LINGUIST List 22.2415

Sat Jun 11 2011

Review: Syntax: Carnie (2010)

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        1.     Kalyanamalini Sahoo , Constituent Structure (2nd Edition)

Message 1: Constituent Structure (2nd Edition)
Date: 11-Jun-2011
From: Kalyanamalini Sahoo <>
Subject: Constituent Structure (2nd Edition)
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AUTHOR: Carnie, Andrew TITLE: Constituent Structure. 2nd Edition. SERIES TITLE: Oxford Surveys in Syntax & Morphology PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press YEAR: 2010

Kalyanamalini Sahoo, English & Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, India. 


This book, intended both for advanced students and scholars of linguistics, traces past and current approaches to constituent structure. This is the second edition of the book, covering a lot of ground in over 300 pages. In this study, Carnie discusses the current thinking on the topic of constituent structure, both cross-linguistically and cross-theoretically in natural language syntax. Focusing on crucial topics in syntax and morphology, he surveys a wide range of theories and frameworks, including Chomskyan theories like Transformational Grammar (TG), the Standard Theory (ST), the Extended Standard Theory (EST), Principles & Parameters (P&P), including Government & Binding theory (GB) & Minimalist Program (MP); and five other generative theories like Relational Grammar (RG), Lexical-Functional Grammar (LFG), Tree Adjoining Grammar (TAG), Generalized Phrase-Structure Grammar (GPSG), Head-Driven Phrase-Structure Grammar (HPSG). Role and Reference Grammar (RRG), and Arc-Pair Grammar also receive some attention. However, this is not a basic book in syntax and the reader of this book is expected to have some (basic) background in syntax, and ideally a more detailed background in some major version of generative grammar. The book has 12 chapters in 3 parts: part 1 (chapters 1-4) contains 'Preliminaries'; part 2 (chapters 5-7) includes 'Phrase Structure Grammar and X-bar theory'; and part 3 (chapters 8-12) discusses 'Controversies.' There is also a list of abbreviations and symbols used, a preface to the revised edition, and a general preface.

Chapter 1 is an introduction to the book. Carnie nicely describes what the book is about, the organization of chapters, and the intended readers of the book. He also gives a note on the advantages/ setbacks of using a huge number of theoretical frameworks for the discussion.

In chapter 2, Carnie points out the problems of viewing constituent structure as simple linear concatenation. By implementing different hypotheses, such as concatenation as addition, the structured concatenation and regular grammars for the consideration of constituent structure, Carnie points out regular grammars' inefficiency to account for embedding and non-local dependencies. He presents Chomsky's (1957) argument that traditional grammars fails to capture the basic facts of constituency, non-local dependencies, and structure dependencies. They also miss important insights from semantics about compositionality, modification relations and ambiguity that can be drawn when a hierarchical constituent structure is assumed. So, finally he settles for a hierarchical constituent structure.

Chapter 3 discusses the mathematical properties of tree structures with respect to hierarchical and linear specifications of grammatical elements. Carnie discusses the basic properties of tree in terms of dominance and precedence. He characterizes domination in terms of reflexivity, antisymmetry, and transitivity and discusses how the notion of a constituent can be defined in terms of exhaustive immediate domination. He notes the complementary relation between dominance and precedence.

In chapter 4, Carnie discusses the notions of c-command and government, which are specific to GB and MP. He gives a comprehensive discussion of constituent-command (c-command), taking into account Kayne's (1984) principle of Unambiguous Path. A number of formal properties of command relations are also discussed.

Chapter 5 deals with phrase structure grammar, discussing the concepts of context-free and context-sensitive grammar. Carnie shows that it is possible to represent a Finite State Automaton (FSA) using the notation of PSG. He discusses how different theoretical frameworks use PSG for different purposes, such as top-down rewrite rules (early generative grammar), structure creating projections (GB & MP), constraint-based rules that filter out tree structures (GPSG & LFG). He contrasts the earlier mechanism of the top-down nature of PS rules with the current bottom-up view, which he calls the projectionist view, and states that a terminal-to-root approach is easier than the root-to-terminal approach in distinguishing possible ambiguities in constituency.

