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LINGUIST List 25.310

Sat Jan 18 2014

Review: Morphology; Phonology; Syntax: Spencer & Luís (2012)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <jsalmonslinguistlist.org>

Date: 12-Jun-2013
From: Marios Mavrogiorgos <mmavrogyahoo.gr>
Subject: Clitics
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-5209.html

AUTHOR: Andrew Spencer
AUTHOR: Ana R. Luís
TITLE: Clitics
SUBTITLE: An Introduction
SERIES TITLE: Cambridge Textbook in Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Marios Mavrogiorgos, Special Scientist, University of Cyprus

“Clitics, An Introduction” is a textbook on clitic systems within and across
a large number of languages. The authors, Andrew Spencer and Ana R. Luís,
offer a detailed presentation and discussion of the various clitic types,
functions, and properties, of the various interactions of clitic properties at
and across phonology, morphology, and syntax, illustrating why clitics are
important for the deeper understanding of grammatical systems and of the
models used to deal with such systems. They also present cross-linguistic
similarities and differences among clitics, words and affixes, and the
conclusions one may draw about their ontology as a separate grammatical
category. Finally, they review the main theoretical approaches that have been
proposed for the analysis of clitic systems. The major achievement of this
quite impressive textbook is that, after so many years of copious research on
clitics by numerous researchers (from various theoretical perspectives and on
various languages), it presents the linguistic community with the first
detailed and thorough introduction into this exciting but baffling topic, and
argues for its importance for linguistic theory. It will be of use to
students, lecturers, and researchers in theoretical and (possibly) applied

Chapter 1 introduces the notion of clitic, and briefly introduces several
issues that are further discussed later, such as how their special
phonological, syntactic, and morphological properties pose important questions
regarding their position in the grammar (words vs. affixes, but also atypical
in various respects), or how distinct categorization criteria may lead to
contradictory results. Their main goal, then, is to describe and evaluate the
criteria proposed in the literature on various issues regarding clitics
cross-linguistically, and to offer a clearer picture of what clitics are (or
are not). Chapter 1 also includes information on the book, a short summary of
each chapter, and a non-exhaustive list of valuable or influential works on

Chapter 2 surveys the various functions clitics may have, drawing examples
from different languages. Typically, these functions are associated with
functional content (on a par with function words and affixes) and they may be
verbal, clausal, nominal, argument-related; and agreement marking-related.
This obvious similarity with affixes and function words reflects the
diachronic processes through which affixes arise from independent words via an
intermediate clitic stage. Less frequently, clitics may have functions of
conjunctions/prepositions, adverbs (especially locative and temporal ones),
and discourse particles. The authors also discuss a number of clitic
properties (e.g. weak phonology, or special syntax), whose status as reliable
diagnostics for clitichood has been debated, and which will be a focus later.

Chapter 3 investigates different types of clitic systems. In the first
sub-section, three influential studies of clitic systems are briefly presented
(Wackernagel’s (1892) seminal monograph on Second Position (2P) clitics in
Indo-European, Zwicky’s (1977) typology of clitics, with its two way
distinction between simple clitics and special clitics, and Klavans’ (1985)
clitic typology, which highlights the notion of clitics as phrasal affixes),
along with their shortcomings and the important issues they raise. The second
sub-section discusses clitic clusters and the highly idiosyncratic
morphological templates they build, as well as the various patterns of special
clitic placement that may be found cross-linguistically (including, among
others, 2P, Tobler-Mussafia, verb oriented, and ditropic clitics). In the last
sub-section, the authors look into domains of clitic placement, such as the
clause as a whole, or the noun phrase.

Chapter 4 discusses interactions of clitics with the phonological component of
the grammar. First, the authors argue that clitics do not have inherent
prosodic prominence (a notion independent of stress). They also discuss cases
where phonology seems to determine clitic cluster placement (e.g. Pashto), or
the internal organization within a clitic cluster (e.g. Bulgarian li and ne).
Section 4.4 illustrates interactions between clitics and the stress patterns
of their host. Weak function words (instances of simple clitics) are discussed
in 4.5, the main point being that many cases of simple clitics cannot be
viewed just as weak variants of corresponding strong forms, on phonological,
syntactic and morphological grounds. Finally, in 4.6, the authors briefly
introduce basic components of Prosodic Structure theories, the problems
clitics raise for such theories, and how phonologists have attempted to
address these issues.

