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Review of  Dissolving Binding Theory

Reviewer: Jason Ginsburg
Book Title: Dissolving Binding Theory
Book Author: Johan E.C.V. Rooryck Guido J. vanden Wyngaerd
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Subject Language(s): Dutch
Issue Number: 23.1792

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AUTHORS: Rooryck, Johan and Guido J. vanden Wyngaerd
TITLE: Dissolving Binding Theory
SERIES TITLE: Oxford Studies in Theoretical Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2011

Jason Ginsburg, Center for Language Research, University of Aizu


The purpose of the analyses presented in this book, as can be gleaned from the
title, is to dissolve Binding Theory. The authors take the position that
''mechanisms and principles that are independently needed in the grammar'' (p. 1)
account for the complex facts regarding pronouns and anaphors. In the eight
chapters of this book, the authors lay out analyses for a wide variety of data
(much of which is problematic for Binding Theory) in Germanic and Romance

Chapter 1: Introduction (pp. 1-5)

In this chapter, the authors explain their goals and summarize the following
seven chapters of this book.

Chapter 2: Binding, Agree, and the Elsewhere Principle (pp. 6-53)

In this chapter the authors explain their basic views about anaphors and
pronouns. The authors argue that an anaphor enters a derivation with unvalued,
but interpretable, features that become valued by forming an Agree relation with
an antecedent. An important component of this proposal is that an anaphor
functions as a probe that must c-command its antecedent, a goal, in order to
obtain an interpretation. For example, in the German example (1), the anaphor
'sich' initially has unvalued phi-features, whereas the antecedent 'Johannes'
has valued phi-features, as shown in (1b).

(1) (a)
Johannes_i liebt sich_i/_*j.
Johannes loves himself

(b) sich_{P:_,N:_,G:_}, Johannes_{P:3,N:sg,G:m}

(c) [vP sich [vP Johannes liebt sich]]

(d) sich_{P:3*,N:sg*,G:m*}
(p. 12)

The anaphor 'sich' raises and adjoins to the vP, from where it probes for and
Agrees with 'Johannes' (1c). After Agree, the anaphor and antecedent share
features, as shown in (1d); '*' signifies that the features are shared. Compare
this with the German (2), where the pronoun 'ihn' cannot co-refer with the

(2) (a)
Johannes_i liebt ihn_*i/_j.
Johannes loves him

(b) Johannes_{P:3,N:sg,G:m}, ihn_{P:3,N:sg,G:m}
(p. 12)

Both 'Johannes' and the pronoun 'ihn' initially have valued features (2b). Thus,
the pronoun does not form an Agree relation with 'Johannes'. Relying on the
Distributed Morphology view (Halle & Marantz 1993, Harley & Noyer 1999) that
lexical insertion of Vocabulary Items into morphemes occurs post-syntactically,
the anaphor 'sich' is inserted in (1) because the features are shared, and the
pronoun 'ihn' is inserted in (2), since the features are not shared. Thus, this
analysis requires that the lexical insertion process be sensitive to whether or
not features are shared.

In constructions such as (3), a pronoun may or may not corefer with an
R-expression. In this case, the pronoun and R-expression are both inserted into
the derivation with fully valued sets of phi-features.

(3) John thinks that he is smart. (p. 15)

The possibility of coreference, following Phase Theory (Chomsky 2001, 2004,
2008), results from 'John' and 'he' appearing in different phases. Since ''phases
are transferred to the semantic component separately'', they ''may or may not
corefer'' (p. 16).

In (2), in order to discount the possibility of coreference, the authors assume
that the phi-features of the pronoun are present on v, thus essentially placing
the R-expression and the pronoun in the same phase. Since the R-expression and
anaphor are in the same phase, they cannot corefer.

The authors go on to argue that exceptions to Principle B effects can occur when
a language lacks an appropriate reflexive pronoun. This is accounted for via the

(4) Absence of Principle B effects (APBE)
Pronouns behave like anaphors when a dedicated class of reflexive pronouns is
lacking. (p. 19).

