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Review of  Deriving Coordinate Symmetries

Reviewer: Michael Hegarty
Book Title: Deriving Coordinate Symmetries
Book Author: John R te Velde
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Subject Language(s): Dutch
Issue Number: 17.2980

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AUTHOR: te Velde, John R.
TITLE: Deriving Coordinate Symmetries
SUBTITLE: A phase-based approach integrating Select, Merge, Copy and Match
SERIES: Linguistik Aktuell/Linguistics Today 89
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins YEAR: 2006

Michael Hegarty, Department of English and Interdepartmental Program in
Linguistics, Louisiana State University

For a while, coordination was a common topic for alternatives to Principles
and Parameters syntax (Gazdar, Klein, Pullum, and Sag 1985; Steedman 1985,
see also Steedman 1996), while work within Principles and Parameters syntax
tended toward the view that coordination cannot be accommodated without
substantial revision of the theory of phrase structure (Goodall 1987), as
it was then understood. Subsequently, a number of proposals have been made
for realizing coordinate structures within Principles and Parameters syntax
using ordinary, general principles of syntactic structure (e.g. X-bar
theory), with no structures or principles particular to coordination (Munn
1987, 1993; Collins 1988; Johannessen 1998; Johnson 2002; among others).
John te Velde's book pursues this goal within current Minimalist theory,
offering accounts of differential symmetries and asymmetries involving case
assignment, number agreement, coordinate ellipsis, and other phenomena in
coordinate structures as consequences of independently proposed
derivational processes of Minimalist syntax, in particular, principles for
selecting and merging lexical items into phrase structure, and for copying
and matching features of lexical items and their projections upon merger of
other items. The data addressed are mainly from German and English.


Chapter 1 is a brief outline of the study.

Chapter 2 presents an overview of the account and of the empirical issues
to be addressed by it. In broad outline, the account is characterized by
the following properties: --Conjunction is effected by the selection and
merger of lexical items into phrase structure (with technical formulation
as operations Select and Merge); --Symmetries result from the copy of
morpho-syntactic or semantic features (technically formulated as an
operation Copy); --Asymmetries in a property P are cases where Copy fails
to apply at a point in the derivation where it would affect features
expressing P.

Chapter 3 develops the approach in detail, addressing a variety of
coordinate structures, mainly in German and English, accounting for
differential symmetries and asymmetries. An example of a coordinate
symmetry is the matching nominative case on coordinated subject nominals in
German. The first nominal checks its case feature before the second nominal
is merged; this case feature is copied onto the second nominal after it is

Coordinate asymmetries can be produced by late merge: the second conjunct
is Merged in the position it occupies at the interface with the semantic
interpretation procedures, not participating in prior movements or prior
copying of features. This is taken to be involved in the derivation of
examples such as, 'John bought a book yesterday, and a newspaper' and 'The
professor, and he is an expert, thinks the recession will continue'.
Likewise, late Merge is responsible for the singular 'was' in 'There was a
man in the kitchen and a cat in the bathroom', where the coordinator and
second conjunct are merged after number agreement has been checked.
Superficial asymmetries can appear when there are more fundamental featural
symmetries. In many cases, semantic symmetries take precedence over
syntactic asymmetries; this happens in cases of coordination of unlike

In German, issues of coordinate symmetry versus asymmetry interact with
verb movement. To give an example which illustrates the nature of the
account, the pattern in (1) and (2) is obtained in German when the object
follows the conjoined verbs.

(1) Fritz begruesste(ACC) und dankte(DAT) dem-DAT Herrn. Fritz greeted
and thanked the gentleman (2) Fritz dankte(DAT) und begruesste(ACC) den-ACC

These contrast with (3), where the object precedes the conjoined verbs.

(3) Ich weiss, dass Fritz *dem/*den Herrn begruesste und dankte. I know
that Fritz the man greeted and thanked Ich weiss, dass Fritz *dem/*den
Herrn dankte und begruesste.

The account hinges on c-command by the nearest verb after coordination. In
(1) and (2), the first verb checks case in the verb phrase. Then that verb
raises (alone) to the Tense node before the second verb is Merged;
morphological case is determined by the second verb under minimal c-command
(c-command by the nearest verb), after it and the coordinate head are
Merged. Case features are not matched between the two verbs since they
conjoin in the Tense phrase domain, which is not the domain for checking
case features. In the derivation of (3), we can't rely on c-command
following late Merge since, after the second conjunct is Merged, the first
verb is already in a position to the right of, and not c-commanding, the
object; thus neither the first nor the second verb c-commands the object
late in the derivation.

Chapter 4 extends the account to coordinate ellipsis. Properties of
coordinate ellipsis follow from the possibilities afforded by multiple
spell-out, specifically, spell-out of the first conjunct before the second,
and more generally, successive spell-out of conjuncts according to their
linear order. In all cases, a gap is assumed to be a lexical item with all
the normal features of an item of its type except phonetic features. In
cases with complex conjuncts, including coordination of complex nominals
and constituents containing predicates, each conjunct corresponds to a
phase in the derivation, in which case multiple spell-out amounts to
successive spell-out of phases. Parallelism requirements in coordinate
ellipsis are realized as feature-based symmetries, along the lines of
coordinate symmetries in Chapter 3, and differences in parallelism are the
result of differential coordinate asymmetries of the sort dealt with in
Chapter 3.

