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Review of  Linguistic Analysis

Reviewer: Florentina Taylor
Book Title: Linguistic Analysis
Book Author: Annarita Puglielli Mara Frascarelli
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Issue Number: 22.3110

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AUTHORS: Annarita Puglielli and Mara Frascarelli
TITLE: Linguistic Analysis
SUBTITLE: From data to theory
SERIES TITLE: Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs [TiLSM] 220
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2011

Florentina Taylor, Department of Education, University of York, UK


'Linguistic analysis: From data to theory' discusses Generativism with numerous
examples from various languages spoken all over the world. Its target audience
are advanced university students, researchers and scholars, which is reflected
in the rather technical nature of the linguistic phenomena discussed and the
vocabulary used to describe them. In order to make the text more accessible,
however, the two authors opt for a 'semi-guided presentation', combining the
description of each phenomenon with a discussion of relevant literature and
linguistic data, as well as structural considerations and general comments. This
approach, the authors explain, ensures that language comparisons are clear,
especially for students.

The explicit objective of the book is to show that, despite superficial
differences, individual grammars are based on a limited number of universal
principles that determine the morphological, syntactic, phonological, semantic
and pragmatic properties of utterances. The two authors explain that this is the
reason why they adopt an integrated 'semi-guided' approach, as linguistic data
are not considered to belong exclusively to a certain domain, but to share deep
meanings and relationships.

According to the authors, the order of the chapters reflects the progression of
their research and the reader is encouraged to approach them in sequence in
order to better understand the analyses. The 403-page book consists of an
introduction, seven chapters (described briefly below), conclusions, a list of
languages, a list of abbreviations, notes, references, a subject index and a
language index. The first three chapters provide the conceptual basis for the
rest of the book.

Chapter 1 ('Categories and functions') represents an introduction to the
theoretical framework on which the book is based; Generative Grammar, developed
by Noam Chomsky in the late 1950s (Chomsky 1957), and revised subsequently to
give rise to Generative-Transformational Grammar (e.g. Chomsky 1965), the
Government and Binding Model (e.g. Chomsky 1982) and the Minimalist Program
(e.g. Chomsky 1995). These revisions were meant to reduce formalism, to clarify
the principles of Universal Grammar and to improve the explanatory power of the
theory, while remaining faithful to the basic underlying aim of Generativism;
trying to identify the productive linguistic principles that are genetically
inherited and activated through interaction with the environment. This innate
mechanism, together with its governing principles, represents Universal Grammar.

Defining the basis of their approach, the authors express the view that
linguistic data should be examined and compared from multiple perspectives (e.g.
phonological, morphological, lexical) and state that the main axes of linguistic
research for the purposes of this book are interlinguistic comparison and the
interfaces between different levels of analysis. In doing so, they distance
themselves clearly from 'traditional analyses', which, they say, usually rely on
a basic inventory of categories and ''a classification exercise, which is nothing
more than an uninteresting and not particularly useful labeling exercise'' (p.
5). Consequently, they dismiss parts-of-speech classifications based on semantic
or morphological criteria and opt instead for a grammatical/ distributional
classification. The same approach is used to identify the syntactic function of
a category, which is seen to depend on the structural collocation of the phrase
that hosts it. They also redefine the traditional morphological typology of
languages (isolating, agglutinative, inflectic and polysynthetic; e.g. Sapir
1921; Croft 1991) according to the way lexical and functional categories combine
(or not) within the sentence structure.

Chapter 2 ('The structure of the verb phrase') offers a semantic and syntactic
analysis of the concept of argument, with an emphasis on macro-roles (sets of
argument roles related to the semantic composition of the verb) and the event
structure of predicates (dynamic vs. stative). Numerous argument roles are shown
to correspond with a limited number of macro-roles in the verb phrase, and
therefore, with a limited number of syntactic functions. The concept of
'predication' is central to the discussion, as it identifies the pivot element
in the sentence, whose meaning determines diverse thematic relations with
arguments. This is one of the numerous examples in the book where the analysis
combines several levels of linguistic representation (syntax, semantics,

Chapter 3 ('Syntactic functions') examines the relationship between deep roles
(universal categories) and surface structures/ functions, starting from the
Generativist assumption that deep structure is universal, which leaves surface
structure to account for cross-linguistic variation. An important distinction
discussed in the chapter is between deep Cases and structural Cases, which are
not necessarily correlated (such as in ergative languages), although a tendency
does exist for them to occur together. The assignment of deep Cases and
syntactic functions is attributed to Lexical Insertion, which distinguishes
between lexical heads (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs) and functional heads
(prepositions, determiners, complementizers and inflectional elements).

