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Review of  The Syntax of Nominalizations across Languages and Frameworks

Reviewer: Alexandru Cosmin Nicolae
Book Title: The Syntax of Nominalizations across Languages and Frameworks
Book Author: Artemis Alexiadou Monika Rathert
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Issue Number: 22.2465

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EDITORS: Alexiadou, Artemis and Rathert, Monika
TITLE: The Syntax of Nominalizations across Languages and Frameworks
SERIES TITLE: Interface Explorations [IE] 23
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2010

Alexandru Nicolae, Department of Grammar, ''Iorgu Iordan -- Al. Rosetti''
Institute of Linguistics of the Romanian Academy


This book examines some problems of the syntax of nominalizations, with a focus
on deverbal and deadjectival nominalizations; it also discusses the syntax of
genitives and the syntax of distinct readings of nominalizations. It is the
outgrowth of the ''Nominalizations across languages'' workshop, held at Stuttgart
University in December 2007.

The same editors, Monika Rathert and Artemis Alexiadou, published a
sister-volume in the same series (Interface Explorations 22) which deals with
the semantics of nominalizations (''The Semantics of Nominalizations across
Languages and Frameworks'').

I will first summarize the contents of each individual chapter, and then
evaluate the volume as a whole and discuss some salient problems examined therein.


In the ‘Introduction' (pp. 1-7), Alexiadou and Rathert first discuss the
non-homogeneity of the class of nominalizations, and follow Grimshaw (1990) in
distinguishing Argument Structure Nominals (ASN; e.g. ''the examination of the
patients'') and Referential Nominals (RN; e.g. ''the examination was on the
table'') - in Grimshaw's (1990: 45) formulation, these are called ''complex event''
nominals, on the one hand, and ''simple event'' and ''result'' nominals, on the
other hand. Next, they discuss the two main models of representation of ASNs,
i.e. the lexical and the structural one. In a lexical model of representation
(cf., for instance, Grimshaw 1990), the ASN inherits its argument structure from
the embedded verb; this is a transformation which happens in the lexicon. In
structural models (cf., for instance, Alexiadou 2001), the ASN is built in a
syntactic manner and the presence of argument structure inside nouns is the
result of the existence of some verbal projection inside the nominal domain.
Another important problem of nominalizations, ''affix rivalry'' (the phenomenon of
''competition between two or more affixes and the properties they are sensitive
to'' (p. 3)), is also briefly presented. In the remainder of this introductory
chapter, the content of the volume's contributions is presented. This
introduction is very useful, for both specialists and beginners: specialists
will find here the theoretical orientation of the volume/contributions;
beginners will find the relevant background for the study of nominalizations.

In their study, 'On the syntax of episodic vs. dispositional -er nominals' (pp.
9-38), Artemis Alexiadou and Florian Schäfer approach the problem of the
internal make-up of -er nominals in English. Using the 'external argument
generalization' criterion, the authors distinguish two types of -er nominals:
nominals which observe this criterion and nominals which do not; the former are
further divided into ''episodic'' (which always project their internal
complements) and ''dispositional'' (which may leave their complements
unexpressed). The goal of the study is to correctly derive the presence/absence
of complement structure for these two types of nominals. The authors approach
the subject from a structural perspective and use the tools and principles of
Distributed Morphology (DM) to derive the internal structure of nominals.
Previous approaches to the problem of the presence/absence of complement
structure of these nominals made use of a classification along a [±event]
dimension. Alexiadou and Schäfer show that a distinction of this sort is not
entirely accurate to correctly distinguish episodic and dispositional nominals.
Instead, claiming that both these nominals are eventive, they propose (and bring
evidence for) an approach in terms of their internal make-up. Specifically, both
types have an internal structure of the type nP > Asp > VoiceP > vP > RootP, and
it is the type of aspect which distinguishes them: dispositional vs. episodic
aspect head. This proposal is accurate since it correctly derives the properties
of the nominals under discussion.

In her contribution, 'On the morphological make-up of nominalizations in
Serbian' (pp. 38-66), Monika Bašić approaches the problem of the internal
structure of Serbian nominalizations using Ramchand's (2008) system of verbal
decomposition. Starting from the empirical observation that complex event
nominals, result nominals and simple event nominals display the same morphology,
the author seeks to trace the origin of the different syntactic and semantic
behavior of these types of nominalizations. Thus, making use of the three core
projections in Ramchand (2008), i.e. Init(iation)P > Proc(ess)P > Res(ult)P,
Bašić proposes that the difference between (types of) nominalizations is
attributable to different internal structures with respect to the
presence/absence of these core projections. More exactly, a (particular)
verbalizer may be the instantiation of different sub-sequences of the functional
sequence. For instance, the verbalizer in complex event nouns lexicalizes all
three projections: InitP is responsible for properties relating to agentivity
and may surface in the form of a by-phrase; ProcP is tied to eventivity, etc. In
contrast, in result nominals, the verbalizer lexicalizes only the Res head,
while in the case of simple event nominals the verbalizer lexicalizes only ProcP
and ResP. This approach correctly derives the properties of all types of
nominalizations and, moreover, solves the morphological puzzle raised above.

