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Review of  The Syntax of Verb Initial Languages

Reviewer: Matthew Walenski
Book Title: The Syntax of Verb Initial Languages
Book Author: Andrew Carnie Eithne Guilfoyle
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Syntax
Subject Language(s): Balochi, Southern
Gaelic, Scottish
Hebrew, Ancient
Salish, Straits
Irish, Old
Malagasy, Plateau
Language Family(ies): Kanjobal-Jacaltec
Issue Number: 12.2418

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Carnie, Andrew, and Guilfoyle, Eithne, ed. (2000) The Syntax of Verb
Initial Languages. Oxford University Press, hardback ISBN 0-19-513222-X,
256 pp., $45.00; paperback ISBN 0-19-513223-8, $24.95 (Oxford Studies in
Comparative Syntax).

Matthew Walenski, Department of Neuroscience and Linguistics, Georgetown

[A previous review of this book appears in --Eds.]

This book is a collection of papers treating syntactic issues
in verb-initial languages. The majority of the papers are
concerned with problems of word-order derivation, but several
other interesting problems are also addressed within the volume.
While a full summary and review of each paper contained in
the volume is beyond the scope of this review, a brief summary
of each chapter follows, with commentary on the entire volume

Chapter 1: Introduction, by Andrew Carnie and Eithne Guilfoyle
The authors describe two main problems for theoretical
accounts of word order in verb initial languages. For VSO
languages, constituency tests appear to demonstrate the
existence of a VO (verb + object) constituent. This is difficult
to reconcile with a surface order in which the subject
intervenes between the verb and object. A similar problem
exists for VOS word orders: are they derived from an
underlying SVO order or base generated? While VOS
languages do not share the VO constituency problem of
VSO languages, the authors list several proposed universal
properties that both types of verb-initial language share.

Chapter 2: Celtic Initials, by Randall Hendrick
This chapter treats initials in Celtic languages, notably
Irish, Gaelic, Welsh, and Breton. Hendrick proposes that
surface VSO order is derived from an underlying SVO
order by V movement to the left.

Chapter 3: VSO Order as Raising Out of IP? Some Evidence from
Old Irish, by Andrew Carnie, Heidi Harley, and Elizabeth Pyatt
Carnie, Harley, and Pyatt propose that VSO order in Old
Irish is derived from an underlying SVO order by verb
movement to the left, but that two different landing sites
are available for the moved verb.

Chapter 4: Tense and N-features in Irish, by Eithne Guilfoyle
Guilfoyle proposes that differences in the event structure
between English (SVO) and Irish (VSO) account for their
differences in word order. While this account also derives
Irish VSO order from an underlying SVO order, an attempt
is made to derive the difference between English and Irish
from independent evidence concerning the role of event
structure in the assignment of an external argument.

Chapter 5: VSO and Left-Conjunct Agreement: Biblical
Hebrew vs. Modern Hebrew, by Edit Doron
Doron argues that left-conjunct agreement is a phenomenon
associated with verb-initiality. In Modern Hebrew, the verb
is never initial, and Modern Hebrew does not display left-
conjunct agreement. In Biblical Hebrew, left-conjunct
agreement is realized when the verb is not preceded by some
other element.

Chapter 6: VSO and VOS: Aspects of Niuean Word Order, by
Diane Massam
Massam argues that the VSO word order of Niuean is derived
by predicate fronting. The predicate that fronts is a maximal
projection (e.g., VP), rather than a head (e.g., V).

Chapter 7: V-initial Languages: X or XP Movement and
Adverbial Placement, by Andrea Rackowski and Lisa Travis
Rackowski and Travis argue that VSO order can be derived
from an underlying SVO order by either V movement or VP
movement, while VOS order is derived from underlying SVO
by VP movement only.

Chapter 8: VP Remnant Movement and VSO in Quiavini Zapotec, by
Felicia Lee
Lee argues that VSO order is derived in Quiavini Zapotec
from an underlying SVO order. in her analysis the entire VP
raises to a pre-subject position.

In all three analyses (Chapters 6, 7, and 8) a constituent internal
to the VP (e.g., a direct object) is no longer within the VP when
it raises. Thus all three analyses converge to the same type of
analysis for VSO order.

Chapter 9: Locus Operandi, by Ray Freeze and Carol Georgopoulos
Restricting themselves to locative expressions, Freeze and
Georgopoulos argue that verb initial (VOS/VSO), SVO and
SOV are all basic (i.e. underived) word orders. They point
out that V-initial languages have no 'have' possessive, and
SOV languages have no pro-form existential. Both of these
facts are difficult to account for if these language types are
derived from the same underlying order.

Chapter 10: Prosodic Conditions on Anaphora and Clitics
in Jakaltek, by Judith Aissen
Aissen argues that the binding domain in Jakaltek (a strict
VSO language) is defined by prosodic structure, not
syntactic structure.

Chapter 11: Animacy Hierarchies and Sentence Processing, by
Seth Minkoff
In this chapter, Minkoff argues that the preference in certain
languages for a subject to be at least as animate as an object
can be derived from facts about linguistic performance. He
contrasts the verb initial Mayan language Mam with English.

Chapter 12: Predicate Raising in Lummi, Straits Salish, by
Eloise Jelinek
Jelinek argues that the predicate initial Straits Salish
language Lummi is a pronominal argument language, in
which clause structure, as described by information
structure, is strictly related to argument structure.
Jelinek argues that principles of information structure
that are typical of pronominal argument languages serve
to derive the predicate initial character of Lummi.

This collection of papers covers a wide variety of languages,
and represents an important and interesting contribution to
syntactic theory. To give one impressive example, Massam
(Chapter 6), Rackowski and Travis (Chapter 7), and Lee
(Chapter 8) all converge onto an analysis of a VSO derived
word order in which maximal projections rather than heads
are fronted. This is an impressive convergence, and could
indicate that a real insight into these languages and into
verb initial languages in general has been achieved.
However, it is not clear to what extent the convergence
of these analyses depends on assumptions crucial to the
flavor of the Minimalist program (Chomsky, 1995)
adopted by the authors. Seeing analyses of the same
or similar phenomena in a framework that does not rely on
these assumptions (and which may not rely on movement
strategies at all), would provide a very interesting
additional perspective on the phenomena in question. In
fact, there is virtually no mention of lexicalist theories
of grammar such as LFG (Bresnan, 2001) or HPSG
(Sag and Wasow, 1999).

This brings up the only real shortcoming of the volume:
the theoretical orientation of the papers within it represents
a very narrow spectrum. While some diversity is achieved
by the inclusion of processing (Chapter 11), and prosody
(Chapter 10), only one paper refers to a non-movement-
oriented framework (Chapter 2), which offers one of its
analyses in an Optimality-theoretic syntax. While this
does not detract from the interest of any of the individual
papers, the inclusion of an additional perspective would
have been a valuable addition to the volume as a whole.

Despite this shortcoming however, this volume is a
good collection of very interesting papers, and should
be near to the hand of any researcher interested in this area.

Bresnan, J. (2000) Lexical-Functional Syntax. Blackwell,

Chomsky, N. (1995) The Minimalist Program. MIT Press.
Cambridge, MA.

Sag, I. and Wasow, T. (1999) Syntactic Theory: A Formal
Introduction. CSLI, Stanford.

My research interests include sentence processing (psycho- and
neuro-linguistics), syntax, phonetics, historical linguistics, and
writing systems. I am currently a post-doctoral fellow at
Georgetown University.


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