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LINGUIST List 17.2003

Fri Jul 07 2006

Review: Syntax: Mohr, Sabine (2005)

Editor for this issue: Laura Welcher <lauralinguistlist.org>

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        1.    Andrew Carnie, Clausal Architecture and Subject Positions (Syntax)

Message 1: Clausal Architecture and Subject Positions (Syntax)
Date: 07-Jul-2006
From: Andrew Carnie <carnieemail.arizona.edu>
Subject: Clausal Architecture and Subject Positions (Syntax)

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/16/16-3261.html

AUTHOR: Sabine Mohr, University of Stuttgart
TITLE: Clausal Architecture and Subject Positions
SUBTITLE: Impersonal constructions in the Germanic languages
SERIES TITLE: Linguistik Aktuell/Linguistics Today 88
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2005

Reviewed by Andrew Carnie, Department of Linguistics, University of Arizona


The status of the requirement that every sentence have a subject, which has
come to be known in the principles and parameters framework as the Extended
Projection Principle (EPP) (Chomsky 1981), has been a mystery since its
discovery. Why should such a restriction exist on the grammar? Various
attempts have been made to explain it, ranging from a semantic requirement
that there be something that serves as the argument of predication to a
structural requirement that specifiers be projected (Lasnik 2001). Sabine
Mohr's ''Clausal Architecture: Impersonal constructions in the Germanic
languages'', a published version of the author's dissertation, is an
important contribution to this discussion. Comparing impersonal,
existential and related constructions across the Germanic languages, she
argues that the EPP is really a multi-source, multi-faceted phenomenon.
Some EPP properties are due to simple feature checking (semantic and
formal) and some are due to a last resort effect arising due to an
interaction of feature checking and the extension condition. Mohr
(henceforth SM) argues that not all ''expletives'' are equal: there are at
least three distinct types found in the Germanic languages. She shows that
cross-linguistic variation in the structure and availability of impersonal
type constructions in the Germanic language family is due to lexical
parameterization in terms of the degree and type of V-movement, the type of
verb second (V2) effect, and the availability of the different kinds of
expletives. SM also provides some convincing and important arguments that
head-movement is part of narrow syntax (contra Chomsky 1995).


After a brief outline of the issues involved and a discussion of
organization, the book is divided into two parts. The first part is
primarily ''theoretical'' (although it contains much empirical data) and is
titled Clausal Architecture and the EPP. The second part concerns the
details of the derivation of impersonal, existential and related
constructions in the various Germanic languages.

Chapter 1 surveys the literature on the EPP. This is an excellent review of
the issues and analyses that have been proposed for the phenomenon. SM
identifies as crucial ideas: the question of whether the EPP is tied to a
feature or features and to a particular cartographic position or positions;
the role of head-movement in explaining language variation (after Alexiadou
and Anagnostopoulou 1998); and the link between V2 and EPP effects (Roberts
and Rousseau 2002, Roberts 2005).

Chapter 2 contains the heart of the proposal about the relationship between
head-movement, the EPP and V2. SM makes two potential controversial claims
here. First, she dissociates the EPP from the notion of ''subject''. Second
she claims that head-movement is fully syntactic and belongs to narrow
syntax. In defense of the latter claim she presents important evidence that
important semantic effects are tied to head movement (such as the licensing
of NPIs). If head-movement were merely a PF phenomenon, the semantic
sensitivity of these effects would not be found.

Chomsky (1995) claimed that head-movement could not be part of narrow
syntax because it is counter-cyclic and non-structure preserving. Given a
head A and a phrase XP, application of MERGE to these items results in a
new object (AP). Head to head adjunction of some other head B to A, results
in a new category {<A,A> {A, B}}. This new element destroys the
derivational relationship between AP and A. In order to rule this out, he
proposes the Extension Condition (EC), which limits MERGE and MOVE
operations in that they may only target the root.

This theoretical claim is at odds with the syntactic evidence that head
movement is part of narrow syntax. SM proposes a loophole to resolve this
tension. She suggests that if head-movement applies to check some feature
on the head, then some concomitant XP must move to extend the root. This
can happen to check a contentful feature (such as a focus feature, or a
topic feature), a formal feature like Case, or may apply to check a
last-resort EPP feature to save the derivation from crashing. SM proposes
the following revised version of the EC:

The New Extension Condition (SM: 50) A given category C is EC-compatible if
C is extended at the root once all F[C] formal features of C... entering
into checking operations are checked.

