How do you pronounce biopic, synod, and Breughel? - and why? Do our cake and archaic sound the same? Where does the stress go in stalagmite? What's odd about the word epergne? As a finale, the author writes a letter to his 16-year-old self.
Date: Mon, 24 Oct 2005 22:25:58 +0200 From: Verena Haser Subject: Modularity in Language: Constructional and Categorial Mismatch in Syntax and Semantics
AUTHOR: Yuasa, Etsuyo TITLE: Modularity in Language SUBTITLE: Constructional and Categorial Mismatch in Syntax and Semantics SERIES: Trends in Linguistics, Studies and Monographs 159 PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter YEAR: 2005
Verena Haser, Department of English Linguistics, University of Freiburg, Germany
As the present book's title indicates, it offers an analysis of "constructional and categorial mismatches in syntax and semantics." The author espouses a multi-modular approach to grammar along the lines of Sadock (1991), integrating insights from construction grammar and "functional" linguistics. Yuasa's main focus is on idiosyncratic or non-prototypical constructions and categories, such as putative coordinate structures that exhibit features of subordinate structures (or vice versa). Such non-prototypical categories and constructions are regarded as instances of "constructional and categorial mismatches", in the sense that their semantic and syntactic representations are argued to be in conflict. Specifically, Yuasa proposes new accounts of complex clauses in English and Japanese; she also puts forward a novel account of certain Japanese subordinating conjunctions.
The book is divided into seven chapters. The first chapter is a succinct introduction to the work, explaining the author's overall goals and outlining key issues dealt with in later chapters. This chapter also contains a lucid outline of multi-modular approaches to grammar, which are in crucial respects opposed to "classical" generative theories such as Chomsky (1981). The pivotal difference between the two frameworks can be characterized as follows: Whereas multi- modular approaches assume different syntactic levels, "mainstream" generativists assume merely one syntactic level. Although this level may contain several strata (e.g., D-structure and S-structure), only a single set of primitives and operations is postulated, which applies to all the different strata (e.g., the Projection Principle or constituent structures; cf. p. 6). Multimodular approaches, on the other hand, posit autonomous grammatical levels characterized by distinct primitives and distinct processes operating on the respective levels; grammatical representations on different levels are thus different in kind. Other theories which in this respect are somewhat similar to autolexical syntax include lexical functional grammar (Bresnan 2001) and Role and Reference Grammar (van Valin/La Polla 1997).
Yuasa's account is based on Sadock's (1991) distinction between syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic levels. The primitives relevant to the syntactic level are syntactic and phrasal categories (noun verb, adposition; noun phrase, verb phrase, prepositional phrase). The syntactic level also encodes subcategorization information (cf. p. 9). The semantic level is characterized by different kinds of primitives such as proposition, predicate, common noun, etc. In addition to the syntactic and semantic level, Yuasa also assumes a separate pragmatic level - with the proviso that this level might ultimately "be conflated into the semantic level" (p. 11).
To motivate the postulation of different levels, the author offers a crisp summary of arguments in favour of multi-modular approaches. Yuasa adduces examples of "mismatches" in grammar as a major piece of evidence in favour of her framework. For example, the word bitch in A bitch of a problem is a noun from the point of view of syntax, but functions as a modifier from a semantic perspective, with modifiers being prototypically realized as adjectives (cf. p. 8). If one goes along with Sadock's and Yuasa's arguments in favour of the autonomy of different grammatical levels, such mismatches of semantic and syntactic representations are hardly surprising; indeed they are to be expected.
The first chapter also outlines criteria for deciding whether two levels should be considered autonomous. Yuasa's discussion here draws on Croft (1995) as well as on her own work (Yuasa 1998), singling out three criteria for determining whether two grammatical levels are autonomous. In a nutshell, the author's basic claim is that instances of mismatch count as evidence for autonomy only if 'the representations at these different levels are arbitrarily associated in an incongruent manner'. Furthermore, "each representation at a level must participate in a system" (p. 2).
Of particular interest to many syntacticians will be the important role played by constructions and construction grammar in Yuasa's study. Constructions (e.g., Goldberg 1995) can be defined as quasi-idiomatic combinations of form and meaning. Yuasa refers to congruent or "isomorphic" form-meaning pairs as constructional prototypes. Constructional prototypes are cases where the syntactic representation prototypically associated with a given construction is combined with the semantic representation usually associated with that construction. The major difference between Yuasa's framework and Construction Grammar lies in the author's insistence that syntactic and semantic representations are in principle independent of each other (e.g., the syntactic vs. the semantic representation of subordinate constructions). Specifically, mismatches constitute non- prototypical alignments of syntactic and semantic representations. Apart from constructional prototypes, there are also "categorical prototypes", i.e., unmarked categories. Form and meaning in categorial prototypes are associated by universal correspondence rules.
