LINGUIST List 13.547

Wed Feb 27 2002

Review: Black, Quiegolani Zapotec Syntax

Editor for this issue: Terence Langendoen <>

What follows is another discussion note contributed to our Book Discussion Forum. We expect these discussions to be informal and interactive; and the author of the book discussed is cordially invited to join in.

If you are interested in leading a book discussion, look for books announced on LINGUIST as "available for discussion." (This means that the publisher has sent us a review copy.) Then contact Simin Karimi at or Terry Langendoen at

Subscribe to Blackwell's LL+ at and donate 20% of your subscription to LINGUIST! You get 30% off on Blackwells books, and free shipping and postage!


  • Andrew Carnie, Black, Quiegolani Zapotec Syntax: A Principles and Parameters Account

    Message 1: Black, Quiegolani Zapotec Syntax: A Principles and Parameters Account

    Date: Tue, 26 Feb 2002 21:50:37 -0700 (MST)
    From: Andrew Carnie <carnieU.Arizona.EDU>
    Subject: Black, Quiegolani Zapotec Syntax: A Principles and Parameters Account

    Black, Cheryl, A. (2000) Quiegolani Zapotec Syntax: A Principles and Parameters Account. SIL International and University of Texas at Arlington, xvi+349pp, paperback ISBN 1-55671-099-2, US$29.00, Publications in Linguistics 136

    Andrew Carnie, University of Arizona

    The world of linguists seems to be roughly divided into those who love to play with language exotica, linguistic puzzles, and language for language's sake, and those who are interested in theory (of whatever variety) for theory's sake and about models of linguistic structure. Those of us who like to do both; that is like to see our theories motivated and empirically grounded in languages yet at the same time see our descriptions of language theoretically informed, are often disappointed by the selection of books available today. I often find that descriptive grammars don't contain the information I want to know, whereas strictly theoretical works leave me pining for some descriptive content. Cheryl Black's book on Quiegolani Zapotec (henceforth QZ) syntax is a pleasing exception to this trend. In this book, Black brings the careful, detailed, and thorough grammatical description which we associate with SIL grammars together with a sophisticated and theoretically informed, albeit somewhat out of date, analysis. The book, which is a slightly revised version of her 1994 University of California Santa Cruz dissertation, is divided into an introduction which sketches the theoretical perspective of the book (essentially that of late GB, or a conservative version of early minimalism), and three major sections: a grammatical sketch, a discussion of clause structure and A-bar dependencies, and finally a section on the structure of constituents smaller than the clause. In the first section, the second chapter provides a very clear description of verbal and nominal morphology, which is crucial for understanding the syntactic descriptions which follow. This chapter not only runs through the aspectual, mood, possessive, and valency changing morphology, but also through the structure of the pronominal morphology, including a discussion of whether QZ has pro and PRO. Chapter 3 outlines a sketch of the basic syntax of the language. QZ is a fairly strict VSO language, with all the typological properties predicted thereof. Black presents descriptions of various kinds of copular constructions, existential constructions, passives, unaccusatives, raising constructions, causatives, various question constructions, negatives, focus and topic structures. Chapter 4 was one of my favorites in the book. It examines how anaphora and other binding phenomena work in Zapotec. Interestingly, QZ lacks a clear distinction between anaphors and pronouns, and further seems to lack certain kinds of condition B and C effects. We thus find examples like (1) and (2) below:

    (1) r-wii noo noo h-see 1ex 1ex "I see myself" or "we see ourselves" (Black: 74)

    (2) r-e Mblid lo xsaap Mblid h-say Mary face daughter Mary "Mary said to her daughter" (Black: 76)

    However, other restrictions on the distribution of nominals do emerge. For example, R-expressions can't be anteceded by a pronominal:

    (3) *r-e men lo xsaap Mblid h-say 3 face daughter Mary "She-i said to Mary-i's daughter

    And quantified nominals, including quantificational pronouns, cannot be bound at all. This kind of data is an important challenge to standard binding theory, and is important new data for the area. Chapter 5, at the beginning of the second section of the book, outlines a number of theoretical issues to be addressed in the rest of the work:

    (i) how many functional projections are necessary? (ii) how VSO order is obtained: by verb movement as proposed by McCloskey (1991) and Koopman and Sportiche (1991), or by subject adjunction to V (lowering) as proposed by Chung (1990) and Choe (1986).

