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Joseph Aoun and Yen-hui Audrey Li. 1993. SYNTAX OF SCOPE. Linguistic
Inquiry Monograph No. 21. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Reviewed by A. Kroch:firstname.lastname@example.org
This book is a comparative study of the syntax of quantifier and wh-
operator scope in Chinese and English, written in the framework of
transformational grammar as formulated in the late 1980's. The book's
purpose is to develop, through the comparative analysis of English and
Chinese, the theory of Logical Form (LF) as a syntactic level of
representation. It follows a line of research initiated by Robert May in
the middle 1970's and developed further by many others. As such, it should
be of interest to a wide range of linguists, especially those working on
the syntax-semantics interface; but the discussion on Linguist will benefit
particularly from the comments of specialists in the syntax of Chinese and
native speakers of the language who feel comfortable giving quantifier
scope judgments. The analysis depends to a considerable extent on the
accuracy of Aoun and Li's description of quantifier and wh- operator scope
interaction in Chinese, which many readers, me among them, will be unable
to evaluate. Also, a descriptive question of considerable complexity and
interest that only experts in Chinese can hope to shed light on is the
effect on scope interactions of the of the presence or absence of the
mysterious adverb "dou". Beyond the domain of Chinese and English, it would
be interesting to know how much variation in scope ambiguity behavior there
is across languages generally; that is, what happens when the crucial
examples discussed by A&L are translated into the languages that Linguist
subscribers work on or speak natively.
The SYNTAX OF SCOPE is an elaboration of earlier comparative studies of
Chinese and English by the authors and others. The first chapter discusses
the relative scope of quantifier phrases (QP's) in Chinese and English
sentences with two such elements and the second the interaction between
QP's and wh- phrases. The third chapter gives a unified account of the
phenomena analyzed in the first two. Chapters 4 and 5 investigate the
interaction between operators occurring within simple and complex noun
phrases, respectively, and draw conclusions for the character of LF
movement and the binding of variables. Finally, chapter 6 discusses the
special properties of the interaction of wh- adjuncts and QP's, while
chapter 7 extends the analysis to Japanese, a language superficially quite
different from English or Chinese. The book covers a number of different,
though related, phenomena; and I won't try to summarize it. Instead, I will
discuss one of these phenomena, scope interactions between QP's, hoping
that other readers will find it worthy of further comment. I also hope that
others will bring up additional aspects of A&L's book in the discussion.
A&L approach the analysis of quantifier scope interactions through the
comparative study of similarities and differences in scope ambiguity in
English and Chinese. Apparently, Chinese sentences with two quantifiers,
like (1) below, are unambiguous in the scope of the universal and
existential quantifiers; and in this regard they differ from their direct
English translations, which are always ambiguous. [All of the examples I
give below are from the book unless otherwise noted.]
(1) Meige nanren dou xihuan yige nuren
every man all like one woman
"Every man loves a woman."
This difference between English and Chinese, if it is real and stable
across speakers, poses an important theoretical problem. Since the
principles governing the construction of LF must be universal and the
semantics of quantification must also be, it is not clear how the
difference between the languages can be accommodated. One of A&L's central
goals is to account for it in a way consistent with a strong and
restrictive theory of Universal Grammar. They propose that quantifier scope
is determined by two basic principles:
(I) The Minimal Binding Requirement (MBR): Variables must be bound by the
most local potential antecedent (A-bar binder).
(II) The Scope Principle: A quantifier A may have scope over a quantifier B
iff A c-commands a member of the chain containing B.
I give here the version of these principles stated in chapter 1. Later in
the book, A&L revise the Scope Principle and also their assumptions
regarding the nature of LF movement in order to give a unified account of
QP/QP scope interactions and QP/wh- scope interactions; but to avoid
complicating and lengthening my introductory remarks, I am assuming the
initial formulation. I think that what I have to say translates easily to
the revised one.
Given A&L's principles, the ambiguity of the English version of (1) depends
on adopting the VP-internal subject hypothesis. The derived structure
needed to support the two scope orders arises as follows: The subject
starts out adjoined to VP and moves to [Spec, IP] position, creating a
chain. Then at LF the QP's move to A-bar positions to create operator
variable structures. The MBR requires that the object QP be adjoined no
higher than VP, so as not to interfere with the binding of the subject
position by its QP, which will adjoin to IP. The LF representation of the
sentence, given in (2) below, is ambiguous under the Scope Principle
because at the same time that the subject QP c-commands the object QP, the
latter c-commands the trace of the former.
