LINGUIST List 23.194

Wed Jan 11 2012

Review: Pragmatics, Syntax, Semantics, Typology: Bril (ed., 2010)

Editor for this issue: Anja Wanner <>

Date: 11-Jan-2012
From: Paul Isambert <>
Subject: Clause Linking and Clause Hierarchy: Syntax and Pragmatics
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Announced at
EDITOR: Isabelle BrilTITLE: Clause Linking and Clause HierarchySUBTITLE: Syntax and PragmaticsSERIES: Studies in Language Companion Series 121PUBLISHER: John BenjaminsYEAR: 2010

Paul Isambert, University of Paris 3, France


This volume is a collection of studies of clause-linkage in a wide set of (oftenlittle-studied) languages, focusing especially on subordination. The authorsinvestigate strategies as diverse as converbs, special conjugations, or markersof information structure, in many different language families. The focus is,quite obviously, on diversity.

The book's introduction by Isabelle Bril is a brief review of the properties ofcoordination and subordination, followed by a summary of the chapters.

PART I: Syntactic terminology and typological methods

In ''Clause linkage and Nexus in Papuan languages,'' William A. Foleyreinvestigates what he previously called ''cosubordination'' (Foley and Van Valin,1984), a conjunction of clauses with features from both subordination (oneclause depends on the other for inflection) and coordination (there is noembedding). Foley now considers such structures to be instances of coordination,with the particularity that S constituents are coordinated under a common IPnode, whereas usual coordination links IP constituents. However, not allinflection features behave similarly; negation in Tauya (Papuan), for instance,attaches to some of the verbs in a chain, while illocutionary force has scopeover the entire chain. Polarity is thus construed as belonging to a lower levelin the IP projection.

Balthasar Bickel's approach in ''Capturing particulars and universals in clauselinkage: A multivariate analysis'' is expressed simply as ''measuring instead ofreducing diversity'' (p. 55). Bickel remarks that trying to account for similar(but not equivalent) clause-linking constructions in e.g. Swahili (Niger-Congo)and Belhare (Sino-Tibetan) in the same way is arbitrary, while not acknowledgingtheir similarity (positing two language-dependent structures) lacks heuristicvalue. Instead, the author breaks up those structures into sets of variablesused to describe 69 constructions from 24 languages and thus measures how muchthey resemble each other; correlations between features can also be measured.The resulting picture casts doubts on such well-defined concepts as''subordination'' or ''coordination''; while a cluster of structures one could tagas ''subordination'' emerges, chaining constructions do not gather together butspread over a continuum of structures with varying scope properties.

PART II: Clause-chaining, converbs, masdars, absolutive constructions, etc.

In ''Specialized converbs and adverbial subordination in Axaxdərə Akhvakh,'' DenisCreissels investigates the use of a rich set converbs in a Nakh-Daghestanianlanguage to express adverbial subordination (manner, temporal relations, etc.).Many of those forms are etymologically transparent; the author hypothesizes thatgrammaticalization is constantly at work, rapidly renewing the inventory ofconverbs, also witnessed by the many synonymous forms.

In ''Finite and non-finite: Prosodic distinctions on Budugh verb stems,'' GillesAuthier investigates the use of verb-stems (uninflected for tense and mood) inBudugh (Daghestanian) syntax. Those forms can both depend on nouns or otherpredicates or be used independently in injunctive sentences. Interestingly,although Budugh displays a rich verbal morphology, the distinction between thetwo uses is made by prosody, the forms adopting either the prosody of nouns(when dependent) or that of finite verb forms (when independent).

Christiane Pilot-Raichoor's ''Converbs and adverbial clauses in Badaga, aSouth-Dravidian language'' studies adverbial subordination in a language ofSouthern India, expressed with converbs, adjectival participles and a quotativemarker. As in Akhvakh, Badaga uses both a contextual converb (without a fixedmeaning) and specialized converbs. Nonetheless, no semantic nuance isparticularly tied to one or another construction.

In ''Coordination, converbs and clause chaining in Coptic Egyptian: Typology andstructural analysis,'' Chris H. Reintges investigates coordination in anAfroasiatic language spoken in the third to thirteenth centuries. While asymmetric conjunction is often used, Coptic Egyptian also employs special verbconjugations, often ambiguous between coordination and subordination. Also,those forms pertain to information structure, displaying focus-sensitivityunlike neutral declarative clauses.

