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Review of  Nonfinite Structures in Theory and Change

Reviewer: Gülşat Aygen
Book Title: Nonfinite Structures in Theory and Change
Book Author: Gary D. Miller
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Anthropological Linguistics
Issue Number: 14.2489

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Date: 03 Sep 2003 10:51:54 PDT
From: Gulsat Aygen
Subject: Nonfinite Structures in Theory and Change

Miller, Gary D. (2002) Nonfinite Structures in Theory and Change,
Oxford University Press.

Gulsat Aygen, Department of Linguistics, Reed College.


Nonfinite constructions have been studied as a means to understand
finiteness and clausal architecture in syntactic theory. Conjugated
Infinitives (a.k.a. Inflected Infinitives), observed initially in
Portuguese, Italian, Hungarian (Rouveret 1980, Raposo 1987) have been
one of the major motivations for including agreement features in
syntactic theory (Chomsky 1986). Until recently, our definition of
"finiteness" has been shaped by evidence indicating certain syntactic
domains with constraints on extraction, and the presence of nominative
subject. Finiteness and nominative case licensing have been accounted
for by the presence tense and/or agreement features within a clause
(Rouveret 1980, George and Kornfilt 1984, Raposo 1989, and Chomsky 1986
among others). The book under review is a solid research substantiating
this line of research, accounting for the evolution of nonfinite
constructions from finite constructions within a feature based
analysis. The analysis follows the [+/-Tense] and [+/-Agreement] line
of research and is supported by empirical evidence from both synchronic
and diachronic analysis of these constructions in Indo-European
languages. The novel analysis of prototypical infinitives as belonging
to a mood category is one of the major contributions of this book. The
theoretical framework adopted is the theory of case as developed by
Schutze (1997) with modifications to account for Accusative/Nominative
case checking on subjects of nonfinite constructions. The book is an
invaluable contribution to both syntactic theoreticians and historical


The term nonfinite is used with reference to prototypical infinitives,
gerundials and participles that have no subject person agreement.
Miller argues that these structures belong to a mood category because
it is in complementary distribution with other formal moods and co-
occurs with modal adverbs. The prototypical infinitive is observed to
have five properties:
1. mood category membership
2. complementary with other moods
3. licensing of modal adverbs
4. licensing of control
5. a [+/- N] feature

In terms of diachronic change in nonfinite structures, Miller argues
that the most basic type of structurally or functionally motivated
change is reanalysis, and assumes three classes of syntactic change
(following Willis 1998):
1. performance changes, i.e. increased frequency
2. parametric change
3. non-parametric change

Chapter 1 presents the assumptions underlying the analysis and some
working hypotheses about the nature of case and agreement. Schutze
(1997)'s Accord and Spec/Head Case checking mechanism is adopted: The
phi features and case features are checked locally against the features
of a predicate-related head. Both sets of features must be checked at
once. Infinitival constructions that can check Nominative in Latin are

Chapter 2 focuses on nonfinite tense and argues that 'to' and '-ing' in
English have equivalent event structures. English infinitives
correspond to irrealis and prospective contexts whereas gerundials
correspond to factive and completive structures. Reflective verbs
(epistemic, declarative, factive) require complements with independent
tense. A syntactically interesting note in this chapter regards Ancient
Greek infinitive complements: as tense-aspect marked complements of
reflective verbs, infinitives have an independent temporal
interpretation, whereas as complements of other predicates they are

In Chapter 3, Miller follows Landau (1999) in distinguishing partial
and exhaustive obligatory control, and discusses theories of control
based on the following:
1. binding relation between external argument and infinitive marker
2. movement and trace
3. feature attraction
4. lack of embedded subject position
This chapter is an attempt to account for diverse empirical facts from
Portuguese, Welsh, Hungarian and West Greenlandic. In the languages
studied, PRO is not licensed in subjunctive and other complement
clauses. PRO is licensed by the type of mood and/or lack of agreement.
The argument is that PRO and lexical subjects are not in complementary
distribution, and that it can receive/check any case since it has no
specified phi or case features.

Chapter 4 includes a discussion of conjugated and non-conjugated
infinitives in Portuguese, Hungarian and Welsh. Miller proposes that
languages have two types of infinitives: clauses with inherent phi
features allow lexical or pro subjects and yield to conjugated
infinitives; clauses with no inherent phi features allow PRO and trace
in the subject position that yield to non-conjugated infinitives. A
striking example is Welsh where previously nonfinite clauses without
tense or agreement are reanalyzed as finite (pp. 90-3).
The Greek construction which cooccurs with the particle na and is
obligatorily inflected for person an number agreement is analyzed as an
infinitival based on the evidence that standard weak crossover tests
indicate that the subject can be PRO and the embedded clauses can be
selected by a determiner. Miller argues that neither of these
properties is characteristic of subjunctives.

