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Review of  Subordination

Reviewer: Szymon Slodowicz
Book Title: Subordination
Book Author: Sonia Cristofaro
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Typology
Issue Number: 15.682

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Date: Wed, 11 Feb 2004 14:11:29 +0100
From: Szymon Slodowicz
Subject: Subordination

AUTHOR: Cristofaro, Sonia
TITLE: Subordination
SERIES: Oxford Studies in Typology and Linguistic Theory
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2003

Szymon Slodowicz, Centre for General Linguistics, Typology and Universals
Research (ZAS), Germany.

The book presents a cross-linguistic analysis of subordination based on a
sample of 80 languages. The analysis comprises complement, adverbial and
relative relations. The main goal of the study is to present functional
correlations between different kinds of subordination relations and
individual morpho-syntactic phenomena used to encode them.

Chapter 1 Theoretical premises

Cristofaro's study of subordination is situated within the
typological-functional framework and differs form previous works on this
subject such as Noonan (1985) or Givón (1990), primarily in the strictly
functional definition of the subject of study. The term subordination is
used with regard to a particular way to construe the cognitive relation
between two events, such that one of them, (&) lacks an autonomous profile,
and is construed in the perspective of the other event. (p.2)
This functional definition allows for a comparison of a wider range of
languages and structures as it was possible with traditional methods.
The results the study are implicational hierarchies, primarily the
Subordination Deranking Hierarchy (SDH) which orders different
subordination relations with respect to the possibility of their use in a

Chapter 2 The Notion of Subordination

Cristofaro hopes to avoid the problems encountered by traditional
definitions of subordination by defining it in strictly functional terms.
Her definition does not refer to any formal properties of the subordinate
constructions but refers only to the function subordination fulfills in
communication. For the purpose of the investigation Cristofaro adopts the
proposal developed by Langacker (1997) in which subordinate sentences
designate multiple processes and the profile of one of them is overridden
by the other one. The State of Affairs (SoA) without a profile is not
asserted, a crucial diagnostic, for this definition of subordination.
Cristofaro claims that her definition is form-independent and can be
tested via language-independent assertion tests.

Chapter 3 The Coding of Subordination: Parameters for Cross-linguistic

The dependent clauses are compared to declarative clauses in isolation with
respect to the form of the verb and the way the participants are coded. The
variation in form is captured by the notions of balancing (the dependent
clause is encoded by the same means as the independent clause) and
deranking (the dependent clause is coded differently). The coding of TAM
distinctions, person agreement and coding of participants are covered by
these notions.

Chapter 4 The cross-linguistic Coding of Subordination: Methodological

The outcome of the analysis of subordination is presented in form of
quantified implicational generalizations. The implicational generalizations
used in the study are extended with existential and universal
quantifiers, in order to make predictions more precise. An implication is
regarded to be valid if the number of exceptional languages does not exceed
more than one third of the significant cases. The study uses a sample of 80
still spoken and extinct languages. The sample covers all phyla and all
language isolates. Languages within each phylum are chosen according to
the Diversity Value index, and according to the availability of sufficient

Chapter 5 Complement Relations

Cristofaro uses the classification of the complement taking predicates
(CTPs) suggested by Noonan (1985). These classes can be described according
to a number of parameters such as the level of clause structure at which
the relation is established, predetermination of semantic features of the
dependent SoA (such as for example TAM distinctions), and the degree of
semantic integration between the two SoAs. The preference of one of the
participants of the main SoA for the dependent SoA to come about is claimed
to be one further issue in the semantics of CTPs. The result of the analysis
of the verb form in complement relations is the Complement Deranking-
Argument Hierarchy (CDH):

(1) Modals, Phasals > Manipulative (make, order), Desiderative >
Perception > Knowledge,Propositional attitude, Utterance

According to (1), if a deranked form is used at any point on the hierarchy,
it is used at all points to the left. This hierarchy is also valid for
specific phenomena such as lack of TAM distinctions, use of non-verbal
morphology and non-realization of A and S arguments.

It is argued that this hierarchy results from the semantic properties of
the CTPs. The first argument in favour is that any information on the verb
denoting the dependent SoA may be missing as long as it can be recovered.
The recovery of the information is possible when the CTP predetermines it.
This would explain why verbs predetermining TAM values or identity of
participants of their complements rank higher than those that do not.
Further, verbs exhibiting a higher degree of semantic integration rank
higher than verbs with a lower degree. Thirdly, the preference for the SoA
to occur plays a role in the hierarchy too. CPTs in which one participant
shows preference for the dependent SoA to occur rank higher than the CPTs
in which no preference is present.

