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LINGUIST List 16.1927

Wed Jun 22 2005

Review: Syntax/Semantics: Casielles-Suarez (2004)

Editor for this issue: Naomi Ogasawara <naomilinguistlist.org>


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 at collberglinguistlist.org.
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        1.    Ivan Ortega-Santos, The Syntax-Information Structure Interface


Message 1: The Syntax-Information Structure Interface
Date: 22-Jun-2005
From: Ivan Ortega-Santos <ivortegaumd.edu>
Subject: The Syntax-Information Structure Interface


AUTHOR: Casielles-Suarez, Eugenia
TITLE: The Syntax-Information Structure Interface
SUBTITLE: Evidence from Spanish and English
SERIES: Outstanding Dissertations in Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
YEAR: 2004
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/15/15-2836.html


Ivan Ortega-Santos, Department of Linguistics, University of Maryland,
College Park

SUMMARY

This book is a revised and updated version of Casielles-Suarez's 1997
University of Massachusetts Doctoral Dissertation. It investigates the
syntax-semantics interface with particular reference to English and
Spanish. This researcher focuses mainly on the difference in the way
information structure is conveyed in these languages arguing that the
topic and focus features are phonologically active in the former language
as opposed to being syntactically active in the latter. The investigation
of certain recalcitrant Spanish data as the distribution of Bare Noun
Phrases provides evidence for the existence of two different topical
elements, Background (e.g., dislocated elements in Spanish), and Sentence
Topic (e.g., sentential subjects in Spanish).

Chapter 1 introduces the main goals of the book, already stated above.

Chapter 2 investigates the notion of topic and provides a brief historical
survey of some of the definitions available in the literature. Casielles-
Suarez argues that due to the variety of ways in which languages can mark,
topical elements, in order to understand the role of topichood in a
particular language, we have to take into account the specific
characteristics of the language, and examine the ways in which that
language encodes nonfocal phrases.

Chapter 3 examines topical phrases in English and Spanish, in particular,
how different types behave and what their nature is. Casielles-Suarez
argues in favor of giving up the traditional view of topic and
distinguishing two topical elements. One, which she refers to as Sentence-
Topic proper and which has the following characteristics:
-it is restricted to a unique element
-it correlates with a sentence-initial position (often a preverbal subject)
-it seems to be restricted to discourse referents
-it is not necessarily discourse-old
-it is not necessarily unaccented.

The other topical element, which Casielles-Suarez refers as the
Background, shows exactly the opposite features:
-it is not restricted to a unique element
-it does not correlate with a particular sentence position
-it is not restricted to discourse referents
-it is necessarily discourse-old
-it is necessarily unaccented.

In drawing this distinction, Casielles-Suarez discusses different
topicalizing mechanisms as Clitic-Left Dislocation, Pronoun Left-
Dislocation, Clitic Left-Dislocation with no overt clitic, Topicalization
and Right-Dislocation.

Chapter 4 offers evidence for the existence of these two kinds of topics
(Sentence-Topic and Background) by examining the behavior of Bare Noun
Phrases in Spanish. While postverbal Bare Noun Phrase subjects are allowed
(1), preverbal ones are grammatical only when dislocated (cf. (2) and (3)):
(1)
Jugaban niños en la calle.
played-3pl children in the street
'Children were playing in the street'

(2)
*Niños jugaban en la calle.
children played-3pl in the street

(3)
Estudiantes no creo que vengan.
students not think-1sg that come-3pl
'Students, I don't think they will come'

As such, this data would provide evidence for the Background / Sentence-
Topic distinction, which in Spanish is expressed syntactically. In
addition, Casielles-Suarez uses this data to argue that, in Spanish, so-
called NP-movement is restricted to DPs. Bare Noun Phrases, which are
assumed not to be DPs, but NPs, would not be able DP-move out of VP. This
would explain the fact that they cannot appear in Spec,IP (which is argued
to be a DP position in Spanish). The implication for the syntax of
preverbal subjects would be the following: in Spanish subjects would move
to Spec,IP to check a Sentence-Topic feature. This option would not be
available in English, where subjects would move to Spec, IP for
independent reasons. Therefore, a subject in Spec,IP in Spanish would be
unambiguously a Sentence Topic, but not in English, where preverbal
subjects can be but do not have to be Sentence Topics. In addition,
Casielles-Suarez also focuses on the semantics of Bare Noun Phrases in
Spanish, which she derives by means of Diesing's Hypothesis.

Chapter 5 deals with the notion of Focus. Casielles-Suarez argues that
classifications in the literature as the ones of É. Kiss 1998 and Vallduvi
1990 (identificational vs. information focus and retrieve-add vs. retrieve-
substitute, respectively), are useful, they should not be interpreted as
implying the existence of two kinds of focus. Rather, the different
features of these two foci would not be due to their intrinsic different
nature, but to their position in the sentence.

