Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login
amazon logo
More Info

New from Oxford University Press!


Cognitive Literary Science

Edited by Michael Burke and Emily T. Troscianko

Cognitive Literary Science "Brings together researchers in cognitive-scientific fields and with literary backgrounds for a comprehensive look at cognition and literature."

New from Cambridge University Press!


Intonation and Prosodic Structure

By Caroline Féry

Intonation and Prosodic Structure "provides a state-of-the-art survey of intonation and prosodic structure."

Review of  The Syntax of Aspect

Reviewer: Brenda Laca
Book Title: The Syntax of Aspect
Book Author: Nomi Erteschik-Shir Tova Rapoport
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Semantics
Issue Number: 17.2243

Discuss this Review
Help on Posting
EDITORS: Erteschick-Shir, Nomi ; Rapoport, Tova
TITLE: The Syntax of Aspect
SUBTITLE: Deriving Thematic and Aspectual Interpretation
SERIES: Oxford Studies in Theoretical Linguistics
PUBLISHER:Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2005

Brenda Laca, Sciences du Langage, Université Paris 8 and CNRS-UMR 7023


This carefully edited volume contains 13 contributions distributed in three
parts (I: From Lexical Roots to Syntax, II: Event Structure and Feature
Projections, and III: Lexical Restrictions on Syntax), preceded by a short
preface, biographical notes on the contributors, an overview containing the
abstracts of the contributions, and an introduction by the editors. The
volume is completed by a single list of references, and two very useful
indexes of names and terms.

As indicated by the sub-title, the topic of the volume is not ''outer''
aspect, but what used to be called Aktionsart and its relation to thematic
structure and argument realization. The contributions, most of them by
leading scholars in the field, explore the morphology-syntax-semantics
articulation in the VP-domain, in which lexicalist and constructionist
approaches have alternated for decades, and give quite a balanced picture
of the current state of the discussion.

In 'Aspect and the Syntax of Argument Structure', Ken Hale and Samuel Jay
Kayser further develop their influential approach to l-syntax, in which
argument structure is held to be determined by the lexical syntactic
configuration a lexical item appears in. Lexical verbs are syntactic
configurations containing a root (R) and categorial hosts, as for instance
V or P. The relation between the host and the root is one of
complementation. Roots may require or preclude a specifier for the [V+R]
projection, thus accounting for the presence or absence of an ''internal
argument''. Transitivization and the middle construction are assumed to
depend on dyadic projections containing both a complement and a specifier.
The original incorporation analysis of denominal verbs is rejected in favor
of an analysis by conflation/selection: a verb like 'dance' does not
incorporate the element 'dance' as a complement to V, but it rather selects
for a class of complements (the hyponyms of 'dance') which is restricted
enough to license an empty category in the complement position. An
important contrast, somewhat opaquely labelled the proximate vs. obviative
contrast, is shown to account for the possibility of intransitive
alternants and of the middle construction. Some verbs (like 'splash',
'dent', 'anger') contain a ''manner feature'' linked to the internal
argument, in others (like 'smear', 'kick', 'love') this ''manner feature'' is
linked to the external argument. As a consequence, constructions that
eliminate the external argument are impossible with the latter. The authors
explore in detail the issue of stativity and its relationship to categories
and to argument structure, and provide analyses for psychological verbs
which can be stative or eventive, such as 'fear', 'love', 'respect' and
for verbs taking measure predicates as ''complements'', such as 'cost',
'weigh', which are analysed as copulas. Their conclusion is that argument
structure is widely independent from aspectual type, but that aspectual
type, in particular stativity, may be associated with the particular type
of structures expressing central - as opposed to terminal – coincidence.