(2) [IP everyone-i [IP x-i [I' I [VP-1 a woman-j [VP-1 t-i [VP-2 loves x-j
Why then is the Chinese sentence in (1) unambiguous? The answer, according
to A&L, is not that the MBR or Scope Principle vary in their formulation
across languages but rather that the phrase structure of the Chinese
sentence differs from that of its English translation in a simple but
crucial way. Chinese, they say, has a defective system of verbal
inflection, entirely lacking agreement (and perhaps tense as well - AK).
This defective inflection will not support V-to-I raising, and the absence
of V-to-I raising prevents subjects from raising out of VP. As a result, no
syntactic chain is formed by subject raising and the only LF structure
consistent with the MBR has the subject QP adjoined to IP (or the higher
VP) and the object QP adjoined to the lower VP. This structure is
unambiguous in its interpretation under the Scope Principle.
An interesting consequence of A&L's analysis is that can explain an
otherwise surprising fact. Even though simple active sentences are
unambiguous in scope interpretation in Chinese, passives like (3), whose LF
is as in (4), are ambiguous, just as they are in English:
(3) Meigeren dou bei yige nuren zhuazoule.
everyone all by one woman arrested
(4) [ meigeren-i [ x-i yige nuren-j [ dou bei x-j [ zhuazoule t-i ]]]]
This ambiguity is, however, expected because the trace of the passive
subject creates the syntactic chain needed to induce the subject/object
Not surprisingly, many facts appear recalcitrant to A&L's analysis and
deserve further discussion. For example, sentences with the Chinese
equivalent of 'seem', which should induce ambiguity through subject raising
in the same way that passives do, do not. A&L claim that reanalysis occurs
between 'seem' and its complement predicate, removing or deactivating the
relevant trace. We might ask how plausible this is. Problems also arise in
English. Thus, A&L, following others, note that while a sentence like (5)
is ambiguous in the scope of the direct and indirect object QP's, its near
equivalent (6) is not:
(5) John assigned every problem to one of the students.
(6) John assigned one student every problem.
In order to account for this difference, A&L adopt a version of Larson's
analysis of the double object and dative constructions. This analysis is
quite complex and would take too much space to discuss here; but if
adopted, it correctly predicts the ambiguities in (5)/(6) and related
sentences. The technical devices needed are, however, open to question. For
instance, A&L assume that QP's can adjoin to non-maximal projections and
also that the reanalysis of verb and indirect object required in the double
object construction is undone at LF. Hence, such reanalysis is not
equivalent to NP incorporation into verbs, which it superficially
resembles. Furthermore, while LF movement out of the reanalyzed structure
is allowed, they must require that the structure itself not be a possible
adjunction site for the moved QP. This requirement strikes me as odd.
Either the reanalyzed structure is really lexical, in which case extraction
should be blocked, as in other cases of NP incorporation, or it is phrasal,
in which case adjunction to it ought to be possible. Finally, we can note a
fact that A&L do not mention, which may raise serious problems for an
account of scope ambiguity in double object sentences based on Larson's
analysis. Consider the sentences in (7) and (8):
(7) Mary assigned one problem to every student.
(8) Mary assigned every student one problem.
Here my judgment is that both (7) and (8) are ambiguous. In particular, (8)
can mean that there was a problem which Mary assigned to every student.
That reading becomes more prominent if we give the indefinite added
descriptive content, as in (9):
(9) Mary assigned every student one problem that she particularly liked.
Under A&L's analysis the wide scope reading of the indefinite should not be
available. One way around the problem would be to say, as has been
proposed, that indefinites have both quantificational and and referential
readings. On their referential interpretation they behave like definites
and aren't interpreted as being inside the scope of a quantifier. This
solution deserves careful exploration but it raises difficult questions
regarding A&L's analysis of these cases, since now the ambiguity in a
sentence like (5) may no longer be a quantifier scope ambiguity. However, I
myself doubt that this solution is correct because the scope ambiguity in
(8)/(9) seems to persist in (10):
(10) John may assign every student one problem.
Here one reading of the sentence is that it may happen that there is a
problem that John assigns to every student. Under this reading the
indefinite is not referential, since it is interpreted as being within the
scope of the modal operator. A definite NP would not be taken to be within
the scope of the modal, as (11) makes clear:
(11) John may assign every student the problem.
We are thus left with the question of why (8)/(9) should be ambiguous,
given that its phrase structure is the same as that of (5), which is
unambiguous. The contrast threatens somewhat A&L's attempt to account for
all scope ambiguity differences across sentence types and languages in
terms of phrase structure differences.
The remarks I have made here are only the briefest sketch of a discussion
of one part of a very interesting book. I hope that they will stimulate
others to read the book and share their reactions with the Linguist