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Review of  Word Order and Scrambling

Reviewer: Mohammad Rasekh Mahand
Book Title: Word Order and Scrambling
Book Author: Simin Karimi
Publisher: Wiley
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Issue Number: 15.282

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Karimi, Simin, ed. (2003) Word Order and Scrambling, Blackwell
Publishers, Explaining Linguistics 4.

Announced at

Mohammad Rasekh Mahand, Linguistics Department,
Bu-Ali Sina University, Hamadan, Iran.


The book under review introduces readers to recent research into the
linguistic phenomenon called scrambling, or free word order. Also it
explores major issues including factors responsible for word order
variations, how scrambled constructions are processed, and whether
variations are available in early child language development and in
second language acquisition. The book provides enlightening
information on different aspects of word order variation and the
consequences for our understanding of the nature of human
language. Simin Karimi is Associate Professor of Linguistics at the
Arizona University and on the editorial board of the journal
Linguistic Analysis. Her main interests are syntax and
syntax-semantics interface. Most of her writings are about Persian


Scrambling, or free word order, is the feature of some of the
languages. It was firstly believed to be a stylistic rule, and there
are two approaches in studying scrambling: base-generated or syntactic
movement. Different studies have indicated that the various sorts of
scrambling are the instances of A(rgument)-movement or A'(non-
argument)-movement. Optionality of scrambling, first advocated by many
linguists, has become a challenge for the Minimalist Approach (Chomsky
1995), a theory that allows syntactic movement only if they are
triggered by morphological factors. Some new solutions are proposed to
solve the optionality problem. In recent years, the main trends of
research in this area include the discourse effects of scrambling and
its relation to Topic/Focus, the semantic effects of scrambling, its
acquisition and the interaction between scrambling and prosody.

The book under review is the result of International Conference on
Word Order and Scrambling held on April 7-9, 2000, in Tucson, Arizona.

The first paper in this volume written by Kenneth Hale, Eloise
Jelinek, and Maryann Willie, entitled 'Topic and focus positions in
Navajo' addresses some problems in Navajo sentence structure and
argues that this language belongs to a parametric class of languages
that exhibits two features at spell-out: nominals and quantifiers are
in operator scope positions at spell-out; so, it is a Discourse
Configurational language, and it is a Pronominal Argument language; in
which these operators c-command and bind overt pronominal variables in
argument positions at spell-out. The writers have indicated that the
order of the nominal operators reflects Topic/Focus structure; while,
the pronouns are ordered according to their grammatical relations. It
is also argued that an Np in a left-peripheral position may be in the
Contrast operator position.

The second paper 'Argument scrambling, operator movement, and topic
movement in Hungarian', written by Katalin É. Kiss demonstrates the
different nature of free word order in three fields of Hungarian
sentence. It is shown that the word order of Hungarian in postverbal
position is affected specifying feature of arguments. The middle field
of the sentence consists of a strict hierarchy of an aspectual
operator, a focus, and distributive quantifiers. The topic field of
the Hungarian sentence harbors constructions which are not operators
but externalized arguments, functioning as the subjects of

The third is 'Grammatical relations in Tohono O'odham: an instrumental
perspective' written by Mizaki Miyashita, Richard Demers and Delbert
Oritz. Tohono O'odham is a pronominal argument language in which
pronominals are discourse variables and their positions in a sentence
is not the result of movement in the traditional sense. The primary
mechanism for interpreting ambiguous sentences in this language is the
features of discourse.

The fourth article is 'Bare nominals, non-specific and contrastive
readings under scrambling' written by Veneeta Dayal. It explores
empirical validity of the generalization that scrambling of
indefinites correlates with the loss of non-specific readings. It is
argued that if contrastive readings are non-specific, the
generalization has to be restated to prohibit non-specific indefinites
from scrambling without the additional support of contrast. It is also
suggested that leftward scrambling forms a Ground: link structure.

The fifth article is 'On object positions, specificity and scrambling
in Persian' by Simin Karimi, which examines the syntactic, semantic
and morphological asymmetries between specific and non-specific direct
objects in Persian. She proposes two object position hypothesis for
specific and non-specific objects in this language and explains why
scrambling applies freely to the specific objects but is restricted in
the case of non-specific ones. A third object position, created by
scrambling, is also proposed and it is argued that scrambling is
triggered by discourse features such as topic and contrastive focus.