In his contribution, 'A syntactic account of affix rivalry in Spanish
nominalizations' (pp. 67-91), Antonio Fábregas studies the ''rivalry'' of three
nominalization affixes in Spanish: -ción (e.g., construc-ción 'building'),
-miento (e.g., sanea-miento 'sanitarization'), -do/-da (e.g., sella-do
'sealing'). Fábregas' goal is to propose a principled account of the choice of
nominalizer, and to show that this is not a choice dependent on the
idiosyncratic properties of the base or on notions of complexity of parsing; on
the contrary, it is shown that the choice is due to syntactic and semantic
properties of the base. Using research on the typology of internal arguments
(rheme path objects vs. undergoers) and the lexical decomposition system
proposed by Ramchand (see above), the author shows that -miento and -do/-da
attach at the verbal base (i.e., stem) level and that their distribution is
constrained by the nature of the internal argument of the verb; -ción, however,
attaches to the root level and is not sensitive to the argument structure of the
verb. The syntactic mechanisms employed in the derivation are however different:
-miento makes use of a ''remerge'' strategy; -do/-da nominals are the outcome of
merging a nominal layer on top of the verbal structure (above a projection
labeled ''E(xternal) A(spect)P, which is lexicalized in Spanish by the participle
morpheme); -ción is the result of the lexical spell-out of an NP layer which
subordinates the verbal structure (root). The proposed mechanisms correctly
predict the distribution of the three affixes and, moreover, account for cases
in which a verbal stem selects two rival affixes.

In 'The syntax of deverbal nominals in Bulgarian' (pp. 93-128), Angelina Markova
shows that argument structure is governed by functional structure, more exactly,
that argument structure is licensed within a nominalization only by certain
functional projections. Like other authors of this volume, Markova approaches
word formation (nominalization formation) from a syntactic perspective. The
author distinguishes three morphological types of nominalizations in Bulgarian
(-ne, Voice -ie and ''other-suffix'' nouns), and presents their main syntactic and
distributional traits. These three morphological types of nominalizations are
different from a syntactic point of view (i.e. they are derived in different
ways and have different internal structures), and these differences carry over
to their argument structure. Thus, in a Grimshaw (1990) fashion, with respect to
argument structure, three types of nominalizations are distinguished:
''argument-structure nouns'' (Grimshaw's 1990 ''complex event nominals''),
''participant-structure nominals'' (Grimshaw's 1990 ''simple event nouns''),
nominals'' (idem in Grimshaw 1990). Finally, the author presents the role of
prefixation in the nominalizing process and the interactions of prefixation and
argument structure.

In 'Deadjectival nominalizations and the structure of the adjective' (pp.
129-158), Isabelle Roy approaches the problem of nominals derived from
adjectives, with data from French; the aim of the paper is to provide an
analysis of this type of nominal and to properly account for their internal
syntactic and semantic properties. The analysis is carried out in the DM
framework. The paper has several claims, among which the most interesting ones
are the following: deadjectival nominals belong to two classes with distinct
properties (''state-nominals'' and ''quality-nominals''); adjectives can be
nominalized (turned into nouns) only by the mediation of a PredP or, the other
way around, only predicative (in opposition to attributive) adjectives can be
nominalized. The author brings convincing evidence to substantiate both claims:
the correlation of different readings of adjectives and the reading kept in
nominalization; modification by adverb-like adjectives, etc. Likewise, in
section 2, the author makes a short but thorough presentation of the mapping
between the semantics of adjectives and their internal structure. Isabelle Roy's
proposed mechanism correctly derives deadjectival nominals and is able to
account for the distinct interpretations of this type of derived nominal.

