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Review of  The Syntax of Spanish

Reviewer: Mario M Montalbetti
Book Title: The Syntax of Spanish
Book Author: Karen Zagona
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): Spanish
Issue Number: 13.984

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Zagona, Karen (2002) The Syntax of Spanish. Cambridge
University Press, xii+286pp, hardback ISBN 0-521-57177-4.

Mario Montalbetti, Department of Spanish and Portuguese,
The University of Arizona

Any volume entitled ''The Syntax of X'', where X is a
natural language and X is not English, has to contend
implicitly with the longstanding injunction that Generative
Grammar (in many, if not all, of its incarnations) imposes a
cruel English imperialism on the notion of ''relevant
fact''. Which means that, by and large, what one expects to
find in such volumes are accounts of how X differs from
English. Arguments satisfying X can be divided into two
groups. Those that have grown out of the injunction and can
offer clear and rational evidence that it is false; and the
rest. Obvious examples of the first group are Italian,
French, Japanese; languages that can claim direct access to
Big Theory. Spanish has been less fortunate. Or at least it
looks that way. The general feeling about Spanish seems to
be that it had arrived late at the Romance Language
Symposium, so late that all the ''good facts'' had already
been taken by either French or Italian. Yes, Spanish facts
are ''simp�ticos'', or perhaps even illustrative, but not
really connected in any substantial way to the vicissitudes
of Big Theory.
Karen Zagona has written a ''Syntax of X'' book. And it is
an extraordinary one, if only because, in a very quiet,
fastidious, and deliberate way, she has managed to seat
Spanish with the big boys. This is not the book's only
merit, but it does for Spanish what Kayne (1975) and Rizzi
(1982) did for French and Italian respectively, with one
important difference: it is a collective endeavor. Zagona
has amassed an impressive array of facts and analyses from a
carefully selected bibliography and has managed to give a
clear map of Spanish both in its idiosyncratic Romance
character and its contributions to current theoretical
The book is made up of six chapters. Chapter 1, entitled
''Overview of Grammar'' is the best 72 page summary of Spanish
available. Concise, clear, and broad enough to give the
reader a feel for the basic structures and properties of
Spanish, it is not for beginners though--even if the book
claims that it doesn't ''assume familiarity with current
theory''. It does, at least of the lingo. If you don't know
what DP stands for on page 21, then you have to wait until
page 98 to find out. This chapter covers almost everything
(from Negative Concord and Movement to Clitics and Word
Order) as any good overview should, and it does it in a
nutshell. Zagona then methodically proceeds to crack open
the nutshell in the following chapters.
Chapter 2 deals with the Spanish Noun Phrase and it gives
an exceedingly clear exposition of the behavior of
determiners. Zagona has a knack for knowing what to explore
and to what depth (given the constraints of the book). For
example, her treatment of Quantifier Phrases inside the Noun
Phrase (or Determiner Phrase) is more expansive than in
other grammars, which hardly touch it. This allows Zagona to
tie up several features of Determiners which otherwise would
have remained unrelated and make the phenomenon of
Quantifier Float a natural extension of the topic instead of
a rare event. Which in turn allows her to connect quantifier
positions and auxiliaries two chapters down the road. It is
this kind of inter-relatedness that gives Zagona's book a
special appeal.
Chapter 3 is occupied with the Verb Phrase and focuses on
the argument/adjunct distinction, then carefully proceeding
to separate external from internal arguments and then on to
analyze in detail the differences between direct and
indirect objects. Zagona leaves for Chapter 4 the syntax of
functional categories that license Verb Phrase constituents
(adverbs, auxiliaries, clitics, negation).
Chapter 5 is dedicated to Word Order, banking on recent
discoveries on Discourse Roles (Topic, Focus) and Chapter 6
to Movement, including such elusive items as a unified A'-
movement treatment of Parasitic Gaps and Tough
Constructions. Perhaps a complicating factor (not mentioned
in Zagona's book) is the fact that, at least dialectally,
Tough passives are good in Spanish (''Este problema es f�cil
de ser resuelto'') in which case, however, the licensing of a
parasitic gap is blocked (*''Este problema es f�cil de ser
resuelto sin examinar'').
Although the Preface claims that Chapters 4 and 5
''introduce some basic elements of the Minimalist framework''
there is very little Minimalism in this book. But this fact
is neither here nor there. Once again, this is not a book
dedicated to the proposition that Spanish fits very well
within the newest theoretical twist. Rather, it lays out the
language in very sharp focus, illuminating it with the
necessary technical tools of the trade. It pays its dues to
the best of the old non-generative tradition (Bello, for
example) while incorporating the best of modern generative
analyses: Bosque, Contreras, Jaeggli, Lema, Ord��ez, Rivero,
just to mention a few).
Zagona's ''The Structure of Spanish'' is a new type of
textbook. It has no exercises, no quizzes, no lengthy
explanations. And it is a much better book because of it.
Instead, it is a slick, compressed compendium of sentences
and their analyses. If the reader follows the book's clear
logic, he or she will emerge with a clear map of the
Spanish language. A map rich in fuzzy borders and unique
landscapes. Consequently, it should make a first rate first
year graduate Syntax book. It is up to the instructor to
unpack all its analytic wealth.
A word to pre-empt inevitable attacks. It is very likely
that the native speaker of Spanish will object to some
grammaticality judgments. This is only natural, given the
ample dialectal diversity in Spanish. To get stuck here
would be a pity. First, because as Chomsky (1995) has
pointed out in his (in)famous fn7 on p203, there is no
grammaticality. And second, because it would be yet another
unfortunate case of not seeing the woods because of the
trees. In any case, I expect judgment differences throughout
the book to be minimal.
Minor typos (like the unsubscripted trace indices of
examples 57-59 on p260; or the explanatory line before
example (27) on p18) in no way lessen Zagona's formidable

Chomsky, Noam (1995), The Minimalist Program, MIT Press.
Kayne, Richard (1975), French Syntax: The Transformational
Cycle, MIT Press.
Rizzi, Luigi (1982), Issues in Italian Syntax, Foris
I am Assistant Professor of Linguistics in the Department of
Spanish and Portuguese of The University of Arizona, but I

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