LINGUIST List 15.682

Tue Feb 24 2004

Review: Typology: Cristofaro (2003)

Editor for this issue: Naomi Ogasawara <>

What follows is a review or discussion note contributed to our Book Discussion Forum. We expect discussions to be informal and interactive; and the author of the book discussed is cordially invited to join in. If you are interested in leading a book discussion, look for books announced on LINGUIST as "available for review." Then contact Sheila Dooley Collberg at


  1. Szymon Slodowicz, Subordination

Message 1: Subordination

Date: Wed, 11 Feb 2004 14:11:29 +0100
From: Szymon Slodowicz <>
Subject: Subordination

AUTHOR: Cristofaro, Sonia
TITLE: Subordination
SERIES: Oxford Studies in Typology and Linguistic Theory
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2003

Announced at

Szymon Slodowicz, Centre for General Linguistics, Typology and
Universals Research (ZAS), Germany.

The book presents a cross-linguistic analysis of subordination based
on a sample of 80 languages. The analysis comprises complement,
adverbial and relative relations. The main goal of the study is to
present functional correlations between different kinds of
subordination relations and individual morpho-syntactic phenomena used
to encode them.

Chapter 1 Theoretical premises

Cristofaro's study of subordination is situated within the
typological-functional framework and differs form previous works on
this subject such as Noonan (1985) or Giv�n (1990), primarily in the
strictly functional definition of the subject of study. The term
subordination is used with regard to a particular way to construe the
cognitive relation between two events, such that one of them, (&)
lacks an autonomous profile, and is construed in the perspective of
the other event. (p.2) This functional definition allows for a
comparison of a wider range of languages and structures as it was
possible with traditional methods. The results the study are
implicational hierarchies, primarily the Subordination Deranking
Hierarchy (SDH) which orders different subordination relations with
respect to the possibility of their use in a language.

Chapter 2 The Notion of Subordination

Cristofaro hopes to avoid the problems encountered by traditional
definitions of subordination by defining it in strictly functional
terms. Her definition does not refer to any formal properties of the
subordinate constructions but refers only to the function
subordination fulfills in communication. For the purpose of the
investigation Cristofaro adopts the proposal developed by Langacker
(1997) in which subordinate sentences designate multiple processes and
the profile of one of them is overridden by the other one. The State
of Affairs (SoA) without a profile is not asserted, a crucial
diagnostic, for this definition of subordination. Cristofaro claims
that her definition is form-independent and can be tested via
language-independent assertion tests.

Chapter 3 The Coding of Subordination: Parameters for Cross-linguistic

The dependent clauses are compared to declarative clauses in isolation
with respect to the form of the verb and the way the participants are
coded. The variation in form is captured by the notions of balancing
(the dependent clause is encoded by the same means as the independent
clause) and deranking (the dependent clause is coded differently). The
coding of TAM distinctions, person agreement and coding of
participants are covered by these notions.

Chapter 4 The cross-linguistic Coding of Subordination: Methodological

The outcome of the analysis of subordination is presented in form of
quantified implicational generalizations. The implicational
generalizations used in the study are extended with existential and
universal quantifiers, in order to make predictions more precise. An
implication is regarded to be valid if the number of exceptional
languages does not exceed more than one third of the significant
cases. The study uses a sample of 80 still spoken and extinct
languages. The sample covers all phyla and all language
isolates. Languages within each phylum are chosen according to the
Diversity Value index, and according to the availability of sufficient

Chapter 5 Complement Relations

Cristofaro uses the classification of the complement taking predicates
(CTPs) suggested by Noonan (1985). These classes can be described
according to a number of parameters such as the level of clause
structure at which the relation is established, predetermination of
semantic features of the dependent SoA (such as for example TAM
distinctions), and the degree of semantic integration between the two
SoAs. The preference of one of the participants of the main SoA for
the dependent SoA to come about is claimed to be one further issue in
the semantics of CTPs. The result of the analysiy" of the verb form
in complement relations is the Complement Deranking- Argument
Hierarchy (CDH):

(1) Modals, Phasals > Manipulative (make, order), Desiderative >
Perception > Knowledge,Propositional attitude, Utterance

According to (1), if a deranked form is used at any point on the
hierarchy, it is used at all points to the left. This hierarchy is
also valid for specific phenomena such as lack of TAM distinctions,
use of non-verbal morphology and non-realization of A and S arguments.

It is argued that this hierarchy results from the semantic properties
of the CTPs. The first argument in favour is that any information on
the verb denoting the dependent SoA may be missing as long as it can
be recovered. The recovery of the information is possible when the
CTP predetermines it. This would explain why verbs predetermining TAM
values or identity of participants of their complements rank higher
than those that do not. Further, verbs exhibiting a higher degree of
semantic integration rank higher than verbs with a lower
degree. Thirdly, the preference for the SoA to occur plays a role in
the hierarchy too. CPTs in which one participant shows preference for
the dependent SoA to occur rank higher than the CPTs in which no
preference is present.

