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Review of  Subjects, Expletives, and the EPP

Reviewer: Phoevos E. Panagiotidis
Book Title: Subjects, Expletives, and the EPP
Book Author: Peter Svenonius
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Issue Number: 15.297

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Date: Sun, 25 Jan 2004 10:38:33 +0200
From: Phoevos Panagiotidis
Subject: Subjects, Expletives, and the EPP

Svenonius, Peter, ed. (2002) Subjects, Expletives, and the EPP,
Oxford University Press, Oxford Studies in Comparative Syntax.

Phoevos Panagiotidis, Cyprus College


This book is a collection of seven original contributions
(plus an introduction by the editor) targeting graduate
students of linguistics as well as professional
syntacticians and semanticists. The eight chapters are as
follows (contributors in parentheses): Introduction (P.
Svenonius), The 'Que/Qui' Alternation and the Distribution
of Expletives (K. T. Taraldsen), Icelandic Expletive
Constructions and the Distribution of Subject Types
(O. Vangsnes), Expletives, Subjects, and Topics in Finnish
(A. Holmberg & U. Nikanne), The EPP in a Topic-Prominent
Language (K. ��. Kiss), The Extended Projection Principle as
a Condition on the Tense Dependency (I. Roberts & A.
Roussou), Parameters of Subject Inflection in Italian
Dialects (M. R. Manzini & L. Savoia), Subject Positions and
the Placement of Adverbials (P. Svenonius).

The Introduction (Svenonius) looks at the issues pertaining
to the notion of "subject" and its multi-faceted character;
it then turns to the existence of expletive subjects,
popularised through the study of English 'there' and 'it'
in generative grammar; it continues with a discussion of
the status of the Extended Projection Principle (EPP),
namely the requirement that all clauses have a subject. A
presentation of the individual papers in the volume
concludes the chapter.

Taraldsen's "The 'Que/Qui' Alternation and the
Distribution of Expletives" compares French with Vallader
(a Rhaeto-Romance variety) and suggests that the 'que/qui'
alternation (see (1) below) in the former boils down to the
presence versus absence of an expletive subject 'i', also
manifested as 'ti' in Colloquial French in cases like the
one in (2):

(1) Quel livre crois-tu que /*qui les filles vont acheter?
which book think-you that the girls will buy?

Quelles filles crois-tu *que /qui vont acheter ce livre-l��?
which girls think-you that will buy that book-there?

(2) Pourquoi tu dois-ti partir?
why you must-TI leave?

By looking into the distribution of '(t)i', Taraldsen
concludes that it is a numberless, genderless expletive,
hence a "pure expletive" like English 'there'. This last
postulation is examined in the face of French Stylistic
Inversion, where '(t)i' does not show up attached on 'que'.

Vangsnes' chapter looks into Icelandic Transitive Expletive
Constructions, such as the sentence in (3) below:

(3) ��a�� hefur (einhver k��ttur) veri�� (einhver k��ttur) �� eldh��sinu
there has (some cat) been (some cat) in kitchen.the
"There has been some cat in the kitchen."

The expression "some cat", called the associate, can appear
either in an "intermediate" position between the auxiliary
'has' and the verb, or in a "postverbal" position,
following both. Vangsnes examines in detail the type of
associates that can appear in each position. He establishes
that, in Icelandic Transitive Expletive Constructions,
partitive and universally quantified expressions only
appear in the intermediate position, identified as the
specifier of the Tense Phrase (SpecTP), whereas non-
quantificational bare indefinites obligatorily occupy the
postverbal position. Indefinites, such as "some cat" in
(3), can appear in either position, despite displaying
"Diesing effects": when in the intermediate position, they
receive a presupposition reading. Vangsnes goes on to
account for the facts by capitalising on (a) de Hoop's
(1996) notion of strong and weak Case: Tense can license
strong Case, hence taking quantified expressions in its
specifier; (b) a distinction between "lexical" and
"agreement" features, as well as the need for functional
categories to be identified: this is why the expletive
'��a��', conceived as deictic, appears in the specifier of
the highest Agreement Projection (AgrP).

