LINGUIST List 22.2513

Thu Jun 16 2011

Review: Syntax: Cinque (2010)

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        1.     Denis Bouchard , The Syntax of Adjectives: A Comparative Study

Message 1: The Syntax of Adjectives: A Comparative Study
Date: 16-Jun-2011
From: Denis Bouchard <>
Subject: The Syntax of Adjectives: A Comparative Study
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Announced at
AUTHOR: Cinque, GuglielmoTITLE: The Syntax of AdjectivesSUBTITLE: A Comparative StudySERIES TITLE: Linguistic Inquiry MonographsPUBLISHER: MIT PressYEAR: 2010

Denis Bouchard, Département de linguistique, Université du Québec à Montréal


The book is a revised analysis of DP-internal word order in Romance andGermanic, and the interpretation of the adjectives. Cinque's original 1994analysis was very influential on a way to approach data that has crystallizedinto the ''Cartography Project'', so it is interesting to see what progress hasbeen accomplished on that front to further our understanding of language.

Chapter 1 presents two empirical problems that have been pointed out for the1994 analysis based on N Movement: postnominal adjectives in Romance must appearin the mirror order of the corresponding adjectives in prenominal position inGermanic (1) (my examples, DB), and a postnominal ADJ can take scope over aprenominal one (2) (Cinque’s example (9), p. 4).

(1)a. a [round [Chinese [table]]]b. un [[[tavolo] cinese] rotondo]]

(2)E' una giovane promessa sicura.He-is a young promise sure'He is a sure young promise'

These facts are unexpected in an analysis where adjectives enter the structureof DPs as phrasal specifiers of functional projections that are hierarchicallymerged in such a way that an AP has scope over the APs that follow it.

Chapter 2 reviews a number of semantic distinctions that fall into two sets(using the terminology of Sproat & Shih 1988):

Direct modification: individual level, nonrestrictive, modal, nonintersective,absolute, absolute (superlative), evaluative, NP dependent.

Indirect modification: stage level, restrictive, implicit RC reading,intersective, relative to a comparison class, comparative (superlative),epistemic, discourse anaphoric.

The positions where ADJs can appear with these readings differ systematicallybetween Germanic and Romance:

(3)Germanic: IndirectModifAP - DirectModifAP - N - IndirectModifAPRomance: DirectModifAP - N - DirectModifAP - IndirectModifAP

Chapter 3 presents the core of the analysis. First, DP-internal adjectives aregenerated in two different ways: either as direct modifiers in the specifiers offunctional heads dedicated to particular semantic classes of adjectives, as inthe 1994 analysis, or as predicates of reduced relative clauses (RRC) that areindirect modifiers. RRCs are merged above all the functional projections hostingDirectModifAPs. The second important point is that Cinque retains the assumptionthat ''there is only one order/structure available for all languages'' (p. 39).The hierarchical positions he attributes to the various FPs hosting the APsderives the following universal basic order of DP-internal APs (for reasons ofspace, I show only some of the semantic classes of ADJs):

Restrictive RCs > complex AP RRCs > bare AP RRCs > APsize > APcolor >APnationality > NP

This basic order is assumed to be rigid across languages: this is the ''natural''order for these APs (p. 58). To account for the surface orders that depart fromthe basic order, Cinque proposes various phrasal movements, which are detailedin chapters 5 and 6.

In Chapter 4, Cinque assumes that DirectModifAPs are functional because theyconstitute a closed class in many languages. Moreover, despite the fact thatthey do not take complements when in prenominal position in Germanic andRomance, they are nevertheless phrasal. He gives as evidence examples fromBulgarian and Greek where ADJs are followed by adjuncts in prenominal position(but at least in the Greek examples, the NP is articulated, so this is anIndirectModifAP, not a DirectModifAP). ''Languages simply differ as to whetherthey allow a complement or adjunct to follow the adjective'' (p. 46). Moreover,we need two sources for ADJs because if we try to derive DirectModifAPs fromRCs, ''we are forced to posit more and more complex derivations from sources thatdiffer more and more from one another'' (p. 51).