Chapter 6 Adverbial Relations

In this chapter Crisrofaro discusses different adverbial relations
(AR) (purpose, before, relation, after relation, when relation,
reality condition and reason relations). She defines AR as the case
where the dependent SoA describes the circumstances under which the
main SoA takes place. AR encode semantic properties different from
those of the complements. The analysis of the verb forms used in
different ARs with respect to the balancing/deranking distinction
leads to The Adverbial Deranking Hierarchy (ADH).

(2) purpose >before, after, when > reality condition, reason

Parameters marking the individual TAM distinctions and lack of person
agreement behave slightly differently. With respect to the use of
special forms of TAM and person agreement, no hierarchy can be
established due to scarcity of evidence but it seems that, when
present, they do not violate the ADH. The coding of participants in AR
largely follows the NOM-ACC pattern with S or A arguments not
expressed and can be aligned as follows:

(3) purpose > before, after, when, reason, reality

The tendency not to express the participants is strongly preferred in
purpose relations. The coding of arguments as possessors is not a
preferred option.

As with complement relations, the alignment of the relations on the
hierarchy is explained by the same factors (predetermination, semantic
integration etc.), however, some additional arguments are required
too. For example, all relations predetermining the time reference of
the dependent SoA outrank those relations which do not predetermine
this parameter. Relations involving semantic integration (purpose
relations) of the two SoA outrank relations not implying any
integration (the rest of the AR). The mood value and the preference of
the participant for the dependent SoA to be realized seem to play some
role too.

The additional factor responsible for the alignment of the ARs is the
possibility for the dependent SoA to be encoded as an object (roughly
equivalent to Langacker's 'thing'). Relations allowing for the
encoding of the dependent SoA as an object should exhibit fewer of the
verbal properties. This expectation is in accordance with their
position on the ADH.

Chapter 7 Relative Relations

In restrictive relative relations (RR) one participant of the main SoA
is identified and further specified by means of the dependent SoA. RRs
bear some similarities with the AR in that in neither case is the
information strictly required by the mains SoA, and the dependent SoA
can be understood as the property of some entity of the main SoA. R.r
are still different since they involve no semantic connection between
the two SoA.

Description of RRs cannot rely on the parameters used for complement
and adverbial relations since all RRs behave uniformly with respect to
these parameters. Instead, following Keenan and Comrie's (1977)
Accessibility Hierarchy, the syntactic role of the relativized
participant in the clause coding the dependent SoA is applied. The
result of the analysis of the verb form is the Relative Deranking
Hierarchy (RDH) accounting for the balancing/deranking distribution
and some individual parameters.

(4) A, S >O > IO > OBL

Lack of aspect and mood distinctions show a slightly different pattern

(5) A, S, O > IO, OBL

In the sample, the majority of languages follow the NOM-ACC pattern in
expressing the RRs however, some split alignments are attested. The
shared participants always refer to the relativized item.

The role of the relativized item is the most important factor in the
explanation of the hierarchies. If a deranked form is used in the
relativization of a less accessible role, it will also be used for all
more accessible roles. The same is valid for gapping. Cristofaro
associates these implications in terms of increased complexity in
processing of the relations to the right side of the continuum. The
loss of information brought about by the lack of TAM distinctions can
be more easily recovered if the RR is easier to process.

Chapter 8 Comparison of Complement, Adverbial and Relative Relations

The global comparison of different types of subordination gives some
further support to the proposed hierarchies. The form of the verb used
to express the dependent SoA is subject to The Subordination Deranking
Hierarchy (SDH):

(6) Phasals, Modals > Desideratives, Manipulatives, Purpose>Perception
> Before, After, When, A relatives, S relatives > Reality condition,
Reason, O relatives > Knowledge, Propositional attitude, Utterance, IO
relatives, OBL relatives

The lack of TAM distinctions and person agreement and the use of case
marking/adpositions obey slightly different versions of the SDH,
however, no contradictory evidence emerges.

With respect to the lack of overt expression of the participants,
subordination relations can be aligned in the Subordination Argument
Hierarchy (SAH):

(7) Modals, Phasals > A relatives, S relatives > Desideratives,
Manipulatives, Purpose > Perception > Before, When, After, Reason,
Utterance, Propositional attitude, Knowledge, Reality condition

The hierarchies (7) and (8) are motivated by a number of factors
introduced in the discussion of the individual types of subordinate
relations. These are predetermination, semantic integration,
preference, the mood value of the dependent SoA and the ability to
construe it as an object. For all relations which predetermine any
features of the dependent SoA it is this predetermination that is
responsible for the higher ranking of such relations with respect to
those relations which do not impose any restrictions.

All relations showing a higher level of semantic integration outrank
the relations showing little or no integration. Additionally, the
preference and the mood value make their contributions too. One
further influence is the possibility to construe the dependent SoA as
an object (relations which allow for such construal of the dependent
SoA are located on the left side of the hierarchies). Finally, in some
cases, the level of clause structure can provide additional
explanation (relations located at the lower level of clause structure
outrank those located at the higher level). Two further factors have
to be mentioned with regard to the position of RRs namely the role of
the relativized element and the possibility of construing the SoA as
an object.