Chapter 5 deals with the morphological aspects of clitics. Sections 5.2 and
5.3 present the ‘famous’ criteria proposed by Zwicky and Pullum (1983) and
their application on English ‘nt. These are heuristics on the assumption that
morphology and syntax are separate components, and which may be used to
categorize a formative as an affix or a clitic. Typically, use of these
criteria only is inconclusive, as many instances of clitics behave more like
affixes, and affixes may also behave like clitics. Section 5.4 deals with
templatic morphology of clitic clusters. After discussing a fairly
representative case of an inflectional cluster (using data from Nahuatl), they
illustrate how more well known cases of clitic clusters (e.g. Italian, or
Luiseño) display similar, typically affix-associated, properties (e.g. fixed
order, or idiosyncratic allomorphy). Section 5.5 presents a further similarity
between clitics and affixes, in that both may mark (via phrasal affixation or
edge inflection respectively) a grammatical function that normally belongs to
the head of the phrase they are attached to. In connection to this, the
definitive accent in Tongan is also introduced, which involves the marking of
a noun phrase as definite via stress shift (a non-affixal processual
morphological operation) at the right edge of the definite phrase.

Chapter 6 treats the interaction of clitics with syntactic structure. First,
syntactically manipulated (phonologically) weak function words may exhibit
both clitic-like and affix-like properties, which illustrates the inherent
difficulties when dealing with weak elements. Then, the morphosyntax of
agreement is surveyed, with an emphasis on non-canonical agreement systems,
which share properties with clitics (including, agreement markers in
complementary distribution with certain noun phrases, and long distance
agreement (e.g. Chukchee)). Section 6.4 critically examines three topics in
the syntax of pronominal clitics: Northern Italian subject clitics, (optional
or obligatory) clitic doubling, and clitic climbing. Clitics in these
constructions (if not better analyzed as discourse function words -- e.g.
vocalic subject clitics) typically share a similar morphosyntax with affixal
systems (even though it may be atypical in certain respects), which undermines
their analysis as syntactic clitics. Ethical datives are also briefly
discussed, especially their idiosyncratic behavior in clusters. Section 6.5
demonstrates how complex the interaction between syntactic structures and
clitics can be, using various Tagalog discourse particles, how such a degree
of complexity and variability does not seem to be amenable to a small set of
abstract syntactic principles, and how typical this is of clitic systems more

Chapter 7 investigates whether one can define clitics, affixes, and words
unambiguously. After presenting three cases of affixes which have erroneously
been analyzed as clitics, i.e. German zu, Finnish possessor agreement markers,
and Modern Greek verbal clitics (and which illustrate how misleading
traditional or promising analyses may be in this respect), they point out,
using examples from various languages, that it is not feasible to draw a clear
line, since there are affixes with properties typical of clitics (e.g. stress
neutrality, or variable ordering), and clitics with properties typical of
lexemes (e.g. inflection, as in Czech pronominal and auxiliary clitics). The
former raise problems for syntactic approaches, while the latter do the same
for morphological approaches (although a plausible solution is offered).
Still, words may also exhibit affixal properties (e.g. phonologically
conditioned idiosyncratic allomorphy, as in the case of the French definite
article in certain environments), in which case the relevant constructions
could be analyzed as morphological idioms, or, alternatively, clitic-like
properties (e.g. the Russian conditional marker by).

Chapter 8, the longest, surveys a number of selected theoretical approaches
from different models, the issues they address, and the ways they deal with
those issues. Data are drawn from typologically distinct languages. The
authors first present four main clitic typologies that have been proposed in
the literature: the tripartite pronominal typology by Cardinaletti & Starke
(1999); the four-way word typology by Toivonen (2003); the bipartite typology
of clitics as phrasal affixes by Anderson (2005); and the Canonical Typology
of clitics by Spencer and Luís (2012). The authors’ general position is that
clitics do not actually exist, although one may talk about clitic properties,
and that the criteria used to differentiate between clitics and affixes, on
the one hand, and simple vs. special clitics on the other, are not reliable.
Sections 8.3-8.8 present the main theoretical clitic models, and some critical
evaluation. These are: (a) phonological/prosodic; (b) morphological (including
a brief introduction to realizational morphological models, and OT approaches,
and a number of morphological analyses of clitic systems in various languages
and morphological models (e.g. the Paradigm Function Morphology framework, or
Distributed Morphology); (c) syntactic (divided into LFG/HPSG and PPT
approaches). Sections 8.9-8.12 examine four issues regarding clitic
morphosyntax that are particularly troublesome for PPT approaches: (a) 2P
clitics, whose placement appears to be linked to both syntactic and prosodic
factors; (b) Clitic Doubling in languages like Modern Greek, Macedonian, and
Romanian, where doubling clitics are agreement-like elements; (c) Clitic
Climbing, which has been used as evidence in favor of a movement approach to
clitics, although climbing is also found with agreement systems, and although
numerous analyses, both in LFG and HPSG, dispense with clitic movement
(through complex predicate formation); Clitic Clusters, probably the most
difficult problem PPT analyses have to face, as the mapping of complex, and
mostly arbitrary ordering facts to general syntactic principles (even if a
template, or some other post-syntactic morphological devise, is used) is
extremely difficult, and possibly counter-intuitive. The authors argue that
morphological approaches are not less valid in terms of explanatory adequacy,
and that they are not refuted by any typological systematicity within the

Chapter 9 summarizes the main issues.

