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Review of  An Introduction to English Sentence Structure

Reviewer: Julie Marie Winter
Book Title: An Introduction to English Sentence Structure
Book Author: Andrew Radford
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Syntax
Issue Number: 21.1076

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AUTHOR: Radford, Andrew
TITLE: An Introduction to English Sentence Structure
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2009

Julie M. Winter, Department of English, University of Munich


This textbook presents students with an introduction to English syntax, as it is
conceived in Chomsky's Minimalist Program and in light of recent research in
syntactic theory. Radford states that the book is intended for students with
little background in syntax, for those who have completed some work in syntax
but who want to learn more about Minimalism, and for students in the field whose
first language is not English. The author is concerned that the text be clear
and approachable and emphasizes that he intends to avoid ''unnecessary complexity
and unexplained jargon'' (viii).

There are nine chapters, each of which builds in complexity upon the former
chapter. Each chapter has a similar structure: the main points of the text are
presented and explained and are later summarized at the end. Key concepts are
listed, there is a prose-style bibliography intended for students interested in
further reading and research, there are exercises with sample explanations for
some of the problems and model answers and hints for others. The book contains a
glossary of terms and an index, and teaching materials are available on an
accompanying website, as well as additional help with select exercises.

This particular textbook is a shorter version of Radford's ''Analysing English
Sentences: A Minimalist Approach.'' According to the author, both books are
organized in a similar manner, but the one under review here is less detailed
and more easily accessible to the beginner in syntax. This review will not
compare the two versions and will deal with Radford's shorter text exclusively.


Chapter 1 - Grammar: Radford defines the concept of syntax and outlines the
taxonomy of terms used in traditional grammar to describe sentence structures.
He then turns to Chomsky's cognitive view of language and his theory of
Universal Grammar. He presents Chomsky's notion of a Language Faculty which
accounts for the innate human ability to acquire language, and he explains how
principles of Universal Grammar underlie this model. He discusses the concept of
parameters, describes their binary nature and their role in language acquisition.

Chapter 2 - Structure: This chapter focuses on the way words are put together to
build sentences. Radford discusses the idea that a series of binary merger
operations are carried out in this process, and he introduces the use of tree
diagrams. He furthermore presents the Minimalist view that function words, such
as determiners, can serve as heads for phrases and explains key concepts used
throughout the book, such as Tense Projection or Tense Phrase (TP),
Complementiser Projection or Complementiser Phrase (CP), and ''c-command.''

Chapter 3 - Null constituents: The concept of ''constituents which have
grammatical and semantic features but lack audible phonetic features (and so are
'silent' or 'inaudible')'' (81) is the topic of this chapter. While these
constituents are not audible, the syntax of the phrase in question is a product
of the operation of such features. For example, in a simple sentence such as ''He
enjoys syntax'' (89) there is a null auxiliary or abstract tense feature which is
lowered from the head of the TP onto the main verb, a phenomenon known as affix
hopping. Radford presents the notion that all phrases are headed by overt
complementisers such as ''that'' or ''if,'' or null complementisers which indicate
the force of the structure, i.e. whether it is declarative, interrogative,
imperative or exclamative in nature.

Chapter 4 - Head movement: So far, Radford has introduced necessary concepts to
understand merger operations in the framework of Minimalist syntax; now he
presents and demonstrates various movement operations that account for such
structures as inverted auxiliaries in questions. Ultimately, head movement
operations involve copying and deletion operations. The notion that
complementisers are strong in nature and thus attract auxiliary movement is also

Chapter 5 - Wh-movement: This chapter looks at how question words ('who',
'what', 'why', etc.) become specifiers (the position preceding the head of
Complementiser Phrases). In this context, a question such as ''What languages can
you speak?'' has a paraphrase structure of ''You can speak what languages?''
(152-153). The wh-movement we see here is revealed to be a copying and deletion
movement which leaves behind a null copy of itself, also known as a ''trace.''

Chapter 6 - A-movement: ''A'' refers to arguments, which are subjects and
complements of verbs, and this chapter first defines the various semantic roles
of arguments and then explains the movement operations which allow them to
become subjects, or specifiers, within the TP. The ''VP (Verb Phrase)-Internal
Subject Hypothesis'' is discussed as the basis of this operation: It is the
hypothesis that ''subjects originate internally within VP'' (199). Further
introduced and discussed are the concepts of controlling and raising predicates.