The following chapters delve into more specific topics. The second chapter deals in greater detail with prototypes and mismatches. Yuasa's discussion of prototypes builds on McCawley (1988), whose idea that categories like noun phrase can be construed in terms of prototypes is supplemented with the assumption that constructions can similarly be understood in terms of prototypes. Yuasa's account of categorical prototypes also incorporates insights from typological work by Croft (2001).
Chapter 3 deals with "the coordination-subordination mismatch". At the heart of this chapter are constructions that display features of both coordination and subordination, notably the so-called English "pseudo- coordinate conditional" and Japanese te-coordination. Following a brief overview of crucial features of coordination and subordination, respectively, Yuasa offers a compelling criticism of past approaches to constructions which combine features of coordination and subordination. Drawing on Culicover and Jackendoff (1997), Yuasa analyses pseudo-coordinate conditionals and te-coordination in terms of constructional mismatches. Syntactically, pseudo-coordinate conditionals are typical coordinate constructions, but from a semantic perspective they represent subordinate structures (more precisely, conditionals; cf. p. 62). In other words, the semantic and syntactic representations are incongruous: The syntactic representation of a prototypical coordinate structure is aligned with the semantic representation of a typical subordinate structure. Matters are different in the case of te-coordination: Here, the syntactic representation of a typical subordinate construction is combined with the semantic representation of a typical coordinate construction (cf. p. 63f). This analysis paves the way for a persuasive account of various characteristics of these conditionals that have previously eluded satisfactory analysis.
Chapter 4 is concerned with English and Japanese non-defining relative clauses, which display properties of both independent and subordinate clauses. Yuasa offers a concise summary of principal characteristics of these clauses, followed by a criticism of past analyses. Her own proposal once again builds on the idea that the relevant constructions are constructional mismatches, combining the semantic representation of typical independent clauses with the syntactic representations of typical subordinate clauses (here: relative clauses). As in the case of conditionals, this approach permits a conclusive account of apparently idiosyncratic features of such constructions.
Chapter 5 investigates further intriguing examples of constructional mismatch, viz. performative adverbial clauses in English and Japanese. The general drift of Yuasa's reasoning here parallels ideas developed in earlier chapters.
So does the argument proposed in chapter 6, which deals with an instance of categorial rather than constructional mismatch. Yuasa examines a number of Japanese subordinating conjunctions which display properties both of prototypical conjunctions and of nouns. The author argues that the relevant subordinating conjunctions are syntactically nouns; semantically, however, they are to be analysed like other subordinating conjunctions, i.e. as two-place predicates (cf. p. 159). A separate section examines likely reasons for the emergence of such categorial mismatches. Yuasa pinpoints grammaticalization processes as the major factor triggering the developments under consideration.
The final chapter presents a brief conclusion, summarizing the main points of Yuasa's investigation and indicating some promising avenues for further research. Much as in earlier chapters, the relevance of her study to functionalist approaches emerges clearly. As Yuasa points out, her study demonstrates that backward pronominalization and the so-called Coordinate Structure Constraint should be explained in semantic rather than syntactic terms, a finding that is in line with cognitive grammar accounts of this phenomenon. While these results might be taken to suggest that there is no need for an autonomous syntactic level, Yuasa's work also offers ample evidence that not all syntactic phenomena lend themselves to re-interpretation in semantic terms.
The book under review is an important contribution to syntactic theory. Well-written and presumably accessible even to readers who are not familiar with autolexical syntax, it offers perceptive and thought- provoking analyses of a number of syntactic phenomena in English and Japanese. From a theoretical perspective, Yuasa's work is highly relevant in particular to multi-modular and construction grammar approaches. More generally, syntacticians of all persuasions -- whether "formalist" or "functionalist" in orientation -- will benefit from Yuasa's insights. In incorporating the notion of constructions into her multi-modular account and in taking into consideration findings from more functionally oriented schools, Yuasa's study also goes some way toward bridging the gap between formalist and functionalist schools. Many intriguing issues are raised by her analyses. For example, can syntactic categories or constructions also combine features of several syntactic categories/constructions (or of several semantic categories/constructions)? How to analyse such cases from a multimodular perspective? (For example, one might contend that certain items combine syntactic properties of adverbs and syntactic properties of nouns.) Furthermore, what kinds of structures, if any, could constitute counterevidence against multimodular analyses? These questions, as well as those outlined in Yuasa's final chapter, await further investigation. What seems clear on the evidence of Yuasa's work is that autolexical syntax offers a highly stimulating account of many hitherto unexplained phenomena.