Holmberg and Nikanne explore subjecthood in Finnish, a
language that can front subjects as well as objects.
Moreover, Finnish permits expletives as well as Transitive
Expletive Constructions. What Holmberg and Nikanne argue
for is that in Finnish the presupposed argument, the topic
(which is marked with a [-focus] feature), must be
externalised and move to the specifier of a Finiteness
Phrase (SpecFP), no matter whether it is a subject or an
object. Finiteness is taken to subsume the category
Agreement and differences between fronted subjects and
fronted objects are claimed to boil down to the fact that
Agreement is inherently nominative. Finally, the chapter
shows that the Finnish expletive subject 'sita' also
occupies the SpecFP position.

In a similar vein, E. Kiss draws on evidence primarily from
Hungarian to reformulate EPP along the following
principles (her (30), (31) and (40)):

(4) Statements express predication, or quantification, or both.
(5) A sentence expressing predication must contain a topic.
(6) Of the arguments of a predicate, one must be marked
as a subject.

Fronted arguments occupy the specifier of a Topic Phrase
(SpecTopP). English observes (6) in the form of the subject
moving to SpecTP, which then moves to SpecTopP abiding by
(5), whereas Hungarian does so by marking an argument as
subject in the lexicon. Because SpecTP is irrelevant in
Hungarian, the language lacks grammatical function changing
operations, such as passivisation, 'tough'-movement,
syntactic secondary predication and syntactic middles.

Roberts and Roussou propose a unification of the EPP with
the typically Germanic Verb-Second (V2) property. In their
chapter they advance a proposal whereby Complementiser and
Tense constitute a dependency from which the time of the
event the clause denotes is defined. In this dependency,
functional heads must be identified (by phonological
material, whether a phrase or a head). Roughly, if this
head is Tense, then we derive a condition such as the EPP
in both null and non-null subject languages; if this head
is C, then V2 is also derived. As far as V2 is concerned,
Roberts and Roussou argue against the relevance of topic
features being checked at C and propose that, while the
verb is in C to identify the C-T dependency, a full phrase
is also needed in V2 environments in order to type the
clause as a declarative, in the absence of any "rich"
content of C.

Manzini and Savoia use evidence from Italian dialects to
illustrate the need for multiple Agreement projections, as
well as the need to eliminate pro and A-movement, in favour
of the movement of aspectual / thematic features from the
verbal domain to base-generated subjects (and other
arguments) higher up in the clause, or to the heads they
are attached to. Furthermore, expletive-associate and
doubling constructions are unified as instances of movement
of aspectual / thematic features; non-agreeing or partly
agreeing associates are subsequently explored in the light
of the above hypotheses. Interestingly, the chapter does
not restrict itself to describing Italian dialects but
moves on to hypothesise universal characteristics of
subjects and expletive-associate configurations, providing
evidence for a microparametric conception of syntactic

The last chapter, by the editor himself, is roughly divided
in two parts. In the first one, the question of the
position of adverbs is discussed. The author argues against
the influential model of Cinque (1999), where each adverb
is in the specifier of a dedicated functional head. He
argues instead that ordering restrictions between subjects
and adverbs in Scandinavian and Italian can be better
explained if adverbs are adjuncts with their relative
orderings constrained by semantics. In the second part,
Svenonius looks into subject positions in Germanic. After
reviewing the different behaviour of the high position (the
specifier of AgrP, SpecAgrP) and the lower one (SpecTP) in
Germanic varieties, he analyses the observed variation
along the following lines: the highest specifiers in V2
constructions preferentially host shift topics; the lower
SpecAgrP hosts continuous topics and the lowest SpecTP
practically everything else. Now, languages like Danish and
English mark all their subjects as topics by default, hence
they all land in SpecAgrP, in Swedish only non-focused
subjects are marked as topics (hence focused Swedish
subjects remain in SpecTP), German and Norwegian only mark
real continued topics as such, shift topics move higher and
everything else remains in SpecTP.


