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Review of  Order and structure in syntax II

Reviewer: Ferid Chekili
Book Title: Order and structure in syntax II
Book Author: Michelle Sheehan Laura R. Bailey
Publisher: Language Science Press
Linguistic Field(s): Syntax
Issue Number: 29.4810

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The edited collection (Laura R. Bailey, Michelle Sheehan (ed.). Order and structure in syntax II Subjecthood and argument structure), the second volume in a set of two volumes, deals with argument structure with special reference to subjecthood. As pointed out by the editors, in their introduction, “[I]n all these papers, the influence of the work of Anders Holmberg can be observed, from the typology of null subject languages and the status of expletives, locative and generic subjects to the syntax of ditransitives and the status of V2” (ix).

The book contains two parts preceded by a short introduction by the editors ('Introduction: Order and Structure in Syntax') in which they briefly provide a description of the contents of the book and draw out “important threads and questions which they raise” (vii). Part I includes 10 papers (divided among 10 chapters); Part II, seven squibs (organized in seven chapters). Three indexes (name, language and subject) complete the volume.


Chapter 1 ('On the softness of parameters: an experiment on Faroese' by H. Thráinsson) is an evaluation of Holmberg and Platzack's (H and P) (1995) account of a number of syntactic differences between Insular Scandinavian (Isc) and Mainland Scandinavian (Msc) in terms of different settings of a single parameter. The main purpose of this evaluation is to see whether a strict formulation of parameter setting can be maintained or whether a 'softer' formulation is preferable. In order to test for these parametric predictions T reports on the results of a study of syntactic variation in Faroese, known as FarDiaSyn. The use of Faroese is justified by its inter- and intra-speaker variation which makes it an “ideal testing ground” (5) as it is “undergoing changes that seem to crucially involve [Holmberg and Platzack's Agr-parameter]” (7). Justification for the use of FarDiaSyn comes from the fact that it offers the possibility of testing the parametric predictions statistically. The results of the study, due to the amount of intra-speaker variation, do not conform with “the standard concept of strictly binary parameters” (6). More specifically, it is shown that contra H and P's suggestion, a single binary parameter is unable to account for the acquisition of oblique subjects, stylistic fronting, null expletives and the transitive expletive construction. In fact, even though the judgments of speakers of the constructions correlate to some extent, in spite of the variation, H and P's strict formulation of binary parameters cannot be maintained and it is argued that Yang's (2002, 2010) variationist approach can better account for the facts.

In Chapter 2 ('The role of locatives in (partial) pro-drop languages'), A. Alexiadou and J. Carvalho compare two partial pro drop languages, namely, Finnish (F) and Brazilian Portuguese (BP) with respect to the presence vs. absence of a generic pronoun in null impersonals. They argue that Holmberg's (2005) analysis that a covert pronoun (implicit agent) is present in F cannot be extended to BP, which raises the question of what is it that “ensures the impersonal reading of the BP examples?” (49). The distribution of the locative elements is claimed to be responsible for this reading: a comparison is conducted of locative elements in null impersonals as used in the two partial pro drop languages, which suggests that the latter, beside other shared characteristics, also share a similar behaviour with respect to locatives. However, the comparison also demonstrates the existence of differences caused by differences in the properties of T, which are argued to determine the role played by locatives in different languages: in F, the only function of locatives is to satisfy the extended projection principle (EPP) -hence no argumental status, while in BP, “locatives are only licensed if T is specified for either generic or definite 3rd person” (42)--hence they can be both argumental and expletive-like. These differences are claimed to suggest that, in spite of many similarities, partial pro drop languages do not behave in a uniform manner. Finally, the behaviour of a full pro drop language--Greek--is briefly discussed, showing that locatives in that language are not expletives; hence Greek does not use locatives to satisfy the EPP. Rather, they are referential/deictic elements: this is a result of the fact, they claim, that full pro drop languages satisfy the EPP through V-raising (Alexiadou and Anagnostopoulou, 1998), while locatives are associated with the CP domain.

