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Review of  Subordination

Reviewer: Frank Lichtenberk
Book Title: Subordination
Book Author: Sonia Cristofaro
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Typology
Book Announcement: 15.1591

Discuss this Review
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Date: Tue, 18 May 2004 15:05:23 +1200
From: Frank Lichtenberk <>
Subject: Subordination

Cristofaro, Sonia (2003) Subordination, Oxford University Press.

Frantisek Lichtenberk, Department of Applied Language Studies and
Linguistics, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.

[Another review of this book appears in --Eds.]

The book under review is a major cross-linguistic, typological study of
subordination (as defined by the author). It is impressive in its scope
and some of its findings, but there are also, in my view, some
problematic issues.

Broadly, the volume can be divided into three major parts. Chapters 1-4
provide the background and set out the basic premises and assumptions.
Chapters 5-7 deal with the three basic types of subordination:
complement relations, adverbial relations, and relative relations. It's
these chapters that present the major empirical results. Chapters 8-11
deal with general issues arising from the findings, such as comparison
of the types of subordination, explanations for the phenomena found,
and prospects for future research. There are also several appendices,
one of which gives information on the constructions and their
properties found in the languages in the sample.

In any large-scale cross-linguistics study, defining the phenomenon to
be investigated is an important issue. Cristofaro opts for a strictly
non-structural definition of subordination: ''By subordination will be
meant a situation whereby a cognitive asymmetry is established between
linked SoAs [states of affairs], such that the profile of one of the
two (henceforth, the main SoA) overrides that of the other (henceforth,
the dependent SoA).'' (p. 33). This property of subordination is
referred to by Cristofaro as ''the Asymmetry Assumption''. While a
functionally/cognitively based definition of the phenomenon under
investigation may be necessary in a cross-linguistic study, a very
strict application of such a definition may have as its consequence
exclusion of certain syntactic constructions that other linguists would
regard as qualifying for inclusion. And this is what happens here.
Cristofaro leaves out from her investigation of relative relations what
she calls ''non-restrictive relatives'' (including asserting relative
clauses), because the profile of the state of affairs that a non-
restricting relative expresses is not overridden by that of the other
state of affairs (which would normally be thought of as being expressed
in the main clause). Conversely, the definition allows for inclusion of
constructions that would traditionally not be considered to involve
subordination. Cristofaro compares the English sentence (1.3) ''After
she drank the wine, she went to sleep'' and a corresponding sentence in
Mandarin and says (p. 2): ''... the notion of subordination is
independent of the way in which clause linkage is realized across
languages. For instance, the English sentence in (1.3) involves a
clause that would be identified as subordinate under most traditional
criteria. However, the corresponding Mandarin Chinese sentence in (1.4)
involves two morphosyntactically independent clauses.'' The translation
of the Mandarin sentence is 'After s/he drank the wine, she went to
sleep'. While reading the subsequent chapters of the book, the reader
may need to remind himself/herself of what Cristofaro means by

Cristofaro's adoption and strict application of a
functionally/cognitively based definition of subordination has further
relevance, which has to do with another methodological principle
adopted in the study, although the former does not entail the latter.
The methodological principle has to do with heavy reliance on
translation in determining whether a given construction in a certain
language involves subordination or not. In cases where the source of
the data does not provide information about the assertional value of a
given construction type (and this, according to Cristofaro, is the
usual case), ''[t]he solution ... is to assume that the translation used
preserves the conceptual organization of the linked SoAs in the
original sentence'' (p. 41). This strikes me as a risky assumption to

There is one more general premise that Cristofaro assumes that has
important methodological implications, and that is the premise that
''all languages are able to express any cognitive situation, and all the
ways in which a particular cognitive situation is expressed should be
taken into account'' (p. 49). This allows her to include cases where
''the relevant situation is only inferred from the context, if that is
the standard means to express that situation in the language. [footnote
omitted]'' (ibid.). Inference, then, can be subsumed under
subordination, in the absence of a syntactic construction. Since, as
Cristofaro assumes, all languages must be able to express the same
''cognitive situations'', then if ''a particular construction is the only
means available in a language to express a particular semantic relation
between SoAs ... one has to assume that the relevant construction can
express all of the cognitive correlates of that semantic relation,
including subordination'' (p. 46). Consequently, ''there may be cases
where one has to regard a particular construction as an instance of
subordination independently of how it is translated'' (ibid.). There
may, then, be a conflict between the assumption that all languages may
express the same ''cognitive situations'' and how a certain construction
is translated, and in such cases the former takes precedence.