'Scrambling, subscrambling and case in Turkish' is the sixth article,
written by Jakling Konflit. The paper tries to look at some new facts
about scrambling out of larger DP's, or subscrambling, and to use
Turkish facts to show that there is no specificity effect per se, as
an independent principle of grammar. The writer proposes that
incorporation can have different dimensions in different languages,
but in ways that should be limited. He believes that while certain
properties of incorporation could be observed in Turkish, but there
are some properties which are not found in this language, like changes
of thematic structure of the verb due to incorporation, and complete
morphological merge of the incorporated element into its host.

John Frederick Bailyn's article is 'Does Russian scrambling exist?' It
tries to argue against the necessity of positing a process of
scrambling in accounting for Russian free word order. Instead, he
argues that a subset of the relevant phenomena are related to a purely
syntactic process of inversion, a kind of raising to subject, and the
rest related to focus which is represented in a unique sub-component
of the interpretive interface. He concludes that A-scrambling is in
fact generalized inversion and A'-scrambling is dislocation, a
prosodic movement related to information structure.

'A-scrambling and options without optionality' is the next paper by
Shigeru Miyagawa. He tries to argue that A-scrambling of the object is
Extended Projection Principle (EPP)-driven, and is not an optional
movement. He argues that the situation in which a language allows an
option is optional. The independent properties essential for EPP-
scrambling are verb raising and the occurrence of morphological case

Helen de Hoop's 'Scrambling in Dutch: optionality and optimality' is
the next article. It gives an optimality theory (OT) analysis for
truly optional scrambling of definite objects in Dutch. He introduces
two constraints (1) stay: no scrambling and (2) surface correspondence
1 (SC1): definite NPs scramble. The data show that anaphoric definites
scramble in two-thirds of the cases, and anaphoric definites do not
scramble in one-third. Also, non-anaphoric definites scramble in 50
per cent of the cases, and non-anaphoric defenites do not scramble in
50 per cent of the cases. The analysis captures the general tendency
of anaphoric definites to scramble.

The tenth is 'Word order and (remnant) VP movement' by Anoop Mahajan.
He uses the antisymmetry approach to word order variations suggested
by Kayne and suggests a different way of implementing the SOV versus
SVO difference. He suggests that V-to-I movement should be eliminated
from the syntactic component. He argues that the OV versus VO
distinction may be triggered by the presence of a Determiner feature
(for objects) that forces the formation of a VP remnant in OV
languages leading to stranding of the object prior to VP-movement to

Vaijayanthi Sarma has written 'Non-canonical word order: topic and
focus in adult and child Tamil'. Tamil is also a scrambling language.
The writer has identified two extraction procedures, leftward and
rightward, which have the properties of movements to non-argument or
non-lexical positions. It is argued that scrambling in Tamil mimics
topicalization or clefting. It is shown that focusing strategies are
independent of the topicalization strategies. Children are aware of
the case restrictions on scrambling and use order shifts to signal
interpretive changes like adults.

The next paper is 'L2 acquisition of Japanese: knowledge and use of
case particles in SOV and OSV sentences' written by Noriko Iwasaki. It
is observed that, even if L2 learners had knowledge of scrambling,
they did not always accurately produce scrambled sentences. The gap
between L2 learner's knowledge and performance was not random
performance failure, instead it revealed that L2 Japanese speakers use
a canonical sentence template as a processing strategy.

'Scrambling and processing: dependencies, complexity and constraints'
is written by Irina Sekerina. The paper tries to study how scrambled
sentences are processed. The chapter tries to compare the sentence
processing experiments conducted in German, Japanese, Finnish, Serbo-
Croatian and Russian, and their implications for the linguistic and
psycholinguistic theories of scrambling are discussed.

The last article in this volume is 'WH-movement versus scrambling: the
brain makes a difference' by Angela D. Friederici, Matthias
Schlesewsky, and Christina J. Fiebach. In this paper two
constructions, WH-movement and scrambling in German, are
compared. They present a number of studies using event-related brain
potentials which show that WH-movement and scrambling elicit different
brain responses. Finally, it is concluded that scrambling in German
induces a local syntactic violation while WH-movement does not.


The volume under review consists of very well written papers on
scrambling in a variety of languages. The number of languages covered
in this study is considerable. Discussing scrambled structure from
semantic, syntactic, pragmatic and psycholinguistic views is something
novel and the book is a milestone from this perspective. The book
clearly shows the current status of scrambling studies and it also
highlights the main problems confronting linguists in studying

Mohammad Rasekh Mahand is Assistant Professor of Linguistics at Bu-Ali
Sina University, Hamadan, Iran. His research interests include syntax,
syntax-pragmatics interface and typology.