Chapter 3 ('Expletives and speaker-related meaning'. C. Greco- L. Haegeman- T. Phan) investigates a set of pronominal forms in the pro drop languages Finnish, Dominican Spanish, Vietnamese, (and the non-pro drop West Flemish), that have apparently developed into expletives, an unexpected development in pro drop languages. Finnish demonstrates that it is possible for a pro drop language to use expletives to satisfy formal requirements such as the EPP. Dominican Spanish illustrates a class of expletive-like elements that seem “to have acquired a discourse-related meaning” (89). So do Vietnamese nó and West Flemish tet. The authors conclude that the data discussed here demonstrates that, unlike the prototypical expletives which have lost referential meaning and acquired a purely formal function, there are some elements which, although they have also lost their referential meaning, seem nevertheless, to have acquired other discourse-related meaning.

Chapter 4 ('Places'. T. Taraldsen) investigates constructions in Norwegian where a locative PP occurs as the subject of a copula. T argues that these PPs are derived subjects originating inside the complement of the copula which is a relative clause having as its head noun an element meaning 'place'. T sets out to answer three fundamental questions raised by the reviewed data and concludes that “the PP subject in (1-2) [(1) I Tromsø er et bra sted å bo/ (2) I Tromsø er et sted det er morsomt å arbeide] must be a derived subject moved out of the relative clause” (103) by means of “the head-raising analysis of relatives advocated by Vergnaud (1974) and Kayne (1994)” (107). This analysis is contingent on a novel view about the interaction between A-movement and A' movement, which the author concedes is in need of much elaboration (113).

In Chapter 5 ('Flexibility in symmetry: an implicational relation in Bantu double object constructions'), J. Van der Wal uses some new data from double object constructions in the Bantu languages that reveal some asymmetry. It is shown that 'partial asymmetry' is due to variation between different types of ditransitive predicates. The data leads him to formulate an implicational pattern: “if a language is symmetrical for causatives, it is also symmetrical for applicatives, and if it is symmetrical for applicatives, it is also symmetrical for lexical ditransitive predicates” (143). The reason which is argued is that symmetry is caused by the flexibility of functional heads: in other words, functional heads may Case-license an argument in either their complement or their specifier. He adds that the argument which is licensed is the one which is the least topical of the two. The other argument is licensed and agrees with v or T “which explains object marking and passivization of the most topical argument” (143). Finally, a parameter hierarchy is proposed to account for the implicational relationship between the predicate types.

In Chapter 6 ('Defective intervention effects in two Greek varieties and their implications for Ø-incorporation as Agree'), E. Anagnostopoulou, contra Holmberg's (2010a) claim that agreement constructions in pro drop configurations are always analysed as Ø-feature valuation under agree, argues that Ø-feature valuation should instead be analysed as the result of movement. He uses an argument based on intervention effects: he shows that in Icelandic and Dutch monoclausal constructions involving agreement between the verb and a subject DP, “when agreement is the result of downward agree, an intervener does not block agree between T/v and the subject. By contrast, constructions in which the subject moves to spec, TP are subject to intervention effects in both languages” (154). He then identifies two types of intervention effects in two 'consistent' null subject languages, namely, Standard Greek and Northern Greek, and shows that these dialects always demonstrate weak and strong intervention effects “regardless of whether the subject is overt or covert, and regardless of the preverbal/postverbal position of the subject when this is overt” (154). This leads him to the conclusion that the relevant constructions (Holmberg's Ø-incorporation) display movement.

Verner Egerland in Chapter 7 ('First person readings of man: on semantic and pragmatic restrictions on an impersonal pronoun'), discusses Cinque's (1988) observation regarding the Italian impersonal pronoun Si and Kratzer's (1997) observation regarding the German impersonal man, both of which are taken to include the speaker. More specifically, he investigates the question “whether the speaker-inclusion effects [in the two observations] have a common underlying source” (180) or whether they are different. He argues that such a unified approach is untenable. Instead, he claims that Cinque's observation requires a theory that explains the restrictions on impersonal readings. These are shown to be restricted by the temporal and aspectual specification of the clause, as well as by aspects related to focus and contrastiveness. These restrictions explain why some languages can acquire certain readings and not others, which shows that in spite of their superficial similarity, the two observations are “fundamentally different in nature” (193).