Chapter 6 Adverbial Relations

In this chapter Crisrofaro discusses different adverbial relations (AR)
(purpose, before, relation, after relation, when relation, reality
condition and reason relations). She defines AR as the case where the
dependent SoA describes the circumstances under which the main SoA takes
place. AR encode semantic properties different from those of the complements.
The analysis of the verb forms used in different ARs with respect to the
balancing/deranking distinction leads to The Adverbial Deranking Hierarchy

(2) purpose >before, after, when > reality condition, reason

Parameters marking the individual TAM distinctions and lack of person
agreement behave slightly differently. With respect to the use of special
forms of TAM and person agreement, no hierarchy can be established due to
scarcity of evidence but it seems that, when present, they do not violate
the ADH. The coding of participants in AR largely follows the NOM-ACC
pattern with S or A arguments not expressed and can be aligned as follows:

(3) purpose > before, after, when, reason, reality

The tendency not to express the participants is strongly preferred in
purpose relations. The coding of arguments as possessors is not a preferred

As with complement relations, the alignment of the relations on the
hierarchy is explained by the same factors (predetermination, semantic
integration etc.), however, some additional arguments are required too. For
example, all relations predetermining the time reference of the dependent
SoA outrank those relations which do not predetermine this parameter.
Relations involving semantic integration (purpose relations) of the two SoA
outrank relations not implying any integration (the rest of the AR). The
mood value and the preference of the participant for the dependent SoA to
be realized seem to play some role too.

The additional factor responsible for the alignment of the ARs is the
possibility for the dependent SoA to be encoded as an object (roughly
equivalent to Langacker's 'thing'). Relations allowing for the encoding
of the dependent SoA as an object should exhibit fewer of the verbal
properties. This expectation is in accordance with their position on the

Chapter 7 Relative Relations

In restrictive relative relations (RR) one participant of the main SoA is
identified and further specified by means of the dependent SoA. RRs bear
some similarities with the AR in that in neither case is the information
strictly required by the mains SoA, and the dependent SoA can be understood
as the property of some entity of the main SoA. R.r are still different
since they involve no semantic connection between the two SoA.

Description of RRs cannot rely on the parameters used for complement and
adverbial relations since all RRs behave uniformly with respect to these
parameters. Instead, following Keenan and Comrie's (1977) Accessibility
Hierarchy, the syntactic role of the relativized participant in the clause
coding the dependent SoA is applied. The result of the analysis of the verb
form is the Relative Deranking Hierarchy (RDH) accounting for the
balancing/deranking distribution and some individual parameters.

(4) A, S >O > IO > OBL

Lack of aspect and mood distinctions show a slightly different pattern

(5) A, S, O > IO, OBL

In the sample, the majority of languages follow the NOM-ACC pattern in
expressing the RRs however, some split alignments are attested. The shared
participants always refer to the relativized item.

The role of the relativized item is the most important factor in the
explanation of the hierarchies. If a deranked form is used in the
relativization of a less accessible role, it will also be used for all more
accessible roles. The same is valid for gapping. Cristofaro associates
these implications in terms of increased complexity in processing of the
relations to the right side of the continuum. The loss of information
brought about by the lack of TAM distinctions can be more easily recovered
if the RR is easier to process.

Chapter 8 Comparison of Complement, Adverbial and Relative Relations

The global comparison of different types of subordination gives some
further support to the proposed hierarchies. The form of the verb used to
express the dependent SoA is subject to The Subordination Deranking
Hierarchy (SDH):

(6) Phasals, Modals > Desideratives, Manipulatives, Purpose>Perception >
Before, After, When, A relatives, S relatives > Reality condition, Reason,
O relatives > Knowledge, Propositional attitude, Utterance, IO relatives,
OBL relatives

The lack of TAM distinctions and person agreement and the use of case
marking/adpositions obey slightly different versions of the SDH, however,
no contradictory evidence emerges.

With respect to the lack of overt expression of the participants,
subordination relations can be aligned in the Subordination Argument
Hierarchy (SAH):

(7) Modals, Phasals > A relatives, S relatives > Desideratives,
Manipulatives, Purpose > Perception > Before, When, After, Reason,
Utterance, Propositional attitude, Knowledge, Reality condition

The hierarchies (7) and (8) are motivated by a number of factors introduced
in the discussion of the individual types of subordinate relations. These
are predetermination, semantic integration, preference, the mood value of
the dependent SoA and the ability to construe it as an object.
For all relations which predetermine any features of the dependent SoA it
is this predetermination that is responsible for the higher ranking of such
relations with respect to those relations which do not impose any

All relations showing a higher level of semantic integration outrank the
relations showing little or no integration. Additionally, the preference
and the mood value make their contributions too. One further influence is
the possibility to construe the dependent SoA as an object (relations which
allow for such construal of the dependent SoA are located on the left side
of the hierarchies). Finally, in some cases, the level of clause structure
can provide additional explanation (relations located at the lower level of
clause structure outrank those located at the higher level). Two further
factors have to be mentioned with regard to the position of RRs namely the
role of the relativized element and the possibility of construing the SoA
as an object.

The general argument which Cristofaro is making on the basis on the
comparison of the subordination relations is that morpho-syntactic
realisation of different relations is dictated by their semantic properties
and that SAH is a valid generalization about the connection of these
relations to one another.

