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Review of  Modularity in Language

Reviewer: Verena Haser
Book Title: Modularity in Language
Book Author: Etsuyo Yuasa
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Semantics
Subject Language(s): English
Book Announcement: 16.3122

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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
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

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

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

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


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.


Bresnan, Joan. 2001. Lexical-Functional Syntax. Malden, Mass.:

Chomsky, Noam. 1981. Lectures on Government and Binding.
Dordrecht: Foris.

Croft, William. 1995. "Autonomy and functionalist linguistics."
Language 71: 490-532.

Croft, William. 2001. Radical Construction Grammar: Syntactic Theory
in Typological Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Culicover, Peter/Ray Jackendoff. 1997. "Syntactic coordination
despite semantic subordination." Linguistic Inquiry 26: 195-217.

Goldberg, Adele E. 1995. Constructions: A Construction Grammar
Approach to Argument Structure. Chicago: University of Chicago

McCawley, James. 1988. The Syntactic Phenomena of English.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Sadock, Jerrold M. 1991. Autolexical Syntax: A Theory of Parallel
Grammatical Representations. Chicago: The University of Chicago

Van Valin, Robert D./Randy J. LaPolla. 1997. Syntax: Structure,
Meaning and Function. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Yuasa, Etsuyo. 1998. Subordinate Clauses in Japanese. Ph.D.
dissertation, The University of Chicago.


Verena Haser teaches English Linguistics at the University of
Freiburg, Germany. Her research interests include semantics,
especially Cognitive Semantics, syntax, and dialectology.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 3110183099
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: xii, 209
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