The issues this volume is dealing with have received a
great deal of attention and have raised considerable
controversy over the last twenty years. One then has to
immediately grant that putting together a volume dealing
with the life of (obligatory) subjects, their position(s)
and the nature and behaviour of expletives can be neither
conclusive nor, certainly, exhaustive. That much becomes
evident from the Introduction Svenonius has written for the
volume. The Introduction is an outstandingly clear and
succinctly informative review on what subjects are (not):
topics, nominative phrases and/or thematically prominent
arguments. Similar praise must go to the rest of the
Introduction, where expletives and EPP are briefly but
solidly introduced. Before moving on, it should be noted
that this introductory chapter makes a more than adequate
summary of the related issues, well beyond the scope of the
volume, as well, and it would also make a good preparatory
text to give to advanced undergraduates.

Before proceeding to assess chapters individually, I would
like to raise issues pertaining to the editing of the
volume. Researchers and scholars are not editors and should
not be expected to substitute for them: it is not only a
matter of time or workload but also, simply, of training.
Nevertheless, even international publishers such as Oxford
University Press, who publish this volume, assume that, at
least in our field, we can also act as unassisted editors --
and save them money (although, thankfully, editors are
still used for their journals). This certainly creates
problems and slows jointly authored volume projects down.
Some of the errors in the volume, and I am not even an
editor, include: Elena Anagnostopoulou's surname misspelled
(as "Anagnastopoulou") on pp. 11, 12, 44 and 58; "examing"
instead of "examining" on p. 17; references to examples (5)
and (6) appearing as (6) and (7) on p. 109 and Bobaljik &
Thrainsson (1998) referenced as a (1997) manuscript on
p.239. Publishers of joint volumes should put the hand deep
in their pockets and reconsider. To the chapters, now.

Taraldsen's chapter is dealing with a very specific issue,
the nature of the 'que/qui' alteration and its relation to
French Stylistic Inversion. The discussion is too condensed
and would have definitely benefited from some unpacking, as
sometimes the text verges on obscurity. For instance, on p.
37 the functional head F is introduced, along with a
functional head F' (which further down is identified with a
head X: F' does not stand for an intermediate projection).
Towards the end of the same page we read: "a finite clause
contains two functional heads, I and F, associated with EPP
features [��^����] Similarly, two distinct functional heads, I
and X, carry number features." On the next page we learn
that X (i.e. F') can be identified with AgrO but no
indication of the identity of F is given. This and similar
problems in presentation make the argument very tricky to

In Vangsnes' chapter we are presented across eleven pages
(pp. 43-54) with a detailed description of the two
positions an associate can occupy in Icelandic Transitive
Expletive Constructions, as well as with the
characteristics of each position. The exposition is clear
and, in parts, very useful (e.g. the table on p. 52). One
reservation here would perhaps be that such a detailed
descriptive presentation would be more in place in a
handbook rather than a collection of primary research
papers, as this volume is. The analysis builds on Case (see
above) but the discussion tends to be very telegraphic in
parts, such as the point on p. 56, where the relation
between tense and subjective Case is (too briefly)
presented, or the original distinction on p. 61 between
lexical and agreement features, where the two classes are
not adequately defined: this mars the clarity of the
analysis on pp. 61-64. While on the issue, this very
distinction itself appears to be problematic: a) It is not
clear why [Case], [deixis], and [tense] are lexical
features whereas [person] and [number] are agreement
features (p. 61). For instance, on what grounds is [deixis]
taken to be a lexical feature and [person] an agreement
one? There is actually research that the two belong to the
same (class of) feature: Bloomfield (1938: 225-6), Ritter
(1995: 421), Panagiotidis (2002: 29) etc. consider also the
well-known fact that demonstrative systems tend to "shadow"
the tripartition between "speaker", "addressee" and
"other"; b) there is nothing by way of explanation of why
[Case], [deixis], and [person] are all significant in
identifying the Complementiser field, and no reference is
provided either. As a consequence, the linking of these
hypotheses to the distinction between strong and weak Case
as well as the relevance of topic-hood (cf. p.62) are left
dangling. Leaving these points behind, a more general
observation here would be that the paper is lucid and
informative in its descriptive part but tends to become
impenetrable and contorted in parts of its analysis.