Heidi Harley applies the l-syntactic approach to the analysis of the
different Aktionsart properties of denominal verbs. The l-syntax approach
allows her to search for parallels between the factors determining the
Aktionsart of VP, such as the presence of a bounded Incremental Theme
argument, and the factors determining the Aktionsart of denominal verbs,
which in her analysis may result from incorporation to v of the
measuring-out argument held to be responsible for telicity. She shows that
the telicity of 'foal', by contrast to the atelicity of 'sweat', derives
from the bounded/non-bounded status of the nominal roots which are the
complement of v in l-syntax. Verbs with event-denoting roots, as 'dance' or
'hop', are assumed to differ from verbs with thing-denoting roots, because
in their case, no accomplishment, but only activity or semelfactive
interpretations are available for the vP. The semantic conjectures
explaining why this should be so (that things take up space, whereas events
can be pointlike or arbitrarily extended, and that accomplishments
necessarily comprise two events) could bear some elaboration. Harley
correctly points to the shortcomings of the Affectedness Condition as a
criterion for the existence of an Incremental Theme, and proposes instead
that the lack of accomplishment readings for verbs like 'kick' or 'push'
derives from the fact that the direct object is not a complement of v, but
a complement of the root. Since only the root, i.e. the sister to v, can
determine the event-object homomorphism, an object that checks Accusative
Case but is not a sister to v, like the object of 'push the cart' or 'kick
the wall' does not influence Aktionsart properties. Change-of-state verbs,
which are usually deadjectival, are analysed as embedding a small clause
whose predicate is the adjectival root. It is not the nominal argument (the
subject of the small clause in l-syntax) that determines Aktionsart, but
the Small Clause itself, in as far as ''the degree to which some state is
true of the Theme'' is at stake. The nominal argument can, however,
indirectly contribute to (a)-telicity by determining the boundedness or
unboundedness of the Small Clause itself. Again, the semantic argumentation
could and should have been made more precise. Telicity contrasts in
location/locatum verbs are shown to depend both from the nature of the
locatum (with saddle giving rise to boundedness and paint giving rise to
unboundedness) and from the nature of the prepositional object. By
contrast, boundeness of the nominal root does not play any role in verbs
like 'hammer' or 'brush'. This is accounted for by a mechanism of Manner
Incorporation, by which the noun surfacing as a verb is incorporated from
an adjunct position expressing manner, and it is speculated that telic
interpretations of manner of movement verbs, as well as verbs of creation,
consumption and destruction, also rely on this mechanim.

The approach Nomi Erteschik-Shir and Tova Rapoport apply in their treatment
of 'Path predicates', though inspired by the l-syntax theory, differs from
it in the fact that it assumes that a verbal lexical entry contains a
verbal head and one or more meaning components with a categorial
specification, such as MANNER, STATE or LOCATION, determining its aspectual
class and the theta-role of its subject. Meaning components, which form a
very small universal set, might project or not, but they are always
interpreted. Path predicates, a superclass comprising verbs of gradual
change in state or location ('cool', 'advance'), of manner of progression
('march'), and iteratives ('flash', 'beep'), share two properties: the
possibility of atelicity and the possibility of transitivization. What
accounts for the behavior of the class is, according to the authors, that
their elements describe ''a sequential (incremental or iterated) change'',
and thus instantiate verbal plurality. This analysis is a very interesting
contribution to a topic which has attracted considerable attention from the
semantics side. However, equating event plurality with path structures, as
the authors do, does not seem particularly convincing in the case of
iterative, ''on-off'' readings. The same holds for the conjecture that free
transitivization depends from the plural status of the predicate, inasmuch
as the latter licenses an interpretation of the extra (causative) subject
as a ''controller of the extent of the path''.
In 'Tense, Person, and Transitivity', Jacqueline Guéron develops her
hypothesis of a correlation between syntactic domains (phases) and semantic
interpretation, assuming a spatial construal in VP/vP and a temporal
construal for TP/CP, which is argued for on the basis of an array of very
suggestive case analyses. A single feature,[ +/-EXT(ended)], determining if
something has an extension (in space or time) or is point-like, is
operative in both phases. Its value at VP-level decides both aspectual type
and argument structure. For instance, a [–EXT]- VP does not select for a
subject in the specifier of VP, and the presence or absence of this
argument is responsible for auxiliary selection in French (with 'avoir'
associated to the presence of an external argument and 'être' with its
absence). A far-reaching consequence of the analysis is that holistic
theta-roles, such as Agent, are replaced by different elementary functions
at VP-level (Manipulator) and at TP-level (Trigger, T-controller,
Experiencer). This accounts for the differences between the middle
construction in English (which requires a Manipulator) and in French (which
requires a Trigger or a T-controller). The article also offers a
reinterpretation of the Vendlerian classes in terms of spatial
Figure-Ground configuration, and splits the domain of transitivity in
spatial transitivity (transitivity in the vP domain) and temporal/personal
transitivity (transitivity in the TP/CP domain), a difference which is
exploited in the analysis of possessive datives and of reflexive structures.

