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Review of  Sentence amalgamation

Reviewer: Robert Earl LaBarge
Book Title: Sentence amalgamation
Book Author: Marlies Kluck
Publisher: Netherlands Graduate School of Linguistics / Landelijke (LOT)
Linguistic Field(s): Semantics
Issue Number: 23.3857

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AUTHOR: Marlies Kluck
TITLE: Sentence Amalgamation
SERIES TITLE: LOT dissertation series
PUBLISHER: Landelijke Onderzoekschool Taalwetenschap (LOT)
YEAR: 2011

R. E. Santana-LaBarge, Department of English, Arizona State University


Marlies Kluck’s “Sentence Amalgamation” is a dissertation from the University of
Groningen that, in eight chapters, tackles a widely understudied syntactic
phenomenon. Kluck’s goal is to develop an explanatory theory of amalgamation
using today’s tools of Chomsky’s Minimalist Program, modern X-bar theory, and
formal semantics and pragmatics, extending far beyond the brief transformational
analysis given originally by George Lakoff in the mid-1970s. Her work builds and
expands upon the scant literature of the subject - most notably a recent
dissertation by Maximiliano Guimarães (2004) - and related theories of
multidominance in relative clauses by Henk van Riemsdijk (2006). Ultimately,
Kluck rejects some of the important ideas laid down by the authors before her in
favor of a view of amalgamation as parentheticals, a syntactic analysis of which
“involves a special structure-building operation (‘par -Merge’) that creates a
paratactic hierarchy” (p. 5).

Kluck’s first chapter begins by discussing a comparatively little-known work
presented by George Lakoff at the 10th Annual Conference of the Chicago
Linguistic Society. Published in the proceedings as “Sentence Amalgams” (1974),
Lakoff discusses two syntactic phenomena that had been brought to his attention
by linguists John R. Ross (via Avery Andrews) and Lawrence Horn. Acknowledging
the similarities of these phenomena, Lakoff declares them both to be types of
“syntactic amalgams”, which he defines as sentences that have “chunks of lexical
material that do not correspond to anything in [their] logical
structure...rather they must be coped in [via] other derivations under
specifiable semantic and pragmatic limitations” (p. 321). Lakoff christened each
type of amalgam after its discoverer; his examples of each appear below (p. 321):

Andrews amalgam
(1) John invited you’ll never guess how many people to his party.

Horn amalgam
(2) John is going to I think it’s Chicago on Sunday.

What makes sentences such as (1) and (2) “amalgams” is that they contain elided
or “sluiced” (see Ross, 1969) clauses stuck in the argument position of a root
clause. Kluck (p. 1) labels these sluiced clauses “interrupting clauses” (IC)
(i.e. in (1), the string “you’ll never guess how many people” and in (2), the
string “I think it’s Chicago”), and, unlike Lakoff, who approaches each type of
amalgam by means of a series of transformations combined with a
semantic/pragmatic analysis, Kluck is prepared to give an (almost) entirely
syntactic account of the nature of the IC and its relationship to its
corresponding matrix clause, with the goal of approaching theoretical
explanatory adequacy (p. 8).

To begin, Kluck acknowledges the presence of what she calls the IC’s “content
kernel”, which “expresses content related to what is missing in the matrix” (p.
2). That is to say, the IC fills a spot where an “ordinary” constituent might be
placed, and intuitively corresponds with that constituent (for instance, in the
case of (1), the content kernel is “some number of people”, which is supplanted
by the IC “you’ll never guess how many people”).

Having established this, Kluck makes it clear that the puzzle driving her
inquiry is how we might reconcile the apparent independent nature of the IC with
its paradoxically semi-dependent relationship to the matrix clause; in her
words, “the content kernel behaves as if it is part of the matrix clause, while
the rest of the IC is found to be inaccessible for structural relations with
elements of the matrix clause” (p. 4). To this end, “[t]he idea that amalgams
involve ellipsis is central” (p. 2); for Andrews amalgams, the key lies in
sluicing, and in Horn amalgams, it-cleft reduction (another form of sluicing, p.
4) is crucial. With respect to the IC’s relationship to the matrix clause, Kluck
seeks to answer that question via the notion of parentheticals. The rest of her
dissertation involves analyzing (and in many cases refuting) some of the claims
made regarding amalgams and similar constructions in the established literature
by means of her own and others’ data - primarily gleaned from English, Dutch,
and other West Germanic languages, among a few others - and establishing the
validity of her hypotheses with reasonable certainty.