Holmberg and Nikanne present their case with clarity and
precision. The chapter contains a brief yet informative
introduction to the relevant aspects of Finnish syntax; the
authors also provide us with their assumed basic clause
structure for the language in the form of a tree-diagram,
which is a most welcome aid. Their claim that SpecFP is the
landing site for any [-Focus] argument is supported via a
detailed survey of the relevant structures; if the chapter
stopped here, we would be left with the conclusion that
Finnish is a topic-prominent language. Nevertheless, their
section 5 (pp. 86-9) truly deepens their analysis as it
contrasts the interaction between the above property with
the inherently nominative specification of F/Agr, hence
deriving the intriguing fact that fronted objects behave as
if they head a quasi-A' chain. The treatment of the Finnish
expletive and that of Finnish Transitive Expletive
Constructions are also enlightening. One objection must
nevertheless be made before closing this short evaluation
of Holmberg and Nikanne's chapter: it should have featured
a conclusion rounding up the discussion and tying the
various threads together, for instance the analysis of
Transitive Expletive Constructions with that on "weather"
subjects in Finnish.

��. Kiss puts forward a recasting of the EPP along the lines
of (4), (5) and (6) above, reducing it to semantic
restrictions on predication. The argumentation is coherent
and the ensuing proposal is certainly interesting. Of
course this is done at a cost: in eventive sentences such
as (7) below (example (18c) in the chapter), we are forced
to postulate an empty event argument as the filler of

(7) [VP Meghivta Janos Marit vacsorara]
invited Janos.NOM Mary.ACC for.dinner

While there is considerable support for event arguments,
especially in the more semantically-minded part of
syntactic literature, the question here is whether there is
any independent (cross-linguistic) evidence for it; in
other words, are there any overt event arguments (cross-
linguistically)? This question is important when
foregrounded against the discussion of English expletives
'there' and 'it': the former is understood in this chapter
to be an element that turns the verb of the clause into an
existential quantifier, hence a restrictor, that becomes
visible purely for Case reasons, hence it is not a "pure
expletive"; the latter is seen as forming a discontinuous
unit with the clause, in cases such as the following:

(8) It is believed / obvious [that ...]

No mention of the weather function of 'it' is made ('It is
snowing'). In other words, the analysis works at the cost
of a null eventive argument and reinterpreting the role of
English expletive subjects, which are the best-studied
ones. More generally, it remains for the theory ��. Kiss
puts forward in this chapter to be tested against a larger
number of languages, other than English and Hungarian,
where it is not clear that topic-prominence entails the
absence of TP, as is claimed to be the case in Hungarian
(see above in the "Description" section): Finnish, as
analysed by Holmberg & Nikanne, or Greek (which appears to
be midway between English and Hungarian) would be some of
the more accessible candidates for testing.

Roberts & Roussou present a very dense and very rich
chapter that is nevertheless reader-friendly, as it
contains a number of summaries and mnemonic aids such as
the spelling out of the main hypotheses and generalisations
as numbered items. The hypothesis itself is very
intriguing: instead of the interaction between
interpretable and uninterpretable features, grammatical
operations are taken to be driven by the need of features
and bundles thereof (i.e. functional heads) to be made
visible / identified. Roberts and Roussou look into the
nature of the Complementiser (field) in some detail, which
is certainly something that helps lend considerable
credibility to their account; moreover, their criticism of
"Topic-Criterion" style analyses for V2 strikes a chord
with work asserting the non-quantificational character of
topic, such as Rizzi (1997), for instance. Because they
analyse the fronted phrase in V2 as identifying the default
declarative function of C, they can accommodate otherwise
awkward cases of German V1 (p.139), like 'yes/no' questions
and conditionals. Their brief excursus into Celtic remains
to be expanded elsewhere.

Manzini & Savoia survey a large number of Italian dialects,
which display a considerable degree of variation, in order
to advance their hypothesis on the number and the nature of
the four "Agreement" projections where subject clitics and
full subjects attach: Determiner, Number, Nominal and
Person. Building on their previous work, they elaborate on
their elimination of 'pro' and its paradoxical need for
syntactic licensing and identification conditions because
of its PF status; this is indeed a most welcome step. On
pp.167-170 they argue that in null subject languages
preverbal lexical subjects are not really subjects but
topics, whereas post-verbal subjects are foci. Although
there is a problem with the second part of this hypothesis
for null subject languages beyond Italian, I will restrict
myself to pointing out that an analysis of preverbal
subjects as topics in null subject languages typically
encounters problems with Exceptional Case Marking, for
instance in Greek where preverbal subjects can be
exceptionally assigned accusative from the higher verb,
something very odd if they are pure topics in A' positions:

(9) Idha ton Petro na akui musiki
saw.1st the.ACC Peter.ACC SUBJUN listen.3rd music
"I saw Peter listen to music."

