LINGUIST List 23.2222

Tue May 08 2012

Review: Language Acquisition; Semantics; Syntax: Duguine, Huidobro & Madariaga (2010)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 08-May-2012
From: Michael Putnam <>
Subject: Argument Structure and Syntactic Relations
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EDITORS: Maia Duguine, Susana Huidobro, and Nerea MadariagaTITLE: Argument Structure and Syntactic RelationsSUBTITLE: A cross-linguistic perspectiveSERIES TITLE: Linguistics Today/Linguistik Aktuell 158PUBLISHER: John BenjaminsYEAR: 2010

Michael T. Putnam, Department of Germanic & Slavic Languages & Literatures, PennState University


As designated by the title of this volume, this collection of papers providesnew theoretical perspectives on argument structure. In the introduction of thisvolume, the editors (hereafter, DHM) introduce the three core questions thatthese contributions address (adapted from p. 1):

1. The 'inventory question', i.e., How expansive or restrictive is the inventoryof theta-roles and the aspect/event structure that determine argument structure?Do either of these units act alone or is a combination of both of them necessary(see e.g. Ramchand 1997, 2008)?

2. The 'hierarchy question', i.e., Are arguments realized according to ahierarchy similar to Baker's (1988) notion of Uniform Theta AssignmentHypothesis (UTAH) or not?

3. The 'projection question', i.e., Is argument structure projected from thelexical items themselves (common in lexicalist approaches) or is thealternative, neo-constructionist view superior?

In their introduction, DHM lay their cards on the table with respect to theirviews on these matters. Concerning the 'inventory question,' DHM laudsRamchand's (1997) research that seeks to find a correspondence between semanticfeatures and syntactic constituents that have only largely been regarded ascoincidental previous to her research in this domain of linguistic inquiry. InRamchand's system, Davidsonian event semantics takes presence over theta-rolesin determining the argument structure of a given predicate. A similar line ofargumentation is adopted by DHM with respect to the 'hierarchy question'introduced above. Here, DHM point out that event-structure-based approaches toargument structure (such as those advocated by Ramchand's work) avoid theproblematic issues of linking theta-roles and designated syntactic positions,which is often inconsistent from one linguist to another. These approaches areable to consider other elements in the sentence (e.g. adverbials, semanticproperties of the objects, the addition of plurals, mass nouns, measure phrases,etc.) that can play a decisive role in determining the argument structure of apredicate. Lastly, DHM advocate an approach to the 'projection question' in linewith recent proposals by Borer (2005), Ramchand (1997, 2008), and others whosuggest that the properties of argument structure are not directly derived fromthe properties of specific lexical entries. Once again, the event structureestablishes the syntactic structure, and thus, the syntactic positions ofarguments are largely responsible for determining their argument structure.

The papers in this volume are the written versions of talks given at the"Workshop on Argument Structure and Syntactic Relations" held at the Universityof the Basque Country in May 2007.

The fourteen contributions found in this volume are divided into foursub-sections: (i) Semantic and Syntactic Properties of Event Structure; (ii) ACartographic View on Argument Structure; (iii) Syntactic Heads involved inArgument Structure; and (iv) Argument Structure in Language Acquisition.

In the first section (Semantic and Syntactic Properties of Event Structure),Maria Babicheva and Mikhail Ivanov begin this volume with their contributionentitled "Aspectual composition in causatives." In their research, Babicheva andIvanov provide an analysis of both the aspectual composition of non-derivedverbs and derived causative verbs. They argue for two types of aspectualcomposition that can be found in natural languages: (i) Type 1, the "Englishtype," where the telicity of a verb is determined by the reference properties ofits direct object; and (ii) Type 2, the "Russian type," where an obligatorytelic verb imposes quantization on its direct object. In their analysis, theypropose that a unified event structure for causatives makes it possible to unifythese different types of aspectual composition under one structure.

Next, Ekaterina Lyutikova and Sergei Tatevosov ("Atelicity andanticausativization") engage in a discussion of the interaction between argumentstructure and eventuality type by taking a closer look at the interactionbetween anticausativization and (a)telicity. Lyutikova and Tatevosov argue thatinertia modality can be introduced at different levels within the light-verbphrase (vP), which explains why different kinds of non-culmination (especiallywith respect to accomplishments) are affected by anticausativization in avariety of different ways.

Furthermore, Jonathan E. MacDonald's study ("Minimalist variability in the verbphrase") discusses language variation from a Minimalist perspective. In thiscontext, MacDonald discusses aspectual differences observed in English andRussian, with the latter licensing a clustering of inner aspectual propertiesthat the former language lacks. MacDonald accounts for the presence (or lackthereof) of aspect based on the presence of a functional project specified foraspect, namely AspP. In the remainder of his contribution, MacDonald discusseshow cross-linguistic and intra-linguistic variation regarding aspect can andshould be treated as separate issues in a Minimalist analysis.

