LINGUIST List 30.1061

Fri Mar 08 2019

Review: Spanish; Applied Linguistics; Syntax: Camacho (2018)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <>

Date: 20-Dec-2018
From: John Ryan <>
Subject: Introducción a la Sintaxis del Español
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: José Camacho
TITLE: Introducción a la Sintaxis del Español
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2018

REVIEWER: John M. Ryan, University of Northern Colorado


Introducción a la sintaxis del español is a textbook on the topic of introductory syntax, written in Spanish. It consists of 10 chapters and is divided into two general parts, the first of which, consists of 5 chapters and provides both an introduction and general overview of generative syntax. The second part of the book consists of 5 chapters and penetrates with greater depth the more important topics specific to the syntax of Spanish.

The initial chapter of the book begins with a short discussion of our language faculty, and the question of whether this is an autonomous system or an integral part of our more general cognitive capacity. This is immediately followed by a longer section that introduces the student reader to some of the more basic notions of syntactic analysis, such as grammaticality, competence versus performance, and individual grammars. Chapter 2 continues the book’s overview by introducing the classification of concepts into grammatical categories and begins with a discussion of lexical categories and both encyclopedic and grammatical information that is stored in lexical entries. Such information includes argument structure and thematic roles. The chapter then concludes with the distinction between lexical and grammatical categories. Chapter 3 shifts the topic from grammatical categories to that of complex structure based on evidence for the existence of constituents, including substitution, movement, characteristics of how they merge, and other properties such as recursion, binary branching, and directionality.

Chapter 4 introduces the topic of functional categories, specifically, the DP (determiner phrase), TP (tense phrase), and CP (complementizer phrase) and the pivotal roles that each plays in syntax, namely, as nuclei that determine the distribution of nominals at the level of DP, that of independent clauses in the case of TP, and that of subordinate clauses at the level of CP. The first section of the book ends with Chapter 5, whose title begins with el baile de las palabras or ‘the dance of words’ and discusses how the order of words in a sentence can be affected by movement operations. Camacho goes on to discuss two different types of movement, namely, A-movement with the example of the passive operation, and non-A movement with the example of interrogatives. He then explains how certain contexts such as syntactic islands can prevent movement. The chapter concludes with a discussion of agreement and case assignment.

Having presented in Part One concepts that the author considers to be more fundamental to the study of syntax, Part 2 of the book takes a closer look at some of its more specific aspects, some of which are particular to Spanish. Along these lines, Chapter 6 examines the topic of objects, both direct and indirect, and how verb structure can explain the different behaviors between unergative and unaccusative verbs, differential object marking for animate objects, and distinguishing dative indirect objects from prepositional direct objects. The chapter closes with a comprehensive discussion of the properties of clitics. Chapter 7 continues the discussion of verbs, but from the perspective of the extended projections of Aspect and Tense phrases. Here Comacho presents as subtopics lexical aspect, passivization, and how aspect also explains the bifarious nature of the copulas. The last part of the chapter addresses the structural representation of Tense and Aspect Phrases, and how this can explain movement of the verb, or not, with adverbs and negation.

Leaving the topic of verbs, Chapter 8 explores the topic of null subjects with both inflected verbs and infinitives. Camacho goes on to show how null subjects (little pro) with inflected verbs have a different interpretation from those that are expressed, citing reasons of emphasis or dialectal variation. The chapter then goes on to discuss the notion of null subjects (big PRO) with infinitives and how this is a matter of control. Chapter 9 considers the topic of the left periphery and the numerous ways this affects the order of words in the sentence or clause. Among the issues discussed are Force, Topic, and Focus Phrases, left dislocation, wh-questions and dialectal variation, and the movement of quantifiers. Finishing Part Two is Chapter 10 which provides greater detail on the properties of nominal groupings. Here, Camacho penetrates such topics as determiners, possessives, nouns appearing without determiners and vice versa. He also examines the structure of adjectives, and the syntactic representation of number and gender. Camacho concludes the chapter with the syntactic analysis of relative clauses.


There are several reasons why Camacho’s Introducción a la sintaxis del español is a timely addition to the existing canon of introductory textbooks on the syntax of Spanish. First, given the great extent to which the field has continued to grow, its recent arrival on the market ensures its incorporation of the latest developments in the field. Secondly, it is comprehensive in that each chapter includes abundant exercises that are clearly marked with options for both novice and advanced students. The third, and perhaps most important feature of Camacho’s book for faculty teaching the subject as an upper division course within a Spanish language curriculum is the fact that the book is written in Spanish. Camacho’s book is unique among other available textbooks on the market because it embodies all three advantages. For example, other texts such as Zagona (2001), or more recently Frías Conde (2015) have been in English, and others, although written in Spanish, such as Gili Gaya (1994) or Eguren & Fernández Soriano (2004), are now dated and lack the workbook component. Before now, Spanish syntax faculty who wanted applicable student exercises had to rely on more general textbooks such as Carnie (2012) or Radford (2016), whose primary focus in both cases is English.