This textbook is very interesting and quite successful in the goals set out in
Chapter 1, and in certain respects a noticeable achievement. First of all, in
my knowledge it constitutes the first textbook which focuses on clitics as a
natural language phenomenon viewed from different empirical, typological, and
theoretical perspectives. Therefore, it offers a useful introduction into the
notion and topic of clitics, and into the immense complexity this involves.
Given the huge literature on clitics, and considerable confusion (due to
reasons mentioned by the authors) regarding various facets of the phenomenon,
a book that clarifies this interesting, but still unclear, picture is more
than welcome. This, in turn, points to the challenges clitics still pose for
grammatical theories and descriptions, and might indicate why they would be of
special interest to any theory that looks into the interaction of grammatical
levels, but also into the interaction of inherent language properties with
more general cognitive/performance based procedures. This is mainly because
clitics are atypical, seeming to straddle distinct, traditionally defined,
grammatical levels, often giving the impression that in their case the mapping
between these different levels is unpredictable or incongruent (in comparison
to affixes or words). In this sense, it is interesting to see how or why the
language faculty (and/or hypothetically some other related cognitive
component, if relevant) categorizes a clitic in relation to syntactic,
morphological, phonological and semantic properties, possibly in some cases
even at a micro-construction level, and what this might tell us about

More particularly, the book is well organized and comprehensive in scope. It
includes data from over 100 languages and quite many details (with a slight
emphasis on the morphology of clitic systems, and its relation to other
morphological systems), along with relevant sources, which could be extremely
useful to linguists, especially those interested in the empirical and
phenomenological aspects of clitics. The discussion of the theoretical
approaches is also very useful, offering a detailed overview of the diverse
ways cliticization has been analyzed within distinct theoretical frameworks as
a general summary overview of a huge literature, and of the different ways one
may look into this topic.

As a PPT linguist who advocates the Minimalist Program (Chomsky 1995), I was
intrigued by the special emphasis on the morphological properties of clitics,
and the impression that for the authors a morphological approach is probably
more adequate in certain respects, mainly because the morphology cannot be
explained by the syntax, but also because the syntactic evidence for
cliticization is much less robust, if viewed within the more general picture.
Of course, this position is understandable and possibly correct, given the
authors’ theoretical stance and research, but also given the typologically
distinct languages being discussed. Like much else, though, this may be a
two-edged sword. In my view, the positive side lies in the observation that at
least a good knowledge of other aspects of clitics (besides their syntactic
and/or most common morphological/phonological ones) is valuable even to
PPT/Minimalist researchers, as it would help them understand which aspects
could be attributable to syntax, which to other levels, and which to the
interface of syntax with these levels. Given the current major interest in
interface phenomena (and more generally into the question of what counts as
‘grammar’), such a perspective could be useful even to students and/or
researchers that do not view morphology as a separate grammatical component,
and in particular to syntacticians and other linguists who might not be aware
of this side to the story. This is a positive contribution to linguistics
(including morphology), as it might promote a more balanced or integrative
approach to the phenomenon.

Another positive aspect of this textbook is that it includes insights and
observations that may have quite interesting implications for theory, and
which possibly are not widely known to the general community. For example, the
authors put forward the idea that sometimes the same clitic form, in the same
position within a cluster, may have distinct properties in different
constructions, which is a potentially important observation. Another point
worth mentioning is that both clitic and affixal systems seem to share a
number of properties (besides their morphological similarities): for instance,
they may both realize or not realize certain (interpretable/inherent) semantic
or pragmatic features, like definiteness or topic/focus. This empirical
observation, which might be linked to other phenomena shared among affixes and
clitics (e.g. the Person Case Constraint), raises equally important questions
for both morphological and syntactic approaches.

There are also some shortcomings that should be mentioned. At certain points
the discussion of the data includes too many details (especially morphological
ones), some of which are not always directly relevant to the point under
consideration. In other cases too little information or discussion is offered.
This may lead to confusion, in that the reader may miss the thread of the
argument, or may not understand what is argued for. Of course, this might be
more of a problem for someone reading a whole chapter, or more than one
chapter, but less so if one is only using the book as a reference source for
certain phenomena.