The purely functional/typological definition of subordination and its
narrow application, the reliance, up to a point, on translation, and
the assumption that all languages can express the same ''cognitive
situations'' involving subordination may be controversial to various
degrees, but it is impossible to tell whether Cristofaro's findings
would be materially affected if the notion of subordination was applied
differently, if translation was not such a strong guide, and/or if one
did not assume that all languages can equally express relations between
states of affairs.

In investigating the three types of subordination relations
(complement, adverbial and relative), Cristofaro pays particular
attention to two main structural properties of clauses that express
subordinate states of affairs. One is the verb forms employed.
Following Stassen (1985), Cristofaro distinguishes between two main
types of strategy: balancing and deranking. In the balancing strategy,
the ''subordinate'' clause contains verb forms that are equivalent to
those found in independent clauses. In the deranking strategy, the
subordinate clause contains verb forms not found in independent
clauses; for example, certain distinctions (such as tense, aspect, and
mood) are not expressed, or certain special forms are used not found in
independent clauses. The other main structural characteristic of
subordinate clauses that Cristofaro pays close attention to is the
coding of participants, in particular the non-expression of certain
arguments, and the expression of certain arguments as possessors or

Chapters 5-7 form the empirical heart of the book. Of these, the one on
complement relations is the most extensive one. It is in this chapter
that Cristofaro discusses two concepts that are crucial to the
interpretation of some of the findings concerning two of the three
subordination types, complement and adverbial. One of these is
predetermination, the fact that ''some of the semantic features of the
linked SoAs are predetermined by the nature of the relation itself'' (p.
111). For example, with 'want' as the main verb, the dependent state of
affairs cannot be temporally located at a time earlier than the state
of wanting. The other concept is that of semantic integration, which
has to do with how tightly or how loosely the two states of affairs are
interconnected. For example, in a causative relation one state of
affairs is brought about by the other (causing) state of affairs. (For
an earlier discussion of the notion of semantic integration see Givón
1980, 1990.) In addition to predetermination and semantic integration,
what may also be of relevance in some cases is the fact that the
dependent state of affairs is unrealized or that there is will or
interest on the part of a participant that a dependent state of affairs
be realized.

In dealing with complement relations, Cristofaro adopts Noonan's (1985)
classification of complement-taking predicates (modal, manipulative,
propositional attitude, etc.). The central finding of the study of
complement strategies in the languages in the sample is expressed in
the form of the Complement Deranking-Argument Hierarchy, formulated in
terms of the types of complement-taking predicates:

Modals, Phasals > Manipulatives ('make', 'order'), Desideratives >
Perception > Knowledge, Propositional attitude, Utterance

If, in a given language, deranking is used at a certain position on the
hierarchy, it is also used at all the positions to the left on the
hierarchy. And, if, in a given language, A and S arguments are not
expressed in the subordinate clause at a certain position on the
hierarchy, they are not expressed at any of the positions to the left.
A number of tables at the end of the chapter provide supporting
evidence for the hierarchy as well as other generalizations.

As far as adverbial relations are concerned, Cristofaro considers the
following subtypes: purpose, three kinds of temporal relation
('before', 'after', and 'when'), reality conditions (but not
counterfactual conditions), and reason. As is the case with
complementation, the factors of predetermination, semantic integration,
and will/interest are relevant. For example, in an 'after' relation the
two states of affairs are, by definition, sequenced in a certain way;
and there is a high degree of semantic integration in purpose
relations. Cristofaro establishes two major hierarchies for adverbial
relations. Tables providing supporting evidence conclude the chapter.

