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Review of  Comparative Syntax of the Balkan Languages

Reviewer: Ellie Boyadzhieva
Book Title: Comparative Syntax of the Balkan Languages
Book Author: Angela Ralli MarĂ­a Luisa Rivero
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Syntax
Issue Number: 12.1684

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Maria-Luisa Rivero and Angela Ralli, ed. (2001) Comparative Syntax of the
Balkan Languages, Oxford University Press, ISBN: 0-19-512951-2 hardback,
234 pp., $ 49.95 (Oxford Series in Comparative Syntax 17).

Ellie Boyadzhieva, South-Western University of Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria

The volume presents a collection of seven articles devoted to the
description of some specific syntactic features of the Balkan languages.
The contributions of the volume, although they do not present an attempt
to cover Balkan syntax systematically, include a variety of important
topics of syntax from updated generative angle focusing mainly on
problems concerning the phonetic form (PF) and logical form (LF)
interface such as verb raising, clitic doubling, subjunctive
complementation etc. One particularly positive side of the volume as a
whole is that every article compares at least two, and often more than
two, Balkan languages. The basic languages included are Bulgarian,
Albanian, Romanian and Greek which are the major language varieties
building a unit referred to lately as Balkan Sprachbund. The volume
contains topical investigations in intricate phenomena raising questions
that concern not only the specific behavior of most functional categories
in the Balkan languages themselves, but also give insights about their
nature from universal language viewpoint. The most important contribution
of the collection is that every analysis is conducted from a comparative
perspective, which broadens the scope of those who may take interest in

Thus the book is aimed at a large audience of scholars and students
encompassing both those concerned with the generative approach to
language description per se, as well as comparitivists of various types
and those interested in the general typology of the Balkan languages in
its broad sense.

The volume starts with Brian D. Joseph's article "Is Balkan
Comparative Syntax Possible?" In it the author poses the question
of the unity of the Balkan languages thus providing a general basis for
conducting comparative analysis of the universal grammatical features on
the one hand, and of their language specific features that vary cross
linguistically, on the other. Although Balkan languages genetically
belong to different Indo-European groups they are yet an example of
striking similarities in their grammar structure. Therefore the author
focuses on the modern concept of typological approach that studies the
structural similarities between languages, regardless their diachronic
development. Typological comparison attempts to establish language
relationships especially in cases when historical evidence for genetic
grounds is lacked. Such an approach tends to establish language
universalities (Crystal 1999: 348). On the other hand, they are
geographically related and have been in long-term intensive contact. This
state of affairs is the only comprehensible explanation of the massive
structural convergence among these languages nonetheless they belong
genealogically to different Indo-European families. This specific
development of the relations between the Balkan languages gave grounds
for the term Sprachbund (from German) to be invented so as to correspond
to the particular relations between them.

Holding the above theoretical presumptions the author goes further by
drawing a distinction between the terms "comparative syntax of
Balkan languages" that refers to general typology and
"comparative Balkan syntax" that in turn should refer to
comparative investigation of the Balkan languages keeping in mind the
idea lying behind the Sprachbund. He points out that both perspectives
are fruitful, but their goals are different. Then Joseph proceeds with
illustration of the two different typological approaches focusing on some
problems of the negation in Balkan languages. Firstly, he focuses on
m-negators, which are clear cognate forms in Indo-European as they are
found in Sanskrit and Aveastan and comes up with the conclusion that a
particular Sprachbund feature of the negative particle is its independent
prohibitive use which is contact-induced and which he refers to as a
'syntactic Balkanism' which is an example of
"comparative Balkan syntax" methodology. The second problem
of negation, which the author has chosen in order to illustrate the
differences between the two approaches to the analysis of the Balkan
languages, is the 'negative fusion' phenomenon which is dealt
with from the perspective of comparative linguistics of the Balkans (as
opposed to comparative Balkan linguistics) which he refers to as
"comparative syntax of Balkan languages". After discussing
the negative fusion in several Balkan languages and finding examples of
the same pattern in other Indo-European languages Joseph states that the
latter phenomenon should be approached from the perspective of
"comparative syntax of the Balkan languages" which presents a
broader range in terms of the languages included in a particular
investigation. (see also Hale 2001: pp. 169 - 185)

It should be noted that most of the contributions that follow in the
volume fall into the type which Joseph labels as "comparative
syntax of the Balkan languages".