Chapter 5 gives the analysis of English (Germanic). Germanic manifests the''natural'' order of DirectModifAPs. Though violations of this order are possible,they are marked: for instance, the normal order is that size ADJs precede colorADJs, but their order can be reversed by introducing the color ADJ as an RRC.Since this source is only available for predicative ADJs, nonpredicative ADJsare always rigidly ordered (*He is an eléctrical old engineer; cf. an oldelectrical engineer). The class of bare ADJs that can appear postnominally inEnglish is very restricted, even those that have a predicative use. He suggeststhat there are two kinds of RRCs, complex and bare AP RRCs. The few postnominalbare ADJs are introduced as complex RRCs: these are postnominal because thewhole extended NP domain below them obligatorily raises above them (and alsoabove Finite restrictive RCs). ADJs with complements or adjuncts are postnominalbecause they can only be introduced by this complex RRC source. The bare AP RRCsare part of the extended NP domain that must raise above the other RCs, so theyremain prenominal.

Chapter 6 gives the analysis of Italian (Romance): ''the order of Merge is notimmediately visible due to the intervention of (various) movements, which insome cases are obligatory and in others optional'' (p. 69). First, sinceIndirectModifAPs necessarily follow N and any postnominal DirectModifAPs, thisimplies that the extended NP with the DirectModifAPs raises not only above bareRRCs (as in Germanic) but complex ones as well. Second, internally to the directmodification domain of NP, the NP raises obligatorily above ADJs of nationality,''but appears to raise above higher adjectives (of color, shape, size, value,etc.) only optionally'' (p. 71). This difference in obligatoriness ''remains to beunderstood'' (p. 72). Since the order of postnominal DirectModifAPs in Romance isthe mirror image of the Germanic prenominal order, the raising of NP is of the''roll-up'' kind: so for instance in (1), 'tavolo' raises above 'cinese', and then'tavolo cinese' raises above 'rotondo'. When APs appear in the reverse order ofwhat these movements predict, the ''more special order'' is ''the result of mergingthe rightmost adjective higher up as a reduced relative clause (which eventuallyends up postnominally'' (p. 74). Complements and adjuncts of the NP are strandedat the end of the DP, because (following Kayne 2000) prepositions ''attract their'complements,' and force (in VO languages) the entire remnant to raise to theirleft, which makes them final in the DP'' (p. 79).

Chapter 7 briefly presents three differences between Germanic and Romance thatrelate to the position of DirectModifAPs, concerning referential epithets,idiomatic readings and special cases of agreement with a series of coordinatednouns.

A conclusion summarizes the main points of the analysis, and an Appendixpresents additional evidence for the dual source of adnominal adjectives fromvarious languages.


The book presents some data in a new light, which is stimulating. It also takesinto account some empirical problems that had been pointed out with the author'sprevious analysis. Note that the mirror order in Romance in (1) and the scopeeffects in (2) are not actually captured by the switch from Move N to Move NP,but by adding that pied-piping (roll-up) is obligatory. This could just as welltake place with N movement.

More crucially however, Cinque barely addresses the conceptual problems thathave been raised for this kind of account. Though he regularly claims thesuperiority of a movement analysis over base generation, there are so many keyelements that are left undefined, in the end there is no analysis in the presentstate of the proposal. Consider the following points.

(i) The scope of DirectModifAPs with respect to one another. To complete theanalysis, we have to know the subcategorization that determines the hierarchicalembedding of the functional categories: why the color FP is the complement ofthe size FP, and so on. Cinque seems to have given up on this hopeless task, andstates that the order of DirectModifAPs is part of UG: it reflects their''natural'' positions, due to some unknown principle (''whatever that turns out tobe'' (p. 38)). There is also the problematic assumption that there are FPs thatredundantly replicate the classes of ADJs.

(ii) IndirectModifAPs have wider scope than DirectModifAPs. The positions ofbare and complex RRCs are also determined by some unidentified UG principle. Theonly defining property of these RRCs is semantic: they are ADJs interpretedpredicatively. So the claim is simply that ADJs used predicatively have widerscope. The fact that their wide scope is directly reflected in their beingfurther from the noun than DirectModifAPs follows in base generation but is anaccident for movement: the movements conspire to give that result, but we arenot told what triggers the movements, what the empty FP landing sites are, orwhat determines their position.

(iii) The direct modification use of an ADJ is less marked than its indirectmodification use. The ''natural'' order [size > color] can be reversed as in (4)by using a RRC source for 'brown' ''if one wishes to distinguish different groupsof individuals of the same size'' (note 3, p. 131):

(4) I've shown you my black small dogs, now, these are my two brown small dogs.

This appears to be a distinction made on the basis of pragmatic markedness, thedirect modification source of 'brown' being less marked than the RRC source. Sothe ''natural'' order is the one that is less marked pragmatically, for someunknown reason. This assumption of markedness is crucial, otherwise a RRC sourcefor 'Chinese' and 'cinese' could produce a reversed ''natural'' order in (1).