Manzini and Savoia's postulation of four positions
available for subject clitics is convincingly presented,
although the exact characterisation of Nominal and Person
is certainly going to benefit from further research.

The final chapter by Svenonius himself does an excellent
job refuting Cinque's account of the positioning of
adverbs. He is right in showing that, given that subjects
can surface between almost any two higher adverbs, the
number of optional subject positions is multiplied beyond
necessity (twenty in Norwegian, fifteen in Italian: p.208);
the following Norwegian example (his (15)) partly
illustrates this state of affairs:

(10) at tydeligvis (Per) ikke (Per) lenger (Per) bestandig (Per) vinner
that evidently Per not Per anymore Per always Per wins
"that evidently Per not anymore always wins."

He defends the adjunction analysis, coupling it with
semantic restrictions on the co-occurrence of certain
adverbs. Nevertheless, this is not the topic of the volume
in question. That is why he goes on to survey Germanic
subjects (see the "Description" section above). However,
when it is time, in section 5, to bring these two threads
together, the result is nowhere as clear as the discussion
on the adjunction site of adverbs. The fact that he invokes
checking of topic features as one of the mechanisms at play
and that he in effect collapses a Topic projection with
Agreement (only to return to a unitary head Inflection on
p.233) certainly does not improve matters. This chapter
does make it clear that the proposals in Bobaljik & Jonas
(1996) and Bobaljik & Thrainsson (1998) regarding the
number of inflectional heads in Germanic varieties are
maybe too coarse-grained and do not properly account for
the interaction between subjects and adverbs in a clear
way. At the same time, Svenonius' counter-proposal is not
always clear and, in the case of topic-hood, probably not
fully on the right track.

Finishing the volume I was left with the feeling that the
contributions, although interesting in their majority, were
not always one hundred percent in concord with the subject
of "Subjects, Expletives, and the EPP". In other words, the
scope of the title (as well as the Introduction) turned out
to be much wider than that of the chapters: their number is
too small, some of them deal with details not necessarily
contributing to our understanding of the broader picture,
the comparative-typological side of the individual chapters
tends to remain underdeveloped. In other words, the end
result gives the impression of an uneven collection of
contributions, as far as their presentation, scope and
rigour are concerned.


I wish to warmly thank Kleanthes K. Grohmann and Stavroula
Tsiplakou for discussing this review with me. The usual
disclaimers apply.


Bloomfield, Leonard 1938. 'Language'. London: Allen & Unwin.

Bobaljik, Jonathan & Jonas, Diane. 1996 Subject positions
and the roles of TP. 'Linguistic Inquiry' 27: 195-236

Bobaljik, Jonathan & Thrainsson, Hoskuldur 1998. Two heads
aren't always better than one. 'Syntax' 1: 37-71

Cinque, Guglielmo 1999. 'Adverbs and functional heads'.
Oxford: OUP

Hoop, Helen de 1996. 'Case Configuration and Noun Phrase
Interpretation'. New York: Garland

Panagiotidis, Phoevos 2002. 'Pronouns, Clitics and Empty
Nouns'. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Ritter, Elizabeth 1995. On the syntactic category of
pronouns and agreement. 'Natural Language and Linguistic
Theory' 13: 405-443

Rizzi, Luigi 1997. The fine structure of the left
periphery. In: Haegeman, Liliane (ed.) 'Elements of
Grammar'. Dordrecht: Kluwer. 281-337

Phoevos Panagiotidis is an Assistant Professor of
Linguistics in Cyprus College, Cyprus. He is the author of
the monograph titled "Pronouns, Clitics and Empty Nouns"
(2002: Benjamins). He has also published articles in
international journals (Lingua, NLLT, Linguistic Inquiry)
and jointly authored volumes on pronouns, properties of
Determiner Phrases and the status of arguments in null
subject languages. Besides the above, his research
interests include the nature of grammatical categories,
language acquisition and breakdown, as well as the
structure of English, Greek and the languages of the Balkan