The Adverbial Deranking Hierarchy:
Purpose > Before, After, When > Reality Condition, Reason

The Adverbial Argument Hierarchy:
Purpose > Before, After, When, Reason, Reality condition

As far as relative relations are concerned, Cristofaro includes only
restrictive relativization in her study, and she includes only the
following grammatical functions: A, S, O, Indirect object and Oblique
object; not Possessor and not Object of comparison. Cristofaro adopts a
methodological principle that some might find surprising. (I do.) In
some languages a certain grammatical function cannot be relativized,
but the relevant noun phrase may be promoted, which permits
relativization. Thus, for example, in a language relativization may be
restricted to S and A functions, but noun phrases in other functions
may be promoted to S or A, which permits relativization. Cristofaro
regards such cases as relativization on the function before the
promotion; for example, relativization on O rather than on S. This is
because of the assumption that ''any given language should in principle
be able to express any given concept'' (p. 200) (see also further above
in this review). If a certain thematic role is normally expressed in a
certain grammatical function (say O), but promotion is required for the
purposes of relativization, this should count as relativization on the
non-promoted function ''because the same conceptual situation is being
expressed'' (ibid.).

Cristofaro establishes the following Relative Deranking-Argument

A, S > O > Indirect object, Oblique

(A slightly different hierarchy holds specifically for the expression
and non-expression of aspect and mood, where there is a binary split
between A, S, and O at the left end and Indirect object and Oblique at
the right end.) The Relative Deranking-Argument Hierarchy is clearly
not all that different from Keenan & Comrie's (1977) original Noun
Phrase Accessibility Hierarchy, the distinction between indirect and
oblique objects not being always clear. As is the case in the preceding
two chapters, tables providing evidence for the hierarchy are given at
the end of the chapter.

The relativization hierarchy is significantly different from those
established for complementation and adverbial relations: it is stated
in term of grammatical functions rather than in terms of semantic types
(such as modal as opposed to desiderative, etc. predicates; and purpose
as opposed to temporal, etc. relations.) There is another important
difference between relative relations on the one hand and complement
and adverbial relations on the other: the semantic factors of
predetermination and semantic integration (and will/interest) are not
relevant to the hierarchy. This raises a more general question of to
what extent relative relations are comparable to the other two. I will
return to this later.

The individual hierarchies established for the three different types of
subordination are amalgamated into several global hierarchies in
Chapter 8. Two of them are given here:

The Subordination Deranking Hierarchy
Phasals, Modals > Desideratives, Manipulatives, Purpose > Perception >
Before, After, When, A relativization, S relativization > Reality
condition, Reason, O relativization > Knowledge, Propositional
attitude, Utterance, Indirect object relativization, Oblique

The Subordination Argument Hierarchy
Modals, Phasals, A relativization, S relativization > Desideratives,
Manipulatives, Purpose > Perception > Before, When, After, Reason,
Utterance, Propositional attitude, Knowledge, Reality condition

O, Indirect object and Oblique relativization do not appear in the
Argument Hierarchy because only A and S arguments are relevant to
complement and adverbial subordination.

Phasals and Modals occur at the left end of both hierarchies, while the
Knowledge, Propositional attitude, and Utterance categories occur at
the right end of both. In almost all cases there is grouping of
subordination subtypes at the various positions on the hierarchies.
Only the Perception category stands by itself, on both hierarchies.

The global hierarchies reflect, to some extent, two sets of factors,
neither of which applies to all three types of subordination:
predetermination, semantic integration, and preference apply to
complementation and adverbial subordination, but not to relativization,
while accessibility to relativization applies only to relativization,
not to complementation and to adverbial subordination. One could, then,
wonder about the rationale for placing relativization on the same
hierarchies with the other two types. Interestingly, however, on the
Deranking Hierarchy, not all the relativization subtypes group
together: A and S vs. O vs. Indirect object and Oblique.

Building on the work of others (Givón 1980, 1990; Haiman 1983, 1985;
Langacker 1987a, b, 1991), Cristofaro identifies some cognitive factors
that underlie the morphosyntactic properties of the subordination
constructions under investigation. One of these is syntagmatic economy,
specifically non-expression of predictable information. Information in
a subordinate clause may be predictable because of predetermination or
because of obligatory argument-sharing between the clause expressing
the main state of affairs and the one expressing the dependent state of
affairs. Information that is recoverable may be omitted. This is what
Cristofaro names the Principle of Information Recoverability. Another
factor that is relevant is iconicity, which has to do with semantic
integration: ''there is an iconic correspondence between semantic
integration and morphosyntactic integration'' (p. 251). Verbal deranking
and non-expression of arguments are manifestations of relatively high
morphosyntactic integration.

