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Review of  Searching for Structure

Reviewer: Catherine Rose Fortin
Book Title: Searching for Structure
Book Author: Robert Englebretson
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Subject Language(s): Indonesian
Issue Number: 14.2771

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Date: Mon, 13 Oct 2003 12:56:14 -0400
From: Catherine Fortin
Subject: Searching for Structure: The Problem of Complementation in Colloquial Indonesian Conversation

Englebretson, Robert (2003) Searching for Structure: The
Problem of Complementation in Colloquial Indonesian Conversation,
John Benjamins, Studies in Discourse and Grammar 13.

Catherine Fortin, University of Michigan.


In this book, Englebretson argues against the existence of
complementation as a grammatical structure in Indonesian,
based on an analysis of a corpus of spontaneous,
conversational colloquial Indonesian data. He does this
through an analysis of three grammatical structures in
Indonesian which have typically been analyzed as
complementation: juxtaposed clauses, material introduced by
the discourse marker bahwa, and serial verbs. He also
considers 'complementation strategies' (as defined by Dixon
1995), that Indonesian uses in lieu of a grammatical
structure of complementation per se; the strategy he
analyzes in detail herein is epistemic expressions with the
suffix -nya. He concludes that none of these constructions
offer any concrete evidence for complementation as a
syntactic structure in colloquial Indonesian; however, he
also shows that, semantically, these structures are similar
to complementation structures cross-linguistically.
Overall, he argues convincingly that in colloquial
Indonesian, 'although traces of complementation are indeed
observable in the data, complementation per se is not a
robust category for Indonesian language-users' (90).

The author, working within a discourse-functional
perspective, maintains several theoretical and ideological
beliefs which set his work apart from that of many others
who work within a more formalist framework. Namely, he
holds that grammar must be understood as emerging from
frequency and use; that the existence of grammatical
structures must be proven, not a priori assumed in an
analysis; that pragmatic factors are of critical
importance; and that linguistic structure is language-
particular and diverse. He also firmly holds that grammar
is best analyzed in chunks larger than a single clause or
sentence, as it naturally and spontaneously occurs in
discourse (as Englebretson puts it, 'the actual language
produced by real native-speakers in natural interactional
context' (12)), rather than from elicited statements and
grammaticality judgments. In particular, he points out that
grammaticality judgments with respect to a colloquial
variety of language are often incorrect, as language
attitudes among educated speakers tend to be highly
prescriptive, so that they are paradoxically often hesitant
to accept structures that they view as 'incorrect' albeit
that they have produced themselves.


Chapter 1: Preliminaries
In this section, Englebretson presents an overview of his
methodology, the corpus used for this study, and a brief
sketch of Indonesian grammar.

It is important to note that Englebretson maintains a
strictly syntactic definition of complementation, i.e. 'the
grammatical situation of one clause serving as the subject
or object of another' (29). Consequently, the central aim
of this study is to determine whether Indonesian makes use
of a morphosyntactically-defined category of
complementation, as defined above, or whether it instead
uses alternate strategies to express the range of concepts
that are cross-linguistically represented as grammatically
defined structures, following Dixon's (1995) view that 'all
languages have to express roughly the same, universal,
range of semantic concepts, and the observation that not
all languages do this by means of the same grammatical
resources' (24). Instead of beginning his analysis with the
'null' hypothesis that complementation exists in colloquial
Indonesian, and then setting out to disprove it, he takes
an alternate route: he hypothesizes that complementation
does not exist in colloquial Indonesian, and looks for
evidence that it does.

It is also important to note that, following the author's
discourse-functional perspective, the basic unit of spoken
language is not taken to be the clause, but instead the
Intonation Unit (IU), which is largely defined by acoustic
cues. Generally speaking, an IU is taken to be 'a stretch
of speech uttered under a single coherent intonation
contour' (Du Bois et al. 1993: 47).

Chapter 2: Juxtaposed clauses
Juxtaposed clauses are defined here as 'a series of clauses
which can stand on their own as main clauses'(38) and which
are not linked by any overt connective material. The author
argues that 'interclausal relations for these constructions
are simply inferential, based on semantic and pragmatic
factors' (35). These may be divided into two main types:
framed instantiations (which represent a certain semantic
relationship between two clauses) and non-framing (which
may encode conditional, causal, adversative, concessive or
temporal relationships). He investigates the role of
prosody in framed instantiations, determining that they
occur with three basic types of prosody; interestingly, he
claims that the degree of conceptual integration between
the juxtaposed clauses is reflected by the prosody.

Englebretson follows many avenues in his quest for evidence
for complementation as a grammatical structure. It is worth
spending a little time reviewing his methodology with
respect to a single structure (in this case, framed
instantiations) as a general illustration of his analysis.
For one, he argues that the prosodic break between the
clauses within a framed instantiation is telling, with
respect to ruling out complementation as a grammatical
structure: 'since predicates and core arguments are
typically conceived of as a single unit, an utterance which
displays discontinuity and conceptual separation is not a
good candidate for predicate plus core argument' (54),
i.e., not complementation.