Chapter 9 The Coding of Subordination Relations: Functional Motivations
Cristofaro explains the implicational alignment of different subordination
relations by functional notions of economy and iconicity. Syntagmatic
economy seems to account for the loss of features conditioned by
predetermination. The influence of semantic integration can be accounted
for by the iconicity of independence. The importance of the preference for
the independent SoA to occur might also be explained in terms of iconicity
of distance where the preferred SoA is construed as less distant from the
non preferred one.

To account for some additional facts Cristofaro applies the theory of
processes and things presented in Cognitive Grammar which pertains to the
cognitive status of the dependent SoA. The ability of the dependent SoA to
be realized as an object, and the use of case marking/adpositions among
others, seems to support the theory in which the sequential scanning (in
short, the distinguishing property of verbs) of the dependent SoA is
suspended and summary scanning (the distinguishing property of nouns) is
preferred. This line of argumentation can be extended to the absence of TAM
distinctions and participant-coding as well.

Chapter 10 Correlations between Individual Morphosyntactic Phenomena
The investigation of the mutual relations between different morphosyntactic
phenomena used in subordination reveals some interesting correlations. In
accordance with the principle of relevance proposed by Bybee (1985), the
lack of aspect distinctions is less frequent than the lack of tense and
mood distinctions. On the other hand, the use of special forms to express A
is more frequent than the use of special forms to express T and M
distinctions. Lack of person agreement and the use of case
marking/adpositions entails the lack of TAM distinctions or their
expression by special forms. Lack of overtly expressed arguments entails
lack of person agreement and lack of TAM distinctions. Finally, expressing
arguments as possessors entails lack of TAM distinctions and lack of person
agreement and the use of case marking. Cristofaro claims that these
implications lend support to the hypothesis that processual properties are
suspended in the dependent SoAs to different extents. This hypothesis can
highlight a connection between the lack of TAM distinctions and the
presence of nominal properties. It cannot, however, account for the lack of
overtly expressed participants since most of the dependent SoAs is still
relational. This issue has to dealt by the principle of syntagmatic economy.


The cross-linguistic investigation of subordination provided by Cristofaro
is an impressive piece of work. The contribution to this field of study is
significant in many respects. It is to my knowledge the only analysis based
on such an extensive sample. This careful analysis pays equal attention to
different types of subordination which enables it to bring out numerous
similarities between the various strategies used to express the notion of
dependency between two SoAs. Both the connections between the type of
expressed relation, and the morphosyntactic phenomena used in their coding
are investigated thereby providing support for the implicational
hierarchies proposed by Cristofaro.

There are, however, some questions left open. The hypothesis that all
languages should be in a position to express certain cognitive functions
(p. 46), and the definition of the object of research in purely functional
terms seems to imply that subordination should be an option universally
found in languages. The answer to this question is not given.

A vulnerable point of the investigation is the reliance on the (mostly
English) translations with respect to the assertiveness of the complement
clauses (p. 41) which runs the risk of misinterpretation of the data.
The option of raising as superficially similar, but substantially different
from participant sharing is briefly discussed (p. 79-80) but this
distinction does not play any role in the rest of the argument.

There is also a question concerning the option of backward control (p.117).
Unfortunately, no account is given of why some languages show the
unexpressed participant in the subordinate clause (the more widespread
option) and some in the matrix. These drastically different options cannot
be accommodated by the principles proposed. Apparently, this option is not
considered (p.253), information about participants (...) can be specified
only once, for the SoA for which it is not predetermined (...)
One more question might be asked concerning the theory of iconic
motivation: if a deranked form is always a result of iconicity, what
happens in the case of subject sentential complements involving deranked
verb forms which are not predetermined in many respects?

The final remark has to do less with the arguments developed by Cristofaro
as with the theory of Cognitive Grammar in general. As the author herself
mentions (p.259), within the Cognitive approaches independent evidence for
the claims made about the nature of human perception and information
processing still remains somewhat elusive.


Bybee, J. L. (1985). Morphology: A study of the relation between meaning
and form. Philadelphia: Benjamins.

Givón, T. 1990. Syntax. A functional typological introduction. Vol 2
Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Noonan, Michael (1985). Complementation. In Timothy Shopen (ed.), Language
typology and syntactic description. Vol 2: Complex constructions. Cambridge
University Press, 42-140.

Langacker, Ronald W. 1987. Foundations of cognitive grammar, Vol.1:
Theoretical Prerequisites. Stanford, Stanford University Press

Keenan, E. L., and Comrie, B. (1977) Noun phrase accessibility and
Universal Grammar. Linguistic Inquiry 8:63-99.

Szymon Slodowicz received an M. A. in General and Comparative Linguistics
from the CAU in Kiel, Germany and is currently working as a researcher on
the project "Typology of control verbs" affiliated at the Centre for
General Linguistics, Typology and Universals Research (ZAS) , Germany.

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