presentation
of the individual papers in the volume concludes the chapter.

Taraldsen's ''The 'Que/Qui' Alternation and the Distribution of
Expletives'' compares French with Vallader (a Rhaeto-Romance variety)
and suggests that the 'que/qui' alternation (see (1) below) in the
former boils down to the presence versus absence of an expletive
subject 'i', also manifested as 'ti' in Colloquial French in cases
like the one in (2):

(1) Quel livre crois-tu que /*qui les filles vont acheter?
 which book think-you that the girls will buy?

 Quelles filles crois-tu *que /qui vont acheter ce livre-l�?
 which girls think-you that will buy that book-there?

(2) Pourquoi tu dois-ti partir?
 why you must-TI leave?

By looking into the distribution of '(t)i', Taraldsen concludes that
it is a numberless, genderless expletive, hence a ''pure expletive''
like English 'there'. This last postulation is examined in the face of
French Stylistic Inversion, where '(t)i' does not show up attached on

Vangsnes' chapter looks into Icelandic Transitive Expletive
Constructions, such as the sentence in (3) below:

(3) �a� hefur (einhver k�ttur) veri� (einhver k�ttur) � eldh�sinu 
 there has (some cat) been (some cat) in kitchen.the
 ''There has been some cat in the kitchen.''

The expression ''some cat'', called the associate, can appear either
in an ''intermediate'' position between the auxiliary 'has' and the
verb, or in a ''postverbal'' position, following both. Vangsnes
examines in detail the type of associates that can appear in each
position. He establishes that, in Icelandic Transitive Expletive
Constructions, partitive and universally quantified expressions only
appear in the intermediate position, identified as the specifier of
the Tense Phrase (SpecTP), whereas non- quantificational bare
indefinites obligatorily occupy the postverbal position. Indefinites,
such as ''some cat'' in (3), can appear in either position, despite
displaying ''Diesing effects'': when in the intermediate position,
they receive a presupposition reading. Vangsnes goes on to account for
the facts by capitalising on (a) de Hoop's (1996) notion of strong and
weak Case: Tense can license strong Case, hence taking quantified
expressions in its specifier; (b) a distinction between ''lexical''
and ''agreement'' features, as well as the need for functional
categories to be identified: this is why the expletive '�a�',
conceived as deictic, appears in the specifier of the highest
Agreement Projection (AgrP).

Holmberg and Nikanne explore subjecthood in Finnish, a language that
can front subjects as well as objects. Moreover, Finnish permits
expletives as well as Transitive Expletive Constructions. What
Holmberg and Nikanne argue for is that in Finnish the presupposed
argument, the topic (which is marked with a [-focus] feature), must be
externalised and move to the specifier of a Finiteness Phrase
(SpecFP), no matter whether it is a subject or an object. Finiteness
is taken to subsume the category Agreement and differences between
fronted subjects and fronted objects are claimed to boil down to the
fact that Agreement is inherently nominative. Finally, the chapter
shows that the Finnish expletive subject 'sita' also occupies the
SpecFP position.

In a similar vein, E. Kiss draws on evidence primarily from Hungarian
to reformulate EPP along the following principles (her (30), (31) and

(4) Statements express predication, or quantification, or both.
(5) A sentence expressing predication must contain a topic.
(6) Of the arguments of a predicate, one must be marked
 as a subject.

Fronted arguments occupy the specifier of a Topic Phrase
(SpecTopP). English observes (6) in the form of the subject moving to
SpecTP, which then moves to SpecTopP abiding by (5), whereas Hungarian
does so by marking an argument as subject in the lexicon. Because
SpecTP is irrelevant in Hungarian, the language lacks grammatical
function changing operations, such as passivisation, 'tough'-movement,
syntactic secondary predication and syntactic middles.

Roberts and Roussou propose a unification of the EPP with the
typically Germanic Verb-Second (V2) property. In their chapter they
advance a proposal whereby Complementiser and Tense constitute a
dependency from which the time of the event the clause denotes is
defined. In this dependency, functional heads must be identified (by
phonological material, whether a phrase or a head). Roughly, if this
head is Tense, then we derive a condition such as the EPP in both null
and non-null subject languages; if this head is C, then V2 is also
derived. As far as V2 is concerned, Roberts and Roussou argue against
the relevance of topic features being checked at C and propose that,
while the verb is in C to identify the C-T dependency, a full phrase
is also needed in V2 environments in order to type the clause as a
declarative, in the absence of any ''rich'' content of C.