In chapter 6, Carnie examines extended PSG, focusing on structure-changing transformations and structure-building ''generalized transformations,'' introducing abbreviatory devices in PS rules such as the brace notation (which allows for mutually exclusive choices), and parenthesis (which allows optionality). He also outlines how PSG is treated in GPSG and LFG; and discusses some of the extensions to PSGs, including transformations, feature structures, meta-rules, functional equations, Immediate Dominance/Linear Precedence format, meaning postulates and lexical rules.

In chapter 7, Carnie discusses X-bar theory (beginning with the rationale of it), its historical development and various versions of it. He elaborates on the X-bar version of grammatical relations, the notions of specifier, head, complement, and adjunct. He also discusses X-bar structure in relation to functional projections in various generative frameworks and claims X-bar theory to be a powerful tool for describing the hierarchical structure of sentences.

The last section examines critical controversies in the treatment of constituent structure. It mentions a number of alternatives to strict compositional phrase structure.

Focusing on the Minimalist Program, chapter 8 deals with set-theoretic constituency representations. Carnie traces the development of Bare Phrase Structure, including notions like Antisymmetry and derived X-bar theory. He also discusses adjuncts, Kayne's Linear Correspondence Axiom (1994), three-dimensional trees, and top-down versus bottom-up constructions of structure.

Chapter 9 takes up syntactic dependencies and questions of constituency. Carnie discusses examples in several non-Minimalist frameworks. LFG focuses on functional-structure or f-structure, while Relational Grammar emphasizes grammatical functions only. Mapping categories onto other categories, Categorial Grammars are based on functional application, while mapping trees onto trees, Tree-Adjoining Grammars use generalized transformations. Head-Driven Phrase-Structure Grammar lays emphasis on feature structures, while thematic relations get utmost importance in Dependency Grammar, in Role and Reference Grammar, and in Case Grammar. Functionalist Grammar assumes that the basic representation of sentences is a variant of formal logic; Construction Grammar and Cognitive Grammar are concerned with the general cognitive principles that map between memorized conventionalized expressions and their extensions. In these frameworks, instead of constituent trees, we have templatic constructions or schemata, into which words are mapped.

Chapter 10 presents yet more exemplifications of not applying a strict compositional phrase structure. Line crossing, multi-domination, multidimensionality and multiplanar structures of phrase structure trees are considered, based on evidence from discontinuous constituents, scrambling, argument sharing, and cross-modular bracketing paradoxes.

Chapter 11 deals with functional categories with a focus on recent proposals in the Minimalist Program. Carnie claims that VP, IP, CP in Chomskyan Phrase Structure and the equivalents of them in other frameworks are the greatest discoveries in linguistics (p.221). The chapter addresses questions about the categorical and structural constituent of constituent systems.

Chapter 12 is devoted to recent advances in the Minimalist Approach to constituent structure, including the two-step Linear Correspondence Axiom. Focusing on feature checking, Carnie discusses the Merge operation and Minimalist Dependency Grammar.


By mapping out the state of the art in the field of constituent structure, this book is an excellent survey of Phrase Structure in generative grammar. Carnie is open-minded in presenting different theoretical frameworks that have contributed to our understanding of phrase structure. Beside GB, Minimalism, and Bare Phrase Structure Grammar, GPSG and HPSG are also discussed to a good extent, while LFG is not discussed much. A plus point of the book is that it always provides lucid details. Carnie surveys and discusses many concepts that are controversial, describing all the sides of a question and leaving it on the readers to judge on their own. The inclusion of many useful figures and tree-diagrams serves to capture the discussion in a concrete manner for the reader.

However, there are certain shortcomings as well. Although the book plans to survey quite a number of theoretical frameworks, it deals mostly with Chomskyan frameworks, and other frameworks are given much less importance. Even within the Chomskyan framework, no detailed arguments are given for why the theory underwent many important changes. This may be due to space constraints, and the reader is assumed to have some prior knowledge in the field.