(iv) Surface orders often differ from the basic order. These orders are due toobligatory or optional movements, which vary across languages for some unknownreasons.

In short, the proposal is that an unknown principle accounts for a universalbasic order of APs, that movements change this order diversely in each languagedue to unknown triggers, that the movements are sometimes obligatory, sometimesoptional for unknown reasons, and the moved elements end up in landing sites ofunknown category (''FP'') with unknown principles accounting for the positions ofthese FPs. Given the tools that are used, it is possible to match any order ofADJs with any scope. This is similar to the use of 'predicate raising' inGenerative Semantics, which for example can make an appropriate constituent in(brother of [(mother or father) of Bill]) for 'uncle' to be inserted in itsplace. As Chomsky (1972: 79) comments, ''Such a device will always be available,so that the hypothesis that Q is a constituent has little empirical content.''

Compare this syntactic analysis with accounts based on semantic, cognitive,pragmatic principles. Cinque, without discussing any, says that ''none seemsentirely convincing'' (p. 122). Let's look at one and let the readers make theirown decision. Bouchard (2005), following up on Bouchard (2002) and furtheringideas from Ziff (1960), Vendler (1968), Sproat & Shih (1988), Krifka (1995),proposes the following principle:

(5) General principle of seriation of adjectives:The more the property expressed by an adjective makes it likely to form with thenoun a relevant and usual Concept, the more this adjective tends to be close tothe noun, i.e., to modify the noun more directly than another adjective [mytranslation from French].

The notion of 'Concept' is used in the sense of Krifka (1995). Concepts aresimilar to Kinds, but contrary to natural kinds, Concepts need not be wellestablished, and are instead construed from scratch. If the context isappropriate, numerous classes can be considered sufficiently stable for thespeaker to present them as forming a Concept. So for instance, ADJs ofProvenance tend to be closer to the noun than ADJs of size:

(6)a. enormous Chinese vase; #Chinese enormous vaseb. vase chinois énorme; #vase énorme chinois

This is expected according to (5): Provenance is a property that is ''taxonomic''(Sproat & Shih 1988), i.e., often useful for identifying elements. The strengthof the tendencies depends on cognitive and contextual factors. So despite thefact that these two ADJs can have both a direct modification and a RRC source,their order is not free, because they differ strongly in taxonomicity. Cinquehimself appeals to pragmatic taxonomicity: ''In its classificatory usage, a coloradjective will appear closer to the N than a nationality/provenance adjective,thus apparently contradicting what was taken [...] to be the canonical ordercolor > nationality > N. See la mele verde canadese (è la mela più buona inassoluto)'' (note 2, p. 140).

Cinque objects to a preferential approach because the order and scope of theadjectives appears to be rigid in some cases, such as 'an old electricalengineer'. But in the context of engineering, 'electrical' is highly taxonomic:there are university departments and professional orders that are based on it.It is therefore no surprise that the order/scope is quite rigid (though notabsolute: the reverse order could be used jokingly). The reverse order has ameaning, but it does not make sense in the taxonomic system that is commonlyshared. Moreover, if we look at ADJs that are clearly direct modifiers (becausethey are prenominal) but less taxonomic, their ordering is quite free:

(7)a. un supposé nouveau miracle = new miracle which is alleged to have taken placeb. nouveau supposé miracle = new type of alleged miraclec. bon futur président = good as a candidate for the presidencyd. futur bon président = someone who will be a good president

This is unexpected under Cinque's (yet unknown) principle (though he could saythat these ADJs ''belong to two (or more) of the classes of adjectives that canoccur prenominally'' (p.118), a doublet strategy that nullifies the claim ofrigid ordering; cf. Siegel 1980).

Principle (4) also accounts for the wide scope and fairly rigid placement ofevaluative ADJs (bon/good, beau/nice) because the properties they express arequite subjective, hence variable, so it is unnatural to use them as the basis ofa taxonomy, which requires some stability.

Cinque feels ''that a system that minimizes base generation (to onestructure/order for all languages), deriving all other structures/orders viaindependently needed types of movement, is more interesting'' (note 20, p.126),as in Kayne's (1994) LCA approach. But a system with a simple head parameteralso has only one structure for examples as in (1): merge has applied in thesame way in the two languages, but the linearization follows different patterns.The linear order of ADJs directly reflects their order of merge. This dualpossibility of ordering follows naturally from design properties of our SMapparatus: two constituents A and B with vocal content can be linearized as ABor BA, and as in other arbitrary choices deriving from design properties,languages must choose and conventionalize this choice (Saussure 1916). Since bydesign there are two possible orderings of any structure obtained by merge, thesingle order system must add a costly condition that excludes one, which isexactly what the LCA does by stipulating that there is an abstract terminal 'a'that precedes all the other terminals: so in this model a crucial element forlinear ordering at the SM interface has no SM properties (see Bouchard 2002:378ff for other problems with a universal basic order. Celtic languages appearto raise empirical problems for base generation; however, the facts are far fromstraightforward; cf. Bouchard 2002: 191-193).

