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Review of  Anaphora and Language Design

Reviewer: Darcy Sperlich
Book Title: Anaphora and Language Design
Book Author: Eric J. Reuland
Publisher: MIT Press
Linguistic Field(s): Syntax
Issue Number: 22.3389

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AUTHORS: Eric J. Reuland
TITLE: Anaphora and Language Design
SERIES TITLE: Linguistic Inquiry Monographs
YEAR: 2011

Darcy W.R. Sperlich, Department of Applied Linguistics and Language Studies,
University of Auckland/ School of English, Manukau Institute of Technology


The main focus of the book is to abandon the Binding theory, and instead to
derive the patterns observed from general principles of language.

The book is divided into 9 chapters, some more technical than others -- the
summaries will reflect this.

Chapter 1
Reuland begins by setting out the goals of his work, first to discuss the
principles around anaphoric resolution from a syntactic perspective; and second,
to discuss why we have such principles, from their place in cognition to how
they are generated from general cognitive principles, and their interactions
with each other.

He covers the Binding theory, variations of binding found in different
languages, and its problems; then moving onto a discussion of the Minimalist
Program. Also discussed are various factors pertaining to anaphoric
interpretation, and how to dispense with indices. Most importantly though, is
that here Reuland establishes key points on which later discussion is based,
such as A-binding, SE (simplex) versus SELF (complex) anaphors and the Feature
Determinacy Thesis (how the morphosyntactic features of anaphora affect how they
are bound).

Finally, he presents a preview of each chapter.

Chapter 2
The second chapter presents an in-depth discussion on the status of c-command in
relation to A-binding. Importantly, the extension condition on Merge gives rise
to c-command. He then discusses the thorny issue of an anaphor being unable to
be locally bound, compared to a pronominal ('Every girl's father loves
herself*/her'); working on the structural difference between adjuncts and
specifier positions for pronominal binding, and showing how this explains the
contrast seen with anaphors. (There is a minor typo here, just after (9) on p.
73 'the professor who liked…' should read 'the professor who failed…'.)

Chapter 3
Reuland sets the stage for the use of his theory, first defining what
reflexivity is. Then he moves to the issues surrounding conditions A and B in
languages such as Dutch, Frisian and English. He points out in condition A,
where the syntactic parser has nothing to say about binding relations (e.g. in
logophoric environments), reference would be taken over by other modules, such
as discourse. He continues with a discussion of syntactic versus semantic
predicates, the structure of SE and SELF anaphors; and then turns to syntactic
chains, which involve phi-features and Case. The question is asked whether this
is a stand-alone concept or as a result of general properties of the grammar,
where it is then reformulated under probe-goal relations.

Chapter 4
Reuland begins by discussing encoding of anaphoric relations, which leads him to
stipulate the Economy of encoding, below:

Narrow syntax < logical syntax (C-I interface) < discourse

This hierarchy shows the different levels that variables can be bound at; most
importantly though, if, say, 'B' could not be bound by 'A' at narrow syntax due
to some fundamental, the system then could not try again at a higher level.
Reuland then points out the possible rationales for this type of economy (listed
on p. 127), discussing the costs of differing processing effects. He observes
these economy principles in Brazilian Portuguese, as well as in Dutch. Finally,
he raises an interesting point that if a variable violates a basic principle of
the grammar, the process is cancelled and cannot be accessed higher up on the
hierarchy -- ''rejection is final'' in his words.

