Review of Representation Theory
Date: Fri, 22 Aug 2003 13:17:52 +0200
From: Georges Rebuschi
Subject: Representation Theory
Williams, Edwin (2003) Representation Theory, MIT Press,
Current Studies in Linguistics.
Georges Rebuschi, ILPGA, Sorbonne Nouvelle (Université de
Both the VP Internal Subject Hypothesis and Larsonian
shells, in which a small "v" takes the agentive NP as its
specifier and a VP as its structural complement, illustrate
the asymmetric c-command of the Theme by the Agent; the
functional layers above (whether IP, AgrSP or TP), display
the same asymmetry; finally, whether only one Wh-Phrase
moves to the left periphery or several do, the "subject" wh-
P will also asymmetrically c-command the oblique one.
In the author's view, such shape preservation cannot be
coincidental, and stipulating "equidistance" without even
defining "distance" to evade the fact that intersecting
dependencies are created by the movements of the arguments
from within VP/vP to IP is at best missing what Williams
takes to be the central fact about natural language
sentences, namely, that they should not be described as one
structure, but as a series of structures which, in the
unmarked cases, entertain this shape preservation or
isomorphism, dubbed "representation".
_Representation Theory_ (RT) is thus a programmatic book
that endeavours to develop a new grammatical model, in which
each level -- Theta Structure or TS, Case Structure: CS,
Surface Structure: SS, Focus Structure :FS, etc.)
"represents" the preceding one, distortions between them
being governed by one of several factors:
- the independent requirements of the representing structure
itself (e.g. Hungarian FS requires that the focused phrase
precede the finite verb, independently of its theta-role and
- "blocking" (cf. Williams 1997): any more specific structure
blocks or bleeds less specific ones;
- another functional factor, which amounts to saying that if
a mismatch between levels Ln and Ln+1 renders the next
mapping, from Ln+1 to Ln+2, isomorphic, it is tolerated.
Note besides that intra-level movement is possible,
thereby allowing the word order at Ln-1 to differ from that
at Ln+1 without any misrepresentation happening.
Chapter 1, 'Economy as Shape Conservation,' first
illustrates the basic tenets of RT and its way of dealing
with distortions in the domain of derivational morphology
and compounding. Bracketing paradoxes (cf. the ambiguity of
(1a), vs. its absence in (1b) below) are functionally
determined: "[x[y z]] means [[x y] z] only if [x[y z]] is
not generable", which is precisely not the case when a
relative clause does the job, as in (1b).
(1) a a beautiful dancer
b a person who dances beautifully
Next, the domain of theta/case relations is examined, and
Exceptional Case Marking is analyzed as another type of
bracketing paradox, since the non-isomorphic Case Structure
(CS) [[believe Mary] to be alive] is the "most isomorphic
structure that satisfies the strictures of [that] level"
wrt. the TS [believe [Mary to be alive]].
Finally, Holmberg's Generalization (the fact that, in
Scandinavian languages, object shift must be accompanied by
verb movement) is argued to be more satisfactorily accounted
for by "a constraint on mapping one representation into
another, than as a constraint on the coordinated movements,
within a single tree, of the items it pertains to" or by
massive remnant movement.
Chapter 2, 'Topic and Focus in RT,' introduces further
levels: FS, SS, and Quantification Structure or QS (which
also takes care of Topics): SS "represents" QS, and FS
Heavy NP Shift (traditionally viewed as rightward
movement of the object NP over a PP) is analyzed as an
instance of (short) scrambling, i.e. a mismatch between CS
and SS, which is "tolerated because of the SS,FS match".
Comparing the following sentences, Williams note that (2c)
is only felicitous in a corrective context, a question taken
up in more detail in chapter 9.
(2) a John gave to Mary [all the money in the SATCHEL]
b John gave [all the money in the SATCHEL] to Mary
c *John gave to MARY [all the money in the satchel]
Once QS has been introduced in the model, a fundamental
dimension of cross-linguistic variation is provided, because
conflicts that arise between the requirements of the various
levels may be resolved differently. Thus, Williams proposes
that, in German, isomorphism between SS and QS ranks higher
than isomorphism between SS and CS, whilst the reverse holds
for English, whence the existence of more cases of scopal
ambiguities in the latter than in the former. Hungarian and
Spanish focusing word order is also tackled, and so is
Russian word order with quirky subjects.