Manzini and Savoia use evidence from Italian dialects to illustrate
the need for multiple Agreement projections, as well as the need to
eliminate pro and A-movement, in favour of the movement of
aspectual/thematic features from the verbal domain to base-generated
subjects (and other arguments) higher up in the clause, or to the
heads they are attached to. Furthermore, expletive-associate and
doubling constructions are unified as instances of movement of
aspectual/thematic features; non-agreeing or partly agreeing
associates are subsequently explored in the light of the above
hypotheses. Interestingly, the chapter does not restrict itself to
describing Italian dialects but moves on to hypothesise universal
characteristics of subjects and expletive-associate configurations,
providing evidence for a microparametric conception of syntactic

The last chapter, by the editor himself, is roughly divided in two
parts. In the first one, the question of the position of adverbs is
discussed. The author argues against the influential model of Cinque
(1999), where each adverb is in the specifier of a dedicated
functional head. He argues instead that ordering restrictions between
subjects and adverbs in Scandinavian and Italian can be better
explained if adverbs are adjuncts with their relative orderings
constrained by semantics. In the second part, Svenonius looks into
subject positions in Germanic. After reviewing the different behaviour
of the high position (the specifier of AgrP, SpecAgrP) and the lower
one (SpecTP) in Germanic varieties, he analyses the observed variation
along the following lines: the highest specifiers in V2 constructions
preferentially host shift topics; the lower SpecAgrP hosts continuous
topics and the lowest SpecTP practically everything else. Now,
languages like Danish and English mark all their subjects as topics by
default, hence they all land in SpecAgrP, in Swedish only non-focused
subjects are marked as topics (hence focused Swedish subjects remain
in SpecTP), German and Norwegian only mark real continued topics as
such, shift topics move higher and everything else remains in SpecTP.


The issues this volume is dealing with have received a great deal of
attention and have raised considerable controversy over the last
twenty years. One then has to immediately grant that putting together
a volume dealing with the life of (obligatory) subjects, their
position(s) and the nature and behaviour of expletives can be neither
conclusive nor, certainly, exhaustive. That much becomes evident from
the Introduction Svenonius has written for the volume. The
Introduction is an outstandingly clear and succinctly informative
review on what subjects are (not): topics, nominative phrases and/or
thematically prominent arguments. Similar praise must go to the rest
of the Introduction, where expletives and EPP are briefly but solidly
introduced. Before moving on, it should be noted that this
introductory chapter makes a more than adequate summary of the related
issues, well beyond the scope of the volume, as well, and it would
also make a good preparatory text to give to advanced undergraduates.

Before proceeding to assess chapters individually, I would like to
raise issues pertaining to the editing of the volume. Researchers and
scholars are not editors and should not be expected to substitute for
them: it is not only a matter of time or workload but also, simply, of
training. Nevertheless, even international publishers such as Oxford
University Press, who publish this volume, assume that, at least in
our field, we can also act as unassisted editors -- and save them
money (although, thankfully, editors are still used for their
journals). This certainly creates problems and slows jointly authored
volume projects down. Some of the errors in the volume, and I am not
even an editor, include: Elena Anagnostopoulou's surname misspelled
(as ''Anagnastopoulou'') on pp. 11, 12, 44 and 58; ''examing'' instead
of ''examining'' on p. 17; references to examples (5) and (6)
appearing as (6) and (7) on p. 109 and Bobaljik & Thrainsson (1998)
referenced as a (1997) manuscript on p.239. Publishers of joint
volumes should put the hand deep in their pockets and reconsider. To
the chapters, now.

Taraldsen's chapter is dealing with a very specific issue, the nature
of the 'que/qui' alteration and its relation to French Stylistic
Inversion. The discussion is too condensed and would have definitely
benefited from some unpacking, as sometimes the text verges on
obscurity. For instance, on p. 37 the functional head F is
introduced, along with a functional head F' (which further down is
identified with a head X: F' does not stand for an intermediate
projection). Towards the end of the same page we read: ''a finite
clause contains two functional heads, I and F, associated with EPP
features [�^&] Similarly, two distinct functional heads, I and
X, carry number features.'' On the next page we learn that X (i.e. F')
can be identified with AgrO but no indication of the identity of F is
given. This and similar problems in presentation make the argument
very tricky to follow.

In Vangsnes' chapter we are presented across eleven pages (pp. 43-54)
with a detailed description of the two positions an associate can
occupy in Icelandic Transitive Expletive Constructions, as well as
with the characteristics of each position. The exposition is clear
and, in parts, very useful (e.g. the table on p. 52). One reservation
here would perhaps be that such a detailed descriptive presentation
would be more in place in a handbook rather than a collection of
primary research papers, as this volume is. The analysis builds on
Case (see above) but the discussion tends to be very telegraphic in
parts, such as the point on p. 56, where the relation between tense
and subjective Case is (too briefly) presented, or the original
distinction on p. 61 between lexical and agreement features, where the
two classes are not adequately defined: this mars the clarity of the
analysis on pp. 61-64. While on the issue, this very distinction
itself appears to be problematic: a) It is not clear why [Case],
[deixis], and [tense] are lexical features whereas [person] and
[number] are agreement features (p. 61). For instance, on what grounds
is [deixis] taken to be a lexical feature and [person] an agreement
one? There is actually research that the two belong to the same (class
of) feature: Bloomfield (1938: 225-6), Ritter (1995: 421),
Panagiotidis (2002: 29) etc. consider also the well-known fact that
demonstrative systems tend to ''shadow'' the tripartition between
''speaker'', ''addressee'' and ''other''; b) there is nothing by way
of explanation of why [Case], [deixis], and [person] are all
significant in identifying the Complementiser field, and no reference
is provided either. As a consequence, the linking of these hypotheses
to the distinction between strong and weak Case as well as the
relevance of topic-hood (cf. p.62) are left dangling. Leaving these
points behind, a more general observation here would be that the paper
is lucid and informative in its descriptive part but tends to become
impenetrable and contorted in parts of its analysis.

