LINGUIST List 23.4367

Thu Oct 18 2012

Review: Historical Linguistics; Syntax; Latin: Danckaert (2012)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 18-Oct-2012
From: Andreas Trotzke <>
Subject: Latin Embedded Clauses
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AUTHOR: Lieven DanckaertTITLE: Latin Embedded ClausesSUBTITLE: The Left PeripherySERIES TITLE: Linguistik Aktuell/Linguistics Today 184PUBLISHER: John BenjaminsYEAR: 2012

Andreas Trotzke, Department of Linguistics, University of Konstanz


“Latin Embedded Clauses: The Left Periphery” by Lieven Danckaert (henceforth,LD) deals with word order phenomena in Latin embedded clauses. The book focuseson a subtype of embedded clauses, adverbial clauses (ACs), and investigates thepattern in which one or more constituents occur to the left of a subordinatingconjunction. This monograph grew out of LD’s 2011 dissertation from GhentUniversity. Since this study was supervised by both a Latin philologist and aformal linguist, it aims at being accessible to readers not trained in formallinguistics, as both the author and the publisher point out.

Chapter 1 (“Introduction”) specifies the topic and the methodology of the study.LD first sketches earlier accounts of fronting elements to the left of asubordinating conjunction, which he calls ‘Left Edge Fronting’ (LEF). He thenforeshadows his claim that there are two subtypes of this operation (LEF1 andLEF2) with different syntactic and interpretive properties. After introducingLEF as the main topic of the book, LD describes the corpus he studied, in whichtexts from 180 BC to 120 AD were taken into account. He then proceeds bypointing out that Latin is a discourse-configurational language, that is, hesketches the claim that different Latin ordering patterns correspond todifferent pragmatic interpretations. He then highlights the suitability of ahierarchical approach to syntax for investigating these patterns and provides,as an addendum, a ‘crash course’ in generative syntax, sketching basic conceptslike movement and locality.

Chapter 2 (“The internal syntax of Adverbial Clauses (ACs)”) provides anintroduction to the syntax of ACs and to Latin ACs in particular. LD presentsarguments in favor of an operator movement derivation of ACs. He then discussesa class of Latin ACs which do allow for ‘Main Clause Phenomena’ (MCP), that is,for operations that are available in root clauses but unacceptable or degradedin embedded clauses. The contrast between ACs that allow for MCP (i.e.peripheral ACs) and that do not allow for MCP (i.e. central ACs) is thenexemplified by a case study on the Latin particle *quidem*. LD provides ananalysis that correctly predicts that *quidem* cannot occur in the leftperiphery of central ACs, while it can occur in the left periphery of peripheralACs.

Chapter 3 (“The left periphery of embedded clauses”) presents a more detailedpicture of the decomposition of functional projections in the left periphery ofembedded clauses and provides an overview of the results of LD’s corpus study.After sketching the approach of disjoining the clause-typing operator (placed inthe projection ForceP(hrase)) and the lexical element traditionally called‘subordinating conjunction’ (placed in Fin(iteness)P), LD presents the resultsof his corpus study on word order in Latin ACs. These results reveal that LEFoccurs most frequently in clause-initial ACs. Moreover, relative anddemonstrative pronouns are exclusively found in a LEF position in clause-initialACs. Based on this left-right asymmetry, LD formulates the distinction betweentwo types of LEF: pronoun fronting in initial ACs (LEF1) and XP-fronting in bothinitial and final ACs (LEF2). This distinction sets the agenda for the rest ofthe book; the syntax of LEF1 is analyzed in Chapters 4 (on relative pronouns)and 5 (on demonstratives), and LEF2 is investigated in Chapters 6 and 7.

Chapter 4 (“The syntax of island pied-piping: Evidence from Latin relativeclauses”) focuses on the Latin phenomenon referred to as ‘RelativeVerschränkung.’ That is, LD examines a structure that contains a relative clauseS(entence)2, where the antecedent of the relative pronoun is located in thesuperordinated clause S1, the extraction site of the relative pronoun isembedded in S2 within another clause S3, and S3 occurs in a leftward position inS2. As LD also briefly mentions in Chapter 3, the main property of thisstructure is a left-right asymmetry. He argues that this asymmetry can becaptured if one assumes a type of topicalization involving clausal pied-piping.Accordingly, the structure is derived in three steps: ‘internal (i.e.non-terminal) movement’ of the pronoun to the edge of the embedded clause;feature percolation; and clausal pied-piping, targeting the left periphery ofthe superordinated clause. LD then extends this analysis to biclausal patternswith a ‘relatif de liaison’ (i.e. with a wh-word introducing a non-integratednon-restrictive relative clause) in the leftmost position.

