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Review of  Rethinking the Coordinate-Subordinate Dichotomy

Reviewer: Dinha Tobiya Gorgis
Book Title: Rethinking the Coordinate-Subordinate Dichotomy
Book Author: Jean-Christophe Verstraete
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 19.1575

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AUTHOR: Verstraete, Jean-Christophe
TITLE: Rethinking the Coordinate-Subordinate Dichotomy
SUBTITLE: Interpersonal Grammar and the Analysis of Adverbial Clauses in English
SERIES: Topics in English Linguistics 55
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2007

Dinha T. Gorgis, Jadara University, Irbid, Jordan.

This scholarly book proposes a typology of four basic types of complex type
constructions on the basis of three features of interpersonal grammar, viz.
modality, speech function and scope. The contribution of these three features
(parameters) to the building up of such functional typology is first handled
individually (i.e. in isolation), then collectively (i.e. holistically), in
terms of which the illocutionary force of the (secondary) clause is accounted
for nicely. Although this corpus-based analysis is undoubtedly functionally
oriented (cf. Halliday 1994, for example), it sometimes complements, but often
challenges, well-established perspectives such as Quirk et al. (1985), among
many others. All in all, the proposed typology is expected to ''serve as the
starting point for a large-scale investigation for the correlation between
semantic categories, syntactic criteria and discursive properties in clause
combinations'' (p. 290).

The book, divided into three parts (each of which starting with a brief
introduction), is made up of eleven chapters introduced by an orientation
introduction and summed up with a conclusion. Prior to accounting for clause
combining, each of the three chapters deals with one aspect of the three
interpersonal parameters as applicable to the simple clause. Chapter 1 is
devoted to modality in English, including modal verbs, semi-auxiliaries and
basic mood types (imperative, indicative), approached in terms of
speaker-attitude and speaker-interlocutor interaction. Although Verstraete
admits that modality extends beyond the verbal domain to include adverbs,
adjectives and nouns, he focuses on the verbal area because of its controversial
and heterogeneous nature in the literature as regard to the interpersonal vs.
non-interpersonal division of functional labor. This division was noted decades
ago by Halliday (1970) and followed up by Lyons (1977), among others. In
particular, 'deontic modality' is still seen to pose problems of delineation for
which he attempts to find answers within the underlying principles of his
alternative 'functional' typology by exemplifying secured conditional and
interrogative constructions from his corpus. Table 1 (p. 20) summarizes the
problem of delineation with reference to previous studies. Table 3 (p. 38)
asserts that subjective modality can be both epistemic and deontic, whereas
objective modality is both deontic and dynamic. While he maintains that the
subjective modal verbs ''are not the only position-encoding resources in the
verbal domain in English'' (p. 38), he holds that mood (imperative, indicative)
provides further evidence for subjective modality. In his words: ''The imperative
encodes the same type of position as subjective deontic modality, and the
indicative encodes the same type of position as subjective epistemic modality''
(pp. 40-41). Moreover, the indicative is distinguished from the imperative in
terms of the category of tense as already argued by Lyons (1977), among others.
The relation that holds between moods and modal verbs is summarized in Table 7
(p. 57).

Modality as discussed in chapter 1 is taken up in chapter 2 as an integrated
parameter with speech function, both being prerequisites for the realization of
a full speech act. Responsibility for a particular modal position is achieved
via the declarative and interrogative as constituting ''fundamental options in
the system of speech function'' (p. 59). Where the former allows the speaker to
take responsibility, the latter allows the speaker to transfer this
responsibility to the interlocutor in the next turn. Unlike these two basic
clause types, the imperative ''cannot transfer this responsibility to the
interlocutor'' (p. 67). So in contradistinction to traditional views, e.g. Sadock
and Zwicky (1985) and Quirk et al. (1985), which commonly hold that each clause
type is to be equated with a distinct speech act type, i.e. function; also
designated as 'force' in Radford (2004, p. 10), Verstraete contends that
''declaratives and interrogatives encode statements and questions only in an
epistemic context, but crucially not in a deontic context, where they encode
speech acts like orders, requests or pieces of advice'' (p. 78).