In certain places, Carnie does not present alternative analyses of a phenomenon in detail. In chapter 2, while discussing regular grammar, Carnie points out FSA's inefficiency to account for central-embedding and non-local dependencies. However, as regular grammars are the most highly restricted class of PSGs, the addition of a discussion on the different layers of Chomsky hierarchy including recursively enumerable (unrestricted grammar), context-sensitive grammar, context-free grammar would have been better.

Chapter 4 is focused on c-command and government (which is pro-GB theory). Of course, beyond c-command, the discussion of other command relations like M-command, K-command, S-command, NP-command, IDC-command, etc. is quite valuable. However, I think that in this section Carnie could have included command notions in other frameworks, such as relative obliqueness (O-command) rather than configurational superiority (c-command) in HPSG; f-command in LFG, which is defined over functional-structures, rather than over constituent structures. In example (45) -- ''Government: A governs B iff a) A c-commands B; b) There is no X, such that A c-commands X and X asymmetrically c-commands B'' -- Carnie provides a definition of 'government' and mentions it as an incomplete one, but he does not clarify in detail in which way it is incomplete and whether such a definition can be implemented in all situations, e.g. in a multiple-branching tree. With regard to chapter 5, although Carnie supports a bottom-up approach over a top-down approach, I think it is worth mentioning that in the case of parsing, although it has been believed that simple implementations of top-down parsing cannot accommodate direct and indirect left-recursion and may require exponential time and space complexity while parsing ambiguous context-free grammars, more sophisticated algorithms for top-down parsing have been created, e.g. by Frost, Hafiz, and Callaghan (2007), which accommodate ambiguity and left recursion. Their algorithm is able to produce both left-most and right-most derivations of an input with regard to a given context-free grammar. In chapter12, the discussion on Minimalist Dependency Grammar is too short and creates a number of queries. In this chapter, I think, the Spec-to-Head probe relation also could have been discussed, as ''specifier'' has a very different role in the current state of the theory, unlike the head-spec relation in the X-bar theory. Chomsky (2004: 111-112) claims that ''a Head-to-Spec relation [...] cannot exist (nor the broader symmetric Spec-Head relation, in the general case).'' The only relation that is approved is a Spec-to-Head probe. Jayaseelan (2008, p.104) also claims that ''Merge, the basic operation of syntax, can be maximally simple if we do away with 'specifier.'" It would have been valuable to note this further detail.

Being the second edition of the book, this new version includes a new final chapter (ch.12) with some of the latest information about constituent structure. Along with a number of additional changes, Carnie has corrected a number of errors found in the first edition of the book, including some of the formal definitions, technical errors, reference errors, and typos. The revised version has become a really impressive and valuable work.

Overall, the book provides the researchers and students in syntax, morphology and related aspects of grammar a vital source of information. It is an excellent reference book not only for the variety of issues and various up-to-date approaches it covers, but also for its way of presentation.


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

Chomsky, Noam. 2004. Beyond Explanatory Adequacy. In Adriana Belletti (ed.), The Cartography of Syntactic Structures, Vol. 3: Structures and Beyond (Oxford Studies in Comparative Syntax), 104-131. New York: Oxford University Press.

Frost, R., Hafiz, R. and Callaghan, P. 2007. ''Modular and Efficient Top-Down Parsing for Ambiguous Left-Recursive Grammars.'' 10th International Workshop on Parsing Technologies (IWPT), ACL-SIGPARSE, Pages: 109-120, June 2007, Prague.

Jayaseelan, K.A. 2008. ''Bare Phrase Structure and Specifier-less Syntax.'' Biolinguistics 2: 87-106.

Kayne, Richard. 1984. ''Unambiguous Paths.'' In Richard Kayne (ed.) Connectedness and Binary Branching. Dordrecht: Foris, 129-63.

Kayne, Richard. 1994. The Antisymmetry of Syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Kalyanamalini Sahoo is an Assistant Professor in linguistics at the Department of Linguistics & Contemporary English at English & Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, India. Her research interests lie mainly in computational morphology and syntax.

Page Updated: 11-Jun-2011