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Review of  The Syntax of Anaphora

Reviewer: Petra Burkhardt
Book Title: The Syntax of Anaphora
Book Author: Ken Safir
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Syntax
Issue Number: 15.3073

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Date: Fri, 29 Oct 2004 17:32:04 +0200
From: Petra Burkhardt
Subject: The Syntax of Anaphora

AUTHOR: Safir, Ken
TITLE: The Syntax of Anaphora
SERIES: Oxford Studies in Comparative Syntax
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2004

Petra Burkhardt, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain
Sciences, Leipzig


In this monograph, Safir proposes competitive principles to account for
different anaphoric dependencies. The core notion of his approach is the
existence of principles that act in competition with each other until the best
available anaphoric form wins. As a consequence, complementary
distribution between forms is derived. This view stands in contrast to
theories that advocate that distributional patterns are accidental, and Safir
illustrates at length how distribution can be derived from competition
between forms. He further suggests that all principles governing anaphora
are universal and that the distribution of anaphora follows from
morphological and lexical properties of an anaphoric form. The
presentation of the theoretical framework is enriched by numerous
examples from different languages.


In chapter 1, as a departure for his proposal, Safir discusses previous
approaches to anaphora resolution and points out their strengths and
shortcomings. In particular, he focuses on the accounts that have evolved
around Binding Theory (Chomsky, 1980, et seq.), as well as on Reinhart &
Reuland's (1993) Reflexivity account. Some of the shortcomings of the
former family of accounts that are pointed out are that coindexation
relations are too symmetric, that the characterization of "domain" for
Principle A and B is too English-specific (cf. e.g. instances of long-distance
binding across languages); that complete complementary distribution
between reflexives and pronouns cannot be attested crosslinguistically (cf.
e.g. picture-NPs or logophors); that the notion of noncoreference must be
rephrased; and others. Some of the challenges of the Reinhart & Reuland
(1993) approach that Safir discusses are related to the formulation of A-
chains and the distinction between [+/-R], among others. These
considerations set the stage for Safir's proposal, which maintains a version
of Principle A, but abandons Principle B and C (or their equivalents).

Chapter 2 illustrates the notions "dependent identity" and "coreference",
which are crucial distinctions for Safir's theory. He claims that dependent
identity is represented in syntax, while coreference is not. Furthermore,
dependent identity describes the assignment of referential value to a
(dependent) term as a function of its antecedent, while coreference reflects
an independent covaluation. On the basis of this distinction, he argues that
indices should be eliminated from representation and that alternatively,
asymmetric dependent identity should be encoded (as in Higginbotham's
(1983) arrow notation). He further discusses issues of disjoint reference
and the notion of c-command, which he does not view as a critical
condition for dependent identity.

In Chapter 3, Safir elaborates on the core principles of his theory. The
theory is built around the notion of complementary distribution, where the
best available form- to-interpretation fit wins the competition of anaphoric
expressions. Crucially, complementarity is not defined on the basis of
domains, but on the basis of a competition of forms. Consequently, the
theory abandons what is traditionally known as Principle B. Safir points out
that Principle B is stipulated and complementarity therefore accidental in
frameworks that assume some version of Principle B. In contrast,
complementarity should be derived. At the center of his theory is the Form
to Interpretation Principle (FTIP), which is sensitive to a (language- specific)
dependency scale. It serves to evaluate anaphoric forms with respect to a
given antecedent. When dependence is blocked by the FTIP, Pragmatic
Obviation assigns an obviative pair relation. However, what this chapter
shows is that additional principles are required so-called "scalar
intervention factors" that help to eliminate competitor forms. These
constraints deal for instance with antecedent agreement, local antecedent
licensing, (anti)subject orientation, distributivity. In the last section of
chapter 3, Safir presents a nice overview of different scenarios in which
complementarity does not rule - and in which traditional approaches have
struggled to account for the distribution of anaphora. He also provides an
overview and assessment of previous accounts of both derived and
accidental complementarity in this chapter.