Chapter 5 (“Clausal pied-piping by topics”) addresses the question if non-whtopics can act as clausal pied-pipers as well. LD argues that the two patternsof LEF (the pied-piper being a wh-element introducing either a restrictive or anon-integrated non-restrictive relative clause) form a coherent class withstructures where demonstratives undergo LEF. In particular, he shows that(independent or attributive) forms of the pronouns *is* and *hic* (which hecalls ‘IS-type pronouns’) can act, just like relative pronouns, as clausalpied-pipers. He shows that these pronominal expressions receive a topicalinterpretation and that the pattern they involve can best be analyzed by thetopicalization strategy that involves clausal pied-piping that he sketched inChapter 4.

Chapter 6 (“LEF2: Presentational foci in CP”) turns to cases where the LEFconstituent is neither a wh-expression (as discussed in Chapter 4) nor ademonstrative pronoun (as discussed in Chapter 5). The crucial feature of thisLEF subtype (LEF2) is that it is also available in clause-final embeddedclauses. Based on the observation that non-(or less) referential elements canundergo LEF2, LD argues that LEF2 should not be characterized as Germanic-typescrambling. Based on the observation that non-specific elements (e.g.,*aliquis*) or bare quantifiers (e.g., *omnia*) can undergo this movement, heargues that LEF2 should not be characterized as the Romance-type topicalizationstrategy of ‘Clitic Left Dislocation.’ After ruling out these options, LD claimsthat LEF2 is an optional focalization strategy that alternates with marking thefocus in situ by prosodic stress.

Chapter 7 (“The syntax of LEF2: A synchronic and diachronic perspective”)addresses the diachronic evolution of LEF2. LD points out the observed declineof this phenomenon and argues that this is related to a change that took placein the same period. More specifically, he shows that there is a correlationbetween the loss of LEF2 and the increased frequency of VO word orderingobserved in the history of Classical Latin.


Given that there are very few studies on Latin word order that make use ofdescriptive means provided by formal linguistics (cf., e.g., Devine & Stephens2006), this book fills a gap in syntactic research and is a genuine contributionto the field. As pointed out at the outset of this review, LD makes clear that“the material in this book is meant to be relevant for classical philologists aswell as for formal syntacticians” (xv). As for classical philologists, the bookis written in a very clear and reader-friendly fashion, and both the generalintroduction to formal syntax (28-51) and the introductory parts of each chapterexpand theoretical background in a subtle, non-overwhelming form, byaccompanying the presentation of theoretical claims with a healthy dose ofrelevant data illustrating these claims. As for formal syntacticians, althoughone need not agree with every detail of the proposed analyses and conclusions,LD always discusses potential counterarguments and highlights what has to beexplored in future research to test his claims (e.g., Section 6 of Chapter 5 onanalyzing the left-right asymmetry in terms of Romance ‘Clitic Left Dislocation’and the discussion of LEF as postsyntactic P(honetic) F(orm)-movement at the endof Chapter 6). Moreover, the book is also suitable for scholars who draw theirlinguistic expertise more heavily from Germanic languages. Instead of simplycataloguing Latin examples, LD takes the time to discuss the results of hiscorpus study in light of parallels to related phenomena in languages like Dutch,English, and German, and this will no doubt be illuminating to many readers.

The overall organization of the book is stringent. As already summarized above,after providing the necessary theoretical background and the distinction betweenLEF1 and LEF2 in Chapters 1-3, Chapters 4-5 deal with LEF1 and Chapters 6-7investigate LEF2. However, it would have been desirable (for the presentreviewer, at least) to have a general conclusion at the end of the book thatties together all insights of the study. Since parts of the book are quiteinventorying (but show LD’s remarkable erudition), and since the intermediateconclusions/summaries at the end of each chapter are sometimes rather short, thedirect impact that this work will make on the field might be considerablystrengthened by a future paper in a relevant journal that presents the resultsin a more concise way.