    Throughout the book, she argues that for QZ, at least, needs only VP, IP, NegP and CP and that a verb raising approach is the best way to derive VSO. The distinction between topic and focus, both structurally and semantically is the domain of chapter 6. Black provides a number of arguments, from morphology and position, that topic and focus involve different structural realizations in the language. I have to admit that this was one chapter that I initially found quite confusing, but in retrospect, I suspect it was because Black uses the terms "topic" and "focus" in a different way than that I am familiar with. As I understand it, the usual meanings of topic is "old information" and focus refers to "new information". This is not the way Black uses the terms, however. Indeed we find some almost bewildering statements such as the idea that focus construction can be used when "either new or old information" (pg 103) is introduced. It becomes clear later that Black uses the term focus to refer to contrastive focus, rather than informational focus. "The focus marker in QZ has the discourse function of picking one referent out of a group to highlight" (Black: 110), but I wish this had been made clearer from the beginning. The theoretical account of when focus and topic constructions are licensed is framed in terms of proper government. This seems quite anachronistic for a book published in 2000 (an issue which I will return to below). Questions and relative constructions are the focus of the next chapter. QZ seems to exhibit a typological pattern attested in other VSO languages (such as Irish), but not widely dealt with in the theoretical literature. It does not allow wh-in-situ at all, yet allows a maximum of one wh-movement. In the appendix to the book, Black outlines a variation on Rizzi's (1990) wh-criterion, which accounts for this (and four other typologically attested patterns), based on whether wh-elements appear in adjoined positions or specifier positions; how many such positions are available; and at what level of representation the criteria apply. Chapter 7 also includes some discussion of the landing site of wh-movement relative to question particles and pied piped prepositions. Chapter 9 takes on the unusual requirement found in QZ that negative indefinite pronouns must be fronted and shows how this is an argument in favor of the verb movement account of VSO order. Chapter 10 builds on chapters 7, 8 and 9, and looks at the interaction between topic, focus, wh-questions and negative fronting. Black shows that focus and wh-questions are in complementary distribution and seem to target the same position (interestingly, not the specifier of CP, but a position adjoined to a polarity functional head lower than C). By contrast, fronted negative elements occupy the specifier of this Polarity phrase. The argumentation here is classical and well founded, but there is one gap in the analysis. Black fails to show us that PolP and IP are not identical, and that the extra functional head is necessary (except for semantic reasons and to head the negation prefix) . The third section of the book is more eclectic, but concentrates on the structure of constituents smaller than the clause. Chapter 10 looks at both the internal structure of VPs and verbless copular constructions in QZ. Black examines data from VP coordination in QZ, similar to that observed for Chamorro by Chung (1990), that seems to point towards a subject-adjunction analysis for verb initial order. She correctly points out that an alternative analysis of these "VP" coordination structures, using IP coordination with a null third person pronoun allows us to maintain the verb-raising analysis motivated by the discussion in previous chapters. The second half of chapter 10 and the entirety of 11 are best dealt with together, since they both center around the question of non-verbal categories: copular constructions and noun phrases. Like many other verb- initial languages, these constructions seem to be possessor/subject final. The standard analysis of these phenomena has the nominal elements undergoing head-movement to some functional position higher than the possessor/subject. For NPs, the N raises to D (as proposed by Ritter 1988) and for copular constructions the N raises to T (as proposed by Carnie 1995). Black rejects the N- raising analysis of DPs in QZ on the basis of the fact that adverbs modifying the N appear string-adjacent to it, not at the presumed source of the movement.

