LINGUIST List 12.2418

Sun Sep 30 2001

Review: Carnie & Guilfoyle, Verb Initial Languages

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  • Matthew Walenski, Review of Carnie & Guilfoyle, Syntax of Verb Initial Languages

    Message 1: Review of Carnie & Guilfoyle, Syntax of Verb Initial Languages

    Date: Sun, 30 Sep 2001 16:32:27 -0400
    From: Matthew Walenski <>
    Subject: Review of Carnie & Guilfoyle, Syntax of Verb Initial Languages

    Carnie, Andrew, and Guilfoyle, Eithne, ed. (2000) The Syntax of Verb Initial Languages. Oxford University Press, hardback ISBN 0-19-513222-X, 256 pp., $45.00; paperback ISBN 0-19-513223-8, $24.95 (Oxford Studies in Comparative Syntax).

    Matthew Walenski, Department of Neuroscience and Linguistics, Georgetown University.

    [A previous review of this book appears in --Eds.]

    SYNOPSIS This book is a collection of papers treating syntactic issues in verb-initial languages. The majority of the papers are concerned with problems of word-order derivation, but several other interesting problems are also addressed within the volume. While a full summary and review of each paper contained in the volume is beyond the scope of this review, a brief summary of each chapter follows, with commentary on the entire volume following.

    Chapter 1: Introduction, by Andrew Carnie and Eithne Guilfoyle The authors describe two main problems for theoretical accounts of word order in verb initial languages. For VSO languages, constituency tests appear to demonstrate the existence of a VO (verb + object) constituent. This is difficult to reconcile with a surface order in which the subject intervenes between the verb and object. A similar problem exists for VOS word orders: are they derived from an underlying SVO order or base generated? While VOS languages do not share the VO constituency problem of VSO languages, the authors list several proposed universal properties that both types of verb-initial language share.

    Chapter 2: Celtic Initials, by Randall Hendrick This chapter treats initials in Celtic languages, notably Irish, Gaelic, Welsh, and Breton. Hendrick proposes that surface VSO order is derived from an underlying SVO order by V movement to the left.

    Chapter 3: VSO Order as Raising Out of IP? Some Evidence from Old Irish, by Andrew Carnie, Heidi Harley, and Elizabeth Pyatt Carnie, Harley, and Pyatt propose that VSO order in Old Irish is derived from an underlying SVO order by verb movement to the left, but that two different landing sites are available for the moved verb.

    Chapter 4: Tense and N-features in Irish, by Eithne Guilfoyle Guilfoyle proposes that differences in the event structure between English (SVO) and Irish (VSO) account for their differences in word order. While this account also derives Irish VSO order from an underlying SVO order, an attempt is made to derive the difference between English and Irish from independent evidence concerning the role of event structure in the assignment of an external argument.

    Chapter 5: VSO and Left-Conjunct Agreement: Biblical Hebrew vs. Modern Hebrew, by Edit Doron Doron argues that left-conjunct agreement is a phenomenon associated with verb-initiality. In Modern Hebrew, the verb is never initial, and Modern Hebrew does not display left- conjunct agreement. In Biblical Hebrew, left-conjunct agreement is realized when the verb is not preceded by some other element.

    Chapter 6: VSO and VOS: Aspects of Niuean Word Order, by Diane Massam Massam argues that the VSO word order of Niuean is derived by predicate fronting. The predicate that fronts is a maximal projection (e.g., VP), rather than a head (e.g., V).

    Chapter 7: V-initial Languages: X or XP Movement and Adverbial Placement, by Andrea Rackowski and Lisa Travis Rackowski and Travis argue that VSO order can be derived from an underlying SVO order by either V movement or VP movement, while VOS order is derived from underlying SVO by VP movement only.

    Chapter 8: VP Remnant Movement and VSO in Quiavini Zapotec, by Felicia Lee Lee argues that VSO order is derived in Quiavini Zapotec from an underlying SVO order. in her analysis the entire VP raises to a pre-subject position.

    In all three analyses (Chapters 6, 7, and 8) a constituent internal to the VP (e.g., a direct object) is no longer within the VP when it raises. Thus all three analyses converge to the same type of analysis for VSO order.

    Chapter 9: Locus Operandi, by Ray Freeze and Carol Georgopoulos Restricting themselves to locative expressions, Freeze and Georgopoulos argue that verb initial (VOS/VSO), SVO and SOV are all basic (i.e. underived) word orders. They point out that V-initial languages have no 'have' possessive, and SOV languages have no pro-form existential. Both of these facts are difficult to account for if these language types are derived from the same underlying order.

    Chapter 10: Prosodic Conditions on Anaphora and Clitics in Jakaltek, by Judith Aissen Aissen argues that the binding domain in Jakaltek (a strict VSO language) is defined by prosodic structure, not syntactic structure.

    Chapter 11: Animacy Hierarchies and Sentence Processing, by Seth Minkoff In this chapter, Minkoff argues that the preference in certain languages for a subject to be at least as animate as an object can be derived from facts about linguistic performance. He contrasts the verb initial Mayan language Mam with English.

    Chapter 12: Predicate Raising in Lummi, Straits Salish, by Eloise Jelinek Jelinek argues that the predicate initial Straits Salish language Lummi is a pronominal argument language, in which clause structure, as described by information structure, is strictly related to argument structure. Jelinek argues that principles of information structure that are typical of pronominal argument languages serve to derive the predicate initial character of Lummi.

    CRITICAL REVIEW This collection of papers covers a wide variety of languages, and represents an important and interesting contribution to syntactic theory. To give one impressive example, Massam (Chapter 6), Rackowski and Travis (Chapter 7), and Lee (Chapter 8) all converge onto an analysis of a VSO derived word order in which maximal projections rather than heads are fronted. This is an impressive convergence, and could indicate that a real insight into these languages and into verb initial languages in general has been achieved. However, it is not clear to what extent the convergence of these analyses depends on assumptions crucial to the flavor of the Minimalist program (Chomsky, 1995) adopted by the authors. Seeing analyses of the same or similar phenomena in a framework that does not rely on these assumptions (and which may not rely on movement strategies at all), would provide a very interesting additional perspective on the phenomena in question. In fact, there is virtually no mention of lexicalist theories of grammar such as LFG (Bresnan, 2001) or HPSG (Sag and Wasow, 1999).

    This brings up the only real shortcoming of the volume: the theoretical orientation of the papers within it represents a very narrow spectrum. While some diversity is achieved by the inclusion of processing (Chapter 11), and prosody (Chapter 10), only one paper refers to a non-movement- oriented framework (Chapter 2), which offers one of its analyses in an Optimality-theoretic syntax. While this does not detract from the interest of any of the individual papers, the inclusion of an additional perspective would have been a valuable addition to the volume as a whole.

    Despite this shortcoming however, this volume is a good collection of very interesting papers, and should be near to the hand of any researcher interested in this area.

    REFERENCES Bresnan, J. (2000) Lexical-Functional Syntax. Blackwell, Oxford.

    Chomsky, N. (1995) The Minimalist Program. MIT Press. Cambridge, MA.

    Sag, I. and Wasow, T. (1999) Syntactic Theory: A Formal Introduction. CSLI, Stanford.

    ABOUT THE REVIEWER My research interests include sentence processing (psycho- and neuro-linguistics), syntax, phonetics, historical linguistics, and writing systems. I am currently a post-doctoral fellow at Georgetown University.