In effect, evaluation of the EC does not occur at the time of
head-movement, instead it is delayed until an XP expands at the root, thus
technically satisfying the constraint. I have some technical concerns about
this version of the EC, which I will return to in the evaluation section
below. However, one aspect of this proposal is very pleasing; it explains
the link between the movement of a head and the at least partly free
movement of an XP, which could be extended to
Holmberg's-generalization-type effects (see Holmberg 1999 for discussion of
these effects).

Chapter 3 sketches out SM's claims about the cartographic properties of the
clause structure. She adopts the assumptions that functional categories are
tied one-to-one to features, and that multiple specifiers are impossible.
She proposes that the C-system, I-system and V-system each include some
number of Topic and Focus heads. The C-system additionally includes Force
and Finiteness (Rizzi 1997); the I-system includes a Ref head for definite
subjects, and both T and Aux heads; and finally the V-system also included
v and V heads. She claims that V2 is not a uniform phenomenon even within a
single language. Stress and information structure properties lead to an
analysis such that different phrases in the C-system might be targeted. In
the event that there is no information structure dependent feature at play
triggering the XP movement, then a ''subject of predication'' (sop) feature
(Cardinaletti 2002) comes into play on the FIN head. This feature, and in
other circumstances the Topic and Focus features, trigger head movement of
the finite verb, this in turn triggers the movement of the XPs due to the
revised EC.

Chapter 4 is our first light into how the system accounts for differences
among languages. This analysis relies on two slightly non-standard
assumptions about feature checking in spec/head relations. First, the
checking of a feature can either apply directly to the XP in the specifier,
or to an XP within the specifier of the YP occupying the specifier of the
head. Secondly, if the latter option is chosen, it only occurs if neither
of the two elements has moved on (in SM's terminology such a relation is
said to be ''active''). How this works is exemplified in the difference
between English and German. English allows movement of a DP in the
specifier of TP for nominative checking. For reasons to be explained below,
German does not; instead a remnant vP, containing the DP, but not the v+V
complex, moves to the specifier of TP. This DP checks its case through the
specifier of a specifier mechanism. This explains verb finality in non-V2
contexts in German (the verb has raised to T, the vP remnant moves to spec,
TP thus preceding it.)

The analysis is actually significantly more intricate than this however.
The type of V-movement is crucial to understanding word order variation. SM
proposes four distinct types of languages with respect to V-movement. As a
matter of clarification, it should be noted that V-movement in SM's system
is refers only to V (not v, not Aux). First, there are languages with no V
movement, such as the OV orders found in embedded clauses in many Germanic
languages. (SM claims, contra Kayne 1994, that OV is the universal
underlying order). Then there are languages with short v to V movement,
such as English and the non-V2 orders of the Mainland Scandinavian
languages. The V2 orders of all the languages except English involve long V
movement, to at least T. Finally, Icelandic embedded orders are derived
through ''morphological'' short V-movement which amounts to
merger-under-adjacency rather than true movement, as it does not trigger
the EC-effects predicted from the analysis in chapter 2.

If the EPP is an effect that is motivated by greater structural
considerations and extends to V2 and other kinds of specifier head
relations, then what are we to make of the more traditional ''specifier of
TP effects'' found in languages like English, which have no V to T movement
(recall that head movement is the trigger for EPP effects in SM's system).
SM reduces most of these cases to nominative case checking, however other
cases reduce to an s.o.p. feature on T. This is the topic of the fifth
chapter. The sixth chapter is a summary of the first part of the book.

The seventh chapter is a nice summary and description of the
cross-linguistic variation in the phenomena under consideration in the
second part of the book (impersonal passives, transitive expletive
constructions (TECs), existential constructions, weather constructions and
impersonal psych-verb constructions.) The eighth and ninth chapters analyze
these constructions using the tools provided in the first part of the book,
in coordination with a fine-grained analysis of expletive types, where true
expletives are distinguished from quasi-arguments (in weather
constructions) and locative/temporal expletives (e.g., 'there' - SM calls
these ''event'' arguments, I use the more restrictive locative/temporal
expletive terminology here because I don't want to confuse these with the
more usual neo-Davidsonian meaning of the term ''event argument/event
variable''.) Variation among languages in the range of impersonal
constructions and restrictions on these constructions is controlled by the
complex interplay of what V-movement types are available, whether the
language is V2 or not, and what expletive types the language has. The tenth
chapter is a summary of the second part of the book, and the eleventh is a
conclusion tying the two parts of the book together.


SM has written an important contribution not only to our understanding of
the EPP, but also has extended our understanding of variation within
Germanic, and has provided some important insights about clausal
cartography and the properties of head movement.