Chapter 3 tackles the question of scope (in conjunction with focus) as a third
parameter in the organization of interpersonal grammar. Verstraete argues that
''focus-presupposition organization can be used as a heuristic principle to
distinguish between elements of propositional content that fall within the scope
of the interpersonal resources in a clause and elements that are outside their
scope'' (p. 79). Those falling within are termed ''focusable'', and those falling
outside ''non-focusable'', corresponding to the traditional ''intra-clausal'' and
''extra-clausal'' elements, respectively. This distinction can also help show the
difference between a number of structures such that ''arguments are inherently
focusable, adjuncts are focusable and non-focusable depending on construal, and
elements like concessive clauses are inherently non-focusable'' (p. 94).

Extending the analysis to complex sentences within the same perspective in Part
II: Interpersonal grammar and clause combining, Verstraete presents an
alternative to the existing approaches, including functional ones. Considered in
this part are ''combinations of finite clauses with or without conjunctions, as
well as combinations of finite and non-finite clauses'' (p. 101), to the
exclusion of all other structures.

In chapter 4: ''Parameters of interpersonal grammar and the analysis of clause
combining'', the author implements the three parameters, each of which taking two
values, viz. feature presence or absence, in the domain of clause combining. It
is claimed that what distinguishes his perspective from all other available
approaches are: (1) the combination of the three parameters which are ''regarded
as the basis of the typology'' (p. 104); and (2) the consideration of other
grammatical criteria, e.g. finiteness, clefting, etc., often coupled with each
parameter in the literature, as ''epiphenomena'' which can be implemented in the

Chapter 5: ''Combining the parameters: A typology'', sets up the intended typology
of complex sentences in English consisting of only four construction types to
the exclusion of theoretically possible combinations of values. For example,
''presence of speech function in a conjunct can never combine with absence of
modality in that same conjunct'' (p. 128), simply because speech function is
fundamentally dependent on modality. In other words, ''the presence or absence of
modal and speech function values in one of the conjuncts must be interpreted as
reflecting the presence or absence of illocutionary force in that conjunct'' (p.
138). Figure 2 (p. 132) is a schematic representation of the relations between
the different values for the three parameters. It is these relations which yield
the four construction types, hitherto unlabeled but exemplified (see pp. 133-134).

Chapter 6: ''Motivating the typology: Function'', sets the proposed interpersonal
typology against generalizations associated with the traditional
coordinate-subordinate dichotomy, including equality vs. inequality of status
for the conjuncts, integration, presupposition, and challengeability. Such
''traditional functional generalizations can be unified and explained by taking
the interpersonal perspective on clause combining'' (p.159).

In chapter 7: ''Motivating the typology: Grammar'', Verstraete tries to
incorporate the (other) formal grammatical criteria, termed ''epiphenomena''
earlier, into his interpersonal typology consisting of four construction types,
viz. (1) coordination; (2) modal subordination; (3) free subordination; and (4)
bound subordination. Pertinent to his argument are preposability, clefting,
wh-questioning, and the distinction between intonationally integrated and
non-integrated structures on the basis of scope, among other phenomena that are
typically available in main clause, but presumably not for subordinate clauses''
(p. 178), e.g. preposing of negative adverbials, VPs, tag questions, etc. In
addition to word order phenomena in other Germanic languages, viz. Dutch,
German, Danish and Sweden, these formal criteria are summarized in Table 31 (p.

Chapter 8: ''Motivating the typology: Semantics'', presents a third argument for
the plausibility of the four-construction-type interpersonal typology which is
seen to ''define semantically coherent categories of conjunctions'' (p. 187). Case
studies show that ''different semantic relations are not distributed randomly
over the construction types in the interpersonal typology, but can be shown to
correlate with some of the parameters on which the typology is based'' (p.218).
Table 41 (p. 219) is a summary of the correlation between the parameters and
semantic relations.

Part III rounds off the three arguments raised in the foregoing chapters,
applies the general framework of the typology to a number of specific
descriptive problems in the domain of clause combining, and explores some
theoretical implications about the usefulness of the typology. In so doing, he
moves from the interpersonal level to the interactional, i.e. discourse.

