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Review of  The Grammar-Pragmatics Interface

Reviewer: Ahmad R. Lotfi
Book Title: The Grammar-Pragmatics Interface
Book Author: Nancy Hedberg Ron Zacharski
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Issue Number: 19.1502

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EDITORS: Hedberg, Nancy; Zacharski, Ron
TITLE: The Grammar-Pragmatics Interface
SUBTITLE: Essays in honor of Jeanette K. Gundel
SERIES: Pragmatics & Beyond Series
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2007

Ahmad R. Lotfi, Azad University at Khorasgan (Esfahan)

This volume is a collection of 13 articles (plus an introductory chapter)
organized in three sections, relating pragmatics to syntax, reference, and
social variables. The volume presents papers by colleagues and former students
of Jeanette Gundel whose work on the grammar/pragmatics interface in the past
three decades has won her international recognition.

Part I (''Pragmatics and Syntax'') presents four papers (Chapters 2-5) focusing on
the relationship between pragmatics and syntax:

(2) Laura Michaelis and Hartwell Francis's ''Lexical subjects and the conflation
strategy'' (pp. 19-48) is an analysis of 31,021 declarative-sentence subjects in
the Switchboard Corpus out of which 28,163 sentences (91%) have pronominal
subjects while the others (9%) have lexical ones. This small percentage of
sentences violate Lambrecht's (1994) principle of separation of reference and
role (PSRR) in that they introduce an entity and comment on it in the same
clause. The authors propose that while mapping to subject position is
constrained by the PSRR, it can be violated on the basis of the speaker's
economy ('Say no more than you must'): Based on a 'conflation strategy', the
speaker introduces a new topic entity as the subject. In response to the
hearer's economy; however, speakers choose those lexical NPs as subject which
denote recoverable referents.

(3) Nancy Hedberg and Lorna Fadden in their ''The information structure of
it-clefts, wh-clefts and reverse wh-clefts in English'' (pp. 49-76) report on
their study of it-/wh-clefts (98 cleft samples in total) in a corpus of 13
videotaped episodes of a half-hour, weekly televised PBS program (the McLaughlin
Group) aired between March 2001 and June 2002. Assuming that primary stress is
on the relationally new comment, they found that in all samples, wh-clefts
function as topics while reverse wh- and it-clefts function either as topics or

(4) ''Epistemic _would_, open propositions, and truncated clefts'' (pp. 77-90) by
Gregory Ward, Jeffrey P. Kaplan, and Betty J. Birner focuses on epistemic use of
the modal _would_ as in ''That would be Rod Blagojevich'' uttered by a speaker in
response to the question ''Who is the current governor of Illinois?'' whereby the
reply also conveys the speaker's assessment of the truth of the proposition
expressed. The authors argue that variable-referring epistemic _would_
construction shares a number of properties (such as number disagreement,
exhaustiveness of the postcopular constituent, etc) with clefts because both
constructions require some salient open proposition (OP) as formulated by Prince

(5) Hooi Ling Soh and Mei Jia Gao's chapter ''It's over: Verbal -le in Mandarin
Chinese'' (pp. 91-109) tackles the controversy over the semantico-pragmatic
status of the verbal particle -le in Mandarin Chinese. The authors take issue
with analyzing the particle as a realization marker, and argue for an analysis
of the particle as a perfective aspect marker. To do so, they examine the
semantics of the particle while separating entailments from implicatures: ''[T]he
inchoative or the present continuative reading associated with verbal -le is not
entailed by verbal -le, but rather ... due to sentential -le or implicated by
the use of verbal -le in achievement events'' (p. 92).

Part II (Pragmatics and Reference) presents six papers (Chapters 6-11) dealing
with the grammar/pragmatics interface at the level of noun phrases. As such,
most papers in this section are closely related to Gundel, Hedberg, and
Zacharski's (1993) Givenness Hierarchy according to which different nominal
forms (determiners and pronominals) of a language signal different
implicationally related cognitive statuses as depicted below for English: in
focus > activated > familiar > uniquely > referential > type identifiable

(6) Ann E. Mulkern in ''Knowing who's important: Relative discourse saliance and
Irish pronominal forms'' (pp. 113-142) examines the application of the Givenness
Hierarchy to Irish pronominal forms. According to Mulkern, morphologically
simplex pronominals are associated with entities in focus. Augmented forms, once
suffixed, signal that an entity's salience is equal to or less than another.
Pronominals augmented with 'fein' signal that an entity's salience is promoted
to the highest position in comparison to any other discourse entity. Pronominals
augmented with demonstratives signal non-human entities equally/less salient
than others, or human entities whose relative salience is associated with an
additional deictic factor of time/location.