In Chapter 3, 'Embedding' is dealt with. According to the
general architecture of RT, the Level Embedding Conjecture
says that each clause type is embedded at the very level at
which it is defined. Thus, clause union at TS results in
serial verb structures, clause union at CS, in infinitive
complementation; indirect questions governed by bridge-verbs
are only embedded at SS, the level at which wh-movement is
hypothesized to take place; finally, since non-bridge-verbs
like 'exclaim' resist wh-extraction from their complement,
they must only be embedded at FS. (In German, V2 sentences
are also defined at FS, whereas V-final ones are defined at
The author also argues that his model offers a natural
derivation of a generalized version of the Ban on Improper
Movement, and introduces a further level, Predication
Structure/PS, intermediary between CS and SS, thereby
simultaneously accounting for ("structural") nominative
assignment/checking in English (at CS) vs. quirky/inherent
subject-marking in Icelandic (at TS) and for the distinct
levels at which control and predication subjects must be
defined in Russian.
Chapter 4, 'Anaphora,' develops a typology of anaphoric
elements by assigning different anaphors to different RT-
structures or levels: tight co-arguments are defined at TS,
and long-distance anaphors, only at SS. Well-known cases,
such as the opposition between Dutch 'zich' and 'zichzelf',
or Reinhart and Reuland's findings concerning the
"logophoric" use of reflexives in English are dealt with in
this spirit: just as embedding takes place at the level at
which the embedded structure is defined, so are anaphors
submitted to various locality conditions, depending on the
level for which they are defined. Locality and the type of
antecedent needed (theta, A, or A') are thus closely
Chapter 5, entitled 'A/A'/A"/A''',' associates locality and
(type of) target as examined in the preceding one with
reconstruction. It is shown that the A/A' distinction must
be relativized or generalized both with respect to movement
proper (wh-movement, defined at one level) and with respect
to scrambling (a case of misrepresentation between two levels);
moreover, reconstruction effects are shown to follow from the
architecture of the model.
In chapter 6, 'Superiority and Movement,' what is standardly
analyzed as multiple Wh-movement is argued to be a case of
"real" movement for the first Wh-Phrase, which has wide
scope, but sheer scrambling for the following one(s) -- this
scrambling being due to the strong D-linking flavour of
multiple Wh- sentences: a distinction must consequently be
established between wh-dependencies, which are established
at PS, and Wh-movement proper, which occurs at SS).
Chapter 7, 'X-bar Theory and Clause Structure,' proposes a
series of axioms that fix the number of juncture-types of X-
bar theory (C-adjunction is allowed). Cinque's (1998)
functional heads' hierarchy is adopted, but, crucially,
those heads need not project: if they are realized by
affixes/features, they simply percolate down to the next
(lexical) head, with which they thereby lexicalize a
subsequence of that functional structure. Besides, a process
of "Reassociation" is defined, which allows a sort of
morphological restructuring such that the two sequences
[[X>Y]>T] and [X>[Y>T]] (where the caret denotes the head-
complement relation) are stipulated to be equivalent.
Williams then endeavours to demonstrate that the Head
Movement Constraint and Relativized Minimality are sheer
effects of his specific approach to X-bar structure.
Chapter 8, 'Inflectional Morphology,' further develops the
foregoing ideas, in particular adding to Reassociation the
rule "Flip" which allows two items [A>B] to appear in the
reverse order [Btwo rules allow quite some freedom in the linear order
morphemes can exhibit across languages, but crucially not
too much -- possibly exactly what is empirically required.
They also account for departures from Baker's Mirror
Principle, which is itself argued to derive from the
architecture of RT and the specific X'-theory developed in
This "morphological" approach is also applied to Verb
Raising (or Clustering) in Dutch and in Hungarian: once
again, massive remnant movement is shown to be unnecessarily
complex and unmotivated, whereas the difficulties raised by
more ordinary feature-checking theories are avoided.
In Chapter 9, 'Semantics in Representation Theory,' Williams
suggests that each RT level possibly contributes to the
meaning of expressions (up to utterances), noting however
that existential closure of implicit arguments may well
already take place at TS, leaving other quantificational
aspects of interpretation to QS.
An important feature of this chapter is the dual theory
of focus it offers. Whereas Logical Focus (LFocus)
partitions a sentence between what is logically presupposed
and what is not, Information Focus (IFocus) manifests
itself linearly by the heavy stress that must be carried by
the word 'blue' in 'John compared the red hat to the BLUE
hat'. Here, there is no logical presupposition, but mere
"I(nformation) Presupposition"; the relevant level thus
cannot be FS, but yet another, AS (for Accent Structure). A
consequence of this approach is that, in corrective
utterances, which typically copy the preceding sequence of
words, IPresupposition (bracketed below) may include LFocus,
as in the following dialogue:
(3) A 'It was JOHN that Bill heard.'
B 'No, [it was John that Bill] SAW'
Crucially, however, the reverse never holds: AS (and the
Information Structure it feeds) simply appears after FS in
Various forms of ellipsis (VP-ellipsis, [counter-]Focus-
ellipsis, Gapping) are also dealt with in this last chapter,
in the spirit and with the techniques anaphora was in
As noted earlier, _Representation Theory_ is very much a
programmatic book, whence the presence of many gaps and
loose ends in the demonstrations and the evaluation of
empirical and/or theoretical consequences, generally
acknowledged by the author.
In this context, the wide coverage of cross-linguistic
data (examples from Germanic, Romance and Slavic languages,
but also, outside of the Indo-European family, Japanese,
Hungarian, Swahili and a variety of lesser-known ones, are
examined) must certainly be welcome.
Williams also notes himself that the increasing number
of levels or structures he must posit is a methodological
difficulty. However, he writes (p. 58):
"The limiting case is an RT with exactly the same number
of levels as there are functional elements in the structure
of a clause in the corresponding Checking Theory [...] Even
if this limiting case turned out to be correct, RT would NOT
thereby become a notational variant of Checking Theory,
because the architecture is different, and the architecture
makes predictions that Checking Theory is intrinsically
Leaving aside data already summarized above, one more
such prediction is made on p. 193-194, where the tools and
architecture of RT naturally explain why Gapping is possible
when two TPs are coordinated, but not when two CPs are
("--" indicates a gap):
(4) a John saw Mary and Bill -- Pete
b *I think that John saw Mary and that Bill -- Pete
Clearly, this phenomenon is all the more difficult to
account for if one adopts the recent Minimalist suggestion
that C is sensitive to T. But in RT, the data fall in
naturally because (a) control of the "--" element under T is
defined at the level at which T is introduced (CS or PS),
and (b) CP embedding takes place much later (at SS); there
is thus just no way to independently derive any well-formed
CP with a (non-controlled) gap under T (as "that Bill --
Pete"), and coordinating that CP with a well-formed one will
Given that FS and AS are distinguished, Williams also
predicts in chapter 9 that the two facts that (a) in some
languages, such as English, neutral focus is on the right,
whilst it is on the left in others, such as Hungarian, and
that (b) the focused constituent itself is right accented or
left accented (again, as in English and Hungarian) should
NOT be correlated, but confesses he cannot illustrate this
lack of connection. I am therefore happy to contribute the
references to Hualde et al. (1994) and Elordieta (2002),
because this disassociation is exactly exemplified by the
Northern Biscayan variety of Basque, in which focused XPs
must immediately precede the lexical participle+inflected
auxiliary cluster, but in which the most prominent syllable
in any phrase, non-focused OR focused, is final.
Although it is conceptually fascinating, the book also has
its shortcomings, some of which are probably due to the
editorial policy of the book series. Thus, I have noted the
absence of a badly needed list of abbreviations, or the date
"1982" as the year of publication of Chomsky's _Barriers_,
both in the text and in the references.
But the author himself should have been careful enough
to replace, for instance, his numerous references to
Richards's (1997) dissertation, now that a (revised)
commercial version of it exists, namely Richards (2001).
Moreover, some passages are fairly difficult to
understand. To take but one example, in chapter 8, the
author derives the Swahili order AgrS-T-AgrO-V of inflected
transitive verbs on the basis of T taking AgrS as its
functional complement (an issue he acknowledges is not
without problems), supplemented by the stipulation that T is
lexically encoded as an prefix, and AgrS as a stem; this is
a bit confusing, as one would expect T to be a suffix,
thereby automatically triggering Flip. But there is more to
it: the main tense morphemes in Swahili are in fact stems
(past tense -li- is etymologically connected with one of the
copula stems, present tense -na- with the possessive use of
the preposition na, 'with', and future -ta- with the stem
-taka 'want'); thus, if, as is usually assumed, AgrS is a
prefix, [T>AgrS] will naturally undergo Flip, yielding
[AgrS At a more general level, Williams could also have noted
potential problems for his theory. We have seen that the
Level Embedding Conjecture axiomatically guarantees that
certain complex objets (such as CPs) do not appear in the
derivation before some processes have been completed (recall
the account of the ungrammaticality of (4b)). On such a
theory, I keep wondering how Kayne's (1980) discovery that
the French Wh-Phrase below was licensed by its higher trace
t' receiving Case in COMP (today's Spec,C) from the matrix
verb, as in (5), can be explained away (Hungarian displays
the same phenomenon, see Chomsky (1981: 174, citing
Horvath), and some hypercorrective idiolects of English, as
noted by Radford (1988)).
