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Review of  Dynamic Antisymmetry

Reviewer: Asya Pereltsvaig
Book Title: Dynamic Antisymmetry
Book Author: Andrea Moro
Publisher: MIT Press
Linguistic Field(s): Syntax
Issue Number: 12.1030

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Moro, Andrea (2000) Dynamic Antisymmetry, MIT Press, Linguistic
Inquiry Monograph 38. Paperback, xi, 142 pp.

Reviewed by Asya Pereltsvaig, McGill University

(see book announcement on the LinguistList 12.785)

This book makes an original contribution to both the theory of
phrase structure and the theory of movement within the
Minimalist framework by relating these two syntactic components.
For Moro, movement is a function of phrase structure. In this,
Moro's theory is a reaction to Chomsky's (1995) Checking theory
and Kayne's (1994) Antisymmetry Hypothesis. Moro rejects
Chomsky's hypothesis that movement is driven by properties of
lexical items (that is, feature interpretability and strength).
Instead, he proposes that movement is triggered by the geometry
of phrase structure. Thus, the Dynamic Antisymmetry hypothesis
(p. 28) states that "movement is driven by the search for
antisymmetry". In order to maintain this claim, Moro departs
from Kayne's (1994) notion that antisymmetry is the property of
all levels of representation. Instead, Moro adopts a weaker
version of the antisymmetry hypothesis, according to which the
structure is necessarily asymmetric only at the level where the
items must be linearized, that is, at the
articulatory-perceptual interface. Thus, he assumes that "points
of symmetry are tolerated before linearization is required" (p.
28). In particular, Moro identifies three types of points of
symmetry (i.e., structures that are not compatible with Kayne's
Linear Correspondence Axiom, henceforth LCA). The first type of
point of symmetry is a structure with two maximal projections as
sisters; the second is a structure with two (or more)
adjuncts/specifiers to the same projection; and the third is a
structure with two heads as sisters. In the course of the book,
Moro examines each type of point of symmetry and argues that the
Dynamic Antisymmetry approach can account for the properties of
these constructions better than its alternatives.

The book is organized as follows: chapter 1 briefly outlines
Chomsky's theory of movement, and chapter 2 presents the key
elements of Kayne's (1994) Antisymmetry hypothesis that are
relevant for the argument in the rest of the book. Chapter 3
presents the empirical content of Dynamic Antisymmetry, and
chapter 4 addresses some more general questions about the
overall design of the grammar. Finally, the Appendix presents
the essentials of a unified theory of copular sentences stemming
from Moro's earlier work (Moro 1988, 1997). In this review, I
will focus on chapter 3 since it is the most original and
self-contained part of the monograph.

The core idea of the book -- that movement is driven by the
search for antisymmetry -- is based on two important notions.
First, points of symmetry can be generated by Merge, the
operation that creates syntactic units out of smaller syntactic
units. Second, movement can neutralize a point of symmetry. The
latter hypothesis is based on the idea that traces, which are
unpronounced, are invisible at the Phonological Form (PF) level.
Therefore, there is no need to linearize them, and they do not
count in determining whether a structure is asymmetric or not.
The same idea is entertained in Chomsky (1995:337), who
maintains that "there is no reason for LCA to order an element
that will disappear at PF, for example, a trace"; this point is
further developed in Nunes (1999).

The more interesting and controversial question is then how a
point of symmetry can be generated in the first place. Moro's
answer to this question is that Merge need not project one or
the other of the input constituents. Rather, it is possible for
Merge to project neither; in this case, "one could still
maintain that Merge is minimal in that it does not add extra
information and that there are no mixed labels" (p. 33). Moro
further argues that this type of "neutral combination" has a
natural empirical correlate in the construction known as small
clauses" (p. 33). Thus, Moro makes a distinction between two
types of constructions known as small clauses: bare small
clauses, which have a symmetrical structure, and rich small
clauses, which are projections of a functional category.
According to Moro, the two types of small clause structures
correlate with the external distribution of small clauses: bare
small clauses appear as complements of the copula, whereas rich
small clauses appear as complements of believe-type verbs. The
evidence supporting the distinction between bare and rich small
clauses (and indirectly, also the claim that the small clause
type of point of symmetry -- with two maximal projections as
sisters -- exists) comes from three empirical phenomena: the
distribution of certain types of adverbs, predicative markers
(such as 'as' and its Italian counterpart 'come'), and
cliticization phenomena.