Englebretson also appeals to more traditional tests to
determine whether a clause is syntactically treated as an
argument of a preceding verb. There are two kinds of
transitive clauses in Indonesian, described by Englebretson
(following Wouk (1989) and Cumming (1991), inter alia):
Agent Trigger (AT) and Patient Trigger (PT). The 'trigger'
of the clause is its 'subject', and is the only argument
which can be shared in clause combining (18). (In standard
written Indonesian, the trigger is normally marked by
verbal morphology and word order; this is not always the
case in the colloquial variety.) As a diagnostic of the
argumenthood of the second clause of a framed instantiation
(i.e., its status as a syntactically-defined complement),
Englebretson considers whether this clause can be promoted
to 'subject' with the use of a PT form of the verb in the
first clause: if the second clause in a framed
instantiation is able to be promoted to subject with the
use of a PT form of the verb in the preceding clause, he
argues, this would indicate that this second clause is a
true syntactic argument (i.e., a grammatical complement) of
the verb in the first clause.

He examines a variety of specific constructions in turn,
and ultimately concludes that a small number of these
(4.18% of the total set of framed instantiations in his
corpus, to be exact) do seem to contain enough evidence of
syntactic complementation to prohibit him from completely
ruling out its existence in these cases. However, he argues
convincingly that this evidence is limited and
'circumstantial' (88), and despite it, that 'Indonesian
seems not to have grammaticized complementation as a robust
category' and that 'complementation in the corpus is simply
epiphenomenal, and not a grammatical category at all.'
Throughout, however, he presents evidence that
semantically, at least, these framed instantiations in
Indonesian are very similar to complementation structures

Chapter 3: Complementizers in context: An analysis of bahwa
In this chapter, Englebretson considers clauses that are
linked by overt connectives. He presents a detailed
analysis of bahwa (a word with no lexical meaning that
traditionally has been analyzed as a complementizer),
illustrating its distribution and varying functions.
Englebretson suggests that this word is best analyzed as a
discourse marker and that its 'putative role as a
complementizer is simply a reflection of... larger,
discourse-level functions' (94). He also argues that bahwa
functions as a sociolinguistic marker of formal speech (it
is entirely limited to the two formal speech events in his
corpus, where it occurs fairly frequently), and claims that
it occurs only in speech events which are more closely
modeled on standard written Indonesian than in the
colloquial, interactive variety.

In line with his general methodological perspective, he
argues that what needs to be explained is the occurrence of
bahwa, not its absence. In terms of further ruling out
bahwa being a complementizer (i.e., being able to
subordinate the following clause), he presents a variety of
syntactic evidence: for example, he argues that bahwa is
able to introduce entire stretches of discourse, not just a
single clause, and that it may be separated from the clause
it putatively introduces by other material. In sum, he
concludes that he has not been able to present any evidence
for analyzing bahwa as a complementizer, and that in many
of the cases discussed, such an analysis is not even
possible (123).

Chapter 4: Verbs in series
In this chapter, Englebretson considers verb serialization,
which he defines as 'the occurrence of two (or more)
adjacent verbs with no intervening material, which occur in
the same IU, and which share at least one argument' (128).
He thoroughly describes the different types of serial verb
constructions, typologized according to which argument is
being shared, which type of semantic relationship they
encode, and whether the verbs are linked by an overt

Serial verbs in Indonesian have traditionally been analyzed
as 'reduced complements', where the second verb is an
argument of the first. However, Englebretson argues that
there is no prosodic evidence to justify a biclausal
analysis of juxtaposed verbs, and that these should instead
be analyzed as monoclausal, yet containing a complex
predicate (126). Toward this end, he presents evidence
demonstrating that serial verb constructions are
prosodically and syntactically similar to clauses
containing a single verb. Finally, he concludes that for
serialized verbs as well, 'there is little to no evidence
that these forms in colloquial Indonesian actually are
grammatical complements' (151).

Chapter 5: Epistemic -nya constructions
In this chapter, Englebretson analyzes the epistemic -nya
construction as an example of a Dixonian complementation
strategy. Unlike the other constructions he considers in
this book, this construction has not previously been
analyzed as complementation, but he argues that it fulfills
a similar range of semantic and pragmatic functions as the

He provides a preliminary analysis of the widely varying
functions and use of -nya, along with a preliminary
hypothesis as to how they are related. While he
acknowledges that much work remains to be done in this
area, this work nonetheless represents the first analysis
of -nya, and as such is quite an important contribution.

The author provides evidence that -nya has many apparently
disparate functions, including its use as a possessive
marker, an identifiability marker, a pronominal marker, and
adverbial marker, as a framing device; and as a means of
encoding evidentiality, the speaker's attitude towards a
proposition, or the speaker's assessment of how it should
be situated in the larger discourse. Again, this analysis
is an extremely valuable contribution. However, the 'cline
of grammaticalization... across these various functions'
(171) which Englebretson hypothesizes to account for this
morpheme's distribution is suffers slightly in comparison
to the rest of his arguments in this book, which are
generally extremely well-motivated.