A second issue regards the degree to which this survey is, can be, or should
be theory-neutral (and to some extent, the meta-language around ‘theory
neutral’). Although it is true that every theory will eventually have to
account in one way or another for all (if possible) aspects of clitics, even
though it may choose to focus first on certain issues only, it also remains a
fact that various aspects of data handling (including collection,
categorization, description, etc.) presume basic (theoretical and/or
empirical) premises or assumptions, which may lead us to see certain patterns
(but not others) in the data, and hence to various types of problems and
solutions (according to standard assumptions regarding the interaction between
a theoretical model and hypothesis formulation and testing). In the present
case, the theoretical assumption (based on a theoretical model of some kind,
which is also influenced by empirical observations) is that word formation and
phrase formation are essentially distinct, in that despite their similarities
and differences, they are handled by separate grammatical components, which
interact with each other in certain ways and order (depending on the
framework). This basic premise unavoidably influences the way one looks at the
data (namely, clitics lie somewhere between words and affixes), and this is
evident also in the textbook: some of the cases discussed, as noted by the
authors, would not even be a problem if a different premise was assumed, or
alternatively a different solution might be possible (of course, this does not
imply that this solution would necessarily be better, or that the opposite
does not hold). If this is made explicit to the reader in a clear way (and I
am not convinced that this is the case here, at least to some extent), it
would be a perfectly valid choice, even for an introductory textbook.

A further related issue is the impression one gets while reading the book that
the authors consistently try to ‘promote’ the morphological analysis of
clitics. This may take different, though very subtle forms, as for example
when syntactic analyses are typically discussed in terms of problems (as
opposed to morphological ones, which have both problems and merits), when
syntactic approaches are considered in a more positive light if they analyze
clitics as agreement markers (for instance), or when certain syntactic
properties are not fully integrated into the picture. More generally,
although, on a macro-level, both syntactic and morphological approaches are
described in both positive and negative light, on the micro-level the approach
is less balanced. This creates a sort of confusion, especially because at
least in some cases other solutions are at least equally adequate. Still, this
is again understandable to an important extent, as mirroring the authors’
stance. For me, one striking example was the analysis of Greek verbal clitics
in chapter 7. There, the authors present only certain morphological aspects of
the phenomenon (some of which are definitely important, although others do not
tell us much, or may even be irrelevant or marginal), whereas there is a
dearth of evidence in the literature that Greek clitics also have important
syntactic effects (e.g. Anagnostopoulou 2003, Mavrogiorgos 2010, and
references therein). Even if these could be accounted for in a purely
morphological approach, one’s choices would have important repercussions on
the rest of the system (e.g. the nature of agreement in syntax and morphology,
given the properties of clitic doubling/resumption in Modern Greek). Although
such discussion may not be relevant for a textbook, the impression that may
follow from the discussion (and of the evaluative approach entertained) in
this particular context may nevertheless be important.

Despite all these issues, I firmly believe that this is a very good and
important textbook, which will prove useful and challenging to students and
researchers alike who are interested in clitic systems (and related affixal
systems) across languages.

Anagnostopoulou, Elena. 2003. The syntax of ditransitives. Evidence from
Clitics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Anderson, Stephen R. 2005. Aspects of the Theory of Clitics. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.

Cardinaletti, Anna & Michal Starke. 1999. The typology of structural
deficiency: a case study of the three classes of pronouns. In van Riemsdijk,
Hendrik C. (ed.), Clitics and the Languages of Europe. Berlin: Mouton de
Gruyter, pp. 145-233.

Chomsky, Noam. 1995. The Minimalist Program. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Klavans, Judith L. 1985. The independence of syntax and phonology in
cliticization. Language 61. 95-120.

Mavrogiorgos, Marios. 2010. Clitics in Greek. A Minimalist Account of
Proclisis and Enclisis. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Spencer, Andrew & Ana Luís. 2012. The canonical clitic. In Brown, Dunstan P.,
Chumakina, Marina, and Corbett, Greville C. (eds.), Canonical Morphology and
Syntax. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Toivonen, Ida. 2003. Non-Projecting Words: A Case Study of Swedish Particles.
Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Wackernagel, Jakob. 1982. Über ein Gesetz der indogermanischen Wortstellung.
Indogermanische Forschungen 1. 333-346.

Zwicky, Arnold M. 1977. On Clitics. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University
Linguistics Club.

Zwicky, Arnonld M. & Geoffrey K. Pullum. 1983. Cliticization vs. inflection:
English n’t. Language 59. 502-513.

Dr. Marios Mavrogiorgos works in English Studies at the University of Cyprus,
specializing in clitics and other related morphosyntactic phenomena in Greek
and other languages within the Minimalist Framework. He has published a number
of papers (alone and in collaboration), and a monograph (with John Benjamins
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