(5) Qui crois-tu [t' [t être le meilleur]]?
who think you to-be the best
The difficulty is this: if Exceptional Case Marking and
infinitival clause embedding both take place earlier than CP
embedding, it should be just impossible for 'qui' to get
case-marked (cf. '*Je crois Jean être le meilleur') and the
subordinate IP string should consequently be ruled out.
Consider an alternative: the embedded clause is a wh-
clause; therefore, it should not be embedded before SS, but
SS is, again, a level at which Case marking cannot apply. I
may well have missed something, but I can think of no way
Returning to the methodological problem set by the fairly
large number of levels or representations Williams defines,
I would like to underline the fact that it is precisely this
large number that enables him to address in detail questions
that have been left aside in the Minimalist Program, as
acknowledged by Chomsky himself at the beginning of his
famous Chapter 4, where he wrote:
"Notice that I am sweeping under the rug questions of
considerable significance, notably, questions about what in
the earlier Extended Standard Theory framework were called
'surface effects' on interpretation. These are manifold,
involving topic-focus and theme-rheme structures, figure-
ground properties, effects of adjacency and linearity, and
many others. Prima facie, they seem to involve some
additional levels or levels internal to the phonological
component, postmorphology but prephonetic, accessed at the
interface along with PF (Phonetic Form) and LF (Logical
Form). If that turns out to be correct, then the abstraction
I am now pursuing may require qualification." (Chomsky 1995:
In a sense, it is then tempting to regard Williams's
work as attempt at rationalizing the 'surface effects'
mentioned by Chomsky (cf. the SS, FS and AS RT-levels), and
to assimilate his QS with that part of LF that actually
deals with scope. However, since he also has defined other
levels before SS/SpellOut, and since he considers that the
RT-levels are not related by movement, but by (mis)matching
or (mis)representation (whereas movement is level-internal),
the book definitely represents a real alternative to
Minimalist derivations -- the more so as it predicts that
Wh-movement determines nesting dependencies, whereas (his
account of) scrambling (which, recall, includes secondary
Wh-P movement) creates "(the appearance of) intersecting
dependencies", and as reconstruction may only be defined
for the relations created by movement or by those -- earlier
-- relations "misrepresented" in the scrambling cases.
Chomsky, N. 1981. Lectures on Government and Binding.
Chomsky, N. 1995. The Minimalist Program. Cambridge
(Mass.), MIT Press.
Cinque, G. 1998. Adverbs and Functional Heads. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Elordieta, A. 2002. 'On the (im)possibility of prosodic
focus marking in embedded contexts in Northern Bizkaian
Basque.' In X. Artiagoitia, P. Goenaga and J. A. Lakarra
(eds.), Erramu boneta: Festschrift for Rudolf P. G. de
Rijk (Bilbao, Universidad del Pais Vasco), 153-177.
Hualde, J. I., G. Elordieta, and A. Elordieta. 1994. The
Basque Dialect of Lekeitio. San Sebastian: ASJU
Kayne, R. 1980. 'Extensions of Binding and Case-Marking.'
Linguistic Inquiry 11, 75-96.
Radford, A. 1988. Transformational Grammar. Cambridge:
Cambridge University press.
Richards, N. 2001. Movement in Language. Interactions and
Architectures. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Williams, E. 1997. 'Blocking and Anaphora.' Linguistic
Inquiry 28, 577-628.
| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Georges Rebuschi is professor of general linguistics at the Sorbonne Nouvelle. His main interests are syntactic parametrization, and the syntax/semantics interface. He published a collection devoted to Basque linguistics in 1997, and co-edited a book on the Grammar of focus in 1999. He is currently working on the syntactic typology, and correlated variable semantics, of left-dislocated (or left- hanging), free relative clauses.