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Review of  Core Syntax

Reviewer: Jonathan White
Book Title: Core Syntax
Book Author: David Adger
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Syntax
Issue Number: 14.3181

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Adger, David (2003) Core Syntax: A Minimalist Approach, Oxford
University Press.

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Jonathan White, Högskolan Dalarna, Sweden


Chapter 1: Core Concepts

The first chapter introduces the reader to the study of syntax, and to
the idea that linguistic knowledge is fundamentally different from
other types of knowledge. The difference between acceptability and
grammaticality is covered. Then Adger moves on to look at what a
theory of syntax should involve. Different levels of adequacy are
covered. Theory should account for structural facts like recursion,
the problem of language acquisition (the poverty of the stimulus
argument), and also language variation.

Chapter 2: Morphosyntactic Features

Adger turns now to different kinds of features that are relevant to
syntax. Features may have an effect on the morphological form of words
(although this is not necessarily the case), and also on
semantics. The latter is a core distinction in Minimalist syntax
between interpretable and uninterpretable features. Adger than
presents a basic inventory of such features, including categorial
features, and also semantic and phonological features. Case and
agreement features finish off the chapter.

Chapter 3: Constituency and Theta Roles

The third chapter starts dealing with phrase structure. Constituency
tests are presented, illustrating the notion of phrase. How trees are
put together by means of the Merge operation comes next. Merge is
argued to use the properties of heads to generate binary branching
trees. The issue of the labelling of nodes (a central problem in
Chomsky 1993 and later work) is dealt with as well. Selectional
properties of predicates, both semantic and categorial (s-selection
and c-selection features), are discussed, and also how they are
satisfied through feature checking.

Chapter 4: Representing Phrase Structure

Different phrase structure relations between elements are covered in
this chapter. Basic relations such as complement, specifier and
adjunct are introduced, as is their implementation in phrase
structure. A variety of problematic cases are discussed, such as the
structure of the Verb Phrase for ditransitive and causative
verbs. Tests for c-command are introduced and used to decide on
structures. Adger follows Chomsky (1993) in proposing shell structures
which contain a light verb. Related problems such as verb raising and
the representation of one-place predicates are discussed as well.

Chapter 5: Functional Categories I - TP

The first functional category, Tense (T), is introduced. The idea of
having T as the head of the clause is discussed including the place of
auxiliary verbs in this system. Agreement between the verb and subject
as a sister-hood relation is introduced. Variation between languages
in terms of verb position is explained in terms of strong and weak
features. Finally, do-support in English is dealt with.

Chapter 6: Subjects and Objects

This chapter turns to the VP-internal subject hypothesis. Evidence for
this is presented, and using Case and the Extended Projection
Principle (EPP) as triggers for movement of the subject. Movement of
the object to vP for Case checking is also presented. Finally,
movement of the subject from a complement position in cases such as
passives and unaccusatives is discussed.

Chapter 7: Functional Categories II - the DP

The idea that the nominal phrase and clause can be seen as similar
syntactic entities is the subject of the next chapter. The idea of the
determiner as the head of the NP is presented (stemming from Abney
1987). Problematic cases like bare nouns, possessives and mass nouns
are dealt with. The internal structure of the DP is looked at
next. The structure is argued to parallel that of the VP, with a
little n projection proposed. Finally the place of modifiers of nouns
is discussed.

Chapter 8: Functional Categories III - CP

The fact that clause mood is located in a final functional category,
CP, is the focus of this chapter. The structure of questions in
English is dealt with. Differences between finite and non-finite
clauses are presented, and also structural differences between control
and raising constructions. Finally, verb second languages are
discussed, including the idea that the verb in such languages is
located in C in overt syntax.

Chapter 9: Wh-movement

What wh-expressions are and their interpretation are the first topics
in the penultimate chapter. Feature checking and its application to
wh-movement are the next issue. What happens with the movement of
subjects, where no movement can be discerned, is dealt with next. The
successive cyclicity property, where wh- movement must move through
each intermediate specifier of CP position, is next. Wh-in-situ,
superiority effects and cross- linguistic variation within wh-movement
are the final topics.

Chapter 10: Locality

The final chapter deals with Locality of movement. Evidence for
successive cyclic wh-movement is presented, and how it is ensured
through feature checking. Finally the different island types are
presented and explained through Chomsky's (2000, 2001) notion of


This book is intended as an introduction to three things. Firstly, the
fact that syntax should be carried out using a consistent set of
theoretical assumptions. Secondly, as the title says, 'core' areas of
syntax are covered. Finally, the methodology of theory formation is
emphasised as well. Overall I would say that the book has accomplished
these aims admirably. I have found this to be an excellent
introduction to Minimalist syntax, and to syntactic theorising in
general. All the ideas are presented clearly. Something I found
particularly good was the way examples are worked through in detail,
with each instance of feature checking specified. Also, the exercises
were well presented, with some particularly difficult areas such as
binding dealt with clearly. The only minor downside I would identify
is that there is no real comparison with Principle and parameters
theory. This will mean that students who have learnt such an approach
before starting with this book will have to find out for themselves,
or with the help of a teacher, what the major differences are. Taken
on its own, though, this is a high quality textbook, which I would
certainly recommend.


Abney, Stephen (1987) The English Noun Phrase in its sentential
aspect. PhD thesis, MIT.

Chomsky, Noam (1993) A minimalist program for linguistic theory. In
_The view from Building 20_. Hale and Keyser (eds.). Cambridge, Mass.:
MIT Press. 1-52.

Chomsky, Noam (2000) Minimalist inquiries: the framework. In _Step by
step: Essays in minimalist syntax in honor of Howard Lasnik_. Martin,
Micheals and Uriagereka (eds.). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 89-155.

Chomsky, Noam (2001) Derivation by phase. In _Ken Hale: A life in
language_. Kenstowicz (ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 1-52.
The reviewer's research interests include Phrase structure, syntax
and semantics of adverbials, interfaces between syntax and
semantics and between syntax and morphology.