    (4) x-pk in nzeb pos-dog small girl "the girl's small dog"

    If the head movement analysis is correct, we'd predict the order _xpk nzeb t win_ (the order found in Arabic and Hebrew for such constructions). So instead, she proposes that specifiers in [-V] categories in QZ are rightwards. In the interim between the initial writing of this dissertation (1994) and its publication date, two very different analyses of the order in (4) have been proposed for the related constructions in Irish, which allow us to maintain the head-movement analysis, without parameterizing specifier direction. One is the multiple functional head account of Duffield (1995) and the other is the underspecified phrasality approach of Carnie (2000). While it is reasonable, from a continuity perspective, for a dissertation author not to entirely revise his or her analysis in light of work published between writing and publication, a published dissertation should include at least pointers to the literature that has appeared on the topic since the dissertation was written. Again I return to this concern below. The last chapter of the book looks in detail at the unique way that QZ allows numeral quantifiers to scope over nominal referents in a complex NP and assimilates the construction to Schwartz's (1988) Plural Pronoun Construction. I have a great deal of respect for the work presented in this dissertation; it is thorough, interesting, readable, informed, and informative, but I do have one serious criticism of the work, as a recently published research monograph. As alluded to above, this book is the published version of Black's dissertation, written in 1994. The theoretical approach Black adopts was dated even when the manuscript was first written. Now, with a publication half a decade later, the theoretical content of the book seems very out of date. This does not mean that the material is not still of theoretical interest, but merely that the theoretical devices Black introduces are of much less use. I really wish she had taken the time to at least acknowledge that between 1994 and 2000 some significant work on the topics had occurred, even if this was in the form of footnotes or an "update" chapter. Nonetheless, some of the issues she raises, e.g. the need to parameterize the Wh-criterion, still require significant research to account for in the minimalist approach. Similarly the binding facts in chapter 4 are a challenge to all the approaches to binding that I am familiar with. Indeed the empirical content of Black's work stands up to the test of time, and therein lies the strength of this work: it is an empirical treasure trove written by someone with a theoretically sophisticated eye.

    REFERENCES Carnie, Andrew (1995) Head Movement and Nonverbal Predication. Ph.D. Dissertation, MIT. Carnie, Andrew (2000) On the Notions Xo and XP. Syntax 3.2, 59-106 Chung, Sandra (1990) VPs and Verb Movement in Chamorro. NLLT8:559-620. Choe, Hyon-Sook (1986) An SVO Analysis of VSO Languages and Parameterization: A study of Berber. In S. Berman, J. Choe, and J. McDonough (eds) NELS16. Duffield, Nigel (1995) Particles and Projections in Irish Syntax. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers Koopman, Hilda and Dominique Sportiche (1991) On the Position of Subjects. Lingua 85:211-258. McCloskey, James (1991) 'Clause Structure, Ellipsis and Proper Government in Irish', Lingua 85, 259-302. Ritter, Elizabeth (1988) A Head-movement Approach to Construct-State Noun Phrases. Linguistics 26, 909-929. Rizzi, Luigi (1990) Relativized Minimality. Cambridge: MIT Press. Schwartz, Linda (1988) Asymmetric Feature Distribution in Pronominal 'Coordinations'. in Barlow and Greenberg (eds). Agreement in Natural Language: Approaches, Theories, Descriptions, Stanford: CSLI. pp 237-249.

    ABOUT THE REVIEWER Andrew Carnie is an assistant professor of syntactic theory at the University of Arizona. His interests include phrase structure, copular constructions, verb initial order, and Celtic languages. He recently published two books: The Syntax of Verb Initial Languages (ed. with Eithne Guilfoyle, 2000, Oxford University Press) and an introductory syntax textbook, Syntax: A Generative Introduction (2001) Blackwell.