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Review of  The Syntax of Hungarian

Reviewer: Edit Jakab
Book Title: The Syntax of Hungarian
Book Author: Katalin É. Kiss
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Syntax
Subject Language(s): Hungarian
Book Announcement: 14.2676

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Date: Fri, 3 Oct 2003 13:31:16 -0400 (EDT)
From: Edit Jakab <>
Subject: The Syntax of Hungarian

É. Kiss, Katalin (2002) The Syntax of Hungarian, Cambridge University

Edit Jakab, Asymmetry Project, Department of Linguistics, Université du
Québec à Montréal.


É. Kiss' work is a comprehensive and knowledgeable presentation and
analysis of Hungarian sentence structure as well as its extensive
literature. Although the ideas in the book are built on the theoretical
and methodological assumptions of generative grammar, the approach is
primarily empirical. The author's goal is to describe the theoretically
relevant facts of Hungarian syntax rather than to provide the latest
technical accounts for them.


In the Introduction, the author describes the general structure of the
Hungarian sentence which is a hierarchical structure dividing into a
topic part and a predicate part. The former contains the logical
subject of the predication (the notion of logical subject is
independent of the function 'grammatical subject'), while the latter
contains a verb-initial propositional center and the preverbal operator
positions: Negation-Distributive Quantifier-Focus. É. Kiss emphasizes
that this structure was already attributed to the Hungarian sentence by
Brassai in the middle of the 19th century.

Chapter 2 is devoted to the discussion of the topic position and
related issues. The author argues that the Hungarian sentence has two
parts: the logical subject of predication, called 'topic', and the
logical predicate. It is important that the topic is not necessarily
linked to the function of subject (or any particular grammatical
function) despite the subject's tendency to be a topic. The topic
position is generally filled by elements bearing a [+human] feature,
consequently, [+human] accusative or oblique complements can often be
topics. Given that the topic denotes an individual present in the
universe of discourse, it must be a referring expression bearing the
features [+referential] and [+specific], and can not be an argument
containing an operator feature (e.g., a quantifier). A non-referential
phrase such as the latter may assume these features and thus be
topicalized only if it is contrasted.

The topic, occupying the specifier position of TopP, is an argument of
the verb binding an argument position in the predicate part. Therefore
although topic movement is A-bar movement, it is not operator movement.
When the sentence contains more than one topic, the author assumes that
the TopP is iterated. As É. Kiss herself points out, it is
theoretically open to question what triggers the movement of more than
one element to multiple specifier of TopP positions.

She distinguishes eventive (containing a stage-level predicate) and
stative (containing an individual-level predicate) sentences with an
invisible or visible TopP, respectively. The former have an event
variable which licenses a situationally or contextually bound empty
spatio-temporal element in the specifier of TopP. The latter (stative
predicates), on the other hand, must contain overt material in their
Spec-TopP position since they lack an event variable. However, both
sentence types may be, but not necessarily are, topicless if they
contain a logical operator.

In the last paragraph of this chapter, É. Kiss discusses contrastive
topic. She argues that non-referential and non-specific elements such
as bare nouns and quantifiers can also be topicalized, but only if they
are accompanied by a contrastive intonation. She shows that these
elements indeed occupy the Spec-TopP position.

The subject of Chapter 3 is the description of the minimal predicate,
in particular the flat VP structure. The author raises the question of
whether assuming such a structure is compatible with current
theoretical assumptions. She presents the structure of the minimal
predicate consisting of a VP and an AspP. Within the VP, V is
obligatorily the first element after which the arguments follow in an
arbitrary order. The arguments within VP, including the subject, can be
only referential. On the basis of the lack of any superiority effect in
wh-movement, she argues that there is no VP-external position; it is
allotted to the topic. Several pieces of evidence are enumerated for a
flat VP structure: the predominant lack of subject-object asymmetries
in the areas of binding, in particular Binding Condition C (referring
expression) and Weak Crossover. However, anaphoric binding, which seems
to be thematically determined in Hungarian, suggests a hierarchical

The author goes on introducing the functional projections that extend
the VP: modality, tense, mood, object and subject agreement. She
discusses object agreement, which is marked by a specific suffix on
finite verbs taking a definite object. She argues that AgrOP is not the
locus of accusative case checking since accusative assignment is not
connected to an invariant Spec-AgrOP position. One piece of evidence
comes from the fact that infinitives do not have an object agreement
suffix, yet they are able to take an accusative direct object.