For example, Dutch contains a 3rd person reflexive pronoun 'zich', but it lacks
a reflexive pronoun that can be used in the 1st and 2nd person. Thus, in accord
with the APBE, when a 1st and 2nd person anaphor is required, a pronoun must be

Chapter 3: The Syntax of Simplex Reflexives (pp. 54-115)

In this chapter, the authors develop an analysis that explains the differing
syntactic and semantic behaviors of the Dutch simplex and complex reflexives
'zich' and 'zichzelf'.

The authors propose (following work by den Dikken 2006) that a simplex reflexive
is Merged in the specifier position of a possessive phrase that functions as the
''internal argument of an unaccusative verb'' (p. 54). In (5a), 'zich' is Merged
in specifier position of a possessive phrase referred to as a RP (RelatorP) and
the possessor (the antecedent) 'Milo' originates in a Predicate Phrase (PP)
complement to the relator R (5b).

(5) (a)
Milo heeft zich bezeerd.
Milo has REFL hurt
'Milo hurt himself.' (p. 55)

(b) [RP [DP zich] R+P [PP P [DP Milo]]]

The P (Predicate) head then incorporates into the relator R, and P+R incorporate
into the unaccusative verb, thus enabling it to assign case. The reflexive,
which is merged with unvalued features, Agrees with the possessor antecedent,
thus obtaining a set of valued (and shared) phi-features. The antecedent then
must move out of the RP.

The authors propose that a complex (unlike a simplex) reflexive does not
originate in a possessive DP but is ''merged as the internal argument of a
transitive verb'' (p. 54) as in (6). The reflexive 'zichzelf' moves and adjoins
to the vP (6b), from where it c-commands its antecedent, thus enabling it to
obtain a shared and valued set of phi-features.

(6) (a)
Milo heeft zichzelf bezeerd.
Milo has REFL hurt
'Milo hurt himself' (p. 54)

(b) [vP zichzelf [vP Mil bezeer zichzelf]]

The authors go on to provide a variety of arguments to demonstrate that the
simplex Dutch reflexive is the internal argument of an unaccusative verb,
whereas the complex reflexive is the internal argument of a transitive verb.

Chapter 4: Self-reflexives as Floating Quantifiers (pp. 116-152)

The authors begin by demonstrating that floating quantifiers, self-reflexives,
and intensifiers share many properties, such as the need to be c-commanded by an
antecedent, the requirement that an antecedent be local, and a ban on split
antecedents. They also can be used as arguments (7a) or adjuncts (7b).

a. John shaved himself.
b. John ate the pizza himself. (p. 125)

Floating quantifiers and intensifiers are argued to be base-generated in a
position adjoined to a vP, whereas a true self-reflexive is base-generated as
the object of a transitive verb (as proposed in chapter 2), from where it moves
to adjoin to the vP edge. This proposal explains why ''in many languages
intensifiers and anaphors are identical in form (p. 139)''; they are both
elements that have unvalued phi-features and that must adjoin to a vP.
Intensifiers and reflexives, however, do not always behave in the same manner
because reflexives are initially merged as arguments and intensifiers are merged
as adjuncts.

The authors then examine logophors, as in (8), which demonstrates the logophoric
use of 'himself'.

(8) Max_i boasted that the Queen invited Mary and himself_i for a drink.
(p. 145, per Zribi-Hertz 1989)

The authors take the position that logophors are pronouns, merged into a
derivation with a full set of phi-features, but which, in languages such as
English and Dutch, have the same pronunciations as anaphors due to ''mere
morphological syncretism'' (p. 145).

Chapter 5: Extending the Analysis (pp. 153-187)

In this chapter, the authors develop an analysis of the behavior of simplex and
complex Dutch reflexives in PPs. The simplex 'zich', unlike the complex
'zichzelf', cannot occur as the complement of a functional P, as shown in (9).

Fred luisterde naar zich*(zelf) op de radio.
Fred listened to REFL on the radio
'Fred listened to himself on the radio.' (p. 157)

In this case, 'zich' is the complement of P and does not originate inside of a
possessive RP (see the discussion of chapter 2). Assuming that a functional PP
is the complement of V, 'zich' is never able to establish a c-command
relationship with its antecedent and thus its phi-features can never be valued.
The complex reflexive 'zichzelf' is able to occur in this construction because
it undergoes movement to adjoin to the vP, from where it is able to establish an
Agree relation with its antecedent. Unlike in a functional PP, the simplex
'zich' can occur in a spatial/temporal PP, as in (10a). As shown in (10b), the
spatial/temporal PP is Merged in a position adjoined to the vP, from where
'zich' is able to c-command and Agree with its antecedent.