In Chapter 8 ('Who are we- and who is I? about person and self'). H. Armann SigurꝽsson deals with the first person pronouns ‘we’ and ‘I’ in relation to the Event/Speech Participant Split (ESPS). In order to account for how ‘we’ is able to link the speaker and the speech participants ({Ɵ}) and thereby to mend the ESPS, he proposes that person values are computed in Syntax. More specifically, using evidence from self-talk (Holmberg, 2010b), he argues that an abstract person feature (Pn) “ can be independently computed for each phrase” (197). Similarly, he suggests that a positive setting of (+Pn) is responsible for both the secondary self interpretation and the human bias of plural pronouns. He concludes with an excursion into the nature of syntax and UG, suggesting, in view of the fact that the speaker-hearer categories and the person categories are not unrelated to meaning, that natural language syntax must be a broader system (than assumed in narrow syntax).

In Chapter 9 ('New roles for Gender: evidence from Arabic, Semitic, Berber and Romance'), A. Fassi Fehri investigates gender (Gen). Using a Minimalist Distributed Morphology model, FF argues – contra previous assumptions relating Gen to sex/animacy, and on the basis of the rich semantic diversity of Gen in Standard Arabic and Moroccan Arabic- that Gen is distributed in the nP/DP architecture, the CP structure and even a higher Speech Act structure. Thus a “multi-layered integrated account of Gender” (250) is proposed which is claimed to have “relevant and broad consequences for both the typology and the theory of Gender” (250).

Chapter 10 ('Puzzling parasynthetic compounds in Norwegian' by J. Bondi Johannessen) uses data from a large corpus (a dictionary and a web corpus) and investigates several aspects related to parasynthetic compounds in Norwegian. In particular, she rejects the claims made in the literature as to the marginal status and non-compositionality of these compounds. Similarly, although her data is able to confirm the semantic relationship of inalienable possession, it rejects the claim that the relationship is only restricted to body parts of humans and animals. Finally, she argues that only a syntactic theory which accepts the idea that “lexical items have categorial features” (272) will be able to deal with parasynthetic compounds.


Chapter 11 ('On a “make-believe” argument for Case theory'. J. David Bobaljik). In this squib, B revisits Chomsky's (On Binding 1980) explanation in terms of Case theory -specifically the adjacency condition- for the distribution of ditransitive exceptional case marking (ECM) verbs. Using data from Icelandic which shows that “there is no intervention (or adjacency) effect on structural accusative case assignment in that language” (278), despite the fact that the absence of ditransitive ECM verbs is attested in Icelandic, he argues that this explanation in terms of adjacency is not correct. Finally, he proposes an alternative account (based on, for instance, Pesetsky, 1995) in which he speculates that this gap may be a result of the generalization that “a single underived predicate may take no more than three obligatory arguments” (279).

In Chapter 12 ('Semantic characteristics of recursive compounds'), M. Mukai, using Phase Theory (Chomsky, 2008; Marantz, 1997) proposes a structure for both right-branching ([mail [delivery service]]) and left-branching ([chocolate chip] cookie]) recursive compounds in different languages. The differences between the two types of compounds are analyzed in terms of a difference between elements with categorical features and elements without.

Chapter 13 ('Expletive passives in Scandinavian – with and without objects'. E. Engdahl). Here, Engdahl uses a corpus study of expletive passives in order to evaluate Holmberg's (2002) account -in terms of parameters- of variation with regard to participle agreement, expletives and word order in periphrastic passives. It is argued that the Scandinavian languages do not behave in a uniform way with respect to Holmberg's parameter settings. Finally, in Danish and Swedish, negation seems to be related to one particular order, suggesting the existence of a correlation between the availability of NEG and the order direct object – participle.

In Chapter 14 ('The null subject parameter meets the Polish impersonal -NO/-TO construction'), M. Krzek, contra Holmberg (2005), presents evidence that null generic inclusive subjects may be found in consistent null subject languages (NSL) in the -NO/-TO construction. In this, she agrees with Fassi Fehri (2009) but disagrees with him that this is the case only in the passive voice, as she argues that this kind of subject is also found in the active voice. In addition, she claims that Fassi Fehri's passive construction shares a number of properties with the -NO/-TO construction (Polish) and thus may be reanalyzed as active. She concludes that “the observation that null generic subjects can be found in consistent NSL suggests that a more fine-grained typology of null subjects is needed” (309).

