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Review of  Constituent Structure

Reviewer: Kalyanamalini Sahoo
Book Title: Constituent Structure
Book Author: Andrew Carnie
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Syntax
Issue Number: 22.2415

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AUTHOR: Carnie, Andrew
TITLE: Constituent Structure. 2nd Edition.
SERIES TITLE: Oxford Surveys in Syntax & Morphology
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2010

Kalyanamalini Sahoo, English & Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, India. 


This book, intended both for advanced students and scholars of linguistics,
traces past and current approaches to constituent structure. This is the second
edition of the book, covering a lot of ground in over 300 pages. In this study,
Carnie discusses the current thinking on the topic of constituent structure,
both cross-linguistically and cross-theoretically in natural language syntax.
Focusing on crucial topics in syntax and morphology, he surveys a wide range of
theories and frameworks, including Chomskyan theories like Transformational
Grammar (TG), the Standard Theory (ST), the Extended Standard Theory (EST),
Principles & Parameters (P&P), including Government & Binding theory (GB) &
Minimalist Program (MP); and five other generative theories like Relational
Grammar (RG), Lexical-Functional Grammar (LFG), Tree Adjoining Grammar (TAG),
Generalized Phrase-Structure Grammar (GPSG), Head-Driven Phrase-Structure
Grammar (HPSG). Role and Reference Grammar (RRG), and Arc-Pair Grammar also
receive some attention. However, this is not a basic book in syntax and the
reader of this book is expected to have some (basic) background in syntax, and
ideally a more detailed background in some major version of generative grammar.
The book has 12 chapters in 3 parts: part 1 (chapters 1-4) contains
'Preliminaries'; part 2 (chapters 5-7) includes 'Phrase Structure Grammar and
X-bar theory'; and part 3 (chapters 8-12) discusses 'Controversies.' There is
also a list of abbreviations and symbols used, a preface to the revised edition,
and a general preface.

Chapter 1 is an introduction to the book. Carnie nicely describes what the book
is about, the organization of chapters, and the intended readers of the book. He
also gives a note on the advantages/ setbacks of using a huge number of
theoretical frameworks for the discussion.

In chapter2, Carnie points out the problems of viewing constituent structure as
simple linear concatenation. By implementing different hypotheses, such as
concatenation as addition, the structured concatenation and regular grammars for
the consideration of constituent structure, Carnie points out regular grammars'
inefficiency to account for embedding and non-local dependencies. He presents
Chomsky's (1957) argument that traditional grammars fails to capture the basic
facts of constituency, non-local dependencies, and structure dependencies. They
also miss important insights from semantics about compositionality, modification
relations and ambiguity that can be drawn when a hierarchical constituent
structure is assumed. So, finally he settles for a hierarchical constituent

Chapter 3 discusses the mathematical properties of tree structures with respect
to hierarchical and linear specifications of grammatical elements. Carnie
discusses the basic properties of tree in terms of dominance and precedence. He
characterizes domination in terms of reflexivity, antisymmetry, and transitivity
and discusses how the notion of a constituent can be defined in terms of
exhaustive immediate domination. He notes the complementary relation between
dominance and precedence.

In chapter 4, Carnie discusses the notions of c-command and government, which
are specific to GB and MP. He gives a comprehensive discussion of
constituent-command (c-command), taking into account Kayne's (1984) principle of
Unambiguous Path. A number of formal properties of command relations are also

Chapter 5 deals with phrase structure grammar, discussing the concepts of
context-free and context-sensitive grammar. Carnie shows that it is possible to
represent a Finite State Automaton (FSA) using the notation of PSG. He discusses
how different theoretical frameworks use PSG for different purposes, such as
top-down rewrite rules (early generative grammar), structure creating
projections (GB & MP), constraint-based rules that filter out tree structures
(GPSG & LFG). He contrasts the earlier mechanism of the top-down nature of PS
rules with the current bottom-up view, which he calls the projectionist view,
and states that a terminal-to-root approach is easier than the root-to-terminal
approach in distinguishing possible ambiguities in constituency.