Continuing this section, Jaume Mateu ("On the l-syntax of manner and causation")argues for a systematic approach to argument structure that is an extension ofHale & Keyser's (2005) l(lexical)-syntax with respect to manner inflation. Here,Mateu argues for a compromise of sorts between ''conservative'' proposals (e.g.Folli & Harley 2006) and more ''radical'' ones (e.g. Borer 2005).

In the final chapter of this section, Petra Sleeman and Ana Maria Brito("Nominalization, event, aspect and argument structure: A syntactic approach")discuss the distinction between process nouns (i.e. complex event nominals) andresult/object nouns that is commonly assumed in the literature (see e.g.Grimshaw 1990 as an example of an approach that makes this distinction). Sleemanand Brito maintain that both process and result nouns have a + agentive and -agentive parametric value associated with differences in their respectiveargument structures. A result of their analysis is that these two types of nounsare eventive and can be unified under a common analysis due to the fact thattheir distinctive difference is argued to be merely aspectual in nature.

Leonard H. Babby ("The syntax of argument structure") leads off the secondsection of this volume (A Cartographic View on Argument Structure). Babby voicescriticism of generative approaches to argument structure that regard "thesyntax" to be the primary computational system. Babby outlines the nuts andbolts of his approach to this problem, which include the existence of ArgumentStructure (AS) and the important role it plays in determining the "argumentstructure" of predicates. In this system, morphosyntax is defined as therelation between syntactically relevant information encoded in a verb's AS, theaffix-driven operations that alter initial AS representation, and the syntacticstructure projected from derived AS (see Babby 2009 for a more detailedtreatment of this approach).

John Bowers ("Argument structure and quantifier scope") closes out this shortsection by focusing on structural/syntactic properties of argument structure.The core idea discussed in this contribution involves the merging of three basiccategories, namely, Ag(ent), Th(eme), and Appl(icative) item, into syntacticstructure. Bowers argues that the proper ordering of these thematic units isopposite to what is commonly assumed in the literature (e.g. Ag > Th > Appl; seealso Bowers 2010). In support of his claims, Bowers argues in favor of activeAg(ent)s and the by-phrase in passive constructions being licensed in the samestructural position.

Section 3 (Syntactic Heads involved in Argument Structure) opens with Angel J.Gallego's "An l-syntax for adjuncts," where he adopts an l-syntactic approach toVP adjuncts/modifiers, which he analyzes as PPs undergoing Merge with the VP -similar to high applicatives in Pylkkaenen's (2008) analysis.

In the next paper, Javier Ormazabal and Juan Romero ("The derivation of dativealternations") suggest that the classical derivational treatment of doubleobject constructions and dative constructions are in desperate need of anupdate. Similar in some respects to Gallego's approach to VP adjuncts/modifiersin the previous chapter, Ormazabal and Romero suggest that these structuralalterations are triggered by preposition (applicative) incorporation andCase/Argument-relational considerations.

The next two contributions, by Benat Oyharcabal ("Basque ditransitives") andWaltraud Paul and John Whitman ("Applicative structure and Mandarinditransitives"), take a closer look at the treatment of ditransitiveconstructions in Basque and Mandarin Chinese, respectively. Oyharcabal makes useof Pylkkaenen's (2008) high and low Applicative-functional projects in order toaccount for ditransitive clauses in Basque. Paul and Whitman also adopt thissystem in arguing that applicative heads always appear above the lexical VP,regardless of the semantics of the construction. In their analysis, Paul andWhitman make a distinction between ''thematic applicatives'', which select anominal expression and a VP as arguments (parallel to Pylkkaenen's ''high''applicatives) and ''raising applicatives'', which appear in the same structuralposition as thematic applicatives, but differ crucially in their inability toselect an underlying nominal argument.

Lastly, Knut Tarald Taraldsen ("Unintentionally out of control") discusses themorphosyntax of a particular type of Norwegian get-passive construction, whereit is possible for the subject to receive an agentive interpretation even whenhis/her actions are unintentional. Taraldsen's analysis makes a strong argumentfor Ramchand's (2008) system, within which he develops his analysis of thisunique type of get-passive in Norwegian.

The fourth and final section of this volume (Argument Structure in LanguageAcquisition) includes two studies on the acquisition of argument structure.

Hamida Demiradache and Oana Lungu's study ("Zero time-arguments in French childlanguage") argues that zero-tenses in L1 French surface as either past or present.

Finally, Sigal Uziel-Karl's contribution "Reevaluating the role of innatelinking rules in the acquisition of verb argument structure: Evidence from childHebrew" provides evidence against the acquisition of Verb Argument Structure(VAS) being regulated by a set of universal, innate linking rules betweenthematic-roles and syntactic functions (cf. Pinker 1984).


