LINGUIST List 25.2444
Jun 05 2014
Theories; Syntax: Kuiper & Noakes
Editor for this issue:
Mateja Schuck <mschuckwisc.edu>
From: Kariema El Touny
Subject: Theories of
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-4770.html
AUTHOR: Koenraad Kuiper
AUTHOR: Jacqui Noakes
TITLE: Theories of Syntax
SUBTITLE: Concepts and Case Studies
PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan
REVIEWER: Kariema El Touny, Women's College for
Arts, Science, and Education, Ain Shams
Although there are many books on syntax and
syntactic theories, it is interesting to read a
new approach to the topic. The authors admit to
this truth as early as in the preface. In it,
their motives for writing the book and the
route they take in presenting them are
The book is divided into two major parts. Part
I (three chapters) deals with the concepts of
syntax to pave the way for Part II, which
consists of five chapters listing four current
theories of syntax. These four distinct
theories are presented systematically through
seven syntactic phenomena, which the authors
use as case studies to show how each theory
tries to explain them.
Part I: Concepts of Syntax
In chapter 1, the authors explain what syntax
is, and why we would study it. One reason they
bring up is the existence of some problematic
structures, such as ambiguous sentences and
various word orders. Another reason is the
observation that there is a difference between
what speakers of the same language
understand/infer and what those who hear the
language for the first time do. By doing so,
the authors pose questions to advocate for the
creation of a syntactic theory to answer them.
Finally, after establishing the need for it,
they give the methods by which to accomplish
Linguists are like scientists of any field in
this respect. Studying a language is compared
to studying animals or plants. Zoologists and
botanists not only pick specimens, take
samples, run tests, and obtain results, but
also create taxonomic charts to find
similarities and differences between species.
The process they implement is called
hypothetico-deductive methodology; where a
hypothesis is proposed, followed by tests, if
the results are unfavorable, the hypothesis is
Chapter 2 is dedicated to listing the concepts
that any model of syntax for any natural
language should account for. These are:
Adjacency, Domain, Constituency, Dependency,
Function, Morpho-syntactic Form, and Inherent
and Assigned Properties.
First, Adjacency requirements and restrictions
should be explained. In a sentence, sometimes
it is grammatical for some syntactic units to
be adjacent to other specific units due to
their relationship; otherwise the sentence
would be marked as ungrammatical. For example
1.a Alice ate the cake.
1.b *Alice ate quickly the cake.
In (1), the verb ‘eat’ must be adjacent to ‘the
cake’. The adverb ‘quickly’, describing the
manner of eating, cannot come between the two
Second, Domain is another form of relationship
between units. The authors use the analogy of a
wedding photo to explain the concept. The bride
and groom are a domain, the bride’s family is
another domain, the groom’s family is another,
the bride’s parents are a sub-domain, the
groom’s sisters are a sub-domain, and so on.
Each member of a specific family could not
stand in the middle of the other; for example,
a groom’s sister could not stand between the
bride’s parents. The picture/sentence would not
Third, a significant concept of syntax is
Constituency, the mechanism by which smaller
units are combined with other units to form
larger constituents. Constituency also deals
with the reasoning behind choosing units to
form a coherent constituent.
Dependency is the fourth concept. It occurs
when a unit requires the presence, form, or
certain properties of another unit in the
sentence. For example (p. 17):
1.a Alice saw herself in the looking glass.
The antecedent ‘Alice’ determines the reflexive
pronoun’s gender and number, thus, using
‘herself’ instead of ‘himself’ or
The fifth concept is Function. Each unit has
its role to play. This role could be
determining the category of a phrase;
consequently, how and where the phrase is used.
4.a The key opened the door.
The noun ‘key’ identifies ‘the key’ as a noun
phrase. Hence, its grammatical/syntactic
function is the head of the noun phrase. The
location of the noun phrase at the beginning of
the sentence is its semantic/logical function
as the subject of the sentence. On the other
hand, the semantic/logical function of ‘the
door’, another noun phrase, is the object.
Sixth, the Morpho-syntactic Form of a word
provides both syntactic and semantic
information. For instance, the singular vs.
plural forms affect the meaning conveyed by the
sentence. Consider the examples in (5) (p.
5.a My tooth fell out.
5.b My teeth fell out.
The seventh concept, Inherent and Assigned
Properties, could be applied to many of the
previous ones. Function is an example of both
inherent and assigned/relational properties.