Chapter 7 - Agreement, case and A-movement: Radford explores the syntax of
agreement in this chapter, and presents Chomsky's concepts of ''probe'' and ''goal''
in order to explain how agreement and case-marking occur. The sample passive
structure ''There were awarded several prizes'' (237) demonstrates how agreement
comes about. In traditional grammar it would appear that the subject and verb do
not agree. We learn that the verb BE is a probe that searches for a goal to
achieve agreement in person, case and number. This chapter also discusses the
expletives ''it'' and ''there'' and how agreement and case come about in structures
containing these items.

Chapter 8 - Split projections: In this chapter Radford explains how CP, TP and
VP structures can be viewed as different types of projections; hence, they
should be ''split'' into various categories. A CP can be split into a Force
Phrase, Topic Phrase and Focus Phrase projection; TP can be split into Tense,
Aspect and Mood projections, and VP can be split into ''an inner VP core headed
by a lexical verb and an outer vP shell headed by an affixal light verb'' (314).

Chapter 9 - Phases: This chapter focuses on Chomsky's theory that syntactic
structures are formed by a series of phases that are ultimately expressed in a
semantic and phonological form by means of a transfer movement. Radford writes
that such a phase theory would explain how humans are able to process large
amounts of material and data using limited memory capacity.


Syntax is a highly abstract and theoretical area for the beginner student, and a
great number of technical terms must be mastered in order to comprehend the
material. The author presents the subject in a simple and straightforward
manner, avoiding jargon that has not been explained in the process. He carefully
defines terms as soon as they are introduced, and his definitions are generally
illuminating and accessible. The terms appear in bold print, which makes it easy
for readers to go back to check definitions as they progress through the text.

A particularly strong feature of the textbook is the way in which Radford
introduces new and potentially difficult concepts with a sample sentence and a
tree diagram, as well as a written explanation of the merger and movement
operations that take place. Such explanations occur several times in each
chapter throughout the book, and they have a calming effect that reminds
students that these operations are logical in construction and they all function
in similar ways, and, importantly, that the material can be mastered. In a
similar fashion, Radford frequently recaps information already presented, in
formal summaries at the ends of the chapters, but also informally as he begins
each new chapter. Again, this has the effect of reminding readers that the
material is familiar and accessible. One has the impression upon reading this
text that a teacher with a great deal of knowledge and experience has written it.

The bibliography at the end of each chapter is yet another important strength of
the book. The discussion-style format is quite accessible, and the suggested
readings not only support the topics at hand but also offer various viewpoints
concerning the syntactic structures in question. Given the theoretical nature of
the subject, it is valuable to stress to beginning students that there are
diverse viewpoints on syntactic nuances.

While Radford generally explains and defines syntactic concepts in a careful
manner, there are some omissions. For example, the following terms have been
used without explanation in the main text (although the definitions are in the
glossary in the back): ''string,'' ''force,'' ''case.'' In my experience, even
students who have been exposed to basic syntax will need to have such terms
defined at the outset. Such omissions go against the idea that this text is
intended for students with minimal experience and ''with only minimal grammatical
knowledge'' (viii).

These omissions point to a potential problem with the textbook: It is hard to
understand how the intended audience could be students with little background in
grammar and syntax, and students whose first language is not English, as
outlined in the author's preface. Given the difficult nature of the topic, the
author tends to downplay the level of experience that is required in order to
grasp the material. In fact, the book would be most suitable for students who
already have a very good foundation in English sentence structure and
traditional grammar.

However, with the guidance of a knowledgeable instructor, this text would be an
excellent choice for a course with Minimalist syntax as its content. It is a
solid, well-written, thorough treatment of the subject, and it would certainly
help students grasp some of the underlying complexity of this area of study.

Dr. Winter is a lecturer in the English Department at the University of Munich in Germany. Her research interests are in the areas of syntax, pragmatics, history of English, stylistics and translation.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 0521516935
ISBN-13: 9780521516938
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Format: Paperback
ISBN: 0521731909
ISBN-13: 9780521731904
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