In 'Complex Aspectual Structure in Hindi/Urdu', Miriam Butt and Gillian
Ramchand propose a decompositional analysis of light-verb constructions in
terms of event structure. After showing how they differ from bona fide
auxiliary constructions, they distinguish three morphosyntactic and
semantic types which are related to the possibilities of Merging verbs at
v- or V-level or as part of a Result Phrase. Whereas auxiliary
constructions are clearly monoclausal, light verbs constructions are
heterogeneous in this respect, with complex predicates of the 'result' and
of the 'let'-type behaving as a single predicational unit with regard to
anaphora, control, and agreement phenomena, and one further type exhibiting
clearly biclausal behavior. Complex predicate constructions thus occupy an
intermediate position between auxiliary and complementation structures:
they comprise two lexical verbs which nonetheless build a single event
description. Two binary relations between events, which yield single
complex events, offer the semantic basis for complex predicates. The first
is causation, and the second is telic augmentation. The potential threefold
sub-event structure of a complex event can be mapped onto three syntactic
projections, which may license each its own subject. The causing event
corresponds to vP, the process in question corresponds to VP, and the
result state corresponds to a Result Phrase. While complex event structures
may be expressed by a single lexical item, light verbs permit overt
instantiation of little v (the causing event leading to the event described
by the main verb), or of V (the process leading to the result described by
the main verb). This article offers very valuable insights into the
notoriously difficult problem of ''periphrastic'' verbal constructions, and
an unexceptionable methodology for their analysis, which can not only prove
fruitful for other constructions in other languages, but also decisivily
further our understanding of grammaticization processes in this domain.

'The Aspect of Agency' belongs, according to Edith Doron, to non-temporal
event structure, which is what Semitic templatic verbal morphology mainly
encodes. The contrasts between three templates in the active voice (the
simple, the intensive and the causative one) show that they express
finer-grained distinctions in the domain of Agency: intensive verbs either
reclassify an external argument as an Actor or add an external argument to
unaccusative predicates, whereas causative verbs invariably add a new
external argument, the Cause. Actors presuppose animacy, whereas Causes do
not. They are captured in the syntax by means of distinct agency heads, the
first acting as a modifier of the root, and the second merging with a fully
constructed verb to introduce a further argument. The two different case
patterns found in the causativization of transitives, in which the Causee
can appear either as an oblique or as an accusative object, are shown to
depend on the type of subject of the corresponding simple verbs, with
locative/experiencer subjects surfacing as obliques and affected subjects
of psych-verbs surfacing as accusatives.

The question of the structural difference between Agents and Causes is
taken up by Lisa Travis in 'Agents and Causes in Malagasy and Tagalog'. She
assumes that Causes are realized lower than Agents, in an Asp-projection
she locates below vP. The analysis is based on the hypothesis that certain
heads are deleted – or have zero expression – under certain conditions
inTagalog: for instance, causative pag- is not overtly realized when its
Specifier position is filled, with the result that causatives from
intransitives and causatives from lexical causatives have the same form.
Telicity is assumed to be directly linked to agency. Telicity markers
either add a Cause argument to unaccusative or adjectival predicates, or
turn the Agent of a transitive structure into a Cause. The patterns of
morpheme deletion lead to distinguish two types of structures for
psych-verbs, with the Cause corresponding to the object of an emotion verb
or to the Experiencer of a perception/cognition verb.

Carlota Smith discusses the respective adequacy of semantically based
versus surface-structure interpreting approaches in 'Event Structure and
Morphosyntax in Navajo'. She describes the Navajo verb word as comprising
three levels: the verb theme, formed by the root/stem with classifiers and
some thematic elements, the verb base, selecting one stem out of a set of
them and combining it with prefixes conveying adverbial and thematic
concepts, and finally the verb word, augmented by pronominal and
conjugational prefixes. Linear order of the prefixes, however, follows
templates which do not correspond to hierarchical ordering. Information
conveyed by a verb is assumed to be universally organized in tiers
comprising event structure (temporal structure or situation type), qualia
structure, and argument structure. Morphology affecting event structure may
correspond in Navajo to different Verb Lexeme Categories of a single root,
to certain ''sub-aspectual'' prefixes, or to certain Modes. Combinations of
prefixes do not seem to show consistent scopal direction, since both
left-to-right and right-to-left interpretations seem possible. This poses a
problem for l-syntax- inspired analyses of the Navajo verb word, since
neither the hypothesized underlying structure nor the surface structure are
able to account for semantic scope. By contrast, it is argued that
generating the surface structure by simple phrase structure rules and
head-movement mechanisms, and interpreting it by means of DRT-rules can
give a more satisfactory account.

In 'Constructions, Lexical Semantics, and the Correspondence Principle:
Accounting for Generalizations and Subregularities in the Realization of
Arguments', Adele Goldberg applies a construction grammar approach to the
analysis of different types of counterexamples to the principle according
to which sub-events in an event-structure template must be identified by an
overt phrasal argument (Argument Realization Principle). These
counterexamples involve unexpressed Themes with verbs of change of
location and lack of the Patient with causative verbs. They are analysed as
the result of de-emphasizing a theme or a patient in a particular context.
The Implicit Theme Construction appears with verbs of emission, ingestion,
and contribution, and permits to recover the identity of the theme by
inference. The Deprofiled Object Construction permits the omission of
arguments that are non-focal and non-topical. Since it is difficult to come
up with tight, independent criteria for the factors that play a central
explanatory role (emphasis, importance, ''heaviness'', etc), the account does
not seem free of circularity.