In chapter 6, Carnie examines extended PSG, focusing on structure-changing
transformations and structure-building ''generalized transformations,''
introducing abbreviatory devices in PS rules such as the brace notation (which
allows for mutually exclusive choices), and parenthesis (which allows
optionality). He also outlines how PSG is treated in GPSG and LFG; and discusses
some of the extensions to PSGs, including transformations, feature structures,
meta-rules, functional equations, Immediate Dominance/Linear Precedence format,
meaning postulates and lexical rules.

In chapter 7, Carnie discusses X-bar theory (beginning with the rationale of
it), its historical development and various versions of it. He elaborates on the
X-bar version of grammatical relations, the notions of specifier, head,
complement, and adjunct. He also discusses X-bar structure in relation to
functional projections in various generative frameworks and claims X-bar theory
to be a powerful tool for describing the hierarchical structure of sentences.

The last section examines critical controversies in the treatment of constituent
structure. It mentions a number of alternatives to strict compositional phrase

Focusing on the Minimalist Program, chapter 8 deals with set-theoretic
constituency representations. Carnie traces the development of Bare Phrase
Structure, including notions like Antisymmetry and derived X-bar theory. He also
discusses adjuncts, Kayne's Linear Correspondence Axiom (1994),
three-dimensional trees, and top-down versus bottom-up constructions of structure.

Chapter 9 takes up syntactic dependencies and questions of constituency. Carnie
discusses examples in several non-Minimalist frameworks. LFG focuses on
functional-structure or f-structure, while Relational Grammar emphasizes
grammatical functions only. Mapping categories onto other categories, Categorial
Grammars are based on functional application, while mapping trees onto trees,
Tree-Adjoining Grammars use generalized transformations. Head-Driven
Phrase-Structure Grammar lays emphasis on feature structures, while thematic
relations get utmost importance in Dependency Grammar, in Role and Reference
Grammar, and in Case Grammar. Functionalist Grammar assumes that the basic
representation of sentences is a variant of formal logic; Construction Grammar
and Cognitive Grammar are concerned with the general cognitive principles that
map between memorized conventionalized expressions and their extensions. In
these frameworks, instead of constituent trees, we have templatic constructions
or schemata, into which words are mapped.

Chapter 10 presents yet more exemplifications of not applying a strict
compositional phrase structure. Line crossing, multi-domination,
multidimensionality and multiplanar structures of phrase structure trees are
considered, based on evidence from discontinuous constituents, scrambling,
argument sharing, and cross-modular bracketing paradoxes.

Chapter 11 deals with functional categories with a focus on recent proposals in
the Minimalist Program. Carnie claims that VP, IP, CP in Chomskyan Phrase
Structure and the equivalents of them in other frameworks are the greatest
discoveries in linguistics (p.221). The chapter addresses questions about the
categorical and structural constituent of constituent systems.

Chapter 12 is devoted to recent advances in the Minimalist Approach to
constituent structure, including the two-step Linear Correspondence Axiom.
Focusing on feature checking, Carnie discusses the Merge operation and
Minimalist Dependency Grammar.


By mapping out the state of the art in the field of constituent structure, this
book is an excellent survey of Phrase Structure in generative grammar. Carnie is
open-minded in presenting different theoretical frameworks that have contributed
to our understanding of phrase structure. Beside GB, Minimalism, and Bare Phrase
Structure Grammar, GPSG and HPSG are also discussed to a good extent, while LFG
is not discussed much. A plus point of the book is that it always provides lucid
details. Carnie surveys and discusses many concepts that are controversial,
describing all the sides of a question and leaving it on the readers to judge on
their own. The inclusion of many useful figures and tree-diagrams serves to
capture the discussion in a concrete manner for the reader.

However, there are certain shortcomings as well. Although the book plans to
survey quite a number of theoretical frameworks, it deals mostly with Chomskyan
frameworks, and other frameworks are given much less importance. Even within
the Chomskyan framework, no detailed arguments are given for why the theory
underwent many important changes. This may be due to space constraints, and the
reader is assumed to have some prior knowledge in the field.