In the study 'Event-structure constraints on nominalization' (pp. 159-198), Ivy
Sichel discusses the problem of the 'deficiency' of nominalization structures
with respect to their verbal counterparts. She starts by discussing ECM, Double
object, Object-Control and Particle shift asymmetries in the case of derived
nominals, ing-of gerunds and poss-ings. The problems thoroughly covered in
Siechel's insightful study include: agent exclusivity, agentivity as a
co-temporal cause, nominal passives, and complex events in ing-of
nominalizations. The conclusion arrived at (which is, as well, the main claim
defended throughout the paper) is that derived nominals in English are deficient
in the sort of events they can host, being restricted to simple, single events,
this in addition to the pure morphosyntactic deficiency they display.

In 'Aspect and argument structure of deverbal nominalizations: A split vP
analysis' (pp. 199-217), Petra Sleeman and Ana Maria Brito critically revisit
Grimshaw’s (1990) theory of nominalizations, and argue that in fact there are
five types of nominalizations with distinct readings (not two, as in Grimshaw).
They have a syntactic perspective on the building of nominalizations, and adopt
Ramchand's (2008) split vP hypothesis; different readings and different
possibilities of realization of the argument structure of nominalizations are
tied to various differences within this model of split vP. One interesting
result is a fine-grained analysis of the aspectual dimension of deverbal
nominalizations, and the dissociation of a process reading from the presence of
argument structure.

In his study, 'Post-nominal genitives and prepositional phrases in German: A
uniform analysis' (pp. 219-251). Torgrim Solstad approaches the topic of
post-nominal genitives and PPs in German in the framework entitled
''surface-oriented syntax'', providing solid (binding-theoretic) evidence against
the DM analysis. More specifically, his proposal is that these constituents
should be analyzed uniformly as N(ominal) P(hrase) adjuncts. As to semantics,
all post-nominal genitives are represented by the underspecified two-place
relation r (rho); in the case of PPs, the picture is more diverse, but is still
congruous with this assumption. Different realizations of this relation give
rise to various interpretations of post-nominal genitives. The semantic analysis
is developed in Discourse Representation Theory (Underspecified DRT
implementation, more exactly). Solstad convincingly argues against the
assumption of structure-sharing between VPs and their corresponding
nominalizations, thus providing arguments against the current DM approaches.


The book's title is entirely justified ('The syntax of nominalizations across
languages and frameworks'): the syntactic issues of nominalizations are examined
against data from a great number of languages, and from various theoretical
perspectives. For instance, data from English, Spanish, Serbian, Bulgarian,
French, Hebrew and German are extensively analyzed; also, additional evidence
from Dutch, Romanian, Malagasy and Portuguese is brought into the discussion of
the facts, when necessary. As to the theoretical frameworks employed, the DM
(/syntactic) approach to word-formation is dominant; the lexicalist approach is
argued against in some of the contributions; in the last paper of the book, the
semantic analysis is developed in Discourse Representation Theory.

The book is very well-written and clearly structured; the presentation of the
data is made in a clear way, with strict demarcations that eliminate the
possibility of confusion between concepts and ideas. All the authors bring into
their discussion a great variety of examples to support their claims.

As a native speaker of Romanian, I do not agree with the interpretation of one
of the Romanian examples used in the argumentation Alexiadou and Schäfer (p.
29): in (37a), ''dormitor'' may only denote a 'bedroom'; the reading in (i), 'a
person who sleeps', is, at least for me and for other native speakers I
consulted, excluded.

I think that this book will be of very much help to all researchers who
currently work on nominalizations, since it acquaints the reader with several
analyses of particular phenomena concerning nominalizations, and it shows the
current state of research in the domain.


Alexiadou, Artemis. 2001. Functional structure in nominals. Nominalization and
ergativity. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Grimshaw, Jane. 1990. Argument structure. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Ramchand, Gillian, 2008. Verb Meaning and the Lexicon: A First Phase Syntax.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Alexandru Nicolae is assistant researcher at the 'Iorgu Iordan − Al. Rosetti' Institute of Linguistics of the Romanian Academy (the Department of Grammar). His main research interests are: the syntax of the Romanian DP from a comparative perspective; the diachronic development of functional categories (nominal categories, in particular); the biolinguistic perspective; nominal and clausal ellipsis. In the last two years, he has been working with Professor Alexandra Cornilescu on various topics regarding the syntax of Romanian DPs: nominal ellipsis, nominal phases and peripheries, definiteness valuation, and diachronic changes in the nominal phrase (changes in the patterns of definiteness valuation, the evolution of the definite article and genitives in Old Romanian). His is co-author of 'Dinamica limbii române actuale. Aspecte gramaticale şi discursive' ('The Dynamics of Present-day Romanian. Grammatical and Discourse Aspects'), 2009, 'Gramatica de bază a limbii române' ('The Basic Grammar of Romanian'), 2010.