These shortcomings aside, there is much to recommend about the book. Theempirical domain of ACs is very well chosen, allowing the reader to gainfundamental insights on the overall structure of the Latin clause, since ACshave the property of islandhood, show an equal left-right distribution, and, asLD points out, are very frequently attested, and thus easy to retrieve incorpora. Given this suitable empirical domain, LD adopts the framework ofcartography to analyze structures. Here lies one of the main strengths of thisbook. The cartographic approach decomposes functional projections into simplestructural units. Thus, in the eyes of linguists working within this framework,“[l]ocal simplicity is preserved by natural languages at the price of acceptinga higher global complexity, through the proliferation of structural units”(Rizzi 2004: 8). As for LD’s focus on the clausal left periphery, it has beenpointed out in the literature that there is a fundamental problem ofpresupposing discourse-related features (such as [foc(us)]) in the syntacticrepresentation when one is committed to the perspective of the MinimalistProgram. According to Chomsky (1995: 228), “any structure formed by thecomputation [...] is constituted of elements already present in the lexicalitems selected [...]; no new objects are added in the course of computationapart from rearrangements of lexical properties.” In other words, this‘Inclusiveness Condition’ implies that syntactic operations can only refer tolexical features. Of course, lexical items cannot be viewed as inherentlyfocused etc. Consequently, such features, as Neeleman & Szendrői (2004: 155)note, “must be inserted after an element has been taken from the lexicon,” andthus the postulation of such features violates the minimalist ‘InclusivenessCondition.’ LD shows, however, that approaching syntactic structures (andespecially the clausal left periphery) from a cartographic perspective can beincredibly fruitful. Since proponents of this approach are committed, by andlarge, to a rigorous methodology of description, LD can rely on a large amountof previous work and thereby refine our picture of the overall structure of theLatin clause. Hence, a lesson that might be learned from LD’s work is that thesedifferent strands of generative linguistics, focusing on different levels ofadequacy, should complement each other rather than being seen as incompatibleapproaches. This is not a trivial issue, since many minimalist scholars, as thereviewer has noted at various conferences, tend to prejudge an analysis whenrecognizing that it is ‘hopelessly cartographic’ (making the term ‘cartographic’a general verdict like – to exaggerate a little – the term ‘metaphysics’ wasused as an invective by the Vienna Circle in the early 20th century).

One aspect where cartographic research may help in gaining important insights isthe exact (interpretive) nature of the topicalization operation described by LDin the context of LEF1. Clausal pied-piping has been argued to exist in a numberof languages, for instance, in Bavarian (cf. Bayer 2001). Since the mainadvantage of this analysis is that it readily explains the left-right asymmetry,LD adopts “a Bayer-style analysis to Latin topicalization examples” (238).According to Bayer (2001), the movement type ‘Emphatic Topicalization’ (ET)targets the specifier of a complementizer and prevents the embedded clause fromremaining in its base position. Accordingly, the entire embedded clause mustmove to the left periphery of the clause that immediately dominates it. Thisclausal pied-piping is necessary because, according to Bayer (2001), ET inducesthe feature [etop] that can only be interpreted in root or root-like clauses.Recently, it has also been demonstrated that ET exists in Bangla (cf. Bayer &Dasgupta subm.). It is not yet clear if the interpretive properties of ET can becaptured in terms of information structure or if other notions related to the‘expressive’ dimension of meaning (cf. Potts 2007) might be more appropriate inthis regard (like ‘emphasis,’ cf. Frey 2010, or ‘mirativity,’ cf. DeLancey 1997and Cruschina 2011); cartographic work like LD’s helps make progress on theseissues and sheds further light on the interpretive properties of the clausalleft periphery.

Whether or not this book on the syntax of Latin is intelligible to readersoutside of formal linguistics remains to be seen. While it may perhaps be moreappropriate to be a little ‘theory savvy’ when approaching this book as areader, the author does a good job of clarifying formal ideas. In sum, the bookis very instructive in showing what modern syntactic research (within thecartographic framework) can teach us about the structure of a linguisticallyunder-researched language like Latin.


Bayer, Josef. 2001. Asymmetry in emphatic topicalization. In Caroline Féry &Wolfgang Sternefeld (eds.), Audiatur Vox Sapientiae: A Festschrift for Arnim vonStechow, 15-47. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag.

Bayer, Josef & Probal Dasgupta. subm. Emphatic Topicalization and the structureof the left periphery: Evidence from German and Bangla. Submitted to Syntax.

Chomsky, Noam. 1995. The Minimalist Program. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Cruschina, Silvio. 2011. Discourse-Related Features and Functional Projections.Oxford: Oxford University Press.

DeLancey, Scott. 1997. Mirativity: The grammatical marking of unexpectedinformation. Linguistic Typology 1, 33-52.

Devine, Andrew & Laurence Stephens. 2006. Latin Word Order: Structured Meaningand Information. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Frey, Werner. 2010. Ā-Movement and conventional implicatures: About thegrammatical encoding of emphasis in German. Lingua 120, 1416-1435.

Neeleman, Ad & Kriszta Szendrői. 2004. Superman sentences. Linguistic Inquiry35, 149-159.

Potts, Christopher. 2007. Conventional implicatures: A distinguished class ofmeanings. In Gillian Ramchand & Charles Reiss (eds.), The Oxford Handbook ofLinguistic Interfaces, 475-501. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rizzi, Luigi. 2004. On the cartography of syntactic structures. In Luigi Rizzi(ed.), The Structure of CP and IP, 3-15. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Andreas Trotzke is a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Linguistics, University of Konstanz. His research interests include left peripheral syntax, the syntax-pragmatics interface, and the recursivity of syntactic embedding. He is also interested in recent developments in biolinguistics and their connections to performance-oriented linguistics.

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