Chapter 15 ('Ellipsis in Arabic fragment answers'. A. Algryani). In this squib, A uses Arabic fragment answers to confirm the existence of syntactic structure in fragmentary utterances. Using evidence from case, preposition stranding and island effects, he shows that in Arabic, fragmentary answers can be analyzed as “TP ellipsis derived by focus movement of the remnant to a left peripheral position followed by deletion of the TP constituting the background information” (319).

In Chapter 16 ('Anaphoric object drop in Chinese'), P. Chi-Wai Lee revisits Huang's (1982) claim that a “dropped object is bound by a topic which must be definite” (329). The problem with this claim is that “the dropped object in Chinese can have an indefinite interpretation, even though a topic must be definite” (329). In order to solve the problem, L introduces a distinction between specific and non-specific object drop, and uses Holmberg's (2005) and Roberts and Holmberg's (2010) analysis of pro drop in terms of unvalued determiner feature ([uD]). This [uD], it is argued, can be valued by either an antecedent with a referential index (DiN] or a referential variable [DxN].

In Chapter 17 ('Icelandic as a partial null subject language: evidence from fake indexicals'), Susi Wurmbrand uses the behaviour of fake indexicals to support Holmberg's proposal (e.g. 2005) of Icelandic as a partial null subject language. She shows that Holmberg's proposal makes interesting predictions about the distribution of fake indexicals in Icelandic and German.


The papers have been written by accomplished linguists specializing in their respective areas of study and are aimed, owing to their advanced nature, at a knowledgeable audience.

In my opinion, the main contribution of this volume is in further clarifying the concept of argument structure, specifically, subjecthood, across typologically (un)related languages.

Another strong point of the collection, is the way the various papers are linked together. The chapters share common threads –some of which have been pointed out by the editors in their introduction–which contribute to making the volume a coherent whole. These common threads include:

On top of the papers' focus on argument structure and subjecthood, most papers, with a few exceptions (chapters 7 and 10) use some aspect of Holmberg's research which they either attempt to confirm or disconfirm.

Most papers deal with typological questions using a number of related or unrelated languages.

Many of the papers link narrow syntax to discourse aspects (information structure/ speech act concepts).

Another significant and helpful feature of the collection is the inclusion of three indexes at the end of the book, namely, a subject index, a language index and an author index.

Some of the weaker points of the collection include the following:

Very often, the reader is left with a feeling of incompleteness, with no definitive
answers one way or the other, which of course, may be legitimate, but becomes noticeable when it occurs very frequently, as it implies that so much remains unresolved, that a lot of empirical and theoretical work is required to fill the gaps. Some such cases may find corroboration in the literature; others are left open: an example of the first case can be found in chapter 3 where some of the observations described as tentative by the authors may find positive confirmation in work by Chekili (2004) and Halila (1992). Discussing the conclusions in Gupton & Lowman (2014) whereby Dominican Spanish ello can be associated with interpretive content - speaker-related meaning- the authors write that “further work is needed to substantiate their analysis” (76). Further work may come from research in Chekili and Halila with respect to what they consider to be an expletive in Tunisian Arabic, a consistent null subject language, namely, ‘famma’. (1a-b) suggest that famma does involve a speaker-related meaning:

(1) a. waaHid dkhal
someone entered

b. famma waaHid dkhal
(there) someone entered: implying somewhere where the speaker is

Examples of the second case include:

-Chapter 1, section 5.2, does not give a definitive answer as to which is preferable, rule or parameter? Binary parameters or soft parameters?

-Similarly, as is evident in the conclusion to chapter 4 (113), the analysis suggested by the author is contingent on a novel view about the interaction of A-movement and A'-movement which the author admits is “in need of much elaboration”.

-In chapter 8, the author suggests that natural language syntax must be a broader system than usually assumed in narrow syntax. However, he leaves open the question of what this broader system might look like.