Chapter 4 focuses mainly on aspects of reflexive interpretation (i.e.
coargument coconstrual). Safir couches the dependent reading required for
the interpretation of reflexives within his general account of dependent
identity reading controlled by the FTIP (vs. independent coreference
reading) and attempts to illustrate that a separate formulation of a semantic
notion of reflexivity (cf. Reinhart & Reuland, 1993) is not necessary.
However, to accomplish this, he posits three additional principles the
Coargument Dependency Constraint that controls distributed
interpretation, the Locally Reflexive Principle that requires an identity-
specific anaphor to be dependent on its coargument (if available), and the
Principle of Thematic Indistinctness that controls coconstrual. This move
allows the theory to account for the distribution of SEG- and SELF-
anaphors (in e.g. Dutch or Norwegian), proxy readings (e.g. wax figure
examples), the interpretation of guises, and the availability of inherently
reflexive predicates on the basis of the dependency scale paired with the
FTIP and the scalar intervention factors.

In Chapter 5, Safir addresses the issue of domain. He argues that the
domain of anaphora is smaller than the domain of movement and that the
notion of a single domain for both anaphora and movement operations
must be abandoned. The view that he advocates is that the typology of
movement only plays an indirect role in the distribution of anaphora, where
movement is the mechanism that transports an anaphor into its local
domain. Safir postulates an independent principle as working hypothesis
that states that there cannot be a form of covert movement that is not
attested for overt movement. Then he proceeds to look at the different
types of movement that are available to the language system. For anaphors,
he reports covert A-movement (e.g. in ECM constructions), covert clitic
movement(e.g. Dutch SE- anaphors), and covert tense-sensitive operator
movement (A'- movement) (e.g. Russian SE-anaphors). But he rejects covert
head movement and A'-movement to Spec-CP on the basis that these
covert movement types bear no similarity to possible overt equivalents. He
further shows that covert movement of anaphors is motivated by
independent requirements, such as Case assignment or subject orientation.
He concludes that movement of SELF is hence no different from other forms
of movement and a separate movement account for anaphora is therefore
not required. Finally, chapter 5 also touches upon discourse-sensitive
Unbounded Dependent Forms (Safir's term for what is often referred to as
logophors, even though he supports a narrow view of logophoricity). He
claims that these forms are not derived by movement (as e.g. evidenced by
their distribution with extra-sentential and split antecedents) and are
therefore not considered anaphors.

Chapter 6 focuses on the morphological and lexical properties of anaphora
and attempts to illustrate how the internal structure of a given form
determines its distribution. As with other factors that have an impact on
interpretation, the internal structure is considered to predict whether a
form is subjected to competition or not and then the FTIP takes over again.
Safir distinguishes between pronominals which are exclusively bundles of
features - and relational anaphors which also carry semantic content. He
emphasizes again that there is no need for Principle B (or a grammatical
feature [+/-pronominal]), because the internal structure of a form
determines whether a form is an anaphor or a pronoun. Furthermore, while
the FTIP regulates competition among dependent forms, another principle -
Weak Pronoun Competition (cf. Cardinaletti & Starke's (1994) typology of
pronoun classes) facilitates selection of the weakest pronoun form among
those forms that tie under FTIP. Concerning relational anaphors, Safir
demonstrates that these entities form a small class of lexical semantic
relations, largely related to body part terms
(e.g. "head", "bone", "self", "same", "other", etc.), which are also found
separately from anaphora. This indicates that this particular property is not
a property of anaphora per se. It is also shown that specific interpretive
properties are conveyed by these forms (with respect to identity-specific
dependencies, distributivity, etc.). Moreover, a number of interesting case
studies are presented, which serve to illustrate that crosslinguistic
differences are due to the available competitor set in a given language. In
this chapter, Safir also analyzes null elements and discusses how the
competitive principles can account for their distribution. He further
addresses the distribution of reciprocal elements and mentions some
preliminary solutions based on semantic properties but (as he points out)
more research is needed to fully account for reciprocals within the present

In chapter 7, Safir highlights that the study of anaphora can be used as a
window into the architecture of the language system. The theory of
anaphora presented in this monograph depicts the language system as a
modular system, where the principle of Local Antecedent Licensing (Safir's
version of Principle A) regulates processes of convergence and the other
principles proposed throughout the book limit processes of interpretation.
Crucially, the majority of principles are regarded to be part of a syntax-
sensitive semantic module.