Chapter 6: Conclusion
In the final chapter, the author addresses potential
criticisms to the discourse-functional approach he has
taken in this analysis. He further argues that with this
analysis he has demonstrated the need for linguistic
categories in general to be argued for and justified on a
language-particular basis (188). This point is well taken,
but it perhaps seems unnecessarily controversial (from a
more formalist perspective) when he states that 'a
realistic view of what grammar is [is that] linguistic
structures need to be understood and treated as language-
particular, not language-universal' (189). However, he
quickly qualifies this, and tidily sums up his overarching
viewpoint, by saying ''complementation' is a useful label
to describe the relationship which exists in many languages
between a semantic/pragmatic situation of such as framing
and epistemicity, and the syntactic situation of one clause
serving as argument of another... [on the other hand, there
are] languages in which these relationships are not encoded
grammatically', as he has convincingly shown to be the case
for colloquial Indonesian.


This book is carefully and clearly written, with obvious
attention to detail. The empirical data chosen successfully
illustrates the author's arguments. The chapters are
logically structured and well summarized, making his line
of argumentation easy to follow and evaluate. Regardless of
an Indonesianist's theoretical orientation, this book
provides a myriad of interesting arguments and empirical
data, and as such should be of interest.

Furthermore, this study makes several significant
contributions to the literature available on Indonesian:

First, colloquial Indonesian differs lexically,
grammatically and phonologically from standard written
Indonesian in many ways: affixless verbs, and the presence
of certain verbal affixes, for example. However, much of
previous work on Indonesian has focused on the standard
written variety. This work represents one of the few
studies on the colloquial variety.

Second, this study also has potential cross-linguistic
implications. Only a few other researchers have examined
complementation in naturally-occurring conversational data
in any language (Thompson and Mulac 1991, Thompson 2002).
However, colloquial Indonesian is 'an especially good
candidate for investigating the possibility of diversity of
complementation, since it does not make use of any of the
resources described in the literature to indicate that a
clause is functioning as an argument of another clause'
(4), such as grammatical subordination, finite/nonfinite
verbs, and case marking on nominals. Englebretson therefore
seeks to define the ways in which Indonesian expresses 'the
semantic resources which tend to be encoded cross-
linguistically by complementation' (4).

Finally, this work is the first to propose a comprehensive
description and characterization of the clitic -nya in
colloquial Indonesian, with the intent of accounting for
all of the morpheme's 'multiple and overlapping functions'
(16), including uses as a marker of possession,
identifiability, nominalization, pronominal arguments, and

A few criticisms can be suggested here, but are not
intended to detract from the work as a whole. First, a
methodological concern, which the author himself does
address: in a purely corpus-based study, the lack of a
given structure cannot be taken as an unequivocal
demonstration that this structure is ungrammatical.
Although the author supplements his corpus with elicited
native speaker judgments where necessary for his arguments,
these are not always entirely adequate (or even accurate),
given the colloquial form of the language under study and
the prescriptive attitudes of many speakers. It is not
clear how this conundrum may be satisfactorily resolved.

Second, in line with his assumption that grammar must be
understood as emerging from frequency and use (142),
Englebretson assigns a surprising amount of status to
frequency of a given construction within his corpus in his

Finally, it is not clear which, if any, discourse-
functional theoretical framework of grammar the author
subscribes to. While this is not necessarily a criticism of
the work on its own terms, its absence is keenly felt by
the Indonesianist with an interest in theoretical syntax.
The tantalizing question of how the phenomena he describes
here might structurally be accounted for by a theory of
grammar remains, and one hopes that it will be addressed in
future research.


Cumming, Susanna. 1991. Functional change: the case of
Malay constituent order. New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Dixon, Robert M.W. 1995. Complement clauses and
complementation strategies. In Frank R. Palmer, ed. Grammar
and meaning: essays in honour of Sir John Lyons. 175-220.
New York: Cambridge University Press.

Du Bois, John W., Stephan Schuetze-Coburn, Danae Paolino
and Susanna Cumming. 1993. Outline of discourse
transcription. In Jane A. Edwards and Martin D. Lampert,
eds. Talking data: transcription and coding methods for
language research. 45-89. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Thompson, Sandra A. 2002. 'Object complements' and
conversation: towards a realistic account. Studies in
Language 26.1: 125-164.

Thompson, Sandra A. and Anthony Mulac. 1991. The discourse
conditions for the use of the complementizer that in
conversational English. Journal of Pragmatics 15: 237-251.

Wouk, Fay. 1989. The use of verb morphology in spoken
Jakarta Indonesian. Ph.D. dissertation: UCLA.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Catherine Fortin is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Michigan. Her research interests include the morphosyntax of Indonesian and other Austronesian languages, particularly with respect to argument structure.