Review of The Verb in Turkish
Taylan, Eser E., ed. (2001) The Verb in Turkish. John Benjamins Publishing
Company, xvii+267pp, hardback ISBN 90-272-2765-9 (Eur), 1-58811-073-7 (US
& Can), $77.00, Linguistik Aktuell/Linguistics Today 44
Lisa Shannon, University of Arizona
The study of Turkish in the theoretical linguistics tradition is a
relatively new endeavor, spanning only a few decades. Research on this
language has expanded, though not nearly to the extent of the European
languages. For this reason, when a collection of papers is published
which are entirely dedicated to the morphosyntax and semantics of the
Turkish verb, it is a welcome addition to the linguistics literature.
In May of 1999 a workshop was held at Bogazici University in Istanbul,
at which much of the research in this volume was first presented.
Bogazici is an impressive university whose Department of Linguistics is
beginning to attract well-deserved attention. The papers included in
this collection, many of which are authored by Bogazici faculty,
showcase a wide range of expertise and theoretical approaches to
Turkish linguistics that either challenge or complement much of the
work that has been done to date.
Because of the limited characters allowed by this format, I will use
the following convention when Turkish orthography is necessary (I have
not used it with Turkish proper names because it looks too weird): C =
voiceless palatal affricate (a lower-case c is the voiced counterpart
in Turkish words)
I = the undotted i (mid back vowel)
G = the 'soft' g (unpronounced)
S = voiceless alveolar fricative
Note that Turkish affixes undergo alternations due to vowel harmony and
consonant voicing, so there will be spelling variations in the
In the first paper, ''Finite inflection in Turkish'', Engin Sezer of
Harvard University presents a formal account of the behavior of the
Turkish inflectional complex within a Minimalist framework. In Sezer's
analysis, the inflected verb is laid out in this way:
V + Tense1 + Aux + Tense2 + Aux + Tense3 + Agr
There are nine Tense/Aspect/Mood suffixes and three possible positions
for them to appear, with most suffixes allowed only in Tense1 position.
However, three of the suffixes, -(y)di [past], -(y)miS [evidential],
and -(y)se [conditional], can appear in Tense2, and the latter two can
also appear in Tense3. As seen in the verbal string, the Tense2 and 3
suffixes can only hosted by an auxiliary verb. For this reason, Sezer
presumes them to be morphologically complex, and therefore
syntactically and semantically distinct from Tense 1 affixes. He treats
tense as a syntactic category such as a noun or verb, with lexical
descriptive content, and believes that tense, aspect, and mood are not
purely functional, but are semantic characteristics which contribute to
the well-formedness of the inflected verb. Semantic differences in
Turkish verbal complexes, Sezer argues, do not correlate with scope or
relative position of the affixes, but rather with the morphosyntactic
form, a claim he illustrates with various examples. Sezer proposes
that Tense 1 affixes carry complement features such as [+V,-N,-F],
while Tense 2 and 3 affixes carry [+V,-N,+F]. The feature F is a
characteristic of either a true verb stem [-Functional] or the
defective verb stem [+Functional]. Consequently, different tense
affixes head different complements, and these differences are
accountable by feature checking theory. This is further complicated by
the fact that some tense suffixes take different agreement paradigms
than others. The reasons for this are not fully understood, but it is
widely believed that there are two classes of tense markers, the so-
called 'true' tenses and the participial tenses (based on certain
behaviors in some predicate expressions). By this account, Sezer
motivates the selection of the appropriate agreement paradigm with the
features [+/-Finite] and [+/-Nominal]. This works quite well until the
appearance of the yes/no question clitic, which interacts with the two
paradigms differently. For this Sezer proposes a clitic theory for
Turkish in which some principles may be universal; others are
The second paper, ''A note on mood, modality, tense and aspect affix in
Turkish'' by Guglielmo Cinque of the University of Venice, seeks to
analyze the order of Turkish inflectional suffixes within the framework
of his (1999) work ''Adverbs and Functional Heads''. According to
Cinque's observations on numerous languages of the world, it appears
that the relative order of free and bound grammatical morphemes of
mood, modality, tense, aspect and voice are rigidly ordered. Moreover,
within each of those categories is apparently a subhierarchy of
distinct functional heads, also rigidly ordered, and which correspond
to various classes of adverbs in a Spec-Head relation. Unlike Engin
Sezer, who argues that (at least in Turkish) tense, aspect and mood
have lexical content, Cinque maintains that these are purely functional
categories that obey certain universal conditions. In this paper Cinque
applies his hypothesis to Turkish, a language which at first glance
might seem to provide a number of counterexamples since several of the
morphemes can appear in different orders, even two places at once. But
upon further analysis, the morphemes clearly have different grammatical
characteristics in different configurations, which appear to match the
specified mood, modality, tense, aspect and voice distinctions in a
particular order, as predicted by Cinque's model.