This volume brings together scholars with diverse research backgrounds inlinguistics (e.g. language acquisition, syntax, semantics) and an interest andexpertise in divergent issues related to the "argument structure" of naturallanguages. The expansive empirical coverage of languages (including Basque,Catalan, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, English, Scandinavian languages,Russian, Nenets, Karachay-Balkar, Turkish, Hebrew, and Mandarin Chinese) isimpressive and points the way for continued research on other languages andlanguage families not directly addressed in this volume. From a conceptualstandpoint, collectively, these papers represent a growing trend in research on"argument structure", which is to incorporate event semantics into these typesof analysis. As a matter of fact, according to Borer (2005) and Ramchand (1997,2008), event semantics takes precedence over traditional concepts and machinerysuch as theta-roles, a fixed hierarchy established for theta-roles (UTAH), andstrongly lexicalist approaches to argument structure. The collective body ofresearch presented in this volume makes a strong case for the plausibility ofthis model and suggests that the preliminary "answers" that DHM provide for thethree core questions that they introduce at the beginning of this volume areindeed worthy of serious consideration.

In spite of the fact that the original ideas presented in these papers are nowroughly five years old, the analyses put forward in the majority of these papersmake strong contributions to our understanding of diverse empirical data whilealso contributing to the on-going theoretical debates involving the core threequestions outlined above. To expand upon this point, I consider thecontributions of Bowers (''Argument structure and quantifier scope'') andTaraldsen (''Unintentionality out of control'') in a bit more detail. Bowers'contribution - which also served as the foundation of later, more detailed work(e.g. Bowers 2010) - puts forward the radical claim that the traditionalordering of thematic roles assumed in most, if not all, versions of Minimalistsyntax is backwards. He efficiently shows how his reversal of the ordering ofthe traditional thematic hierarchy commonly assumed according to UTAH is moreaccurate and conceptually efficient in accounting for quantifier scope. Bowers'claims are indeed thought-provoking and force scholars to revisit this oftenunchallenged facet of argument structure. In a similar light, Taraldsen, makingexclusive use of Ramchand's (2008) first-phase syntax, provides a novel sketchof how to deal with unintentional causer arguments that could also be expandedinto a discussion of get-passives cross-linguistically. In contrast to Bowers'piece, Taraldsen's study does not place any relevance on thematic roles and, asa result of adopting Ramchand's system, places proto-agent arguments near thetop of the first-phase (VP), as is commonly assumed in Minimalist syntax. Bothanalyses are well-articulated and thoughtfully argued with empirical support,although they clearly contrast in key areas. This apparent heterodoxy should notbe interpreted as a weakness of this volume or this research program in general,but rather as a sign of a theoretical shift in dealing with the connectionbetween argument structure, event semantics, and other (morpho)syntacticoperations. In my view, the next stage of productive discussion and debate inthis area of generative linguistics should involve detailed comparisons of thedifferent predictions of some of these competing models, and this collection ofpapers should be lauded as a first step in that direction.

Although the scholarship in this volume is clearly presented and representsinnovative, cutting-edge approaches to argument structure and its relation toother syntactic operations, the majority of the papers would be quite difficultto fully comprehend without sufficient background in recent literature dealingwith the proposed intimate relationship between syntax and event semantics (seee.g. especially Borer 2005 and Ramchand 1997; 2008). Therefore, the primaryaudience for this volume would likely be graduate students and researchers witha high level of familiarity with these recent proposals and subsequent researchthat has developed there from.


Babby, Leonard. 2009. The syntax of argument structure. Cambridge: CUP.

Baker, Mark. 1988. Incorporation: A theory of grammatical function changing.Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Borer, Hagit. 2005. The natural course of events. Oxford: OUP.

Bowers, John. 2010. Arguments as relations. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Folli, Raffella. and Heidi Harley. 2006. On the licensing of causatives ofdirected motion: Waltzing Matilda all over. Studia Linguistica 60.2: 121-155.

Grimshaw, Jane. 1990. Argument structure. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Hale, Ken & Samuel Keyser. 2005. Aspect and the syntax of argument structure.In: The syntax of aspect: Deriving thematic and aspectual interpretation, N.Erteschik-Shir and T. Rapoport (eds.), 42-64. Oxford: OUP.

Pinker, Steven. 1984. Language learnability and language development. Cambridge,MA: Harvard University Press.

Pylkkaenen, Lina. 2008. Introducing arguments. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Ramchand, Gillian. 1997. Aspect and predication: The semantics of argumentstructure. Oxford: OUP.

Ramchand, Gillian. 2008. Verb meaning and the lexicon: A first phase syntax.Cambridge: CUP.


Michael Putnam is an Assistant Professor of German & Linguistics at PennState University. His research foci include: philosophy of language,morphology, syntax, semantics, (morpho)syntax-semantics interface issues,bilingualism, and heritage linguistics.

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