(10) (a)
Peter keek achter zich.
'Peter looked behind himself'

(b) [vP [PP achter zich] [vP Peter keek]]
(p. 159)

The authors then discuss nonlocal uses of the simplex reflexive 'zich' (which
the authors admit that they are unable to account for) and cross-linguistic
variation in reflexives.

Chapter 6: The Semantics of Simplex and Complex Reflexives: the Case of zich and
zichzelf (pp. 188-230)

In this chapter, the authors develop a semantic analysis of Dutch simplex and
complex reflexives. Following work by Coppieters (1982) and Bouchard (1995), the
authors separate DPs into I-Subjects and Concepts. I-Subjects have ''internal
temporal structure'' (p. 189) and demonstrate an individual and stage level
distinction, whereas Concepts do not show this individual-stage level
distinction. The simplex 'zich' can only occur with an I-Subject; 'zich' refers
to ''a temporal interval'' (p. 196) and thus it must have an antecedent that has
internal temporal structure. For example, (11a) favors the complex 'zichzelf',
since the image of Freddy in the video recording is dissociated from Freddy's
actual self and functions as a Concept; the verb is also transitive. In (11b),
'zich' is preferred since the image in the mirror is much closer to Freddy's
actual self, and functions as an I-Subject; the verb is unaccusative.

(11) (a)
Freddy zag zichzelf/?*zich op de video-opname.
Freddy saw REFL.self/REFL in the video recording.
'Freddy saw himself in the video recording.'

Freddy zag ??zichzelf/zich in de spiegel.
Freddy saw REFL.self/REFL in the mirror.
'Freddy saw himself in the mirror.' (p. 226)

Chapter 7: The Syntax of Spatial Anaphora (pp. 231-288)

This chapter focuses on ''snake sentences'' such as (12a-b), which contain
locative PPs in which anaphors and pronouns do not show the usual complementary

(12) (a) John_i saw a snake behind him_i.
(b) John_i saw a snake behind himself_i. (p. 248)

To account for these types of constructions, the authors rely on an AxPart
(Svenonius 2006) projection of a PP, which is ''a category like aspect or
modality'' (p. 240) that has axial features (features that refer to directions).
The authors propose that ''pronouns lack grammatical axial dimensions'' (p. 247),
but that 'self' contains axial dimensions. In (12a), 'him' does not have axial
dimensions. Thus, the AxPart head must contain a valued set of axial features.
In addition, the authors assume that AxPart is a variable that is bound by the
speaker, which gives this construction an ''observer-centered interpretation'' (p.
248). This additional variable binding by the speaker essentially turns the PP
into a phase (if the R-expression and the pronoun were in the same phase,
coreference would not be allowed). In (12b), AxPart has unvalued axial features
that become valued via an Agree relation with valued axial features of the
'self' part of the anaphor. In this case, AxPart does not function as a variable
that is bound by the speaker, and this PP does not function as a phase. The
authors go on to explain how these proposals account for the sensitivity of
snake sentences to ''perspective, the nature of the location, and
quantifier-binding'' (p. 246). The authors extend their analysis to account for
snake sentences in Dutch, which show differences from English, and to account
for the behavior of anaphors in possessive constructions with 'have'.

Chapter 8: Conclusion (pp. 289-293)

This chapter summarizes the main arguments of each of the previous chapters of
this book.


The authors have succeeded in developing detailed analyses of a wide variety of
data, some of which is very complex, without recourse to Binding Theory. I think
that in many ways (especially with respect to the extent of the data that they
are able to cover), their analyses achieve a greater level of explanatory
adequacy than does Binding Theory. The analyses presented in this book also
raise a number of issues, some of which I touch on below.