The next article "Head-to-Head Merge in Balkan Subjunctives and
Locality" by Carmen Dobrovie-Sorin deals with the problems of
Balkan subjunctives. It is the first one in a succession of three
articles all of which contribute to the problem of the Balkan
subjunctives, each one from different angle. The author restates some of
the principles of the Government and Binding (GB) theory such as control,
subject raising and obviation in minimalist terms and extends the line of
previous study on Romanian subjunctives to other Balkan languages such as
Bulgarian, Greek and Albanian. The author comes to the conclusion that
the anaphoric binding from GB can be restated in terms of the
Attract/Move operation thus altogether withholding the descriptive
adequacy and simplifying the operational system. She proposes an
alternative line of analysis according to which control is a case of
anaphoric binding and claims that this is more adequate to the
description of the Balkan languages than the concept of the standard PRO
in the GB model. She comes to the conclusion that the subject in Balkan
subjunctives is ambiguous as to PRO and Pro as the null subject is free
in the domain of the main clause and as such functions as an anaphor. She
prefers to speak about a controlled subject as an element that
participates to an anaphoric relation which is imposed by the selectional
properties of the main verb. Another worth mentioning hypothesis which is
derived as consequence of the previous observations, is that the complex
Xo in Balkan languages results from the fact that functional heads
containing modal particles, negation and clitic pronouns merge with the
VP, which she refers to as "Head-to-Head Merge" operation and
claims that this is the basic reason for the transparency of the
constituent structure of the Balkan subjunctive clauses.

"Control and Raising in and out of Subjunctive Complements"
is a survey by Anna Roussou which again deals with two interrelated
problems concerning the specifics of Balkan subjunctives. Firstly, she
explores the nature of finiteness and claims that it is a property of the
complementizer (COMP) and is interacting with the general inflectional
system. She comes up with the hypothesis that the issue of control and
raising is dependent on what the definition of finiteness is and points
out that this is crucial for the Balkan type of languages which generally
lack infinitives. The conclusion the author comes to is that finiteness
is a property of COMP which, in the case of the Balkan languages, is
related not only to tense in the Inflection but also to the functional
heads of person and number. In the course of the argumentation the author
gives evidence for the influence of mood on the COMP. Finally, she claims
that an overt COMP is incompatible with control.

In her article "Subjunctives in Bulgarian and Modern Greek",
the last one of the 'subjunctive' series, Ilyana Krapova
compares the constituent structures of the subjunctives in Bulgarian and
Greek. As a result she comes to the conclusion that they present
similarities in terms of control and differences in terms of order of the
overt subjects. She maintains the idea of the difference between PRO and
pro categories as defined in GB theoretical model providing evidence for
certain differences between the characteristic features of the verbal
complement according to whether it is a modal or a regular volition verb.
She comes to the conclusion that modal verbs license PRO elements, while
volitionals require pro. The basic difference between Greek and Bulgarian
according to Krapova lies in the ordering of the overt subject in the
following way: in Bulgarian the overt subject can either precede or
follow the particle-verb chain, whereas in Greek it is for the subject to
follow the verb. This particular observation seems to need some new
evidence as in the case when the overt subject follows the particle-verb
chain in Bulgarian may also be interpreted as presenting a case of
contrastive focus (not X but Y). (For further consideration see Pesetsky
200:pp. 19-27). Following the logic of the argument the author finally
argues for the existence of two types of subjunctive clauses in both
Greek and Bulgarian, namely such which contain typically subjunctive
complement and other, where the complements are of infinitival character.
The first contain a pro-element and the second Pro-element. The choice of
PRO or pro depends on the semantic of the verb in the matrix sentence
where strong tense features are compatible with pro, while weak tense
features license PRO elements.

The following three articles are devoted to different phenomena typical
for the Balkan languages such as clitic doubling, definiteness and the
use of determiners and verb movement (V - movement).

Dalina Kallulli's contribution titled "Clitic Doubling in
Albanian and Greek" presents a new viewpoint on the need for
Accusative doubling in the two above-mentioned languages. This topic has
been extensively studied in the recent years from both formal syntactic
and semantic perspective. Kallulli differs from Anagnostopoulou (see
Anagnostopoulou 1994) in the fact that she sees the cause of the
Accusative clitic doubling in Greek as a result of pure syntactic needs,
namely, that the clitic is base-generated and is covertly raised to the
specifier position (Spec) in order to check the determiner feature. This
results in the fact that both definite and indefinite noun phrases (NPs)
are doubled if they have a determiner, whilst bare NPs are not doubled.
The cross-linguistic observations, including examples from German,
support the author's observations that scrambling and doubling of
definiteness is obligatory. She claims that scrambled or doubled objects
are always part of the syntactic argument structure. She goes further on
to point out that as arguments are always specific (denoting), then
specificity effects in doubling and scrambling should be considered
by-products of deeper triggering properties (p.153).