The next paper entitled ''Periphrastic tense/aspect/mood'', by Gerjan van
Schaaik of Bogazici University, explores the nature of verbal complexes
in which the auxiliary verb 'ol' is present in the string of morphemes.
Many inflectional affixes have morphotactic constraints with respect to
each other, and often 'ol' is employed as an intervening host for
affixes that cannot attach directly to the verb base (e.g. bekliyor
olacaklar '[they] will be awaiting'). The various configurations have
semantic consequences as well, based on the temporal, aspectual and
modal properties of the affixes with respect to 'ol' in periphrastic
verbs. In this paper van Schaaik attempts to determine how the
expression of tense and aspect in certain periphrastic constructions
relates to the theoretical approach taken by Johanson (1994) and Dik
(1997), which analyzes compositional forms but does not specifically
treat, nor account for, the range of periphrastic types presented in
this paper. van Schaaik looks specifically at the most frequently
occurring periphrastic constructions, namely those of 'ol' + tense
following '-iyor' [PROG], '-ecek' [FUT] and '-er/-mez' [AOR]
(affirmative and negative forms). The data was obtained from a corpus
of almost two million words scanned from electronic texts in a number
of genres. After a thorough discussion of tense, aspect and mood,
particularly as they relate to Turkish inflectional forms, van Schaaik
then analyzes their expression within a Functional Grammar framework as
proposed by Dik (1989) and Hengeveld (1989). The aspectual
interpretation of some of these constructions cannot be decomposed, as
van Schaaik seeks to demonstrate, and accounts for the periphrastic
form as a whole by assuming certain operators to be applied at the
level of predication (level 2 of the FG model) in a way that generates
the proper suffixes.
The fourth paper by Eser Erguvanli Taylan, also of Bogazici University,
entitled ''On the relation between temporal/aspectual adverbs and the
verb form in Turkish'', is a detailed analysis of the close interplay
between Turkish tense and aspect. Since Turkish has no grammatical
markers that only code aspect, this is accomplished in various ways by
the configuration of tense/aspect/mood morphemes, the contribution of
the verb and argument types, and by the inclusion of temporal/aspectual
adverbs. Consequently it is difficult to isolate aspect as a distinct
category in Turkish. Using Smith's (1997) situation types (activity,
accomplishment, achievement, semelfactive and stative) as a launching
point, Taylan begins her analysis using the features [+/-durative] and
[+/-telic] to determine constraints on various adverbs in combination
with tense/aspect inflections in simple clause structures. Among
Taylan's suggested findings are: (1) morphology signals an opposition
between the imperfective and non-imperfective aspects; (2) context,
pragmatic factors, adverbials, and polarity contain the information
necessary to specify the intended viewpoint aspect; (3) in some
instances the feature [+/-control] was necessary to account for co-
occurrence restrictions not handled by the durative/telic features.
Departing from tense, aspect and mood is ''The referential properties of
the implicit arguments of impersonal passive constructions'' by Mine
Nakipoglu-Demiralp of Bogazici University. The class of intransitives
that can undergo impersonal passivization (IP) is nearly universal in
languages that allow it, and has been applied as a diagnostic to
separate unaccusatives from unergatives since the formation of
Perlmutter's (1978) Unaccusative Hypothesis. However, some verbs in
Turkish do not behave in a predictable way. Nakipoglu-Demiralp seeks to
uncover the semantic reasons for their variant behavior and provide a
model that accounts for it. The nature of impersonal passives is such
that their implicit arguments have different referential properties in
different temporal domains. In the past tense, the sole argument of an
intransitive takes a 1st person plural interpretation, whereas in the
temporally neutral aorist, the sole argument takes an arbitrary
interpretation. Therefore, (IP) can only be used as a diagnostic for
unaccusative/unergative distinctions in the past tense. Nakipoglu-
Demiralp concludes that a verb can only be unergative when a situation
is interpreted to be internally instigated or experienced, and proposes
a scalar distribution of intransitives on this basis. The result is a
five point scale on which (1) is unergative, consistent across
languages, (5) is unaccusative, also universal, and at the middle three
points are verbs that show mixed behaviors cross-linguistically, but
which align themselves somewhere toward one end or the other.
The sixth paper is by Asli Goksel of Bogazici University & SOAS,
University of London, entitled ''The auxiliary verb 'ol' at the
morphology-syntax interface''. Here we revisit the auxiliary verb in one
of its apparent functions as a semantically and syntactically inactive
morphological buffer stem. As mentioned before, 'ol' can be employed as
a host for affixes that cannot attach directly to the verb base.