The analyses require that lexical items appear in various positions in which
they are not pronounced. For example, the authors argue that self-reflexives
move to adjoin to a vP; this movement is necessary so that the anaphor can
establish an Agree relation with its antecedent (13a-b). However, it is not
clear what motivates this movement, a point that the authors are aware of; they
write ''[i]t is not clear to us at this point what drives the movement of
self-reflexives to the edge of vP'' (p. 138). In addition, assuming that a
self-reflexive moves to the vP edge also requires that the verb undergo movement
later, as can be seen in (13c), which shows the underlying structure of (13a).

(13) (a) Pete invited himself.
(b) [vP himself [vP Pete invited himself]]
(c) [TP Pete invited [vP himself [vP Pete invited himself]]]
(p. 138)

The authors' proposal that the Dutch simplex anaphor 'zich' and its antecedent
originate within a possessive RP in which the anaphor c-commands the antecedent
(see (5a-b)) requires the R-expression to undergo movement out of the RP, since
the antecedent ends up c-commanding its antecedent at surface structure. Whether
or not all of this movement is required and the details of how these movement
operations are carried out are issues worthy of further investigation.

The analyses presented in this book require that a number of verbs alternate
between unaccusative and transitive syntax. In constructions with the simplex
Dutch 'zich', the authors propose that the verb is underlyingly unaccusative
(e.g., see (5a)). Although a variety of interesting evidence is given for this
proposal, further investigation of this issue may be warranted, especially
because constructions of this sort appear, on the surface, to be transitive,
with an apparent subject (the antecedent R-expression) and object (anaphor).

The analysis of spatial anaphors presented in chapter 7 relies on the idea that
prepositions have axial features (features associated with directions) which
play an important role in determining the behaviors of anaphors in snake
sentences. While the snake sentence data are complex, whether or not the
proposals regarding axial features of this sort, and the complexity that they
bring with them, are on the right track, could be worthy of further research.

This work should be of interest to linguists with interests in syntax
(especially those working in the Minimalist Program), morphology (especially
those interested in Distributed Morphology), and semantics. This work should
also be especially of interest to those who are interested in coreference
phenomena and the behaviors of pronouns and anaphors. Although this work focuses
on Germanic and Romance languages, it should be of interest to those who work on
other languages; one may want to see if the analyses presented in this book can
account for similar constructions in other languages. Overall, I recommend this
book, since it examines a wide variety of interesting data and the analyses
raise a number of interesting issues which could lead to much fruitful work in
the future.


Bouchard, Denis. 1995. The Semantics of Syntax. Chicago: University of Chicago

Chomsky, Noam. 2001. Derivation by phase. In Ken Hale. A Life in Language, ed.
Michael Kenstowicz, 1-52. Cambridge, MA; MIT Press.

Chomsky, Noam. 2004. Beyond explanatory adequacy. In Structures and Beyond, ed.
Adriana Belletti, 104-131. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Chomsky, Noam. 2008. On phases. In Foundational Issues in Linguistic Theory, ed.
Robert Freidin, Carlos Otero, and Maria Luisa Zubizaretta, 134-166. Cambridge,
MA: MIT Press.

Coppieters, Rene. 1982. Descriptions and attitudes: the problem of reference to
individuals. Studies in Language 6:1-22.

Dikken, Marcel den. 2006. Relators and Linkers. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Halle, Morris and Alec Marantz. 1993. Distributed morphology and the pieces of
inflection. In The View from Building 20, ed. Ken Hale and Samuel Jay Keyser,
111-176. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Harley, Heidi and Rolf Noyer. 1999. State-of-the-article: distributed
morphology. Glot International 4:3-9.

Svenonius, Peter. 2006. The emergence of axial parts. Nordlyd: Tromso Working
Papers in Linguistics 33:50-71.

Zribi-Hertz, Anne. 1989. Anaphor binding and narrative point of view: English
reflexive pronouns in sentence and discourse. Language 65:659-727.

Jason Ginsburg is an Assistant Professor in the Center for Language Research at the University of Aizu in Japan. He has a PhD in linguistics from the University of Arizona. His research interests are in syntactic theory (in the framework of Generative Grammar), computational modeling of syntactic theory, and applications of syntactic theory and natural language processing for teaching languages.

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