The general argument which Cristofaro is making on the basis on the
comparison of the subordination relations is that morpho-syntactic
realisation of different relations is dictated by their semantic
properties and that SAH is a valid generalization about the connection
of these relations to one another.

Chapter 9 The Coding of Subordination Relations: Functional
Motivations Cristofaro explains the implicational alignment of
different subordination relations by functional notions of economy and
iconicity. Syntagmatic economy seems to account for the loss of
features conditioned by predetermination. The influence of semantic
integration can be accounted for by the iconicity of independence. The
importance of the preference for the independent SoA to occur might
also be explained in terms of iconicity of distance where the
preferred SoA is construed as less distant from the non preferred one.

To account for some additional facts Cristofaro applies the theory of
processes and things presented in Cognitive Grammar which pertains to
the cognitive status of the dependent SoA. The ability of the
dependent SoA to be realized as an object, and the use of case
marking/adpositions among others, seems to support the theory in which
the sequential scanning (in short, the distinguishing property of
verbs) of the dependent SoA is suspended and summary scanning (the
distinguishing property of nouns) is preferred. This line of
argumentation can be extended to the absence of TAM distinctions and
participant-coding as well.

Chapter 10 Correlations between Individual Morphosyntactic Phenomena
The investigation of the mutual relations between different
morphosyntactic phenomena used in subordination reveals some
interesting correlations. In accordance with the principle of
relevance proposed by Bybee (1985), the lack of aspect distinctions is
less frequent than the lack of tense and mood distinctions. On the
other hand, the use of special forms to express A is more frequent
than the use of special forms to express T and M distinctions. Lack of
person agreement and the use of case marking/adpositions entails the
lack of TAM distinctions or their expression by special forms. Lack of
overtly expressed arguments entails lack of person agreement and lack
of TAM distinctions. Finally, expressing arguments as possessors
entails lack of TAM distinctions and lack of person agreement and the
use of case marking. Cristofaro claims that these implications lend
support to the hypothesis that processual properties are suspended in
the dependent SoAs to different extents. This hypothesis can highlight
a connection between the lack of TAM distinctions and the presence of
nominal properties. It cannot, however, account for the lack of
overtly expressed participants since most of the dependent SoAs is
still relational. This issue has to dealt by the principle of
syntagmatic economy.


The cross-linguistic investigation of subordination provided by
Cristofaro is an impressive piece of work. The contribution to this
field of study is significant in many respects. It is to my knowledge
the only analysis based on such an extensive sample. This careful
analysis pays equal attention to different types of subordination
which enables it to bring out numerous similarities between the
various strategies used to express the notion of dependency between
two SoAs. Both the connections between the type of expressed relation,
and the morphosyntactic phenomena used in their coding are
investigated thereby providing support for the implicational
hierarchies proposed by Cristofaro.

There are, however, some questions left open. The hypothesis that all
languages should be in a position to express certain cognitive
functions (p. 46), and the definition of the object of research in
purely functional terms seems to imply that subordination should be an
option universally found in languages. The answer to this question is
not given.

A vulnerable point of the investigation is the reliance on the (mostly
English) translations with respect to the assertiveness of the
complement clauses (p. 41) which runs the risk of misinterpretation of
the data. The option of raising as superficially similar, but
substantially different from participant sharing is briefly discussed
(p. 79-80) but this distinction does not play any role in the rest of
the argument.

There is also a question concerning the option of backward control
(p.117). Unfortunately, no account is given of why some languages
show the unexpressed participant in the subordinate clause (the more
widespread option) and some in the matrix. These drastically different
options cannot be accommodated by the principles proposed. Apparently,
this option is not considered (p.253), information about participants
(...) can be specified only once, for the SoA for which it is not
predetermined (...) One more question might be asked concerning the
theory of iconic motivation: if a deranked form is always a result of
iconicity, what happens in the case of subject sentential complements
involving deranked verb forms which are not predetermined in many

The final remark has to do less with the arguments developed by
Cristofaro as with the theory of Cognitive Grammar in general. As the
author herself mentions (p.259), within the Cognitive approaches
independent evidence for the claims made about the nature of human
perception and information processing still remains somewhat elusive.


Bybee, J. L. (1985). Morphology: A study of the relation between
meaning and form. Philadelphia: Benjamins.

Giv�n, T. 1990. Syntax. A functional typological introduction. Vol 2
Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

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

Langacker, Ronald W. 1987. Foundations of cognitive grammar, Vol.1:
Theoretical Prerequisites. Stanford, Stanford University Press

Keenan, E. L., and Comrie, B. (1977) Noun phrase accessibility and
Universal Grammar. Linguistic Inquiry 8:63-99.


Szymon Slodowicz received an M. A. in General and Comparative
Linguistics from the CAU in Kiel, Germany and is currently working as
a researcher on the project "Typology of control verbs" affiliated at
the Centre for General Linguistics, Typology and Universals Research
(ZAS), Germany.
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue