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Review of  Initiation au Programme Minimaliste


Reviewer: 'Ross Bilous' ['Ross Bilous'] Ross Bilous
Book Title: Initiation au Programme Minimaliste
Book Author: Genoveva Puskás
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Syntax
Subject Language(s): Basque
French
Gun
Hungarian
Japanese
Book Announcement: 25.1493

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Review:
SUMMARY

The volume under review has been conceived from a series of course lectures on syntax (in French) taught at an introductory level by the author over the course of over 10 years. It is the result of multiple revisions of lecture notes taking into consideration students’ questions and comments. It consists of Preface, Table of Contents, Introduction and 15 chapters, followed by Glossary, Bibliographic References and Index. At the end of each chapter there is a brief section entitled “Pour en savoir plus” (‘To learn more’ or ‘For more information’: the reviewer’s translation) that contains bibliographical references to some salient and frequently referred to books and articles on the subject tackled in the chapter.

In the “Preface” (p. VII) the author invites the reader to do the same exercise her students were encouraged to do -- the exercise of questioning, and view the book as a guide to syntactic theory rather than an absolute reference book. The numerous data cited all along the book come from different languages: Romanian, Italian, Slovenian, Croatian, Chinese, Hungarian, etc.

In the “Introduction”, an outline of the theoretical model advocated in this coursebook is provided. By introducing the concept of generative grammar model and the notion of Universal Grammar (UG), the author explains the role of generativist approach in the study of languages. In a clear and structured fashion, and sometimes recurring to metaphorical illustrations, UG is shown as a State0 (i.e., initial state) of linguistic knowledge. Then, the reader is led to perceive the conceptualization of interlinguistic similarities and differences through the Theory of Principles and Parameters, according to which universal principles underlie interlinguistic similarities, whereas variation across languages results from combinations of different parameters. Next, the ascent of the Minimalist Program within the generativist approach is explicated: it had to be developed due to structural “redundancy” in the preceding “descriptive system” and due to the need for “reorientation in research” (p. 5). In passing, it was fittingly mentioned that “minimalism has not necessarily achieved stability in all of its domains of application” (p. 5, reviewer’s translation). Further, the author speaks about the importance of comparing different languages in order to comprehend what it is that they all have in common. Finally, the description of practical objectives of the course and of the sources used throughout the book round up this introductory section.

In Chapter 1, two central aspects of argument structure are explained: sub-categorization and thematic roles. To have a sentence, at least one predicate and one argument are needed. The structure of a sentence depends on the characteristics of a predicate. There are two types of constraints: semantic and syntactic. The semantic one determines the number of arguments that a predicate has and the syntactic one defines the syntactic type of arguments and their syntactic relation with the predicate that they are associated with. Based on their meaning, verbal predicates sub-categorize certain types of complements (i.e., c-selection). Every argument receives one thematic role.

In Chapter 2, Puskás discusses the division of words into lexical and functional categories, following the view that every word is a collection of different phonological, semantic and syntactic properties. Syntactic properties, or features, allow us to classify words into two syntactic categories: lexical and functional. The former have semantic content, while the latter are deprived of this content but are used in the construction of sentences having certain grammatical functions.

The following chapters deal with different types of syntactic constraints. In Chapters 3 to 5, the author addresses the structure of simple sentential units, consisting of different types of constituents that are hierarchically organized and that can be used to build different syntactic representations with a sentential head at the top. Chapter 3 speaks about different syntactic operations that can be used to identify one-word or complex constituents: substitution, clefting, question-making, omission. These operations are part of constituency tests that can help reveal language-specific or universal constraints as well as expose ambiguous structures. Chapter 4 is about the hierarchic organization of constituents in tensed sentences, ways of representing different constituents within the hierarchy of sentential structure, types of phrases and the notion of functional projections. Chapter 5 explains the importance of having a sentential head, the relation between tensedness and verbal predicate, head movement and subject movement, and the role of auxiliaries and of modal verbs. Chapters 6 and 7 are dedicated to the structure of complex sentences containing tensed and non-tensed (i.e., infinitive) object clauses. Chapter 6 discusses the structure of tensed subordinate clauses by showing how complementizer types depend on individual properties of verbs that appear in the principal clause. Object clauses in the subject position are also analyzed. Chapter 7 deals with two kinds of tenseless subordinate clauses: those that contain subject control verbs and those with exceptional case marking verbs. Chapters 8 to 11 deal with the movement of different constituents: interrogative and relative phrases as well as nominal phrases in unaccusative constructions. More specifically, Chapter 8 explains the nature of “Wh-movement”, strategies of this type of movement, what motivates it and, finally, the issue of “yes-no” questions that do not have the Wh-interrogative phrase. Chapter 9 addresses: 1) locality constraints on 2 types of Wh-movement in indirect interrogative embedded clauses: within an embedded clause and outside of an embedded clause; and 2) island effects in instances where the movement of a Wh-element from an embedded clause is not licit. In Chapter 10, the author shows structural similarities and differences between relative clauses and “Wh-Questions”. It is explained and structurally shown that, unlike interrogative pronouns, relative pronouns refer to nominal antecedents being realized as subjects, or (in)direct objects of an embedded clause. Chapter 11 deals with the properties of the so-called “A-movement”. If Wh-movement targets non-argument positions, this movement targets argument positions, characterized by thematic role assignment to either the complement of V or specifier of VP. Structures with both non-referential (expletive) subject and referential subject (that receives theta role) are analyzed. Raising(-to-object) verbs are similar to passive participles and are subcategorized under the class of unaccusative verbs whose internal argument moves cyclically to the Spec,TP of the principal clause in order to receive nominative case.

The subsequent chapters tackle more complex constructions, and therefore, require, according to the author, more precision. Chapter 12 is about double object constructions, or constructions containing ditransitive verbs that are predicates with three arguments, known also under the name of VP-shell. The author adopts the approach under which causative constructions do not have an embedded clause but are double VP structures, and ditransitive constructions are similar to them, also having VP shells. In these constructions, the lexical (causative) abstract verb (ALLER “GO”) assigns a thematic role of patient to its external argument and a thematic role of location to its internal argument. It is shown how this analysis can be extended to constructions with object control verbs as well as to transitive verbs with two objects. Chapter 13 covers the question of sentential negation, drawing a distinction between sentential negation that negates an entire sentence and negative phrases that negate only a part of a sentence. A unique sentential structure is adopted accounting for interlinguistic diversity. Chapter 14 addresses the role of Complementizer, the properties of focalization and topicalization and the possibility of combining focus with topic. CP is a projection that encodes the illocutionary (interrogative of declarative) force of the main clause. The main clause predicate determines this force by selection. Topicalization and focalization are accompanied by movement into Spec,CP, given that some languages (such as those of the Germanic group) can encode the feature of topic or focus on C (p. 270). And finally, in Chapter 15, the “legitimization” and “interpretation” (p. 283) of two types of DPs, “complete” ones and pronouns, and the possibility of reintroduction of Binding Theory into syntax are discussed. If DPs can be referential, pronouns are referentially dependent – they depend on another entity, generally a DP, their antecedent. The author adopts an approach under which CP is the domain of binding -- it is a phase where a pronoun is bound by a DP -- and movement is contained locally, that is, in the phase CP.

EVALUATION

This book is very well structured and easy to read due to the fact that the author has evidently invested much of her time into formulating and reformulating (general and specific) explanations of different concepts and syntactic operations, while being particularly meticulous about her choice of words. Additionally, the Glossary and Index are very useful additions to a book of this type.

In terms of the structure and format of this textbook, I would like to suggest that it would be very useful to include a small variety of exercises at the end of each chapter. This provision would help students reinforce their learning as well as test their level of understanding of the concepts learned from different angles. For the teaching professor, such a section would provide an opportunity to do a formative evaluation (either formal or informal) of students’ competence and performance.

As far as the content is concerned, generalizations and explanations of some concepts could be slightly improved by taking into account what is known about them to date, and using the technique of going from most general to most specific. For example, on page 129 the concept of the grammatical category of case is suddenly (and somewhat unexpectedly for the reader) introduced (in Chapter 7: “Les subordonnées complétives infinitives”). In my opinion, the status, nature and importance of the category of case should be discussed in a separate chapter by providing a few more details and examples. Since speakers of French or English are rarely introduced to this term, and normally get a very superficial idea (if any) in the study of their native language grammars about what exactly it is, they are prone to experience difficulties with this category, which is practically morphologically absent from their native tongues. Therefore, it might not be enough to say that “case is often present in the form of an inflectional morphologically identifiable marking that allows it to indicate the grammatical function of a nominal element” (p. 130, the reviewer’s translation). In an introductory coursebook like this one, it might also be useful to briefly explain the distinction between ‘languages with simplified or impoverished case systems (e.g., English, French, Italian) and languages with rich case systems or rich case morphology (most Slavic languages, e.g., Ukrainian, Polish, etc., as well as Hungarian, Latin, Sanskrit, Hittite, etc.) or “configurational versus non-configurational languages” (Bilous 2011: 146, among others). Then, it would be of great use to compare the data from the two types of languages, keeping in mind the fact that in languages with rich case morphology, there are several types of lexical inherent cases assigned to a noun in the direct object position (i.e., the instances of DOM, “differential object marking”). Ukrainian is a perfect example of this phenomenon (Bilous 2011). Further, one could briefly address the questions of case typology within the generative approach (van Kemenade 1987, Bilous 2011: 144, among others) and how different linguists view the concept of case within the Minimalist framework: Is it an uninterpretable feature or is it a functional category of K (Bilous 2011: 147)? The author implicitly follows the first (and more popular) alternative.

As for the quality of the text and the data cited, there are also some minor inconsistencies, inexactitudes and typographical errors that could easily be fixed. I provide some examples here. The author uses the English abbreviated forms of both frequently and not frequently used terms instead of simply providing French equivalents. To illustrate, throughout the book, the English acronym “DP” (‘Determiner Phrase’) is employed, even though there exists an even better (more precise) term in French that is already applied by some French-writing scholars -- “SDét” (‘Syntagme de Déterminant’) (e.g., Tellier 2003: 29, where the terms “syntagme” and “Déterminant” are used; also Bilous 2011, where the term “SDét” is consistently used throughout the entire monograph; among others). The author does, however, use this term on page 69 (“syntagme du déterminant”) as well as the terms “syntagme” (p. 57) and “syntagme nominal (SN)” (p. 61), “syntagme adjectival (SA)” (p. 65), etc. (in Chapter 4), but then she keeps using the English equivalent acronyms up to the end of the book. Also, on page 101 the English acronym “HMC” (‘Head Movement Constraint’) is introduced, followed by the French translation “contrainte sur le mouvement des têtes” provided in small letters and without quotation marks. For the sake of consistency (terms and acronyms could and should be given in the target language if it does have appropriate equivalents), it is important, in my view, to provide terminological analogues or possible translated versions of the names of theories, conditions, and so on in the target language and then, in brackets and in French quotation marks, the English equivalent that corresponds to it. It is also important to increase the consistency of instances where such equivalents have been provided (e.g., “le Filtre du cas (Case Filter)” on page 142). The English syntactic terms “valuation” and “to value” have French equivalents “validation” and “valider”, respectively, and therefore, it is recommendable that the latter be employed instead of “valuation” and “valuer” (pp. 133, 138, 140, etc.) (cf. also Bilous 2011: 150, 134, 219, etc.). The same statement applies to the terms “clause” (p. 109) and “proposition” (p. 13). Further, on page 139, Ex. 34(b) the German reflexive verb “sich rühmen” should be used with the genitive form “grosser Erfolge” and not “grossen Erfolgen” (which is in fact a dative form that can appear only after the prepositions “mit” and “von”). On pages 45 and 265, the term “structure phrasale” could be replaced by the much more frequently used term “structure phrastique” (for the sake of consistency with page 253, where “phrastique” is actually employed) in order to avoid confusion by using two terms that refer to the same thing. And finally, on page 138 “Da façon symétrique” should be spelled as “De façon symétrique”.

In sum, the book in hand is a highly useful textbook, a rarity of its kind, due to its structure and user-friendliness. I strongly recommend it to both students and professors who are interested in syntax, language typology, general linguistics, generative-minimalist approaches to language study and contrastive analysis of data representing a variety of related and unrelated languages.

REFERENCES

Bilous, Rostyslav. 2011. Transitivité et marquage d’objet différentiel. Doctoral Dissertation. Toronto, University of Toronto.

Tellier, Christine. 2003. Éléments de syntaxe de français. Méthodes d’analyse en grammaire générative. 2e édition, Boucherville, Québec (Canada), Gaëtan Morin.

van Kemenade, Ans. 1987. Syntactic Case and Morphological Case in the History of English. Doctoral Dissertation. Dordrecht: Foris.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Ross Bilous is a Sessional Assistant Professor of French Linguistics at York University. His research interests include: theoretical linguistics and linguistic typology, French morphosyntax, (morpho)syntax-semantics interface, issues related to transitive relation, issues of bilingualism, teaching/learning of French as a second language.

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ISBN-13: 9783034313889
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