Chapter 5 includes the properties of two non-matrix mood formatives in
West Greenlandic where Case is argued to be compatible with PRO
subjects. Lexical and pro subjects require the presence of agreement
morphology. Miller shows that assignments of non-structural case to the
clause can block the checking of structural case inherently.

Chapter 6 argues that one core type of SC is ­verb/-tense in French,
Portuguese and English. The presence of subject-predicate geometry is
the justification of its clausal nature. The contrast between English
and French in terms of reflective verb infinitival complements is
accounted for the a ]+Accord] in French that allows Nominative case
checking within the lower clause, and the [- Accord] in English, that
requires the subject to check its Accusative case in the higher clause.

Chapter 7 argues that ECM constructions is an innovation in Old English
(like French and Dutch) in disallowing ECM by requiring reflective verb
infinitive complements to be [+Accord]. Miller argues that the [-
Accord] setting was reinforced by new causatives that were reanalyzed
from object control verbs.

Chapter 8 is a historical overview of English infinitive structures.
Infinitive 'to' is argued to belong to a category M (infinitival
marker) and is predicted to be different from "for". for NPs are argued
to be reanalyzed as to INFs.

Chapter 9 discusses the properties of "-ing" and t-less infinitives.
Miller proposes that the only difference between a participle relative
and a perception verb complement in English is that participle relative
adjoins to D/NP, whereas, a perception verb complement is selected.

Chapter 10 develops a theory of English gerundials and argues that "-
ing' is underspecified for feature [N]; when it is positive, DP becomes
a poss-ing construction. Chapter 11 presents a historical account of
the English gerund. Chapter 12is significant in that it accounts for
the spread of English from nominal to clausal categories. The idea of
the morpho-supercategory is presented.


Miller (2002) argues that clauses with inherent phi features yield
conjugated infinitives and that clauses that lack phi features yield
prototypical infinitives. He proposes that a mood category is crucial
to the analysis of infinitives. His empirical evidence is based on both
synchronic and diachronic data from Indo-European languages.


This book presents a thorough, interesting, and informative work from a
novel perspective. It presents an encompassing study of nonfinite
structures. From a syntactic point of view, it argues for a very
interesting account of inflected infinitives which I believe, deserves
to be followed up with further research on non-Indo-European languages.
The theoretical implications of this book provide a novel analysis of
Agreement as Mood. Miller (2002) provides a line of research on
finite/non-finite structures in terms of relevant features on the
relevant functional heads. Mood being involved in nominative case
licensing is a brand-new idea that could help us account for the
clausal architecture of non-tense/non-agreement structures in English
subjunctives as well as structures/languages with no overt tense and/or
agreement. This approach could also clear the view in syntactic studies
where mood and tense, modality, and tense are equated depending on the
properties of languages. The infamous Tense/Aspect/Modal (TAM) label
utilized for such ambiguities in studies on functional categories could
be re-studied for a better understanding of the clausal architecture
cross-linguistically. Although the analysis presented in the book is
consistent in terms of its framework, and valuable to readers working
on any framework, it could benefit from recent work in syntactic
theory, particularly Chomsky (2000) and Pesetsky and Torrego 2001 for
Nominative case analysis, Huang (1989) for the discussion of control
structures. I strongly recommend this book to linguists working on
subject-case licensing and finiteness as well as to those interested in
historical syntactic change in finite/non-finite constructions.


Aygen, Gulsat. 2002. Finiteness, Case and Clausal Architecture. Ph.D
Dissertation. Harvard University. Cambridge.

Chomsky, Noam. 2000. Phases. Cambridge: MIT Press.

George, L. and Jaklin Kornfilt. 1981. Finiteness and Boundedness in
Turkish. in Binding and Filtering, ed. Frank Heny, p 105-128. London:
Croomhelm Ltd.

Huang, C.-T. James. 1989. "Pro-drop in Chinese: a generalized control
theory" in Jaeggli O. and K. Safir (eds.) The Null Subject Parameter,
Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 185-214.

Pesetsky, David and Esther Torrego. 2001. Tense to C: Causes and
Consequences. In Ken Hale: A Life in Language. ed. Michael Kenstowicz,
MIT Press, 355-426.

Raposo, E. 1987. Case Theory and Infl-to-Comp: The Inflected Infinitive
in European Portuguese. LI 18, 85-109.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Gulsat Aygen did her undergraduate work at Bogazici University in Istanbul, Turkey, and received a PhD in linguistics from Harvard University. Her interests include syntax, syntax/semantics interface, clausal architecture of finite and nonfinite constructions, particularly Tense, Aspect, Mood and Modality in Turkic languages. She is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at Reed College.