(7) Kaja Borthen's chapter ''The correspondence between cognitive status and the
form of kind-referring NPs'' (pp. 143-169) applies the Givenness Hierarchy to
generic (kind-referring) nouns in English and Norwegian. ''The big whale'' in ''The
big whale is almost extinct'' is associated with familiar on the hierarchy.
Likewise, an indefinite NP, e.g. ''a blue whale'', signals the cognitive status
'type identifiable', etc. The author believes that given the Givenness
hierarchy, one can explain the discrepancies between the different types of such
generic NPs.

(8) In ''Context dependence and semantic types in the interpretation of clausal
arguments'' (pp. 171-188), Michael Hegarty views propositions, facts, and
situations introduced by subordinate clauses as dependent on the discourse
context in terms of the Givenness Hierarchy: a proposition introduced by a
clause may be rendered activated while one introduced (more centrally) by a
prominent nominal would be rendered in focus. Clausally introduced events, on
the other hand, would be rendered in focus (also activated by implication) as
they are available for immediate anaphoric reference via the personal pronoun
_it_. Clausally introduced situations, on the other hand, take reference with
demonstrative pronouns rather than the personal pronoun. Then such situations
can only be activated. The author explains such differences between
clausally-introduced events and clausally-introduced propositions, facts, and
situations in terms of semantic type with the semantic type e as a precondition
for being in focus.

(9) Francis Cornish's chapter on ''Implicit internal arguments, event structure,
predication and anaphoric reference'' (pp. 189-216) addresses the questions of
the conditions under which implicit (null) internal arguments occur with
different transitive verb types, their semantic and referential values in
different contexts, and the principles underlying these values. The three
subtypes of such null arguments that Cornish identifies for English, namely, (1)
non-referential, (2) anaphoric, and (3) discourse-new, range over the Givenness
Hierarchy as follows: the non-referential one for type identifiable, the
anaphoric one for in focus, and the discourse-new subtype for familiar/uniquely
identifiable/referential. In the first two subtypes, it is the highly
presupposed nature of the content of the null argument that licenses it. For the
third subtype, on the other hand, the lexical-semantic and Aktionsart structure
of the predicate together with its referentially-relevant features such as tense
and aspect does so.

(10) Thorstein fretheim in ''Switch-polarity anaphora in English and Norwegian''
(pp. 217-243) explores English 'otherwise'/'else' and Norwegian 'ellers' as
anaphoric discourse connectives based on a study of the bi-directional
translation corpus ENPC. Within the framework of Relevance Theory (Sperber and
Wilson 1986), he proposes that such 'switch-polarity' anaphora have a universal
procedural (rather than conceptual) meaning. As such, they are ''analysed as
discourse variables whose reference the addressee has to establish through a
search in the immediately preceding discourse'' (p. 217).

(11) Maria Polinsky's ''what on earth: Non-referential interrogatives'' (pp.
245-262) examines aggressively non- discourse-linked wh-expressions (NDLs) in
Russian. Such expressions , typically realized in English as ''what on earth ...''
or ''what the hell ...'', differ from other interrogatives in that they express
surprise at an eventuality, cannot be extracted from weak islands, and are non-
referential. It follows that NDLs cannot be associated with any position on the
Givenness Hierarchy as they do not belong to the terrain of referential
expressions: Like their English and Italian counterparts, Russian NDLs have
intentional reference only, i.e. they refer to properties (intensions) rather
than real entities in the world (extensions).

Part III (Pragmatics and Social Variables) presents three papers (Chapters
12-14) relating grammar to sociolinguistic variables in such terms as genre and

(12) Mira Ariel in her chapter ''A grammar in every register? The case of
definite descriptions'' (pp. 265-292) claims that frequent forms are
register-related patterns motivated by the speaker's goals rather than coded as
specific grammars. She proposes that such patterns ''tend not to grammaticize''
(p. 269) so that ''[s]tatistically significant differences are not necessarily
grammatically significant'' (p. 275). The author examines the controversial
findings concerning the frequency of first-mention and anaphoric uses of
definite NPs in different corpora, and argues that these different register
profiles could be explained in reference to the same discourse function, namely,
''coding a variety of low degrees of mental accessibility for the entities
retreived'' with the differences attributable to ''the different contextual
assumptions prototypical of the different genres'' (pp. 275-276).