Holmberg and Nikanne present their case with clarity and
precision. The chapter contains a brief yet informative introduction
to the relevant aspects of Finnish syntax; the authors also provide us
with their assumed basic clause structure for the language in the form
of a tree-diagram, which is a most welcome aid. Their claim that
SpecFP is the landing site for any [-Focus] argument is supported via
a detailed survey of the relevant structures; if the chapter stopped
here, we would be left with the conclusion that Finnish is a
topic-prominent language. Nevertheless, their section 5 (pp. 86-9)
truly deepens their analysis as it contrasts the interaction between
the above property with the inherently nominative specification of
F/Agr, hence deriving the intriguing fact that fronted objects behave
as if they head a quasi-A' chain. The treatment of the Finnish
expletive and that of Finnish Transitive Expletive Constructions are
also enlightening. One objection must nevertheless be made before
closing this short evaluation of Holmberg and Nikanne's chapter: it
should have featured a conclusion rounding up the discussion and tying
the various threads together, for instance the analysis of Transitive
Expletive Constructions with that on ''weather'' subjects in Finnish.
�. Kiss puts forward a recasting of the EPP along the lines
of (4), (5) and (6) above, reducing it to semantic
restrictions on predication. The argumentation is coherent
and the ensuing proposal is certainly interesting. Of
course this is done at a cost: in eventive sentences such
as (7) below (example (18c) in the chapter), we are forced
to postulate an empty event argument as the filler of

(7) [VP Meghivta Janos Marit vacsorara]
 invited Janos.NOM Mary.ACC for.dinner

While there is considerable support for event arguments, especially in
the more semantically-minded part of syntactic literature, the
question here is whether there is any independent (cross-linguistic)
evidence for it; in other words, are there any overt event arguments
(cross- linguistically)? This question is important when foregrounded
against the discussion of English expletives 'there' and 'it': the
former is understood in this chapter to be an element that turns the
verb of the clause into an existential quantifier, hence a restrictor,
that becomes visible purely for Case reasons, hence it is not a ''pure
expletive''; the latter is seen as forming a discontinuous unit with
the clause, in cases such as the following:

(8) It is believed / obvious [that ...]

No mention of the weather function of 'it' is made ('It is
snowing'). In other words, the analysis works at the cost of a null
eventive argument and reinterpreting the role of English expletive
subjects, which are the best-studied ones. More generally, it remains
for the theory �. Kiss puts forward in this chapter to be tested
against a larger number of languages, other than English and
Hungarian, where it is not clear that topic-prominence entails the
absence of TP, as is claimed to be the case in Hungarian (see above in
the ''Description'' section): Finnish, as analysed by Holmberg &
Nikanne, or Greek (which appears to be midway between English and
Hungarian) would be some of the more accessible candidates for

Roberts & Roussou present a very dense and very rich chapter that is
nevertheless reader-friendly, as it contains a number of summaries and
mnemonic aids such as the spelling out of the main hypotheses and
generalisations as numbered items. The hypothesis itself is very
intriguing: instead of the interaction between interpretable and
uninterpretable features, grammatical operations are taken to be
driven by the need of features and bundles thereof (i.e. functional
heads) to be made visible/identified. Roberts and Roussou look into
the nature of the Complementiser (field) in some detail, which is
certainly something that helps lend considerable credibility to their
account; moreover, their criticism of ''Topic-Criterion'' style
analyses for V2 strikes a chord with work asserting the
non-quantificational character of topic, such as Rizzi (1997), for
instance. Because they analyse the fronted phrase in V2 as identifying
the default declarative function of C, they can accommodate otherwise
awkward cases of German V1 (p.139), like 'yes/no' questions and
conditionals. Their brief excursus into Celtic remains to be expanded