Sometimes it contributes to the interpretation of the clause, and
sometimes it appears to be present only to meet well-formedness
conditions, namely (1) a match between the suffix types and slots that
host them, and (2) the size of a word and restrictions on concatenation
of suffixes. In this paper, non-finite object relative clauses (ORCs)
are compared and contrasted with matrix clauses to look at the various
roles of the auxiliary verb in both structures and the morphological
constraints on compound verbs. In ORCs 'ol' clearly behaves differently
in conjunction with other elements such as temporal adverbs, negation,
and conditionals than it does in matrix clauses. There is convincing
evidence that 'ol' does not contribute to the semantic interpretation
nor the syntactic structure within ORCs, and it may be the case in some
main clauses as well. This seemingly empty morphology and its
asymmetrical appearance has possible implications for syntactic theory.
Next is a paper called ''Functional projections and their subjects in
Turkish clauses'' by Jaklin Kornfilt of Syracuse University. In this
work Kornfilt addresses certain non-finite argument and adjunct clauses
to account for the variations in the case assignment of the clausal
subjects (some subjects are marked with Genitive case while others are
not). In Turkic languages subordinate clauses are generally non-finite
by virtue of a nominalizing morpheme; however, some of these structures
retain verbal properties of tense, aspect and mood. Thus, these types
of clauses are thought to have a verbal functional projection which is
dominated by a nominal projection. In order to motivate her claim that
agreement assigns case to its subject, Kornfilt assumes the existence
of a syntactic category 'Agr' as the head of the projection 'AgrP'. She
states that in order for this case-assignment potential to be
'unlocked' by the Agr, it must be either theta-governed or co-indexed
by a syntactic operator. Thus, only a marked Agr can assign case to its
subject in a non-finite clause. Kornfilt next addresses certain
adverbial clauses which have an overt subject but no agreement
morphology, among which some types have no case marking while others
are assigned Genitive case. To explain this, she proposes a default
mechanism which assigns a phonologically null case-assignment to
subjects of adjuncts with or without Agr morphology. The adjunct
clauses whose subjects are co-indexed the syntactic operator get
Genitive case; those that are not get the default (Nominative) case.
The eighth paper in this collection is entitled ''On 'small' clauses,
other 'bare' verbal complements and feature checking in Turkish'', by A.
Sumru Ozsoy of Bogazici University. Ozsoy discusses Turkish ECM
(exceptional case marking) constructions in which a subject of an
embedded clause has Accusative case, yet its predicate bears agreement
morphology. The agreement implies that the NP was the subject of the
lower clause when Agr was checked. Two possible analyses appear to
raise problems for the Minimalist Program: 1) DP raises to SpecAgrOP of
higher clause, which violates Shortest Move Principle because it skips
over SpecAgrSP, or 2) DP does not skip over SpecAgrSP, but lands there
to license Agr on the lower verb, thereby violating Case Licensing
(AgrSp assigns Nominative, not Accusative case). Ozsoy compares these
constructions with other bare clauses which also have accusatively-
marked subjects but do not have agreement on their predicates. These
'small' clauses inherently lack an AgrSP-projection; consequently
SpecAgrOP is the closest case checker the DP can land in and no
violations occur. Ozsoy proposes one possible explanation for the ECM
problem: it is possible that Turkish distinguishes between strong and
weak AgrSP. A weak AgrSp whose features are absorbed by a lexical head
would not be able to check for case. Ozsoy alternatively suggests that
perhaps case is not actually checked in a Spec-Head relation. None of
these proposals is satisfactory, she says, but the issues raised by
Turkish ECMs must be addressed by any theory of case checking.
The final paper in the series departs from the analysis of predicate
structures and instead focuses on the subject. Entitled ''Turkish as a
non pro-drop language'' by Balkiz Ozturk of Harvard University, the
theoretical assumption that Turkish is a pro-drop language is
challenged. Others have argued that both the presence and absence of
overt personal pronouns is pragmatically conditioned (Enc 1986,
Erguvanli-Taylan 1986). Ozturk proposes that these are not subject
pronouns, but topic pronouns, and that they are generated in a higher
position in the C system. This then raises the question of what is the
VP-internal subject. To this Ozturk claims that agreement is not a
functional head, but a lexical subject head base-generated in SpecVP.