(13) ''Apologies--form and function: 'I think it was your foot I was stepping
on.''' (pp. 293-312) by Suellen Rundquist presents a study of naturally-occurring
apologies in social and familial situations (families at dinner and adults in
dinner parties). Her data show that form and function in this respect are not
closely tied together. Indirect apologies comprise 40% of the examples in the
data, and show evidence of ''an acknowledgment of guilt or a broken social rule,
an acknowledgment of an imbalance in the relationship with an attempt to restore
the balance, or evidence of a pardon'' (p. 309). Moreover, the data suggest that
women have a greater preference for direct apologies. The author concludes that
apologies can be best analyzed in reference to the socio-cultural context in
which language users interact.

(14) Polly Szatrowski's chapter ''Subjectivity, perspective and footing in
Japanese co-constructions'' (313-339) reports her sociolinguistic findings
concerning co-constructions in spontaneous Japanese conversations where a first
speaker's utterance is completed by another. The author shows that the use of
such co-constructions can best be captured in reference to the perspective,
footing, and the intended addressee(s).

Despite sporadic efforts made over the past few years to substantialize a
convergence of structuralist and non- structuralist formal models of language,
structuralists and non-structuralists alike seem to have arrived at the tacit
agreement that each would better mind their own business, ignore what's going on
in the opposite camp, and respect the state of ''peaceful coexistence'' we've been
witnessing for the past three decades after the split of generative semanticists
from the mainstream generative linguistics, and the '''linguistic wars'' of the
late 60s and early 70s following the event. Oddly enough, during this linguistic
'''cold war'' of ours, the scholars from each camp find it wiser to borrow
insights from neighboring sciences (if not from such total strangers as
physics!) than the rival linguistic camp.

The papers in this collection, on the contrary, represent a healthier attitude
towards the question of the relationship between form, meaning, and function in
current linguistic studies: we do not need to push one out of perspective in
order to do justice to the subject under study (even though we might still
consider them distinct in ontology). Instead, the authors focus upon the
interface wherein forms, meaning and functions come in contact, which is the
direct influence of the research work by Prof. Gundel on the grammar- pragmatics
interface. Not surprisingly, Gundel began her seminal work on topic and comment
back in the 70s and from a generative semantics perspective. Newmeyer (1986)
attempted to ''explain why generative semantics came away very much the loser.''
Research on the grammar-pragmatics interface, however, suggests that a weaker
version of generative semantics still has a chance to win.

In this weaker version, syntactic rules do not need to apply to semantic deep
structures anymore, but syntax and semantics (and pragmatics by implication) are
still a unified area of investigation. As such, structuralist and
non-structuralist insights could be conflated into holistic accounts of language
with no urge to reduce one to the other. Likewise, the researchers in this
volume are cautious enough to see structuralist and non-structuralist accounts
of language as complementary. In their analysis of English clefts (Chapter 3),
for instance, Hedberg and Fadden conclude the article with the comment that
''[w]e leave it up to syntacticists and semanticists to explain why wh-cleft
clauses are necessarily topics while reverse wh- clefts and it-clefts can be
either topics or comments'' (p. 75). In terms of Principles & Parameters theories
of language, they even hypothesize that ''[p]erhaps it is because the wh-cleft
subject as a sentential subject is preposed into a topic position; whereas the
subjects of the other two types of clefts are in a purely subject position in
spec-IP...'' (p. 75).

Please note, the critical evaluation of the papers outlined above was intended
as my own understanding of the issues at stake, which is strongly influenced by
what I term a 'unitarianist' model of language. I wish to emphasize that nowhere
in the collection itself, the authors (nor the editors) have expressly
approached structuralist, non-structuralist, and generative (semantics) models
of language as I have done above. The reader of this review should not take the
editors/contributors' endorsement of my approach to these theoretical issues for
granted. This means while I strongly agree with them, they may strongly disagree
with me, and do so for whatsoever reason.

Dr. Ahmad R. Lotfi, Faculty Member at the English Department of Azad University
at Khorasgan (Esfahan, IRAN) where he teaches linguistics to graduate students
of TESOL. Since 1998, he has been developing a unitarianist model of language
wherein both structuralist and non-structuralist ideas are incorporated in its
formulation of the architecture of language.