From an organizational perspective, each of the chapters in both sections of the book follows a well-designed and clear approach to presenting the information contained therein. In each case, the author clearly states objectives, addresses these in the body of the chapter, and ends with a short summary of important points. Camacho then includes a section of exercises, which are clearly marked in terms of chapter subtopic as well as student level for whom they are designed (beginner or more advanced). Camacho concludes each chapter with a section of sources for students interested in additional reading on the topic, and in the case of some chapters, these are even further separated by subtopic (e.g., agreement, movement, passives, etc.). A suggestion regarding the overall division of the book into two major sections is to mark their separate purposes more clearly both in the Table of Contents and on the title pages to each section occurring within the text. Although the purpose of each section is clearly mentioned in the book’s introduction, it might be helpful for students if the differences between both sections were more clearly marked within the text itself.

In terms of its use of examples to explain content, the book takes an interesting multilinguistic approach, and provides numerous examples from standard Spanish, but also includes examples of variation from its many dialects. These include the topics of clitic variation in the porteño dialect of Argentina, the phenomena of leísmo and laísmo in the castellano dialect of northern Spain, nonstandard word order in the case of wh-interrogatives as well as the use of explicit subjects in the Caribbean, and the tendency for some Peruvian as well as heritage speakers of Spanish in contact with English to replace the definite article with the possessive pronoun in cases of inalienable possession. Camacho also frequently draws on examples from languages other than Spanish (or its varieties) in order to strengthen by way of comparison his analysis of Spanish. For example, in Chapter 4, he presents the case of conjugated infinitives in Portuguese and how this relates to his analysis of the Tense Phrase. In other parts of the book he draws on examples from Italian, Basque, Danish, and German as well.

Considering the fact that the text is intended for beginning students of Spanish syntax, one criticism in terms of the book’s visual presentation of syntactic structure pertains to the author’s combined use of two very different conventions within the same trees throughout the book. In Chapter 3, Camacho introduces two alternative representations to represent syntactic structure by means of trees, namely, those of using either: 1) the head word itself as a way of identifying the type of phrase (e.g., dep or ‘de phrase’ to label a prepositional phrase headed by de ‘of’) or 2) the more abstract label (e.g., FP, or the equivalent of English PP ‘prepositional phrase’). Despite stating that he will employ the first option throughout the book, Camacho includes the second option as well in each tree anyway, albeit in parentheses. It is the opinion of this reviewer that this combined use of both methods makes the trees in the book appear cluttered, and induces unnecessary confusion, particularly for a beginner student. Moreover, use of the head word method to label the phrase creates the illusion of repetition in the tree when in actuality there is none, and causes a distraction from identifying the actual location of the word in the tree.

A clearer representation might in fact be to avoid the use of the head word method altogether, and resort to using ONLY the abstract label. This would avoid repetition of words in the tree. This becomes especially important later in the second part of the book where more complex structure involving movement operations requires the copy and delete function, in which all instances of the moved word or phrase, other than the landing site, are crossed out to indicate that an item has moved. One other note regarding Camacho’s presentation of phrase structure, shortly after indicating the two aforementioned tree possibilities, in the same Chapter 3, he resorts to the use of brackets, as in example (49) (a-e) on page 112 to demonstrate the concept of recursion. This is once again a problem for an introductory textbook in that Camacho never explains that brackets are yet another potential representation of phrase structure. Since this is the only instance in the book that relies on the use of brackets, one way that the author could address this in future editions might be to include a footnote that explains the use of brackets as an alternate method, and perhaps to mention those circumstances in which this method would be useful, for example, in cases where limited space prevents the use of tree diagrams, or for less complex structure, as is the case of Example (49).

Overall, Introducción a la sintaxis del español achieves its binary goal of presenting the more general mechanisms of syntax and more specific cases of Spanish to students who have had little or no previous exposure to generative syntax. Moreover, the inclusion of advanced exercises and additional readings make the text suitable for use as a springboard text for a graduate course on the topic.


Carnie, Andrew. 2012. “Syntax: A Generative Introduction.” 3rd Edition. Wiley Blackwell.

Eguren, Luis & Olga Fernández Soriano. 2004. “Introducción a una sintaxis minimista.” Gredos Editorial, S.A.

Frías Conde, Xavier. 2015. “An Introduction to Spanish Syntax (According to Functional Categorial Grammar).” Ianua Editora.

Gili Gaya, Samuel. 1994. “Curso superior de sintaxis española.” 15th Edition. Biblograf Sa.

Radford, Andrew. 2016. Analyzing English Sentences.” 2nd Edition. Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics. Cambridge University Press.

Zagona, Karen. 2001. “The Syntax of Spanish.” Cambridge Syntax Guides. Cambridge University Press.


John M. Ryan is Associate Professor of Spanish Linguistics at the University of Northern Colorado. His work on first and second language acquisition includes articles published in JCLAD, Hispania, JLTR and TPLS. Also, recent work in historical linguistics and discourse analysis has appeared in several edited volumes. He is currently working on a book manuscript on the early transitional structures of Proto Ibero Romance.

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