Chapter 4 ('The structure of the noun phrase') discusses internal structure,
nominalization, determination and noun head modification (through adjectives and
relative clauses). The noun phrase is analyzed by analogy to the verb phrase in
order to emphasize their syntactic relationships.

Chapter 5 ('Adverbial modification') categorizes modifiers at the level of
predication from the perspectives of their distribution, internal composition
and syntactic-pragmatic relationships.

Chapter 6 ('The sentence as utterance') describes the interface between
morpho-syntax and pragmatics from two points of view: the communicative function
that sentences have in discourse and the information structure (the location of
constituents in the sentence governed by specific discourse requirements). The
order of sentence constituents is analyzed on the basis of two informational
pairs: Focus-Presupposition and Topic-Comment. The Presupposition and Topic
represent given information, with the former usually being a verb phrase and the
latter a noun phrase, while the Focus and Comment represent new information in
the sentence, with the Focus being represented by a noun phrase and the Comment
by a verb phrase. The discussion of pragmatic function briefly introduces the
three traditional speech acts categories: locutionary (surface form),
illocutionary (deep meaning) and perlocutionary (the effect of an utterance,
whether intended or not). The following chapter concentrates on the second type
of speech acts.

In Chapter 7 ('Illocutionary force'), the close relationship between discourse
grammar and illocutionary force is emphasized. The authors argue that
illocutionary force should be part of any formal analytical framework and that
overt/ covert performatives should be regarded as present in all utterances,
whether they are manifest or null. This is because every utterance is regarded
as a speech act which is realized overtly as a complex structure, which leads to
every independent sentence being regarded as embedded in a covert performative


While accessibility is not necessarily a key attribute of the volume, due the
technical nature of the linguistic phenomena described, Puglielli and
Frascarelli compensate for this by the very strong link between theory and
practice that pervades the entire volume, which is also announced in the title.
The theoretically driven analysis is supported by examples from 74 typologically
different languages, originating partly in secondary sources and partly in
primary informants. Examples of language families represented in the book
include the Indo-European, Afro-Asiatic, Uralic, Amerindian, Niger-Congo and
Austronesian families.

The two analytical foci of the book -- the interaction between different levels
of linguistic organization and cross-linguistic comparison -- follow the
inductive principle of bottom-up, data-driven, identification of universal
aspects and parametric differences. This encourages the reader to engage with
the analyses actively and identify similarities and differences before reading
the authors' conclusions. In this respect, the diagrams and numerous examples
from various languages are extremely helpful. Most examples are discussed in
parallel, with clear morpho-syntactic labels, allowing the reader to compare and
contrast samples of typologically different languages. For instance (p. 52):

Pioveva. (ITALIAN)
'It was raining.'
'It rained/It was raining.'
Um-ulan. (TAGALOG)
'It rained.'

Despite the clarity of the explanations and examples, as well as the clear and
succinct presentation of the theoretical framework, the book may only be
appropriate for readers with a specialist interest in Generative Grammar and
advanced knowledge of associated theories. Students of linguistics may use it as
complementary material but will have to look elsewhere for an introductory
overview with an intuitive, reader-friendly structure.

In line with the Generativist theoretical framework, the book does not cover
figurative language and largely overlooks the active role that human creativity
plays in producing and decoding meaning. While it is the authors' prerogative to
opt for one theoretical model or another, a brief rationale for their focus and
delimitations would have given a more balanced impression.

In sum, Puglielli and Frascarelli's 'Linguistic analysis: From data to theory'
represents a valuable contribution to the field through its strong emphasis on
the practical applicability of Generativism and its discussion of numerous
lesser known languages.


Chomsky, Noam. 1957. Syntactic structures. The Hague: Mouton.

Chomsky, Noam. 1965. Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Chomsky, Noam. 1982. Some concepts and consequences of the Theory of Government
and Binding. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Chomsky, Noam. 1995. The Minimalist Program. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Croft, William. 1991. Syntactic categories and grammatical relations: The
cognitive organization of information. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Sapir, Edward. 1921. Language: An introduction to the study of speech. New York:
Harcourt, Brace & Co.

Dr. Florentina Taylor is a Teaching Fellow in TESOL at the University of York, UK, where she teaches English Linguistics, Identity and Foreign Language Learning, English for Academic and Higher Education Purposes and Computer-Assisted Language Learning to postgraduate students. Her main research interests focus on the self and identity in foreign language learning, especially the interface between identity perceptions, linguistic output and academic achievement.

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