Chapter 9: ''Speaker-related versus SoA-related interpretations'', is a case-study
which distinguishes between speaker-related and state-of-affairs (SoA) related
interpretations of interclausal relations. Setting his argument against existing
observations, he maintains that this distinction is reflected in a number of
syntactic differences. For example, ''SoA-related structures can easily occur in
cleft constructions, wh-interrogatives and nominalized constructions without any
effect on their SoA-related interpretations, whereas speaker-related structures
cannot occur in these constructions without losing their speaker-related
interpretations'' (p. 229). He concludes that ''a secondary clause in a bound
subordinate construction falls within the scope of the interpersonal resources
of the main clause, and therefore cannot at the same time serve as a comment on
these same interpersonal resources'' (p. 242).

Chapter 10: ''Initial and final position'', presents a second case-study in favor
of his argument. Understandably, initial and final secondary clause positions
are typically associated with different functions. For Verstraete, ''a position
outside the scope of the interpersonal resources of the main clause is a
necessary but not a sufficient requirement for a secondary clause to take up a
discourse-organizing function'' (p. 254). He observes that initial secondary
clauses always take a negative value for speech function, as ''they do not allow
any non-declarative clause types'' (p. 258), while they generally also take a
negative value for scope, because ''they cannot serve as focus of the
interpersonal resources of their main clause'' (p. 258). So a general correlation
between final position and local function cannot be maintained; for, apart from
those final secondary clauses that take a positive value for scope, there are
also final secondary clauses that take a negative value for scope and even a
negative value for speech function, which makes them compatible with
discourse-organizational functions just like the initial counterparts'' (p. 259).

And, finally, Chapter 11: ''Typological outlook'', appeals to four specific case
studies made available in the literature in some non-Indo-European languages in
an attempt to explore the relevance of his proposed interpersonal typology. The
first and the fourth ''exemplify a line of research that focuses on the internal
structure of the secondary clause in complex sentences, more particularly on
different types of verbal categories like non-indicative moods or non-finiteness
[while the second and third] on the external status of the secondary clause
relative to the main clause, more particularly on different formal restrictions
of the integration of the secondary clause into the main clause'' (p. 261).
However, the proposed typology remains tentative, yet fruitful; for ''it could
serve as the starting point for a large-scale investigation for the correlation
between semantic categories, syntactic criteria and discourse properties in
clause combination'' (p. 290).

Undoubtedly, Verstraete has spent tremendous effort in putting the material
together and attempting to build up an interpersonal typology that is supposed
to resolve a significant number of problems associated with existing analyses of
the subordinate-coordinate dichotomy in the literature. It would have been much
better had the author applied his model to other aspects of modality in English,
some of which are rather unclear. Modality in other languages, though useful, is
treated at the expense of covering neglected and equally disputed areas of
modality in English. Since the title of the book addresses English clauses, I
think modality across languages of the world deserves a separate work. I will,
therefore, confine my remarks to modality which itself requires a number of
reviews from different perspectives, including the philosophical.

Though the audience are said to be graduates, their capabilities, I reckon, are
overestimated in the discussion of modality and underestimated in the discussion
of, for instance, the imperative mood. His distinction between epistemic and
deontic modality and hence its incorporation into his typology seems
insufficient because the literature provides ''taxonomic exuberance far beyond
these distinctions'' (Fintel 2006; Palmer 2001). Not only this, but their
correlation with subjective vs. objective modality, interpersonal vs.
non-interpersonal function and, above all, proposition is a serious problem that
might confuse the reader. In endnote 1 (p. 293), the epistemic-deontic
distinction is correlated with propositional content of two types, the first of
which he calls 'proposition' and the second 'state of affairs', respectively.
While it is commonly held that epistemic modality involves the speaker's
evaluation of the likelihood of a state of affairs, Hoye (1997, p. 45) suggests
that propositions, though relative to an individual speaker's set of beliefs,
can be equated roughly with 'what is said', but are not facts or states of
affairs. Rather than delimiting propositions into two types, Hoye (1997, p. 138)
distinguishes three. Yet as Verstraete contends that ''objective modals do not
themselves have any position-encoding function but rather belong to the
propositional content with respect to which such positions are taken'' (p. 52),
one wonders whether this 'propositional content' can be of the first type or
second, or perhaps both in two different contexts. The confusion, I believe, has
much to do with correlations. If epistemic modality is always subjective, and is
not ambiguous between subjective and objective like deontic modality (p.20), why
is it that objective modality, being both dynamic (said to be always objective)
and deontic (claimed to be in turn both objective and subjective (p. 52) governs
subjectivity and objectivity at the same time? True, more than one
interpretation for the same utterance is possible, but I think this
cross-referencing could have been eased off if 'dynamic' were replaced by
'objective', for instance, or giving options by using slashes and providing
pertinent demonstrative examples, perhaps a graphic representation like the
numerous ones displayed elegantly for speech function and scope, not to mention
the typology itself.