Manzini & Savoia survey a large number of Italian dialects, which
display a considerable degree of variation, in order to advance their
hypothesis on the number and the nature of the four ''Agreement''
projections where subject clitics and full subjects attach:
Determiner, Number, Nominal and Person. Building on their previous
work, they elaborate on their elimination of 'pro' and its paradoxical
need for syntactic licensing and identification conditions because of
its PF status; this is indeed a most welcome step. On pp.167-170 they
argue that in null subject languages preverbal lexical subjects are
not really subjects but topics, whereas post-verbal subjects are
foci. Although there is a problem with the second part of this
hypothesis for null subject languages beyond Italian, I will restrict
myself to pointing out that an analysis of preverbal subjects as
topics in null subject languages typically encounters problems with
Exceptional Case Marking, for instance in Greek where preverbal
subjects can be exceptionally assigned accusative from the higher
verb, something very odd if they are pure topics in A' positions:

(9) Idha ton Petro na akui musiki
 saw.1st the.ACC Peter.ACC SUBJUN listen.3rd music
 ''I saw Peter listen to music.''

Manzini and Savoia's postulation of four positions available for
subject clitics is convincingly presented, although the exact
characterisation of Nominal and Person is certainly going to benefit
from further research.

The final chapter by Svenonius himself does an excellent job refuting
Cinque's account of the positioning of adverbs. He is right in showing
that, given that subjects can surface between almost any two higher
adverbs, the number of optional subject positions is multiplied beyond
necessity (twenty in Norwegian, fifteen in Italian: p.208); the
following Norwegian example (his (15)) partly illustrates this state
of affairs:

(10) at tydeligvis (Per) ikke (Per) lenger (Per) bestandig (Per) vinner
 that evidently Per not Per anymore Per always Per wins
 ''that evidently Per not anymore always wins.''

He defends the adjunction analysis, coupling it with semantic
restrictions on the co-occurrence of certain adverbs. Nevertheless,
this is not the topic of the volume in question. That is why he goes
on to survey Germanic subjects (see the ''Description'' section
above). However, when it is time, in section 5, to bring these two
threads together, the result is nowhere as clear as the discussion on
the adjunction site of adverbs. The fact that he invokes checking of
topic features as one of the mechanisms at play and that he in effect
collapses a Topic projection with Agreement (only to return to a
unitary head Inflection on p.233) certainly does not improve
matters. This chapter does make it clear that the proposals in
Bobaljik & Jonas (1996) and Bobaljik & Thrainsson (1998) regarding the
number of inflectional heads in Germanic varieties are maybe too
coarse-grained and do not properly account for the interaction between
subjects and adverbs in a clear way. At the same time, Svenonius'
counter-proposal is not always clear and, in the case of topic-hood,
probably not fully on the right track.

Finishing the volume I was left with the feeling that the
contributions, although interesting in their majority, were not always
one hundred percent in concord with the subject of ''Subjects,
Expletives, and the EPP''. In other words, the scope of the title (as
well as the Introduction) turned out to be much wider than that of the
chapters: their number is too small, some of them deal with details
not necessarily contributing to our understanding of the broader
picture, the comparative-typological side of the individual chapters
tends to remain underdeveloped. In other words, the end result gives
the impression of an uneven collection of contributions, as far as
their presentation, scope and rigour are concerned.


I wish to warmly thank Kleanthes K. Grohmann and Stavroula Tsiplakou
for discussing this review with me. The usual disclaimers apply.


Bloomfield, Leonard 1938. 'Language'. London: Allen & Unwin.

Bobaljik, Jonathan & Jonas, Diane. 1996 Subject positions and the
roles of TP. 'Linguistic Inquiry' 27: 195-236

Bobaljik, Jonathan & Thrainsson, Hoskuldur 1998. Two heads aren't
always better than one. 'Syntax' 1: 37-71

Cinque, Guglielmo 1999. 'Adverbs and functional heads'. Oxford: OUP

Hoop, Helen de 1996. 'Case Configuration and Noun Phrase
Interpretation'. New York: Garland

Panagiotidis, Phoevos 2002. 'Pronouns, Clitics and Empty
Nouns'. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Ritter, Elizabeth 1995. On the syntactic category of pronouns and
agreement. 'Natural Language and Linguistic Theory' 13: 405-443

Rizzi, Luigi 1997. The fine structure of the left periphery. In:
Haegeman, Liliane (ed.) 'Elements of Grammar'. Dordrecht:
Kluwer. 281-337


Phoevos Panagiotidis is an Assistant Professor of Linguistics in
Cyprus College, Cyprus. He is the author of the monograph titled
"Pronouns, Clitics and Empty Nouns" (2002: Benjamins). He has also
published articles in international journals (Lingua, NLLT, Linguistic
Inquiry) and jointly authored volumes on pronouns, properties of
Determiner Phrases and the status of arguments in null subject
languages. Besides the above, his research interests include the
nature of grammatical categories, language acquisition and breakdown,
as well as the structure of English, Greek and the languages of the
Balkan Sprachbund.
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