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Review of  English Grammar

Reviewer: Sorin Daniliuc
Book Title: English Grammar
Book Author: Jacqueline Guéron Liliane Haegeman
Publisher: Wiley
Linguistic Field(s): Syntax
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 10.1605

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Liliane Haegeman & Jaqueline Gueron, 1999, "English
Grammar. A Generative Perspective", Blackwell
Publishers, Oxford, UK 672pp

Reviewed by Laura and Radu Daniliuc

At the end of the 20th century, Blackwell Publishers
presents the linguistic public a long-needed book:
"English Grammar. A Generative Perspective". It may
seem a bit peculiar that its authors are not English:
Liliane Haegeman is Professor of English Linguistics
at the University of Geneva and Jacqueline Gu�ron is
Professor of Linguistics at Universit� de Paris III -
Sorbonne Nouvelle. Yet, they took up the challenging
task of writing about the grammar of the English
language and succeeded in making up an impressive
study both on English and on grammatical theory. From
the multifarious range of approaches to linguistic
phenomena, the two authors have chosen, as the title
of the book clearly points out, the generative one,
founded by N. Chomsky in the late 1950s. In this
perspective, the object of linguistic research is
"knowledge of English", whereas the aim of the
generative linguist consists in the description of
"the internal cognitive system which is the basis of
the human language capacity in general, and of a
specific speaker's linguistic knowledge in
particular". The result of Haegeman & Gu�ron's
meticulous research is a theory-based book focusing on
"the empirical data of the English language in all its
varieties", a book that "show[s] the reader how
English can be studied in a systematic theoretical
In the spirit of the generative tradition, the book
concentrates on sentence grammar and not on discourse,
as in the authors' opinion "the study of discourse
phenomena presupposes the grammar of the sentence".
Taking into consideration that the book was primarily
designed for undergraduate students of English, the
authors thought that it was natural to start with the
study of the sentence.
In order to achieve these goals, the book, conceived
as an introduction to the study of English grammar, is
structured in six chapters of about one hundred pages
each, followed by summaries and exercises (organized
in terms of the major sections of the chapter) and by
a short list of references. It is interesting to
notice the way these chapters are construed: the
starting point is represented by the formulation of a
"hypothesis about the structure of English sentences
based on a restricted set of data". The next step is
the addition of more complex data that may determine
either the modification of the initial hypothesis or
the formulation of an additional one. From this very
line of argumentation, one can easily perceive beyond
it the well-known Chomskian theory of grammar whose
fundamental assumption is that of language as a
rule-governed system. However, Haegeman & Gu�ron are
also very well acquainted with the linguistic research
over the past years and their work reveals the
perpetual need for revision of linguistic theories and
proposals. This is why the last chapter of the book
deals with issues of comparative syntax (one of the
latest trends in linguistics), the authors stressing
that "to study English is to investigate both what
English has in common with other languages, and how it
differs from them" (In the analysis of various
linguistic phenomena, they compare English data with
analogous data in French, German, Dutch, Italian,
Chinese and Hungarian).
Haegeman & Gu�ron take as the starting point of their
discussion "the native speaker's knowledge of
English", i.e. how he or she knows that some sentences
are well-formed and others are not or that some
sentences are acceptable and others are unacceptable.
The well-formedness of a sentence depends to some
extent at least on the properties of the language in
question and, as Haegeman & Gu�ron put it, "native
speakers have at their disposal an internal system of
rules and principles which enables them to produce
well-formed sentences, and also to evaluate the
sentences they are confronted with, and to replace an
unacceptable sentence by an acceptable variant". It is
obvious that this system of rules and principles
represents the grammar of the language and it is also
crystal-clear that knowing a language signifies
knowing its grammar.
Chapter 1 "The Structure of English Sentences"
examines the main constituents of the clause and their
organization. It introduces leading theoretical
concepts such as argument and thematic structure, the
theta criterion, phrase structure, word and
categories, layering, functional projections,
grammatical function and case. This chapter is a
theoretic one: it helps the student penetrate the
structure of the clause by presenting the basic
principles which underlie this structure and which led
the authors to propose that the clause is a VP
dominated by an IP and a CP, in other words the clause
consists of a finite or infinitival VP augmented with
functional projections. It contains 46 exercises.
Chapter 2 "Movement and Locality" considers in detail
the distribution of the constituents of a sentence and
various movement operations applying within the
well-defined bounds of the sentence, resulting in a
reordering of the constituents of the clause. It deals
with such topics as questions (in English and French),
relative clauses (as far as WH-movement is concerned),
passivisation (with its effect on the distribution of
the arguments of the verb), raising verbs (which
totally lack an external argument), transitive,
intransitives and unaccusatives (in terms of subject
position), head-movement (the distribution of
so-called verb-particle combinations in English and
the role played by head-movement in these
constructions), floating quantifiers (separated from
the noun phrases they quantify, revealing the
VP-internal subject hypothesis),. As shown in the
first chapter in terms of the assignment of thematic
roles, selection and case-assignment, the principle of
locality is presented as very important because it
decides which syntactic relations must be established
in terms of minimal local relations. This chapter
contains 36 exercises.
Conceived as an illustration of the fact that
syntactic theories are not static entities but are
subject to development and change, chapter 3
"Developments in the Analysis of the Clause"
reconsiders the results reached in the previous
chapters, modifying some of the earlier conclusions
and focusing on the role of functional projections in