The next contribution "Adjectival Determiners in Albanian and
Greek" by Antonia Androutsopoulou focuses on the functional
structure of the determiner phrases ( DPs ) following the relatively new
DP hypothesis developed by Abney ( see Abney 1987) according to which the
determiner is the head of noun-phrases, while the NPs themselves are
complements of the determiners. Although this idea is at present widely
accepted among generativists, there has been little research in the
structure of DPs in Balkan languages. The author aims at and achieves
precise description of the structure of the DPs in Albanian and Greek,
focusing mainly on the behavior of the determiners in NPs containing
adjectives. The basic similarity she points out is that on the bottom of
the NP with an adjective incorporated within it lies a clause in which
the N occupies the subject position and the adjective the predicate one
respectively. It is embedded in a DP that is later projected in a higher
DP. The basic differences between the two languages are that in Greek the
raising of the NP includes head movement to a medial D at first, and only
after that is it raised to the highest DP. The projection thus undergoes
two steps. The formation of the DP with an adjective in Albanian performs
only one step, coinciding with the first step in Greek, which means that
one raising movement closes the maximal projection so that the inflected
noun ends up in a position preceding the adjectival determiner in the
highest possible DP.

The last article in the volume "Last Resort and V Movement in
Balkan Languages" by Maria Luisa Rivero presents a very interesting
approach to tackling some topical problems of the Bulgarian syntax
concerning the relatively free word order which is typical for this
language. The author denies that the Last Resort principle formulated by
Chomsky (Chomsky 1995) is effective enough for the explanation of V
movement in Bulgarian small clauses containing an interrogative particle
and claims that the explanation lies rather in stylistic needs which are
external and are, in fact, requirements driven by the LF or PH
interfaces. Her arguments in favor of this view are seriously supported
by well-selected examples and persuasive analysis. This part is handled
from synchronic perspective. The second part of the paper is devoted to
analyzing examples from earlier Greek varieties and aims at showing their
resemblance to the grammatical state in modern Bulgarian concerning the V
movement rules, which are nowadays non-existent in Modern Greek. The
adopted diachronic approach enables the author to find interesting
parallels in the rules governing the possibility for the verb to pass
around clitics and rise to a sentence initial position, which is the
situation in modern Bulgarian and used to be such in some Medieval Greek
varieties. The conclusion the author comes to is that economic conditions
such as Last Resort principle define the phenomena that belong to the
core grammar and the violation of which brings to diachronic changes.
(for V-movement see also Lasnik et al 2000 : pp.163-165)

To conclude, the volume presents an important step toward the description
and explanation of some specific and intricate phenomena which
characterize the Balkan languages. Although the topics may seem to be
somewhat traditional, the analyses give new theoretical perspective for
future consideration which is of particular importance for the
development of the generative syntax approach to the languages of the
Balkan Sprachbund.


HALE Ken 2001, A Life in Language, M. Kenstowicz ed., The MIT Press,
Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England

LASNIK Howard, with M. Depiante, A. Stepanov 2000, Syntactic Structures
Revisited: Contemporary Lectures on Classic Transformational Theory, The
MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England

PESETSKY David 2000, Phrasal Movement and its Kin, The MIT Press,
Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England, Linguistic Inquiry, vol.37


I am a senior assistant professor at the South-Western University of
Blagoevgrad and a PhD holder. I am employed full-time at the Department
of Foreign languages at the Philological Faculty of the University where
I offer courses in General Linguistics and English morphosyntax for BA
and MA students of English Philology and Applied Linguistics. My basic
interests are in the field of modern syntactic theories, including
generative approach. I am author of several articles on the constituent
structure of NPs in Bulgarian, a monograph exploring the principles of
case marking in Bulgarian in comparison with English and an extensive
survey concerning the means of expression of functional relations within
text which is to be published by the end of July this year by the
Bulgarian Academy of Sciences as a separated work within a volume titled
"Text Pragmatics".