-In chapter 9, the aims of the paper are said to provide “a more integrative description of the gender polysemy than the 'orthodox' sex/animate view can allow for” (222). However, later (249), we are told that “[p]roviding such a global and integrative model of gender is far beyond the scope of this work”.

-In chapter 14, discussing Fassi Fehri's (2009) claim that, in consistent null subject languages, null generic inclusive subjects are only found in the passive voice, the author says that Arabic passive may be reanalysed as active, but does not say how: “It may be then that this Arabic construction should be reanalysed as active. Space limitations, however, do not allow for a more in-depth analysis of this issue” (312).

2. Some of the findings/papers lack originality. For instance:

-In chapter 5, the analysis of double object constructions is reminiscent of traditional analyses in terms of information structure. The author suggests that the symmetrical behaviour of objects is “determined by the relative topicality of the two arguments” (136). A similar idea is found in informational approaches to the use of alternative dative syntax (Halliday, 1970; Hawkins, 1994 among others).

-Chapter 15 is a replication study applying Merchant’s (2004) analysis of fragment answers to Arabic.

3. The discussion, at times, is in need of more elaboration and clarification; for instance:

-The discussion of ‘places’ in chapter 4, with respect to whether Norwegian Sted (place) may be preceded by a preposition, concludes that this may be explained by giving two different interpretations to Sted: either a space (no preposition required) or a thing (requiring a preposition). If this is correct, then it would mean that 'place' in English, denotes 'thing' whereas in French, 'space'. This raises the question why this should be so:

(2) a. He lives *(in) a crowded place
b. Il habite un endroit surpeuple

4. Various types of mistakes:

-Incorrect numbering of sentences: p.105: last 3 lines. p.286, 1st para., 2nd l.: (5) should read (3). p.307, bottom: (2) and (3) instead of (1) and (2). p.312, end of 1st para.: in (12) and (13).

-Mismatch between some examples and their derivation: pp.107-108: examples (30) and (37) and derivations (38) and (39).

-Typos and other language problems: p.20, last line. p.21, 2nd para., 1st l. p.61, conclusion 3rd l: “do not overlap”. p.135, 3rd l: “crosslinguistically typically”. p.225, 1st para.: “controllers”. p.227, property 4: “week”. p.231, (24) does not display Fem. Sing. Agreement but dual. p.235, last l: “ addition to is”. p.236, 3rd para.: “since its contributes”. p.236, 5.1: “Diminuitive”. p.312, footnote 5, 3rd sentence: Sentence structure.

Notwithstanding these shortcomings which do not weigh against the merits of the collection, the aims set out in the introduction have largely been met: the volume has fulfilled its aim of further explaining and clarifying the concept of argument structure and subjecthood by providing new data from various related and unrelated languages.


Alexiadou, Artemis & Elena Anagnostopoulou. 1998. Parametrizing AGR: Word order,
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Chekili, F. 2004. The position of the postverbal subject and agreement asymmetries in Arabic. Phin 27/2004:35.

Chomsky, Noam. 1980. On binding. Linguistic Inquiry 11. 1–46.

Chomsky, Noam. 2008. On phases. In Roberto Freidin, Carlos P. Otero & Maria L. Zubizarreta (eds.), Foundational issues in linguistic theory. Essays in honor of Jean-Roger Vergnaud, 33–166. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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Gupton, Timothy & Sarah Lowman. 2014. An F projection in Cibeño Dominican Spanish. In Jennifer Amaro, Gillian Lord, Ana de Prada Pérez & Jessi Aaron (eds.), Proceedings of the 16th Hispanic Linguistics Symposium, 338–348. Sommerville, MA.

Halila, H. 1992. Subject specificity effects in Tunisian Arabic. Unpublished Ph.D dissertation, USC.

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Holmberg, Anders. 2005. Is there a little pro? Evidence from Finnish. Linguistic Inquiry 36(4). 533–564.

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Marantz, Alec. 1997. No escape from syntax: Don’t try morphological analysis in the privacy of your own lexicon. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics 4(2). 201–225.

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Ferid Chekili is Professor of English and Linguistics, currently employed by the University of Bahrain. His research interests include syntactic theory, the syntax/information structure interface and generative second language acquisition.