In certain places, Carnie does not present alternative analyses of a phenomenon
in detail. In chapter 2, while discussing regular grammar, Carnie points out
FSA's inefficiency to account for central-embedding and non-local dependencies.
However, as regular grammars are the most highly restricted class of PSGs, the
addition of a discussion on the different layers of Chomsky hierarchy including
recursively enumerable (unrestricted grammar), context-sensitive grammar,
context-free grammar would have been better.

Chapter 4 is focused on c-command and government (which is pro-GB theory). Of
course, beyond c-command, the discussion of other command relations like
M-command, K-command, S-command, NP-command, IDC-command, etc. is quite
valuable. However, I think that in this section Carnie could have included
command notions in other frameworks, such as relative obliqueness (O-command)
rather than configurational superiority (c-command) in HPSG; f-command in LFG,
which is defined over functional-structures, rather than over constituent
structures. In example (45) -- ''Government: A governs B iff a) A c-commands B;
b) There is no X, such that A c-commands X and X asymmetrically c-commands B'' --
Carnie provides a definition of ‘government' and mentions it as an incomplete
one, but he does not clarify in detail in which way it is incomplete and whether
such a definition can be implemented in all situations, e.g. in a
multiple-branching tree.
With regard to chapter 5, although Carnie supports a bottom-up approach over a
top-down approach, I think it is worth mentioning that in the case of parsing,
although it has been believed that simple implementations of top-down parsing
cannot accommodate direct and indirect left-recursion and may require
exponential time and space complexity while parsing ambiguous context-free
grammars, more sophisticated algorithms for top-down parsing have been created,
e.g. by Frost, Hafiz, and Callaghan (2007), which accommodate ambiguity and left
recursion. Their algorithm is able to produce both left-most and right-most
derivations of an input with regard to a given context-free grammar.
In chapter12, the discussion on Minimalist Dependency Grammar is too short and
creates a number of queries. In this chapter, I think, the Spec--to--Head probe
relation also could have been discussed, as ''specifier'' has a very different
role in the current state of the theory, unlike the head-spec relation in the
X-bar theory. Chomsky (2004: 111-112) claims that ''a Head--to--Spec relation […]
cannot exist (nor the broader symmetric Spec--Head relation, in the general
case).'' The only relation that is approved is a Spec--to--Head probe. Jayaseelan
(2008, p.104) also claims that ''Merge, the basic operation of syntax, can be
maximally simple if we do away with ''specifier.'' It would have been valuable to
note this further detail.

Being the second edition of the book, this new version includes a new final
chapter (ch.12) with some of the latest information about constituent structure.
Along with a number of additional changes, Carnie has corrected a number of
errors found in the first edition of the book, including some of the formal
definitions, technical errors, reference errors, and typos. The revised version
has become a really impressive and valuable work.
Overall, the book provides the researchers and students in syntax, morphology
and related aspects of grammar a vital source of information. It is an excellent
reference book not only for the variety of issues and various up-to-date
approaches it covers, but also for its way of presentation.


Chomsky, Noam. 1957. Syntactic Structures. The Hague: Mouton.

Chomsky, Noam. 2004. Beyond Explanatory Adequacy. In Adriana Belletti (ed.), The
Cartography of Syntactic Structures, Vol. 3: Structures and Beyond (Oxford
Studies in Comparative Syntax), 104-131. New York: Oxford University Press.

Frost, R., Hafiz, R. and Callaghan, P. 2007. ''Modular and Efficient Top-Down
Parsing for Ambiguous Left-Recursive Grammars.'' 10th International Workshop on
Parsing Technologies (IWPT), ACL-SIGPARSE, Pages: 109-120, June 2007, Prague.

Jayaseelan, K.A. 2008. ''Bare Phrase Structure and Specifier-less Syntax.''
Biolinguistics 2: 87-106.

Kayne, Richard. 1984. ''Unambiguous Paths.'' In Richard Kayne (ed.)
Connectedness and Binary Branching. Dordrecht: Foris, 129-63.

Kayne, Richard. 1994. The Antisymmetry of Syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Kalyanamalini Sahoo is an Assistant Professor in linguistics at the Department of Linguistics & Contemporary English at English & Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, India. Her research interests lie mainly in computational morphology and syntax.

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