Furthermore, Moro argues that the same type of point of symmetry
is involved in certain wh-extraction phenomena, for example, the
so-called split wh-constructions in German and Dutch (the
'was-fuer' and 'wat-voor' constructions, respectively), as well
as similar constructions in Italian. In these constructions, a
wh-element 'which/what' is extracted leaving a residue in situ.
Two questions arise concerning these constructions: why does
this process affect only wh-elements but not other elements that
might equally be analyzed as occupying the D(eterminer)
position, and what motivates this movement. Moro's analysis is
based on an analogy between 'which' and 'this type' (as in
'Which books did John read?' and 'John read books of this
type'). Both phrases are generated as sisters of the NP-residue
(here, 'books'), in a small clause type of point of symmetry. By
PF, this symmetry is neutralized by moving either 'books' or
'this type' into the specifier of the preposition 'of' in the
case of 'books of this type'/'this type of books', or by moving
the wh-element into the specifier of D(eterminer) P(hrase) in
the case of split wh-constructions.

The second point of symmetry involves adjunction to a maximal
projection, or multiple specifiers. As with other points of
symmetry, multiple specifiers can be generated by Merge, but
have to be neutralized by PF. According to Moro, this type of
point of symmetry is involved in matrix object
wh-interrogatives. The movement of the wh-element 'which' into
the specifier position of the object DP (which is motivated by
the need to neutralize a symmetrical structure of the small
clause type, see above) creates another point of symmetry, this
time between the wh-element 'which' and the matrix verb (Moro
considers 'which' both a head and a phrase). In order to
neutralize this point of symmetry the object must move higher.
If it adjoins to I(nflection) P(hrase), a symmetrical multiple
specifier configuration is created. To avoid this further point
of symmetry the object must move even further, to specifier of
C(omplementizer) P(hrase). According to Moro, the appearance of
do-support signals "that the [object] wh-phrase has raised to a
position that neutralizes the point of symmetry" (p. 65). In
contrast, in the case of a subject wh-phrase there is no point
of symmetry when the subject is in the specifier of IP;
therefore, the Dynamic Antisymmetry analysis predicts that
do-support will be absent in these cases. This prediction is, of
course, borne out, as in 'Which boy (*did) read this book?'.
Thus, the Dynamic Antisymmetry approach accounts for the
asymmetry between subjects and objects in matrix
wh-interrogatives: "the subject need not move to the specifier
of CP (as opposed to the object), because there is no point of
symmetry to be neutralized in this case" (p. 66). This analysis
if further refined to account for extraction from and within
embedded clauses; for reasons of space, I will not go into
details of this account here.

The third point of symmetry that Moro considers in this book is
the one involving two heads as sisters. He argues that this type
of point of symmetry is the structure that triggers clitic
movement. In particular, the Dynamic Antisymmetry approach
accounts naturally for the difference in position between
clitics and stressed (i.e., tonic) pronouns in Italian: the
former precede the inflected verb, whereas the latter follow it.
According to Moro, this difference follows from the fact that
stressed pronouns are phrasal, whereas clitics are heads. Thus,
clitics create a point of symmetry with the verbal head, which
must be resolved by moving the clitic. On the other hand, a
stressed pronoun behaves like a full noun phrase object in that
it creates no point of symmetry and no movement is triggered.

On the whole, the most important original contribution of this
book is in putting forward the hypothesis that movement is a
function of phrase structure rather than morphological features
of lexical items. Clearly, this hypothesis has a potential of
affecting our understanding of many syntactic phenomena. As Moro
himself acknowledges, this monograph is only a first step in
exploring the implications of this new theory of movement and
its application to language data. As a result, the monograph is
largely programmatic in nature. Yet, one would have liked to see
more discussion of paradigmatic cases of movement. In
particular, Moro has little discussion of constructions
involving A-movement, such as passive, raising, unaccusatives,
VP-internal subjects, ditransitive constructions and Germanic
object shift; only a brief footnote (p. 126) is devoted to
A-movement, and only subject-to-subject raising and VP-internal
subjects are discussed there. Moro proposes to analyze a clause
as a symmetrical small clause rather than an asymmetrical IP
structure; the symmetry is normally neutralized by adjoining the
DP subject to the small clause. In raising constructions, the
movement into the higher clause is triggered by the
impossibility of such adjunction; however, Moro does not
explicate why this adjunction is impossible in IP complements of
raising verbs (but is possible in CP complements of verbs like
'believe' and 'wonder'). As for VP-internal subjects, Moro
suggests that the movement into Spec-IP is triggered by a
symmetrical multiple-spec configuration involving the subject in
Spec-VP and the auxiliary, which is generated in a Spec-VP
position as well (as in Emonds 1985); note, however, that this
analysis would work only with overt auxiliaries, whereas null
auxiliaries will not create a point of symmetry (much like pro
in Moro's analysis of inverse copular constructions, section