The analyses she proposes are intricate and complex, but they demonstrate
the importance of comparative syntax. The subtleties in variation among and
within languages point to a fine-grained analysis using a variety of
mechanisms and tools. These kinds of issues would not be available to an
author who worked only within a single language.

While I have a great regard for this work, I also have some concerns about
the details of some of the analysis, and want to express a minor
frustration about the structure of the book, but these do not take away
from the timeliness and relevance of the volume.

Let me start with my structural complaint. As mentioned above the book
deals with an incredibly complex range of phenomena, and weaves together
the strands of an equally complex analysis. It's quite short at 200 pages,
and it is very densely written. While it contains frequent and excellent
summaries, the book could have stood to be at least 100 pages longer in its
explication of the data and the analysis. Frequently, I found important
descriptions of sentential derivations expressed solely in prose. The book
is environmentally friendly in the sense it contains very few trees; a few
more would have gone a long way to making the prose descriptions come to
life. I found myself on numerous occasions having to draw out the tree
myself to figure out important details of the analysis. Relatedly, many
significant and important claims weren't expressed in any detail in the
book. For example, the claim that all languages are underlyingly OV isn't
proven or worked out in detail, similarly the claims about subject and
topic positions in the I-system are skeletal. The level of detail here is
probably appropriate for a dissertation (which this is), but a book length
treatment could have benefited significantly from some fleshing out.

I have a more serious concern about the details of the revised extension
condition in chapter 3. The analysis given here is an ingenious way of
motivating the relation between head-movement and XP movement, and it is a
fine technical revision to Chomsky's formalization of the EC. However, it
completely fails to account for the underlying motivation of the EC. The EC
was meant as a structure preservation mechanism. Head movement, even under
the characterization given in this book, is devastatingly counter-cyclic
and structure changing. This is made most obviously when we consider the
steps in a BPS theoretic derivation (although the same point is true of a
tree theoretic derivation). Given some XP, and a head A drawn from the
numeration, we create the object Z = {AP, {A, XP}} (leaving aside any
qualms we might have about the label AP). Let us say we move some B, a head
in XP, and adjoin it to the head A, this results in the object Y
={<A,A> {A, B}}. Now the original object A contained in Z is now
contained in Y, but crucially not in Z. Z is no longer well formed, because
it now should contain <A,A> (Z' = {<A,A>, XP}. <A,A> was never
merged with XP, so the object Z' is not the result of MERGE thus not a
legitimate object. SM's analysis simply gets around the EC, without
resolving the motivation that lay behind it, thus defeating the purpose of
having the EC in the first place. On the other hand, the revised EC that SM
proposes is very satisfying in the way it motivated V2-like effects. I'm
also very sympathetic to the idea that head-movement is syntactic, indeed
the empirical evidence for this seems to be overwhelming, but I don't think
SM's revised EC solves the technical problem that Chomsky was trying to
control for, even if it does give an elegant solution to V2 effects.


Despite my critiques in section 3 above, I have a very positive view of
this book. It provides an intriguing and important contribution to the
literature on Germanic comparative syntax, the literature on clausal
cartography, and the literature on the EPP. The intricate analysis also
makes some strong typological predictions that I look forward to seeing
tested against languages from other language families.


Alexiadou, A and Anagnostopoulou, A. 1998. Parameterizing AGR: Word order,
V-movement and EPP checking. Linguistic Inquiry 32.193-231.

Cardinaletti, A. 2002. Towards a cartography of subject positions. Ms.
University of Bologna (as cited in Mohr).

Chomsky, N. 1981. Lectures on Government and Binding. Dordrecht: Foris.

Chomsky, N. 1995. The Minimalist Program. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Holmberg, A. 1999. Remarks on Holmberg's Generalization. Studia Linguistica

Kayne, R. 1994. The Antisymmetry of Syntax. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Lasnik, H. 2001. A note on the EPP. Linguistic Inquiry 32:356-361.

Rizzi, L. 1997. The fine structure of the left periphery. Pp. 281-337 in L.
Haegeman, ed. Elements of Grammar. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Roberts, I. 2005. Principles and parameters in a VSO language. A case study
in Welsh. Oxford: OUP.

Roberts, I. and Roussou A. 2002. The extended projection principle as a
condition on the tense dependency. Pp. 125-155 in P. Svenonious, ed.
Subjects Expletives and the EPP. Oxford: OUP.


Andrew Carnie is an Associate Professor of Linguistics at the University of
Arizona. His interests include formal approaches to word order (in
particular VSO languages) and phrase structure. He is the author of 5 books
including the upcoming second edition of his introductory syntax textbook:
Syntax: A Generative Introduction.
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