The chapter ends with the discussion of what Hungarian linguistics
traditionally calls a prefix: a verbal modifier (VM). She argues that
VM must be treated as an independent syntactic unit, a lexically
selected complement, and she enumerates several reasons for this, the
most important of which is the fact that VM can be separated from the
verb by a particle or several particles, and it can raise to a
superordinate clause. Although there are several properties that
indicate the phrasal status of [the] VM, such as its ability to move
across a CP boundary, to undergo topicalization and focussing or to be
an elliptic sentence in itself, there is also evidence against this
status in that it cannot, for example, be coordinated with another VP.
Therefore, É. Kiss suggests a mixed status for VM in which it would be
able to function both as a phrase and a head: it moves to Spec-AspP as
a phrase after which it head-moves to V which has already raised to

In Chapter 4, the author scrutinizes the question of focus and related
issues. She argues for an FP projection which immediately precedes the
extended VP, thereby achieving adjacency of focus and verb. She shows
that the main role of the focus is to identify the subset of a set of
individuals for which the predicate holds. She also enumerates other
elements, e.g., interrogative pronouns, negative adverbs of degree,
frequency, and manner, negative existential quantifiers etc., whose
inherent [+focus] feature makes them raise to Spec-FP. The author
further demonstrates the lack of the Superiority Condition among wh-
phrases in Hungarian. She also shows that multiple questions requesting
the identification of two individuals and those requesting a pair-list
response have different structures.

Chapter 5 examines quantification. The author discusses what positions
are allotted to quantifiers and she also describes their scope
properties. Accordingly, universal and positive existential quantifiers
are placed in the specifier of a functional projection, DistP. Here,
the quantifier assumes a distributive interpretation as well as scope
over the domain it c-commands. She points out that all preverbal
operator positions are scope positions. She also examines noun phrase
internal quantifiers whose extraction into the verb phrase allows them
to have sentential scope. Finally, she argues that certain adverbs of
frequency exhibit similar syntactic properties as quantifiers.

In Chapter 6, negation is under scrutiny. The author shows that both
the verb and the focus may be negated, i.e., preceded by the negative
particle projecting a NegP. The negation of the universal quantifier,
however, produces constituent negation.

É. Kiss describes negative concord in Hungarian by demonstrating how
the negative Hungarian se-pronouns operate. Their interpretation is
discussed as well: a se-pronoun receives an existential reading when it
has a [-specific] feature, whereas it is universally interpreted when
it has a [+specific] feature (e.g. when it precedes the focus).
She also gives an account of indefinite pronouns in the scope of
negation and shows their quantifier status.

The focus of Chapter 7 is the noun phrase. On the basis of their
distributional differences in the sentence, three noun phrase
projections are to be distinguished: the lexical noun phrase proper
surrounded by operators, the indefinite numeral phrase and the definite
determiner phrase.

A substantial part of the chapter is devoted to the discussion of
possessive constructions. It explains how the possessive relation is
realized morphologically as well as syntactically, and discusses
agreement and "anti-agreement" within possessive constructions. The
author also discusses the argument structure of different nominals;
deverbal event nominals can keep only one argument realized as a
possessor. On the other hand, the possessor expresses the object of a
nominalized transitive verb, and the subject may be realized as a by-
phrase. Lexically case-marked arguments and adjuncts either appear as
modifiers or may be extraposed.

In Chapter 8, the postpositional phrase is discussed. Postpositions in
Hungarian extend the noun phrase in a suffix-like manner, similar to
case endings functioning semi-independently. It is interesting that,
historically, case endings have developed from postpositions, and still
exhibit postpositional characteristics in certain instances. They form
a unit with the noun at the morphosyntactic level; however,
morphophonologically, they are to be considered two separate entities.

When the postposition bears no suffix, it takes its complement in the
dative assigned by a "possessedness" morpheme. On the other hand, the
postposition is inflected when its complement is a personal pronoun.

Chapter 9 describes existing assumptions and theories about non-finite
and semi-finite verb phrases. It discusses infinitival and participial
phrases that have the structure of an extended VP. The author points
out the salient difference between finite and non-finite verb phrases:
the latter does not need to be a VP before focus or negation, and so,
the verb may be preceded by a verbal modifier in AspP. She shows at
length how agreeing/inflected infinitives operate in Hungarian, their
distribution as well as their dative-marked subject.

She also points out how one type of adverbial participle may also take
a lexical subject, which is nominative-marked. She provides proposals
about the possible sources of the specific case of the subjects of
these non-finite constructions.

The function of the various non-finite categories is addressed as well:
the infinitive acts as a complement of the matrix predicate, the
adverbial participle is an adjunct, whereas the adjectival participle
is an attribute. The former two joined by an auxiliary or semi-
auxiliary verb may constitute a complex predicate as well.