Finally, Cinque claims that in examples like (8), the direct modificationreading of the prenominal ADJ is exactly the same reading postnominally, andthat this is a problem for Bouchard (2002).

(8)a. le verdi colline della Toscanab. le colline verdi della Toscana

He attributes this to the optional movement of the NP across the ADJ (thisoptionality ''remains to be understood'' p. 72). He notes that (8a) is slightlydifferent and has a 'poetic' flavor, but gives no indication why. As pointed outby Bouchard (2002: 95ff) and Sadler & Arnold (1994), these examples may have thesame meaning in terms of truth conditions, but truth-conditional semantics isnot subtle enough to capture the distinction here. In short, the combinationN+ADJ defines two sets, each with their property, and a fortuitous,non-necessary intersection of these properties, whereas the combination ADJ+Ninvolves two properties presented as forming a single complex property. Thedifference between the two interpretations is brought out by three tests: in acontext of comparison, in D- and non-D-linked questions, and in a context ofnegation. The prenominal ADJ has a 'poetic' flavor because ''Something which isnot usually considered as a natural kind in the shared knowledge of a communityof speakers is introduced in a grammatical construction which says it is''(Bouchard 2002: 105). It is disheartening that the author missed that point.

Recall the original motivation for transformational grammar: it provided simpleranalyses for what seemed to require growing complications in a Phrase StructureGrammar. We seem to be in a somewhat reverse situation here, the movementanalysis being forced to posit more and more complex derivations with crucialpoints that ''remain to be understood'' at every step. Cinque's book demonstratesindirectly that this kind of movement analysis is no match for a well-definedanalysis of ADJs built on base-generation. The problem becomes critical if theanalysis relies on ''natural positions'': ''as long as they're going to theirnatural places, there's no science'' (Chomsky 2010).


Bouchard, Denis (2002). Adjectives, Number and Interfaces: Why Languages Vary.Oxford: Elsevier Science.

Bouchard, Denis (2005). Sériation des adjectifs dans le SN et formation deConcepts, Recherches linguistiques de Vincennes 34: 125-142.

Chomsky, Noam (1972). Studies on Semantics in Generative Grammar. Mouton, The Hague.

Chomsky, Noam (2010). Poverty of Stimulus: Unfinished Business. Conference paperpresented in Paris, May 29th, 2010.

Cinque, Guglielmo (1994). On the Evidence for Partial N Movement in the RomanceDP. In: Paths Towards Universal Grammar (Guglielmo Cinque, Jan Koster, Jean-YvesPollock, Luigi Rizzi and Raffaella Zanuttini, eds.), 85-110. GeorgetownUniversity Press, Georgetown.

Kayne, Richard (1994). The Antisymmetry of Syntax. MIT Press, Cambridge.

Kayne, Richard (2000). A note on prepositions, complementizers, and word orderuniversals. In R. Kayne, Parameters and Universals, 314-326. Oxford UniversityPress, Oxford.

Krifka, Manfred (1995). Common Nouns: a contrastive analysis of Chinese andEnglish. In Carlson, G. & Pelletier, F.J. (eds.), The Generic Book: 398-411.Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Sadler, Louisa and Douglas Arnold (1994). Prenominal adjectives and thephrasal/lexical distinction. Journal of Linguistics, 30, 187-226.

Saussure, Ferdinand de (1916). Cours de Linguistique Générale. Payot, Paris.

Sproat, Richard and Chilin Shih (1988). Prenominal Adjectival Ordering inEnglish and Mandarin. Proceedings of NELS, 18, 465-489.

Vendler, Zeno (1968). Adjectives and Nominalizations. Mouton, The Hague.

Ziff, Paul. 1960. Semantic analysis. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, N.Y.


Denis Bouchard is professor in the département de linguistique at the Université du Québec à Montréal. His interests include linguistic theory with regards to principled explanation, comparative syntax, and the syntax/semantics interface. He is currently working on a book about the origins of language.

Page Updated: 16-Jun-2011