This monograph is a valuable contribution to the study of anaphora since it
attempts to address a broad spectrum of phenomena relevant for the study
of anaphoric dependencies. Safir uses data from numerous different
languages to support his claims, and he discusses examples from various
dependent elements, including short- and long-distance reflexives,
reciprocals, pronominals, epithets, and others. He takes up the ongoing
debate of how to account for the varied patterns of anaphora distribution
across languages. As early as Chomsky's influential Binding Theory was
published, apparent drawbacks and counterexamples have been discussed
in the literature. And even after reading this monograph, it is evident that
there are still many puzzles to be solved. However, Safir addresses one of
the core issues that has been criticized in the past, which is the invalidity of
Principle B (and C). His solution is to discard any version of Principle B and
C; instead, distribution is governed by competition of forms. This approach
fits well with current views of economy, and whether one wants to commit
to the particular principles proposed in this theory or not, this book
supports the idea that a theory of anaphora or any theory of language for
that matter - should incorporate economy- or competition- based
principles (cf. e.g. Reuland (2001) for a different approach). In addition,
what is clear form Safir's work as well as previous accounts by other authors
is that some version of Principle A must be preserved, since there is strong
empirical evidence for a restriction on locality between anaphors and their
antecedents, and Safir achieves this by introducing the principle of Local
Antecedent Licensing.

At first glance, one might think that the theory proposed in this book
accounts for dependency effects on the basis of just two principles and an
underlying algorithm: the Form to Interpretation Principle (FTIP) and the
Pragmatic Obviation Principle. But then it becomes apparent that many
other factors play a role in the selection of the best anaphoric form in a
given environment. For instance, matching of morphological information is
included as a factor, so is the effect of distributive vs. collective
interpretation, locality and thematic requirements, etc. This collection of
constraints ("scalar intervention factors") could be considered both a
strength and a weakness of the proposal. The availability of all of these
scalar intervention factors leaves us with a complex system and more needs
to be said about when and how these factors interact with each other -
because even if they are unary principles, it must be determined at what
point they impact dependency relations. Nonetheless, I generally regard it
as one of the strengths of this proposal that it acknowledges a variety of
different factors that influence the selection of anaphoric forms across
languages. It seems that previous proposals have not spelled out this broad
range of factors and incorporated them into their framework. Moreover,
another nice effect of the competitive approach coupled with scalar
intervention effects is that it allows for interpretations that are supported by
contextual factors, but would otherwise be unacceptable. A further strength
of the book is that Safir draws on some striking examples and attempts to
solve them within his competitive approach. Here, one of the phenomenon
he does not touch upon are backward anaphora, and it would be
interesting to see how his theory can account for these dependency
relations (as it appears to me that the Independence Principle would block
dependent reading in these cases).

Generally speaking, the monograph also provides a good, yet obviously
selected overview of previous approaches to anaphora and their respective
strengths and challenges. Furthermore, the theory stresses some pertinent
generalizations (e.g. the discussion of movement operations and domains),
and a convincing argument is presented for derived complementarity.
These generalizations provide a good starting point for future research,
which could test the predictions associated with the dependency scale and
the competitive principles. Since the theory is based on principles of
economy, psycholinguistic investigations might be particularly fruitful to
evaluate the predictive power of underlying principles.

Finally, it should also be noted that the reader is repeatedly referred to two
other publications by Safir (2004, in prep.) at many interesting points
throughout the book. This is unfortunate because some issues remain
unresolved but one can look forward to reading more about these
fascinating issues in the future.


Cardinaletti, A., and M. Starke. (1994). The typology of structural deficiency:
On the three grammatical classes. University of Venice Working Papers in
Linguistics 4:41-109.

Chomsky, N. (1980). On binding. Linguistic Inquiry 11:1-46.

Higginbotham, J. (1983). Logical form, binding and nominals. Linguistic
Inquiry 14:395-420.

Reinhart, T., and E. Reuland. (1993). Reflexivity. Linguistic Inquiry 24:657-

Reuland, E. (2001). Primitives of binding. Linguistic Inquiry 32:439-492.

Safir, K. (2004). The syntax of (in)dependence. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Safir, K. (in preparation). Person, perspective and anaphora. Unpublished
Ms, Rutgers University.


Petra Burkhardt is a guest researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human
Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig. Her current research interests
include anaphor resolution, the syntax-discourse interface, and sentence
processing. In her 2004 dissertation, she investigated pronoun-antecedent
relations as an interface phenomenon and showed how syntactic and
discourse-based information work together during pronoun resolution. To
this end, she utilized psycho- and neurolinguistic studies to examine
pronoun interpretation in English and Dutch. Currently, she is working on
issues of the integration of different kinds of nominal anaphors in German.

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