Problems are inevitable, particularly when it comes to the question of
cross-linguistic comparisons. Bybee and Fleischman (1995, p. 3) are of this view
because: (1) the semantic/functional domain is so broad; (2) modality lends
itself best to investigation in social, interactive contexts; and (3) the
context to which languages differ in their mapping of the relevant semantic
content into linguistic form. Such problems, and many others, are noted by
Recsky (2006, p.159) who has come to the conclusion that ''in conversation, the
establishment and maintenance of good social relations are of paramount
importance, and for this reason, the speakers rarely use categorical statements''.

That said, modality should not be considered purely an expression of
interpersonal relationship; for previous work ''has shown that modality is often
defined in some relation to the extralinguistic reality'' outside the speaker and
the hearer (Hladky 1976, p. 90). Such a statement would perhaps annoy Verstraete
because it is further claimed that ''[t]he classification into attitudinal and
positional, just as the classification into objective and subjective modality,
cannot be expected to be clear-cut and easily observable in every utterance,
even if the full context of the utterance is considered in the analysis'' (Hladky
1976, p. 91). Now confronted with two conflicting frameworks, one is likely to
admire Verstraete's for at least his plausible tests, no matter whether it is
claimed that every single clause has a function, or force (Ratford 2004, p. 10)
or not, and hence the presence or absence of modality in a conjunct and their
compatibility with position within and outside the scope of the interpersonal
structure of the main clause. Although one is also inclined to accept Hladky's
view since meaning in natural language is like a living slippery fish just
caught, yet we are in need of interpersonal models and the like, such as
Verstraete's, or the unfortunately unacknowledged Davidse and
Simon-Vandenbergen's (2002), among other cross-linguistic analyses, that can
capture generalizations in the best economic way possible.

Last but not least, it remains to say that a number of typos have been detected,
a couple of which may turn the argument therein upside down while some others
are trivial. These have been found on the following pages: 38, 42, 44, 45-47,
109, 120,167, including a syntactic slip towards the close.

Bybee, Joan and Suzanne Fleischman (eds). 1995. _Modality in grammar and
discourse_. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Davidse, Kristin and Anne-Marie Simon-Vandenbergen. 2002. _Aspects of
interpersonal grammar: Grounding, modality, and evidentiality (Functions of
languages)_. Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Fintel, Kai von. 2006. Modality and language. In Donald M. Borchert (ed.),
_Encyclopedia of Philosophy_. 2nd ed. Detroit: MacMillan Reference USA, 1-16.
Most recent version online at:

Halliday, Michael. 1994. _An Introduction to functional grammar_. London: Edward

Halliday, Michael. 1970. Functional diversity in language as seen from a
consideration of modality and mood in English. _Foundations in Language_ 6: 322-361.

Hladky, Josef. 1976. A brief comment on some previous works on modality. _Brno
Studies in English_ 12: 85-92.

Hoye, Leo. 1997. _Adverbs and modality in English_. London & New York: Longman.

Lyons, John. 1977. _Semantics_. Vol. 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Palmer, F.R. 2001. _Mood and modality_. 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge University

Quirk, Randolph, Sidney Greenbaum, Geoffrey Leech, and Jan Svartvik. 1985. _A
comprehensive grammar of the English language_. London: Longman.

Radrord, A. 2004. _Minimalist syntax: Exploring the structure of English_.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Recsky, Leonardo. 2006. Epistemic modality and speaker discourse: An
English-Portuguese cross-linguistic investigation. _Linguagen & Ensino_ (9)1.

Sadock, Jerrold and Arnold Zwicky. 1985. Speech act distinctions in syntax. In
Timothy Shopen (ed.), _Language typology and syntactic description. Vol. 1:
Clause structure_, 155-196. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dinha T. Gorgis has been teaching several language-related modules at a number
of Arab universities since 1975, and is currently professor of linguistics at
Jadara University in Jordan. He is chief editor of WATA international journal
for translation & languages and editor on the boards of Linguistik and TLJ online.

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