In left edge ellipsis, Select and Merge apply to form each conjunct; the
coordinate head [&] licenses the left-edge gap. With both conjuncts in
active memory, Copy operates on features of the initial constituents.
Interestingly, phases in active memory, prior to conjunction, are arrayed
in a fashion which is reminiscent of Goodall's (1987) parallel planes. In
right-node raising, features are copied following conjunction. The gap at
the right edge of the first conjunct has prosodic licensing by non-final
intonation, instantiated by a feature Merged at the end of the first (and
all non-final) conjuncts. In gapping, also, features are copied following
conjunction. A prosodic feature is then Merged at the gap site, licensing a
lexical item without phonetic features. In all cases, the outcomes depend
on exact sequencing of derivational steps. Alternate failed derivations are
shown, producing ungrammatical forms (e.g. with a prosodic feature Merged
at the wrong step in the derivation or at the wrong position in the structure).

Chapter 5, the final chapter, argues that the facts of coordinate ellipsis
in German discussed in Chapter 4 are more clearly and directly accounted
for provided that the left periphery of German has two heads, a
complementizer head C, and a topic head, rather than just C by itself, and
that the subject remains in the specifier of the Tense Phrase, even in
subject-initial clauses; and, finally, provided that German has underlying
object-verb order.


te Velde's theory is admirably economical in the non-technical sense that
it puts forth a limited set of basic principles, most of which have been
motivated independently of the issues addressed in the book, from which it
derives a vast range of coordination and ellipsis phenomena, including
explicit accounts of the failure of derivation of ungrammatical forms. The
approach is developed in layers, with a brief survey in Chapter 1, an
extensive overview in Chapter 2, and detailed exposition in Chapters 3 and
4. There is not much repetition since the granularity of the exposition
changes significantly with each level. The writing is very dense however,
and the way is not extensively signposted. One has to get deep into
Chapters 3 and 4, around pages 150 and 250 respectively, in order to get a
good grasp of how the approach plays out. The book contains a wealth of
German and English data.

A short sketch of the rationale and basic principles of the Minimalist
framework provided near the beginning of the book would have helped to make
it more accessible to everyone interested in the empirical issues addressed.

There is passing reference to accounts of coordination of unlike categories
within Generalized Phrase Structure Grammar, but across frameworks there is
probably a greater common ground of issues addressed with Combinatory
Categorial Grammar (CCG), cf. Steedman (1996, 2000). Although the length of
the book might have prohibited it, it would have been interesting if
comparisons with work in CCG could have been made, to break down the
insularity of syntactic frameworks. Likewise, since the role of linearity
in processing is discussed, comparison with work in the framework of
Dynamic Syntax (Kempson et al. 2000) might have been useful.

A rather peculiar feature of the book, to this reviewer, is the pervasive
use of phrase structures such as that in (4) below, where nearly every word
c-commands the rest of the structure.

(4) [me [& [my brother [play [basketball [a lot [together]]]]]]]

Adopting this kind of structure means giving up on the representation of
most of ordinary constituency in phrase structure. Furthermore, it gives up
on the representation of complementation relations within syntactic phrase
structure. It is not clear that we really have to give up these standard
functions of phrase structure in order to get the considerable benefits of
the proposals regarding coordinate feature matching developed in the book.

The book is very well sourced, the index is clear and useful, and the
typos, which are infrequent, typically appear in background discussions and
do not afflict the data, the arguments, or passages developing the theory.


Collins, Chris. 1988. Alternative analysis of conjunction. Ms., MIT.

Gazdar, Gerald, Ewan Klein, Geoffrey Pullum, and Ivan Sag. 1985.
Generalized Phrase Structure Grammar. Harvard University Press.

Goodall, Grant. 1987. Parallel Structures in Syntax. Cambridge University

Johannessen, Janne Bondi. 1998. Coordination. Oxford University Press.

Johnson, Kyle. 2002. Restoring exotic coordinations to normalcy. Linguistic
Inquiry 33: 97-156.

Kempson, Ruth M., Wilfried Meyer-Viol, and Dov M. Gabbay. 2000. Dynamic
Syntax: The Flow of Language Understanding. Blackwell Publishers.

Munn, Alan. 1987. Coordinate structure and X-bar theory. McGill Working
Papers in Linguistics, Vol. 4, pp.121-140.

Munn, Alan. 1993. Topics in the Syntax and Semantics of Coordinate
Structures. Doctoral dissertation, University of Maryland, College Park.

Steedman, Mark. 1985. Dependency and coordination in the grammar of Dutch
and English. Language 61: 523-568.

Steedman, Mark. 1996. Surface Structure and Interpretation. MIT Press.

Steedman, Mark. 2000. The Syntactic Process. MIT Press.

Michael Hegarty is an associate professor in the Department of English and
in the Interdepartmental Program in Linguistics at Louisiana State
University. He is the author of 'A Feature-Based Syntax of Functional
Categories: The Structure, Acquisition and Specific Impairment of
Functional Systems' (Mouton de Gruyter, Studies in Generative Grammar
No.79, 2005), and has also authored and co-authored articles on the
semantic and referential properties of clauses introducing propositions and