The noun functions as the head of the noun
phrase inherently, while its function in a
sentence as either the subject or the object is
Chapter 3 starts with a brief summary of some
discourse functions, like presupposition, and a
few semantic concepts, such as reference, that
play a role in syntax. Then, the authors list
the case studies and their different
interpretations by each theory. These phenomena
are: Phrase Structure and Complementation,
Grammatical Relations, Case, Passive
Constructions, WH Questions, Pronominals, and
Phonologically Null Syntactic Elements. The
authors draw on several of the syntactic
concepts mentioned in Chapter 2 to present
these case studies:
1) Phrase Structure and Complementation relies
on Constituency, Domain, Dependency, and
Adjacency, in the formation of phrases, the
choice of complements, and the relationship
between these elements.
2) Grammatical Relations is presented using
3) Case involves Constituency, Domain,
Dependency, and Function.
4) Passive Constructions include Dependency and
Function, and fall under Domain
5) WH Questions rely on Domain, Dependency, and
6) Pronominals or Pro-forms involve Dependency
and have Domain restrictions.
7) Phonologically Null Syntactic Elements rely
on Dependency and are subject to Domain
Depending on the particular theory of syntax,
each of these case studies is presented and
explained within that theory.
Part II Theories of Syntax
Each chapter, 4-7, is dedicated to one theory.
These are: Systematic Functional Grammar, the
Principles and Parameters Framework, Lexical
Functional Grammar, and the Minimalist Program.
They are presented in chronological order,
1960s to 1990s, to provide the reader with a
panoramic view of the on-going change within
the field. The authors start with a brief
history of each theory; then, they outline each
using the concepts and case studies, while
mentioning a few of the controversies within
In chapter 8, the authors re-examine the
problematic structures they previously
mentioned in chapter 1 and state whether each
theory could explain them or not. They conclude
that some questions are never answered; and if
they are, some answers are better than others.
In addition, syntactic theories are not the
sole criterion by which a language should be
studied. There are many factors involved in its
study, such as biology and psychology.
Comparing the four theories could be achieved
by taking four factors into consideration. One
is the aims of each theory. A second is the
generality of these aims. A third is whether
the theory utilizes the hypothetico-deductive
methodology or not. Last is the explicit nature
of the theory and its terminology.
The authors end the book by describing how
syntactic theories are locally-based depending
on the theorists working on them. Hallidayan
approaches are mainly in Australia, where
Michael Halliday works; Lexical Functional
Grammar is based at Stanford University, where
Joan Bresnan is; and Linguistic Inquiry,
published by MIT, where Noam Chomsky teaches,
is mainly dedicated to Chomskian framework.
Unlike Physics, for instance, these varied
disciplines rarely mingle and collaborations
are very few. This is attributed to the
relatively young age of syntactic theories,
where many are still developing.
The book is easy to read and flows logically.
In it, the authors give the reader a fresh view
on the study of syntax; the reasons for
studying it, and the methods to accomplish
that. They maintain that the book will not
delve into any controversies surrounding any
particular theory nor will it offer solutions
to any supposed weaknesses. They use examples
solely from English to generalize the concepts
and the case studies. Their proposed blueprint
could be applied to any language. The structure
of the middle chapters, 4-7, is unique. Each
chapter is repetitive in nature to give the
reader the prerogative to choose specific
chapters to read as stand-alones.
The book is not for a true beginner, someone
who does not know the basic concepts and common
definitions of syntax. To best use this book,
the reader needs to be familiar with basic
grammatical functions like subject, predicate,
and object; grammatical categories like noun,
verb, and preposition; phrase structures like
noun phrase and verb phrase; and the difference
between a main and a subordinate clause. In
addition, the book makes use of tree diagrams;
hence the ability to reading them is
The book suffers from many typos and
mis-numbered examples, which may cause some
confusion. For example, p3, 2nd line from the
bottom; p12, 9th line from the bottom; p26, 1st
line in 2.7; p33, 4th line in 3.2; the numbers
of examples 1, 2, and 3 in chapter 2 are
Nevertheless, the book has many redeeming
features. One is providing the reader, at the
end of each chapter including the preface, with
questions for revision, reflection, and
discussion, plus a list of books for further
reading and the references used. Another is
using one source for the examples, Lewis
Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”
This way, the reader gets unified material for
the diverse theories to explain, which makes
comparing and contrasting them easier.
Carroll, L., Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
(retrieved from http://sabian.org/alice_in_wonderland1.php)
(original publication date 1865).
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Kariema El Touny has an MA from Women’s
College, Ain Shams University. Her interests
include (but are not limited to) Syntax, Arabic
Dialectology, Typology, and Theory
Construction. She has presented and published
her research on Cairene Arabic syntax within
the frameworks of the Minimalist Program and
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