Chapter 10 concludes the book with the formal treatment of movement
across boundaries and, thus, subordination as well. It talks about how
subordinate clauses are structurally identical to matrix clauses except
for the presence of a complementizer/subordinating operator in the
former. When embedded clauses constitute arguments, they are associated
with a pronoun which bears the case assigned by the matrix predicate to
the argument, in this case the embedded clause. This pronoun also, in
some sense, takes the place of the subordinate clause in the matrix
operator positions that are unable to take clausal complements.

Embedded interrogative clauses are introduced by the complementizer
/hogy/ 'that' occupying C, whereas the wh-word itself is in the
specifier of the focus phrase, thus it does not create an island for
extraction. When a subordinate interrogative operator is associated
with a matrix interrogative pronoun, it may take matrix scope.

She also shows that complex sentences containing a bridge verb as a
matrix may represent a single domain for operator movement. Long
operator movement, complementizer deletion and the licensing of
parasitic gaps are discussed as well.


É. Kiss' book is a thorough and informative study as well as an
overview of Hungarian syntax, a work that reveals the author's vast
knowledge of the subject from both the traditional and the generative
perspective. In her analyses, she relies on books, articles, talks as
well as papers on Hungarian from all sources including her students,
teachers and colleagues from all over the world. Consequently, her
bibliography is extensive and well-informed.

She provides various proposals for all aspects of Hungarian syntax, and
then she amends them, so to speak. She uses comparison with English
throughout the book. For example, she draws parallel between Hungarian
and English subject-object asymmetries in Chapter 3, or between
Hungarian thematic hierarchy and English dative shift, which, if
thematically motivated, supports the former.

Lack of space allows me to concentrate on only a few issues for
discussion. In chapter 4, on the basis of the free postverbal order of
adverbs, the author argues against Brody's (1995) V-to-F movement in
sentences expressing identificational focus (p. 86). It seems to me
that the elimination of an adverb's possible occurrence between the
focus and the verb by just simply stating the Focus-V adjacency
requirement does not appear to be sufficient. This requirement does not
explain how Focus and V end up next to each other.

Another issue to select is the interesting phenomenon of inflected
infinitives. On the basis of Toth's (2000) thesis, the author claims
that in the case of an agreeing infinitive with a dative/ablative case-
marked subject it is actually the lack of agreement between the
controller of its subject and the matrix verb that allows for the
agreement. Landau (2003) demonstrates that the absence of matrix
agreement is only a necessary but not a sufficient condition for
licensing inflected infinitives. He argues that the other relevant
factor is the Tense of the infinitive, namely, its lack of Tense. Since
agreeing infinitives are untensed, they are not able to define a tense
domain distinct from the matrix. On the other hand, tense mismatch is
marginally possible when the infinitive is not inflected, in other
words, when it is tensed (cf. Jakab 2003 which connects the agreement
and tense features of Hungarian infinitives to their restructuring

Finally, I should mention that I found a minor but rather confusing
mix-up in the numbers of examples on page 18, 3-4 lines below example
(19): "In Kratzer's approach the crucial difference between the stage-
level (19a,b) and the individual-level (12)-(13)..." -- should be
stage-level (12)-(13) and the individual-level (19a,b).

All in all, É. Kiss' book is an excellent source for both non-Hungarian
linguists who will find various analyses of all syntactic issues in
Hungarian, and for Hungarians whom it enables to brush up on or extend
their knowledge of Hungarian sentence structure.


Brody, M. 1995. Focus and checking theory, in I. Kenesei, ed.,
Approaches to Hungarian 5: 29-44. Szeged: JATE.

Jakab, É. 2003. Agreement, Tense, Restructuring. The Licensing of
Hungarian Inflected Infinitives. Paper presented at CLA, Halifax.

Landau, I. 2003 (To appear). The Scale of Finiteness and the Calculus
of Control. NLLT.

Toth, I. 2000. Inflected Infinitives in Hungarian. Doctoral
dissertation. Tilburg University.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Edit Jakab did her undergraduate studies at Lajos Kossuth University in Debrecen, Hungary, her graduate work at Indiana as well as Princeton, and received a Ph.D. in theoretical and Slavic linguistics from Princeton University. Her interests include comparative syntax, syntax/semantics interface, the clausal structure of nonfinite constructions, in particular, (Non-)Agreement, Tense, Mood and Modality in Finno-Ugric and Slavic languages as well as in English. She is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in linguistics in the Asymmetry Project at UQAM.

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