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Review of An Introduction to English Sentence Structure
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 explained.
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.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
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.