the clausal domain. Accordingly, Haegeman & Gu�ron
change their perspective on structures previously
treated in terms of a single projection and visualize
them as decomposed into a number of discrete
projections. The main topics of this chapter are
subject across categories, "be" as a raising verb, the
Split-INFL hypothesis (with examples from the
distribution of verbs and auxiliaries from French and
English), extended projection (the clause is viewed as
an extended projection of the verb conceived as the
semantic core of the clause), the Split-CP hypothesis
(the functional projection CP is also analyzed into a
number of discrete functional projections). The
conclusions the authors arrive at is that "the clause
is the projection of the verb augmented with
functional projections", in other words, it is an
"extended projection". This chapter contains 16
Using the tools and principles elaborated in the
previous chapters, chapter 4 "Aspects of the Syntax of
Noun Phrases" discusses the structure and the
interpretation of nominal groups in terms of binding,
empty categories, speculations on the functional
structure of the nominal projection: NP as DP.
Attention is paid to the traces created by moving a
noun phrase, traces which in fact extend to those of
other constituents. The authors observe the syntactic
properties of the noun in terms of the referential
dependencies between nominal projections, the nature
and distribution of non-overt nominal projections, and
the internal structure of the projection of the noun.
They distinguish three types of noun phrases (based on
their referential properties): anaphors (including
reflexives and reciprocals), pronouns and referential
expressions; and four types of non-overt categories:
PRO (the non-overt subject of a non-finite clause),
pro (the non-overt subject of the finite clauses in
languages such as Italian), the A'-trace (the trace of
a constituent moved to an A'-position), and the
A-trace (the trace of a noun phrase moved to an
A-position). The conclusion reached by the two authors
is that just as the lexical projection VP is dominated
by a number of functional projections, the lexical
projection NP is dominated by NP-related functional
layers. This chapter contains 36 exercises.
In Chapter 5 "From structure to Interpretation",
Haegeman & Gu�ron try to establish a link between the
domain of syntax (their main concern) and that of
semantics. Accordingly, they observe some of the
interpretative aspects of syntax, also paying
attention to the relations between grammatical
structure on the one hand and meaning on the other. In
the spirit of the generative tradition, Haegeman &
Gu�ron postulate that besides D-Structure and
S-Structure, sentences are associated with a level of
representation called Logical Form, which encodes the
semantic properties of structures and which is proved
to be relevant for the study of language typology
(they propose that while certain constituents undergo
movement at surface structure in one language, they
can undergo the same kind of movement at LF in another
language). The two authors also show that the Empty
Category Principle derives from the Principle of Full
Interpretation (i.e. each symbol of the syntactic
representation of a sentence must be mapped onto the
interpretation). In the end, the reader briefly meets
Checking Theory according to which lexical items are
inserted in the structure with their inflectional
morphology. As a result, Haegeman & Gu�ron believe
that cross-linguistic variation is defined in terms of
covert versus overt movement. This chapter contains 18
After dealing with so many aspects of the English
language and of grammatical theory, the two authors
attempt to enlarge the scope of their book by
integrating the study of English syntax with a
comparative approach to syntax. Comparative grammar
comes from the nineteenth century when it tried to
establish relations of parenthood and kinship across
languages. Nowadays, comparative grammar has a
psychological aim: the identification of what
constitutes the speaker's knowledge of English, of
which properties of English are language specific and
which are universal. Haegeman & Gu�ron point out that
"language-specific properties which emerge from the
date are plausibly identified by the speaker of this
language on the basis of his or her exposure to the
specific language", while properties which cannot be
inferred from the linguistic data must be "part of the
predetermined linguistic competence of the human
mind". Linguists know that the logical problem of
language acquisition is centered on negative evidence.
In order to cope with this problem, they have
elaborated a model of language acquisition, which
contains two interacting components: the triggering
experience and the language acquisition device or
Universal Grammar controlling two types of
information: principles and parameters. The
principles, which are rigid, define what does not vary
cross-linguistically, whereas the parameters define
the areas of cross-linguistic variation and determine
language-specific properties. Haegeman & Gu�ron
exemplify the discussion with the clustering of
properties accompanying the availability of a
non-overt subject in finite sentences in Italian. They
prove that this parameter derives from morphological
properties associated with functional heads, or, in UG
words, that syntax is driven by morphology. However,
there are particular English registers or styles that
contain 'deviant' sentences; Haegeman & Gu�ron discuss
about non-overt subjects in finite clauses in the
so-called 'abbreviated registers', and about long
WH-extraction in Latinate styles. This discussion
leads the two authors to the conclusion that "even a
monolingual English speaker has more than one internal
grammar". This chapter contains 18 exercises.
The readers of this book cannot but reach the
following conclusion: they have finally found what
they ware looking for in terms of generative grammar:
the ideal book which presents in a methodical manner
the most important theoretical aspects of present-day
generative linguistics. To put it in a nutshell,
Blackwell Publishers offers us an impressive and
persuasive study on generative English grammar.
- -------------

The reviewers - Laura and Radu Daniliuc - Suceava,
ROMANIA - are BA in English Language (Linguistics) and
Literature, members of SSA, authors of the first
complete Romanian translation of F. de Saussure's
"Courses" and of other articles on generativism and
applied linguistics. Their main interests include:
generativism (P&P theory, minimalist structures etc)
and computational linguistics. [other info available
on request]


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