Chapter 5
Here, Reuland aims to offer a relatively timeless explanation of anaphoric
binding that will outlast changes in syntactic theory, that is, through
introducing the concept of Chain formation between an anaphor and its
antecedent. While this has taken on various forms throughout generative
syntactic history, he sets the scene discussing underspecification of SE
anaphors (in terms of phi-features), and then discusses how binding is index
free, couched in terms of Merge, Agree and Deletion. He then looks at anaphoric
versus logophoric use, and asks why logophoric interpretations are selected at
times. Next, he discusses the syntactic model used and its underlying
assumptions. It is here that Chains are introduced. Briefly, the anaphor and the
antecedent enter a relation (being A-positions) due to phi underspecification
(of the anaphor) which rules out 3rd-person pronouns (which have full
phi-features). This then forms an A-Chain, which in turn must not violate the
Principle of Recovery of Deletion. He also discusses how A-Chains compare with
A-chains, which are actually quite similar. Hence, given the right conditions,
if one object is a Chain and the other a chain, they can then form a CHAIN.
Next, Reuland shows how covert V-T movement relates to chains, and then enters
into a discussion on formal features (category, person, gender and number) to
see how this might block chain formation. Through the number feature, Reuland
notes that pronominals internally have N to D movement, but SE anaphors have no
D, and are therefore able to enter a chain. He also touches upon possessive
anaphors, discussing why some languages do not have them. After this, a
discussion of logophoric interpretations takes place, showing how they arise
from a CHAIN formation being blocked. One such case is the subjunctive -- he
points out that CHAIN blocking follows from language specific encoding devices,
such as the subjunctive. He then has a short discussion about SE anaphors as
subjects (or not); and finally he discusses how elements agree to bind (via
Agree and feature valuation), before concluding the chapter.

Chapter 6
Reuland, having explained how the syntax works, now turns to the reasons for
licensing reflexivity. To start with condition B, he introduces the IDI
(inability to distinguish between indistinguishables), which is a general
principle of the computational system. In a nutshell, this is about how complex
expressions with two arguments reduce to one, which leads to the expression
being uninterpretable (unless, of course, it is a reflexive). Then, after
reviewing some literature on reference licensing, he moves onto what lexical
reflexivization entails, adopting the Theta System (TS). The TS is a theory
which maps lexical items from the conceptual to the computational system; using
this theory, Reuland looks closely at it when applied to valency reduction in
lexical reflexivization, for example with verbs such as 'shave', which reduces
its internal role to form a complex theta-role ('I shave' compared to 'He shaved
me'). Reuland believes that such entries are specified in the lexicon in
transitive and intransitive terms. Importantly, based on the TS literature,
Reuland adopts the distinction between syntax and lexicon languages, which
involves how theta-roles are manipulated in TS. Moreover, with a focus on
lexical reflexivization (noting that Dutch and English are lexicon languages),
he shows how Dutch verbs and anaphors interact with one another. Also briefly
discussed are syntactic languages.

Moving on, Reuland considers how in some languages valency reduction leaves
residue case, where for example in Dutch 'zich' is used to check it. He points
out that with other languages, one must investigate closely the morpheme at hand
to fully understand its role in syntax; he makes the point with Georgian, which
has two different licensing strategies.

Finally, Reuland discusses SELF's role in protecting a variable, that instead of
reducing the arguments, they are kept apart. This is then followed by a summary
of what has been discussed in the chapter so far.

Subsequently, the discussion on Condition A starts (to be derived from general
economy conditions), with a focus on English. Informally, SELF is semantically
identical to an individual person, an individual's SELF. He then considers the
logical form of SELF, showing SELF moving to V. This explains why for example
SELF in picture NPs cannot move to V due to movement constraints; therefore,
SELF maps onto its connected pronoun, resulting in intensification.

Next, Reuland discusses proxy readings of sentences such as 'Ringo undresses
himself', in the wax museum context, adopting a semantic analysis. The next
section deals with how extending a reflexive predicate enforces a reflexive
interpretation. He then discusses and evaluates SELF movement in two possible
ways from general principles of grammar, the first called the lexical-semantics
approach. The other possibility is called the inalienable possession model,
where SELF is analyzed as a body part. Other possible strategies are presented
as well. Briefly, he considers whether 'anaphor' as a category is in fact a
necessary category at all. Finally he discusses the effects of 'masking', that
is languages appear to act differently on the surface which might require
language specific explanations; here Reuland suggests that we search deeper for
an underlying syntactic principle that is marked in some languages, but not in

There are two errors on p. 244, 'Fijian' has been written as 'Fiji' twice. This
error has also made its way into the subject index.

Chapter 7
Reuland devotes this chapter to SELF movement and its consequences. He discusses
the internal makeup of SELF, its licensing in a biclausal environment, then
provides details of what a syntactic predicate might be to attract SELF. Reuland
then looks at the question as to why first and second person pronominals cannot
be bound in English, which is due to the IDI (and a structural quirk). He then
moves the discussion to chain heads, involving SE and SELF anaphors, pointing
out how they may or may not occur at the head of a chain. Finally moving to the
English 'himself', he investigates why it cannot occur in finite positions and
the non-occurrence of 'heself'.