Thus Turkish can be analyzed as a non-pro-drop language. She
illustrates with examples from ECM constructions, adjunct clauses, and
headless genitive phrases, evidence against agreement as a Spec-Head
relation, and argues for removing AgrP from the inflectional domain of
Turkish. Agr is reintroduced as a bundle of features assigned to
certain heads, as earlier proposed by Kural (1993) and Chomsky (1993).
Instead, a TopicP projection is proposed, at whose Spec position an
overt pronoun could land.
A thorough discussion of each theoretical analysis presented in this
collection is not possible in the remaining space of this review. The
reader should note that there are many inconsistencies in both the
observations and analyses among the authors, which only reinforces the
obvious fact that none of these linguistic phenomena is entirely
understood or accounted for under a unifying theory. The research
presented in this volume offers a broad spectrum of current theoretical
viewpoints on a number of interesting morphosyntactic and semantic
issues in Turkish. For those who have not worked on this language, the
papers provide adequate background from which to become acquainted with
its properties and features. I personally commend editor Eser Erguvanli
Taylan for the sequencing of the papers. Leading off with Engin Sezer's
long and detailed work gives the reader an overview of the Turkish
inflectional system, while offering a historical background rich with
citations of classic works that are still influencing the research of
the language today. From there, the following papers depart notably
from Sezer's proposals and theoretical orientation and provide a
balanced view of Turkish tense, aspect and mood morphology from several
perspectives. Taylan divides the chapters into two parts: the first
five deal with the properties of verbal inflection and the rest have
implications for syntactic theory. For example, the last three papers
raise important questions in terms of agreement as a Spec-Head
relation. This is a collection that has been personally helpful to me
and I am certain that others will find the research contained therein
to be of considerable interest.
One final comment about typos and inconsistencies in the text, not as
criticism (I live in the same glass house): for the benefit of the
readers, following the bibliography I have listed some of the more
troublesome errata regarding numerical references to examples and end
notes. If the publisher or authors would like more information
concerning the less problematic errors I personally discovered, they
are free to contact me. If it looks like I'm picking on anyone--take
heart. It probably means I read your paper more thoroughly.
- Chomsky, N. 1995. The Minimalist Program. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT
- Cinque, G. 1999. Adverbs and Functional Heads. Oxford: Oxford
- Dik, Simon. 1997. The Theory of Functional Grammar. Part I: The
Structure of the Clause.
- Dik, Simon. 1989. The Theory of Functional Grammar. Part I: The
Structure of the Clause. Dordrecht: Foris.
- Hengeveld, K. 1988. Layers and operators in Functional Grammar.
Journal of Linguistics 25 (1): 127-157 (=WPFG 27 (1988)).
- Johanson, L. 1994. Turkeiturkische Aspektotempora. In Tense Systems
in European Languages, R. Theiroff and J. Ballweg (eds.), 247-266.
Tubingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag.
- Kural, M. 1993. V-to(I-to)-C in Turkish. UCLA Occasional Papers in
Linguistics, 11, F. Begnelli and M. Kural (eds.), 1-37.
- Perlmutter, D. 1978. Impersonal Passives and the Unaccusative
Hypothesis. In Proceedings of the Fourth Annual Meeting of the Berkeley
Linguistics Society, 157-189. University of California, Berkeley.
- Smith, C. 1997. The Parameter of Aspect. Dordrecht: Kluver.
- Sezer, Engin
p. 20: Reference to example (29) below, should be (39).
- van Schaaik
p. 62: Reference to examples: aspectual forms (2)-(5) should be (2)-
(6); modal forms (6)-(9) should be (7)-(9).
p. 64, below table (10): Explanation of table states those under 5-6
express aspect; should read 3-6.
p. 74: There are two examples (21); the first should be (20).
p. 75: All in-text references to (29) should read (20).
p. 86, Example (37): In gloss, first tense morpheme reads PRES2; should
be PRES1 (aorist tense).
p. 144 Table: In column 3 'doG'(be born) should be in column 4, in
accordance with classification in discussion of example (12) on page
p. 221: Reference to example (7) should be (6).
p. 221, end of 2nd paragraph: Most appropriate place for end note 14
(which is not there).
p. 222, subheading 3.2.3: End note 14 should be 15.
p. 222, end of paragraph: End note 15 should be 16 and actually seems
to refer to example (21).
p. 226: End note 16 should be 17.
p. 227: End note 17 should be 18.
pp. 233-4, Notes: Note 8 discussion, which refers to (5a-c) and (5a-c),
should refer to (6a-d).
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Lisa Shannon is a recent graduate of Linguistics from the University of
Arizona, soon to begin graduate studies at the University of New
Mexico. Her primary interests are in typology, syntax, discourse, and
L2 acquisition. She works mainly with Italian and Turkish.