PART III: Subordination, informational hierarchy and referential hierarchy

Isabelle Bril's ''Informational and referential hierarchy: Clause-linkingstrategies in Austronesian-Oceanic languages'' is a survey of subordination andcoordination in a large set of related languages, with an emphasis oninformation structure. The author shows how topic and focus markers (themselvesoften derived from connectors) are used as subordinators, as arereference-tracking markers like demonstratives. Sentence-level syntax anddiscourse devices are thus shown to be intrinsically tied to one another.

In ''Comment clause: Crossing the boundaries between simple and complexsentences,'' Zygmunt Frajzyngier studies the marker ''wá'' in Wandala (CentralChadic), which introduces a comment clause (in the Prague School sense of topicand comment, not a parenthetical clause). Such a clause may follow a variety ofcontexts: from topicalized noun phrases to verbs of saying to conditionalclauses. Hence the occurrences of ''wá'' cannot be predicted from what precedesit, and simply indicates that something is to follow about what has been saidthus far.

In ''Deixis, information structure and clause linkage in Yafi' Arabic (Yemen),''Martine Vanhove shows how the two markers ''raʕ'' and ''ta'' used for deixis andtopic and focus particles are also employed in clause-linking. Although Yafi'Arabic has other subordinating devices, information structure provides newstrategies which then grammaticalizes. Interestingly, the two markers have verydifferent origins, ''raʕ'' being the imperative of ''see'' while ''ta'' is ademonstrative, and both go through the intermediate stages of presentative andcopula.

In ''The role of the Berber deictic and TAM markers in dependent clauses inZenaga,'' Catherine Taine-Cheikh studies the divergent evolution of the particle''ad'' in Zenaga and the rest of Mauritanian Berber. The marker has many identicalfunctions, such as demonstrative, copula, connector, etc., but some of its uses(conditional marker and future) exist only in Zenaga and are difficult to linkto the original demonstrative. The problem is solved thanks to interactions withthe TAM system and with the Aorist in particular.

Evangelia Adamou's ''Deixis and temporal subordinators in Pomak (Slavic, Greece)''investigates the use of a deictic suffix to mark temporal subordination. Thechoice of the suffix indicates the relation between the process and thediscourse situation, whereas the absence of that suffix marks the absence ofsuch anchoring.

In ''Correlative markers as phoric 'Grammaticalised Category Markers' ofsubordination in German,'' Colette Cortès studies markers (of determinativeorigin) binding clauses (the markers holding the place of the subordinate clausein the main clause), specifying semantic and pragmatic relations in complexsentences. She argues against treating them as superficial, optional markers,and considers them instead as fundamental clause-binding devices.

PART IV: Informational hierarchy and TAM markers' functions in clause-linkage

In ''Focus, mood and clause linkage in Umpithamu (Cape York Peninsula,Australia),'' Jean-Christophe Verstraete shows how Umpithamu (Paman) makes up forits lack of clause-linking markers by using resources from other domains: forinstance, potential mood marks a conditional relation, while prominent argumentsare used to relate a sentence to the previous one; in some cases the markercontributes only semantic information (subordination being marked by sharedarguments), in other cases subordination is the result of an inference based onthose markers.

Stéphane Robert's ''Clause chaining and conjugations in Wolof: A typology ofparataxis and its semantics'' investigates paratactic linkage based onconjugations (related to tense, enunciation, or focus) in Wolof (Niger-Congo).Various combinations produce various interclausal semantic effects: succession,causality, opposition, etc. Such chaining yields more or less integratedstructures, from simple juxtaposition to full syntactic dependency.

In ''Pragmatic demotion and clause dependency: On two atypical subordinatingstrategies in Lo-Toga and Hiw (Torres, Vanuatu),'' Alexandre François studies twoOceanic languages where, despite no lack of subordinators, two TAM markers areused to encode clause dependency: the Subjunctive lacks illocutionary force, andthe Background Perfect denotes presupposition. Clauses thus marked can't bestand-alone utterances, and must be interpreted as dependent on other clauses.

Jacqueline Leroy's ''Tense-mood concordance and clause chaining in Mankon (aGrassfields Bantu language)'' explores the use of verbal constructions to marksyntactic and semantic links between clauses. Explicit coordinating orsubordinating markers can generally be done without.