Chapter 8
In this chapter, Reuland discusses Frisian local binding of pronouns compared to
Dutch, and then discusses German 'sich', which is analysed to be a SELF anaphor.
This interestingly comes from phonological evidence which is thought to reflect
sich's syntactic makeup. Next, he discusses the licensing of pronouns/anaphors
in prepositional phrases, showing the interaction between V and P in terms of
Case. This is followed by an in-depth discussion of Scandinavian and German
anaphora, detailing their distribution. Reuland covers the P&P generative
literature on anaphora, noting their problems with capturing different binding
domains. Investigating the issue, Reuland, while considering the structure of
the complement and tense system in finite/nonfinite clauses, observes that SE
binding across clauses is due to VO/OV symmetry between languages; due to
syntactic configurations a SE anaphor is unable to move into the matrix clause
in an OV language, whereas it is acceptable to do so in a VO language. He also
observes SE long-distance binding in a direct object position. This is followed
by discussion of Icelandic logophoricity, where Reuland argues for separate
conditions regulating Icelandic 'sig' in infinitives vs. subjunctives, the
former structural and the latter discourse. Finally, he briefly discusses
instances of 'sig' being in a co-referential relationship, rather than a binding

Chapter 9
The final chapter includes a review of other recent minimalist work on binding,
summarises the whole project, and presents the author's concluding thoughts on
the topic.


This is a seminal work. From the preface of the book it appears that this has
been many years in the making -- reflecting the author's deep knowledge and
understanding of the topic.

His endeavour certainly is an ambitious one, namely to abandon the Binding
theory and have anaphoric relations derived naturally from general principles of
the computational system; and it appears that he has successfully argued the
case. The Binding theory has always had a problem in trying to capture differing
binding domains, while also trying to maintain complementary distribution
between pronominals and anaphors. By reducing the binding theory to nothing, we
are now much freer to discuss anaphoric relations -- albeit as Reuland
constantly reminds us, a close investigation of each language is needed to fully
appreciate how differing modules interact with each other to produce what we see
on the surface.

Another outstanding feature of the book is in the way it has been written. As
noted by Reuland himself, he took some very worthwhile advice in presenting to
his work in a most accessible fashion; meaning, that instead of writing for the
narrow circle of generative linguists, he has successfully presented his thesis
in such a way that a non-generativist can easily pick up the book and start
reading. While it still contains theory-intensive discussions, it is
nevertheless easy to follow. Concepts are clearly explained and demonstrated in
a variety of languages rather than just in English. Another worthwhile feature
is that the author alerts the reader to parts which may already be known to them
(e.g. theory background), hence time is saved.

While the book mainly covers European languages, it does occasionally make
reference to others, to make the point that the analysis can be extended to
other language groups as well. However, the elephant in the room appears to have
escaped scrutiny, which of course is Chinese Mandarin. The main anaphor in
contention here is the SE anaphor 'ziji', which has resisted syntactic analyses
over the years. Mandarin only has overt person features, with no agreement, case
or apparent clause type differences (e.g. finite versus non-finite), which
causes problems when trying to apply a theory which uses these to good effect.
That is not to say the analytical methods proposed by Reuland will not work for
Mandarin, but it will be very interesting to see how this new perspective works
for such languages with the Binding theory now being rejected.

All in all, I may add that this work is a game- and paradigm-changer in the
field of anaphoric relations, hence is highly recommended to all interested
scholars working in the field of anaphora, regardless of their theoretical

Darcy Sperlich is currently a teaching fellow in the Department of Applied Language Studies and Linguistics at the University of Auckland, and also a lecturer of ESOL in the School of English at the Manukau Institute of Technology, in Auckland, New Zealand. He is a PhD candidate at the Department of Applied Language Studies and Linguistics at the University of Auckland, investigating anaphoric interpretation in Chinese Mandarin by speakers of other languages, and whether or not this suggests an anaphoric pragmatic/syntactic division of labour in the languages concerned. His other research interests include Chinese comparative dialectology, especially as related to syntax.

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