Chapter 6 analyzes Focus Preposing. Casielles-Suarez shows that this
construction exemplifies a Focus-Background structure where the focus is
marked as unambiguously narrow and the rest of the sentence as
unambiguously nonfocal.

Chapter 7 deals with the Topic-Focus Articulation. Given that Casielles-
Suarez distinguishes between two kind of topical elements and focus, she
addresses the question of whether a trichotomy is needed to express their
articulation (e.g., Vallduví 1990) or whether a dichotomy is enough. The
researcher supports the view that a dichotomy can capture the relevant
articulation by arguing that the two different notions of topic cannot co-
occur in a sentence. Thus, sentences would correspond to either a Sentence
Topic-Focus articulation or to a Background-Focus articulation. In both
Spanish and English the Sentence Topic-Focus case would be syntactically
and phonologically unmarked. In contrast, the Background-Focus case would
be phonologically marked in English whereas in Spanish it would be marked
syntactically by means of right- or left-dislocations.

CRITICAL EVALUATION

Casielles-Suarez's books is a very interesting contribution to the
research on the Topic/Focus articulation of the grammar. The clear review
of previous proposals and clear discussion allows Casielles-Suarez to make
her points forcefully. The variety of structures under consideration,
e.g., Clitic Left-Dislocation, Pronoun Left-Dislocation or Focus
Preposing, make this research remarkable. Theoretical contributions as the
Background/Sentence-Topic distinction will certainly be useful tools for
future work if cross-linguistic research reveals its validity.

Beyond that, the partition of topichood into Background and Sentence-Topic
seems to speak to other issues, e.g., the parameterization of the EPP
across languages. In particular, if Casielles-Suarez's analysis is on the
right track in arguing (i) and (ii) in Spanish would raise the issue of
whether this syntactically encoded Sentence-Topic is obligatory or not,
that is to say, whether the EPP is uniformly active in pro-drop/topic-
driven languages and how it should be defined/satisfied.
i. preverbal subjects are at Spec,TP as opposed to dislocated elements
(including dislocated subjects);
ii. bare noun phrases cannot move to this preverbal slot

Interestingly, the alleged incompatibility of Bare NPs/indefinites with DP-
movement seems to be found in some version or other in languages as
Turkish or Hungarian (e.g., Enç 2001 and Cagri 2005 for Turkish, and É.
Kiss 2002 for Hungarian), thus highlighting the relevance of Casielles-
Suarez's syntactic and semantic treatment and, moreover, the questions it
raises regarding the syntax of such languages.

In a similar vein, it is worth making some comments on the data Casielles-
Suarez uses to illustrate the Bare Noun Phrase facts in Spanish.
Specifically, Casielles-Suarez uses with examples with the following
structure (i.e. an intransitive verb taking a Bare Noun Phrase as a
postverbal subject):
(4)
Jugaban niños en la calle.
played-3pl children in the street
'Children were playing in the street'

At least in certain dialects of Spanish such structures are only possible
when a preverbal spacio-temporal element is present in the structure or
else when it can be readily inferred from the context or the semantics of
the verb, (cf. Torrego 1989 for related discussion):
(5)
Aqui/Ayer jugaban niños.
here/yesterday played-3pl children
'Children were playing here/yesterday'

For speakers of such dialects, (4) might be slightly infelicitous in an
out-of-the-blue context, as opposed to (5). A priori, this last point on
adverbs is not inconsistent with Casielles-Suarez's argumentation, but it
certainly highlights the following fact: Whereas Casielles-Suarez limits
her discussion of Sentence-Topics to DPs (e.g., p. 200), the discussion
could be broadened to include adverbials, at least in certain
constructions/contexts. In particular, the sentence in (5) is compatible
with a Sentence-Topic-Focus information structure, which might be taken to
suggest that this type of sentence-initial adverbs can also be Sentence-
Topics.

To sum up, this book contains a number of interesting contributions to the
research on information structure, such as the division of the traditional
notion of topic into two different topical elements. In addition, the
careful study of a wide range of constructions in Spanish and its
relevance for our understanding of the syntax of this language make this
research fairly valuable.

REFERENCES

Cagri, I. 2004. The EPP of T in Turkish, in P. Chandra, T. Fuji, U.
Soltan, M. Yoshida (eds.). University of Maryland Working Papers in
Linguistics 13:37-52.

Enc, M. 1991. The Semantics of Specificity. Linguistic Inquiry 22:1-25.

Goodall, G. 2001. "The EPP in Spanish". In W. D. Davies and S.

Dubinsky, S. (ed.). Objects and Other Subjects: Grammatical Functions,
Functional Categories and Configurationality. Netherlands: Kluwer Academic
Publishers. 193-223.

É. Kiss, Katalin 2002. The EPP in a Topic-Prominent Language. In Svenious
Subjects, Expletives and the EPP Oxford, Oxford University Press

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Ivan Ortega-Santos is a Ph.D student at the University of Maryland
(College Park). He has done research on Subjecthood, the syntax of
unaccusatives and other EPP-related issues.


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