Another major factor that Cristofaro identifies as relevant has to do
with the cognitive status of dependent states of affairs. Under the
Asymmetry Assumption (see further above), a dependent state of affairs
lacks an autonomous profile: its profile is overridden by that of the
main state of affairs. And while main states of affairs receive
sequential scanning, dependent states of affairs do not. This absence
of sequential scanning of dependent states of affairs motivates (but
obviously does not require) the absence of tense/aspect/mood
distinctions in clauses. And suspension of sequential scanning may (but
does not have to) result in a dependent state of affairs being
conceptualized as a ''thing'' rather than a process. This, in turn, may
result in the presence of nominal characteristics in clauses encoding
dependent states of affairs, such as case marking on, or with, the verb
and possessor forms, and perhaps also in the presence of special
tense/aspect/mood forms not found in independent clauses.

Cristofaro acknowledges that relativization is different from the other
two types of subordination: ''[a] counterexample to the analysis just
outlined is provided by relative relations'' (p. 287). Syntagmatic
economy, which may be relevant to complementation and adverbial
relations with respect both to a lack of tense/aspect/mood distinctions
and to non-expression of arguments, is not relevant to relativization.
In relativization, the lack of tense/aspect/mood distinctions results
from the suspension of sequential scanning of dependent states of
affairs, which may also be the case in the other two types of
subordination. However, non-expression of arguments (gapping) is not
the result of a cognitive principle; rather, it serves to identify the
role of the relativized element. It again makes one wonder how, if at
all, relativization fits in with the other two types of subordination
in ''global'' hierarchies.

Cristofaro proposes a number of implicational correlations concerning
various morphosyntactic properties of dependent clauses. For example:
presence of case marking or adpositions implies lack of expression of
person agreement; and non-expression of arguments implies non-
expression of tense/aspect/mood. A correlation is established if the
number of exceptions is not greater than one third of all the
significant cases.

In one of the appendices Cristofaro lists the information on the
languages in her sample on the basis of which she has formulated the
various hierarchies. Nevertheless, one would like to see sets of data
(sentences) from some of the languages to show how they follow the
hierarchies, the global hierarchies in particular.

In the concluding chapter Cristofaro makes some further general points.
Languages that contain only balancing strategies, languages that
contain only deranking strategies, and languages that contain both
balancing and deranking patterns for all types of subordination are
disfavored compared to languages that contain split balancing-deranking
systems where the two types are distributed in accordance with the
hierarchies. There is a functional/cognitive explanation for that. The
use of balancing strategies across the board would result in some non-
economic patterns (expression of predictable information), while the
use of deranking strategies across the board would result in some loss
of information (non-expression in the absence of predetermination).
Diachronically, the prediction is that languages are more likely to
undergo changes that lead to economic and/or iconic patterns rather
than vice versa.

At the very end Cristofaro points out that since her model of
subordination is a cognitively based one, then if it is valid, one
would expect there to be non-linguistic evidence for the concepts she
postulates, such as semantic integration between states of affairs and
the distinction between processes and things. At the moment, she is not
aware of any such evidence, but this should only serve as an incentive
for research.

There are aspects of Cristofaro's approach to subordination that many
linguists may find themselves in disagreement with, such as the
definition of subordination itself; nevertheless, this is an important
study which is bound to stimulate further research on subordination,
whether in individual languages or cross-linguistically.


Givón, Talmy. 1980. The binding hierarchy and the typology of
complements. Studies in Language 4.333-377.

__________. 1990. Syntax: A functional-typological introduction, vol.
2. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Haiman, John. 1983. Iconic and economic motivation. Language 59.781-

__________. 1985. Natural syntax: Iconicity and erosion. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

Keenan, Edward L., and Bernard Comrie. 1977. Noun phrase accessibility
and universal grammar. Linguistic Inquiry 8.63-99.

Langacker, Ronald W. 1987a. Foundations of cognitive grammar, vol. 1:
Theoretical prerequisites. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

__________. 1987b. Nouns and verbs. Language 63.53-94.

__________.1991. Foundations of cognitive grammar, vol. 2: Descriptive
application. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Noonan, Michael. 1985. Complementation. Language typology and syntactic
description, vol. 2: Complex constructions, ed. by Timothy Shopen,
42-140. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Stassen, Leon. 1985. Comparison in universal grammar. Oxford: Basil

Frantisek Lichtenberk is a Senior Lecturer in Linguistics at the
University of Auckland. His research interests include cognitive and
functional linguistics, grammaticalization, and the Oceanic languages.

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