In ''Clause dependency relations in East Greenlandic Inuit,'' Nicole Tersisstudies the use of verbal morphology to mark subordination in Tunumiisut(Eskimo-Aleut). In narratives, such dependency can run on entire clause chains,and actually only a minority of clauses are independent, thus turning dependencyinto a discursive phenomenon. The author also addresses the similarity of theverbal forms and possessive noun phrases, but dismisses (at least in synchrony)the idea of reducing the verbal clause to a nominal form.

In ''Coordination and subordination: 'Áma' in Bulgarian dialectal Greek,'' EleniValma studies a polysemous marker used for both coordination and subordination.As a subordinator, it signals either temporality or hypothesis (depending on theclauses it links). As a coordinator, the marker denotes opposition, and hasprobably evolved out of contact with Turkish.


The evaluation of this volume will be twofold: on the one hand, a criticism ofthe editorial work; on the other hand, a praise of its diversity.

The editorial work can be criticized in both form and contents. Concerning form,the book would have benefited from better proofreading. For instance, at the endof his introduction (section 1), Gilles Authier outlines the rest of his pape ,enumerating the first, second, third … sections, which actually are sections 2,3, 4 … and mentioning sections that do not exist. In Catherine Taine-Cheikh'spaper, section 3.4 follows section 4.3.3. Frequently, the list of abbreviationsat the end of each chapter is incomplete or some entries are misplaced. Themorpheme-by-morpheme glosses are sometimes vague: in Christiane Pilot-Raichoor'spaper, example 25 has ''bandale'' translated as ''come.HYP'' (i.e. conditional),while in example 27 it is translated simply as ''come'' (although it's still theconditional form). As a final example, the topic index is unusable: the entry at''discourse'', for instance, refers to a hundred of undifferentiated occurrences:one sends to ''the discourse function of the converbal clause'' (p.121), the nextto ''Budugh discourse'' (p.162), then to ''discourse settings'' (p.167), and so forth.

As for contents, what the volume lacks is a thorough introduction. One wouldhave appreciated an in-depth analysis of the concepts at hand: coordination,subordination, converbs, masdars etc., along with a summary of theoreticalstances; failing that, it is sometimes hard to compare the contributions,because one doesn't really know if the authors investigate the same phenomena,all the more as they sometimes rely on different (and incompatible) theories.I'm not saying the authors should have been forced to adopt one theoreticalframework; but the editor should have made clear, from the very beginning, howdifferent approaches concur or conflict.

One could say that the first part of the book is the theoretical introduction Iwas expecting. But Foley's paper is much too parochial, using concepts that makelittle sense outside generative grammar, and it can't lay the ground for thechapters that follow (only a few allude to generative grammar, but none reallyenters the theoretical field). On the other hand, Bickel's refusal to reducediversity makes sense in a cross-linguistic perspective only, and the othercontributions generally focus on one language.

Yet there is another, good reason why no general picture emerges from the book(which incidentally seems to confirm Bickel's position): the diversity oflanguages. Indeed, the terse summaries above don't do justice to the book's mainquality: presenting a wealth of data on numerous and diverse (and oftenunderdocumented) languages. Each chapter introduces the reader to a new languagewith its own constructions. Many papers take time to present the language'sgrammar, even when it's not directly relevant to the issue at hand.

From Tunumiisut to Wolof, from the Daghestanian family to the Austronesianlanguages, and from morphological details to discourse strategies, the book is afascinating ride through (and a wonderful tribute to) the many ways human beingsexpress themselves, focusing here on one issue that could be summed up simplyas: how do you express two things conjointly? The chapters are often not muchmore than raw catalogues of forms and uses, but that's precisely their strength:they provide valuable data instead of uncertain concepts. That is also thereason why, I believe, this volume is an invaluable addition to any linguist'sbookshelf, a reference you'll come back to again and again.


Foley, W. A. and Van Valin, Jr., R.D. (1984), _Functional Syntax and UniversalGrammar_, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Nedjalkov, V. (1995), Some typological parameters of converbs, in ''Converbs inCross-linguistic Perspective,'' M. Haspelmath and E. König (eds.), 97-136, Moutonde Gruyter, Berlin.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Paul Isambert has just completed his PhD at the University of Paris 3, France. He's currently working on grammaticalization and discourse structure, especially concerning topic shifts and anaphora.

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