The omission or optionality of direct objects is treated also by Anita
Mittwoch in 'Unspecified Objects in Episodic and Habitual Sentences'. In
episodic sentences, objects can be omitted with verbs specifiying a manner
component, and having fairly circumscribed selection restrictions. In
habitual sentences, a much larger range of verbs permit object omission,
and the objects are interpreted as a bare plural object would be.
Pluractionality is assumed to play a role in the licensing of object
omission, and missing objects in habitual sentences are shown to be
typically backgrounded and thus to belong to the restriction of the generic
sentence. For the analysis of the latter cases, a phonological null pro-NP
bearing only the features +PLURAL and ± HUMAN is suggested.

In 'Resultatives Under the 'Event-Argument Homomorphism Model of Telicity',
Stephen Wechsler develops the hypothesis that resultatives involve an
abstract 'path' argument corresponding to a degree scale. The analysis
addresses three problems arising in the resultative construction: lexical
variation constraining which secondary predicates are acceptable with which
verbs, the distribution of adjectival and prepositional resultatives, and
the apparent need for a deep direct object. Instead of assuming, as usual,
that the resultative predicate accounts for the telicity of the
construction by supplying a result state, the author hypothesizes that the
resultative expresses a property scale along which the affected object
changes by degrees. Closed-scale adjectives (those having end-points), as
well as non-gradable adjectives, provide suitable bounds for events and are
clearly preferred in the resultative construction. Open-scale adjectives,
however, occasionally appear in ECM-resultatives, in which the subject of
the resultative is not an argument of the main verb and in which the
''fusion'' between the two sub-events is less tight.

In 'Change-of-State Verbs: Implications for Theories of Argument
Projection', Malka Rappaport Hovav and Beth Levin explore argument
alternations against the background of two hypotheses: that argument
projection is aspectually driven, and that argument expression is not
lexically determined. They argue against the extreme versions of both
hypotheses, and their conjunction, by showing that the relevant facets of
verb meaning that are responsible for the uniformity of argument expression
with the class of Change-of-State verbs do not correlate with well-known
aspectual notions such as telicity or punctuality. On the other hand, verbs
that do share a common aspectual characteristic, the presence of an
incremental theme, widely differ in their argument expression
possibilities. Traditional aspectual classes and classes distinguished by
argument expression possibilities do not coincide.


The volume will be of great service to scholars working in the domains of
verb syntax, verb classification and thematic structure, and can constitute
a welcome basis for graduate courses in these domains. It not only offers a
representative selection of the work currently being carried out in the
dominant approaches in the field, but it is also rich in detailed analyses
and subtle empirical findings that could inspire further research. The
thematic unity of the volume is remarkable. Several subjects are treated
from different perspectives in the contributions (such as the problem of
covert or ommitted objects, the possibility of more fine-grained analyses
for traditional thematic roles, the basis for telicity/atelicity
alternations, the more than plausible actual independence of temporal event
structure (aspect) from argument structure), and this is adequately
acknowledged by the numerous cross-references in the volume.

Since the volume is representative of the state of the art in the field,
the main shortcomings that can be pointed out do not concern the book in
particular, but rather the state of the field itself. The accrued
integration of semantic considerations in syntax has undoubtedly been
fruitful. But the danger pertaining to such an integration is that it might
go hand in hand with a slackening of the standards of stringent
argumentation in both disciplines. This danger is overcome to varying
degrees in the different contributions.

The reviewer has worked in the fields of derivational morphology , on the
semantics of determiners, and on aspect and tense, in particular in the
Romance languages. She has published several articles on aspectual
periphrases, eventuality modification, and time-relational aspect, and is
currently working on a book on the grammar of aspect in Romance. She has
coordinated the TP-/VP- subproject of the typological research program
"Sentence architecture", in collaboration with P. Cabredo-Hofherr
(Fédération TUL – CNRS FRE 2559, 2002-2005), with whom she is currently
coordinating the program "Distributive dependencies: nominal and verbal
plurality" (Fédération TUL – CNRS FRE 2559, 2006-2008).

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 0199280436
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 336
Prices: U.K. £ 65.00

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 0199280444
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 336
Prices: U.K. £ 25.00