As for passive, Moro acknowledges it as a potential problem for
Dynamic Antisymmetry, but does not suggest any solution. How can
passive be accounted for in this framework? In order to trigger
the movement of the object DP, the DP must be merged in a
symmetrical configuration. Since it is a phrase (and not a
head), one obvious possibility is to merge it in a small clause
type point of symmetry, as a sister to VP rather than sister to
V. However, this approach is problematic because it undermines
the idea that the subject of the passive and the corresponding
object of the active are merged in the same configuration. The
same problem is raised by the unaccusative/causative pairs (such
as 'John broke the vase/The vase broke'), as well as
double-object alternations (such as 'John gave Mary a book/John
gave a book to Mary'). Since Dynamic Antisymmetry views movement
as an obligatory means of neutralizing offending symmetrical
structures, these constructions cannot be analyzed as derived by
merging the items in the same way in both cases and then
applying movement to derive one of the two constructions. If a
point of symmetry is created by Merge, movement is obligatory;
if no point of symmetry is created, movement is impossible.
Therefore, Dynamic Antisymmetry requires an approach where
passives are merged differently from actives, unaccusatives are
merged differently from transitives, and so on. Likewise,
constructions commonly analyzed as involving optional movement
in GB/Minimalism (such as Scrambling) have to be reanalyzed in
Dynamic Antisymmetry as having different underlying structures.

Finally, it would be interesting to see how Dynamic Antisymmetry
approach can account for the correlation between phrase-movement
and head-movement in Germanic object shift, as in Holmberg's
generalization (Holmberg 1986). In particular, in languages like
Icelandic (and Yiddish; see Bobaljik 1995), object shift is not
restricted to pronouns; rather, it is possible with full DPs as
well. Therefore, object shift in these languages cannot be
analyzed as analogous to clitic movement in Romance. Yet, object
shift in Germanic is possible only if the verb moves as well.
This is the correlation that may prove difficult for Dynamic
Antisymmetry to capture. Moro does not discuss the triggers for
head movement in this monograph, but one must conclude that
whatever triggers verb movement must be a head, because a head
can create a point of symmetry only with another head.
Therefore, the same element cannot be "blamed" for triggering
movement of both the verb and the shifting object DP. Note
further that the locality/adjacency analyses proposed within
GB/Minimalism framework (e.g., Bobaljik 1995) cannot be easily
transplanted into the Dynamic Antisymmetry framework.

Thus, it is not clear how A-movement constructions can be
accommodated in Dynamic Antisymmetry and to what extent they
present a real challenge for this theory. It will be exciting to
see how these constructions, problematic at a first glance, can
be accounted for within the Dynamic Antisymmetry framework.
Hopefully, further research by the author of this monograph, as
well as other researchers, will illuminate these controversial

Bobaljik, Jonathan (1995) Morphosyntax: The Syntax of Verbal
Inflection, Ph.D. dissertation, MIT.
Chomsky, Noam (1995) The Minimalist Program for Linguistic
Theory, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Emonds, Joseph E. (1985) A Unified Theory of Syntactic
Categories, Dordrecht: Foris.
Holmberg, Anders (1986) Word Order and Syntactic Features in the
Scandinavian Languages and English. Ph.D. dissertation,
University of Stockholm.
Kayne, Richard S. (1994) The Antisymmetry of Syntax, Linguistic
Inquiry Manuscript, Linguistic Inquiry Monograph, Cambridge, MA:
MIT Press.
Moro, Andrea (1988) Per una teoria unificata delle frasi
copulari, Rivista di Grammatica Generativa 13:81-110.
Moro, Andrea (1997) The Raising of Predicates: Predicative noun
phrases and the theory of clause structure, Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press,.
Nunes, Jairo (1999) Linearization of Chains and Phonetic
Realization of Chain Links. In Epstein, Samuel David and Norbert
Hornstein (eds.) Working Minimalism, Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT
Press. Pp. 217-250.

Asya Pereltsvaig is a graduate student at McGill University,
Montreal. Her forthcoming dissertation is devoted to issues
concerning the derivation, interpretation and case marking in
copular sentences in Russian and Italian. Her other interests
include discourse-driven movement, and noun phrase structure in
Germanic, Slavic and Romance languages.