LINGUIST List 19.1856

Wed Jun 11 2008

Review: Syntax: Carnie (2008)

Editor for this issue: Randall Eggert <randylinguistlist.org>


        1.    Fredrik Heinat, Constituent Structure


Message 1: Constituent Structure
Date: 10-Jun-2008
From: Fredrik Heinat <fredrik.heinatsvenska.gu.se>
Subject: Constituent Structure
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Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/18/18-3213.html AUTHOR: Carnie, AndrewTITLE: Constituent StructureSERIES: Oxford Surveys in Syntax and MorphologyPUBLISHER: Oxford University PressYEAR: 2008

Fredrik Heinat, Department of Swedish, University of Gothenburg

SUMMARYIn his book Carnie reviews past and current approaches to phrase structure froma wide range of (mostly generative) theoretical frameworks. The stated purposeof the book, and the others in the series, is to provide the reader with''accessible, critical and up-to-date'' information about central topics in syntaxand morphology (general preface). The book is not meant to be introductory andthe intended reader is someone who has taken at least an introductory course insyntax. The book contains eleven chapters, divided into three parts:preliminaries, phrase structure grammars and X-bar Theory, and controversies.There are also an index and a list of abbreviations and symbols used.

The first chapter briefly describes the topic of the book and its intendedaudience. The topic is constituent structure, which is the combination of wordsinto phrases and clauses. Carnie also lists the various theories that will bediscussed. They are: all Chomskyan grammars (from syntactic structures tominimalism), relational grammar, lexical-functional grammar, Tree adjoininggrammar, generalized phrase structure grammar, head driven phrase structuregrammar, role and reference grammar, simpler syntax, and to much a lesser extentdependency grammar, word grammar, categorial grammar, functional grammar,cognitive grammar and construction grammar.

In the second chapter, Constituent Structure, Carnie starts with pointing outthe problems of viewing constituent structure as simple linear concatenation.Having established that the hierarchical structure must be taken into account,he continues to discuss tree structures and their mathematical properties inchapter three, Basic Properties of Trees. The third chapter is concluded by adiscussion about domination and precedence.

The fourth chapter deals with the second order relations c-command andgovernment. Carnie gives a brief history of how the syntactic relations, whichare particular to government and binding (GB) and minimalism (MP), developed. Healso describes attempts to reduce these relations to more primitive relationssuch as 'unambiguous paths' or 'sisterhood'.

The fifth chapter introduces the second part of the book. The chapter deals withphrase structure grammars (PSG) and discusses such issues as context free andcontext sensitive grammars. It finishes with a discussion about tree structuresand the different meanings 'phrase structure grammar' can have in differenttheoretical frameworks; it can be top-down rewrite rules (early generativegrammar), structure creating projection (GB and MP), or it can mean a set ofconditions that filter out tree structures ( Generalized Phrase StructureGrammar (GPSG) and Lexical Functional Grammar (LFG)).

In chapter six Carnie discusses extensions of PSGs. He touches briefly on topicssuch as structure changing and structure building transformations. He alsopresents a more detailed view of alternative PSGs in GPSG and LFG than in theprevious chapter.

The seventh chapter is dedicated to X-bar theory and its historical development.Carnie makes use of various substitution tests as arguments for intermediatestructure. He also discusses the use (or non-use)of X-bar structure in relationto functional projections in various generative frameworks.

Chapter eight introduces the last part of the book, Controversies. This, too, isa chapter that deals exclusively with GB and MP. Carnie traces the developmentfrom X-bar theory to 'bare phrase structure'. He also touches briefly on topicssuch as adjuncts, Kayne's LCA (1994), three dimensional trees and top downversus bottom up construction of structure.

In chapter nine Carnie discusses the relation between syntactic dependencies(such as subject and object) and constituent structure, i.e tree structure. Hebriefly touches on several approaches, including more semantically orientedframeworks.

The tenth chapter presents alternatives to strict compositional phrasestructure. Among the different versions of phrase structure trees that Carniediscusses are line crossing, multi domination and multiplanar structures.

The last chapter deals with functional categories. The focus is on the clausalstructure and its three parts. According to Carnie, the ''fact'' that the clauseconsists of three parts (VP, IP and CP in Chomskyan phrase structure, butobviously encoded differently in other frameworks) is one of the greatestlinguistic discoveries of the last century. The chapter also briefly deals withthe structure of the noun/determiner phrase. Again, the focus is on GB andminimalism.

EVALUATIONI think this is a very good book. Carnie writes in a clear and lucid style.Still, my opinions about it are somewhat divided. The reason is that the bookdoes not really do what it sets out to do, but on the other hand it does what itdoes very well.

So what are the intentions of the book? As stated in the general preface to theseries, a book in the series ''provides overviews of the major approaches tosubjects and questions at the centre of linguistic theory''(general preface).Given this aim of the book and the impressive list of theories that Carnie setsout to survey, I was full of expectations. Unfortunately the book deals withframeworks other than Chomskyan ones extremely little. Admittedly, Carnie comesfrom the generative side and it is difficult to present the views of otherframeworks.

A better approach to meet the aims of the series would perhaps have been toidentify a number of empirical issues related to constituent structure and letexperts in each framework present analyses of these. As it is now many argumentsare presented for various developments in GB and minimalism, but none of theother frameworks have implemented these changes, and unfortunately Carnie neverpresents the arguments against these developments (for example substituting CPfor S, or splitting the VP) and at many times the reader only gets thereferences to the literature in other frameworks rather than the actualarguments. Carnie apologizes for this slanted approach and expects that scholarsin other frameworks will be disappointed in the sparse space allotted theiranalyses (p260). This may very well be the case, but what I, and probably othergenerative/minimalist scholars with me, miss is a detailed account of theworkings and the argumentation of the other frameworks. What I particularly missis a discussion of how frameworks that assume that there is no constituentstructure (in the syntactic sense) would account for the data that Carniepresents. He mentions Cognitive grammar in about half a page and connectionistmodels are only mentioned when he says that they can model constituency byreference to linear order without making reference to hierarchical structure(p16). This seems indeed to be a controversy that overshadows all other disputesdiscussed in the book, but Carnie doesn't mention the connectionist approachagain, not even with a reference to the literature where arguments against itcan be found (for example Pinker and Prince 1988).

And what does the book really do? In my opinion, the book is an excellent surveyof phrase structure in generative grammar. Carnie traces the arguments and thedata that have been used in the history of Chomskyan grammars in particular, butalso GPSG and HPSG are discussed to a large extent, LFG not so much. Thepresentation is clear and easy to follow, and interesting at that. MeticulouslyCarnie works his way through the arguments that lie behind the changes in phrasestructure theory that have taken place in the past, but he also discusses thevery latest (improvements?) such as 'bare phrase structure' and 'label free'syntax. It is also in the discussions about the generative approaches thatCarnie allows himself to be critical (see for example his discussion onAGR-phrases on pages 245-250) which I think is a good thing.

All in all, I think this book is very well written and interesting and itdefinitely deserves a place on every syntactician's bookshelf (after it's beenread, of course).

REFERENCESKayne, R. 1994. _The antisymmetry of syntax_. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press

Pinker, S. and A. Prince. 1988. On language and connectionism. In Pinker andMehler (eds). _Connections and symbols_. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 73-194.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERFredrik Heinat is currently working as postdoc on a project about light verbs.The approach is generative in broad terms. His interests are, among otherthings, argument projection, anaphoric dependencies and linguistic theory.