Chapter 2 gives a broad outline of what others have had to say about
amalgamation, primarily, the question as to how the IC can be represented itself
and in relation to the matrix clause. Beginning with Lakoff (1974), criticism
is aimed at his semantic/pragmatic approach, which, as mentioned above, does not
explain why “an indirect wh-question with exclamative force, or…hedged
assertions in the form of embedded it-clefts should be allowed to occur in the
place of regular constituents of a sentence” (p. 16), as opposed to any other
construction type. As Chomsky has outlined (1957, p. 13), a linguistic grammar
must satisfactorily generate all acceptable sentences while simultaneously
excluding ungrammatical ones.

Kluck moves on to analyze two proposed relative clause approaches to amalgams.
These have the advantage of “dealing with the unexpected appearance of a clause”
(p. 17) by assuming a relativizing, null Complementizer Phrase (CP) head
introducing the IC. Unfortunately, they ultimately fail because they assume the
IC to be subordinate with respect to the matrix clause. This, in turn, implies
that the matrix clause can c-command into the IC, which it cannot. Kluck also
outlines, while reserving full judgment on, two other important approaches: the
multidominance approach, which assumes that the IC is “shared” among separate
syntactic derivations (thus solving the c-command/subordinate clause problem);
and a previous derivation approach, which explains the general opaqueness of the
IC but has the undesirable result that the IC is instead not a clause at all,
but rather the result of some other previous derivation (pp. 46-47). Some of
these theories are discussed in further detail in subsequent chapters.

Chapters 3-6 represent the bulk of the dissertation, and each contains an
immense amount of data and theoretical information. As such, I will only be able
to briefly touch on a few of the important ideas presented therein.

Chapter 3 expands on some of the fundamental research discussed in the previous
chapter, especially with regards to the idea that the IC is a non-subordinated
clause. Kluck seeks to establish the presence of root properties at the level of
the IC, showing that it is, for instance, fundamentally different from a
relative clause (p. 49). Importantly, verb second (V2) data in Germanic
languages that pattern this way clearly show root behavior on the part of the
IC; it is well know that in finite sentences of these languages, verbs move from
the position in which they were generated to the head of a complementizer phrase
(p. 51). Embedded/subordinate clauses do not display this movement: “if the IC
is a subordinate clause...we expect the IC to be V[erb]-final in Dutch and
German” (p. 52). Kluck’s data show that this is not the case (p. 53, her
examples (7a) and (7b) in Dutch):

(3) a. Bill heeft eigenlijk dacht ik dat het Bea was gekust
Bill has actually thought I that it Bea was kissed
“Bill kissed actually I thought it was Bea”

b. *Bill heeft ik eigenlijk dacht dat het Bea was gekust
Bill has I actually thought that it Bea was kissed

Very clearly, the IC is patterning like a root clause, as expected in a V2
language such as Dutch. The data presented in Chapter 3 continues in this
fashion, analyzing and refuting any exceptions to V2 patterning rules present in
these languages, or objections that ICs are specialized relative clauses.

In refuting the subordinate clause hypothesis, her data extend to Italian,
Spanish, and Portuguese pro-drop, where the conditions for null subjects pattern
similarly in main clauses and ICs. Furthermore, Kluck invokes speech act
theory, in combination with split-CP cartography, to show that the presence of
illocutionary force and the patterning of speaker-oriented CP adverbs (such as
“frankly”) again support her claim that the IC is a non-subordinated clause.

Lastly, Kluck shows that the distribution of the IC itself within the matrix
clause does not pattern as a subordinate would. Evidence comes again from
Dutch, where ICs do not pattern the same way Dutch subordinates would (in the
sentence’s “Nachfeld”) (p. 72), nor can Dutch ICs undergo rightward displacement
via Heavy Noun Phrase Shift.

Chapter 4 explores the conflict between the data present in Chapter 3 that
clearly shows clause-like behavior of the IC, and the obvious observation that
the IC is not a complete clause. To solve this problem, Kluck invokes a
previously-mentioned concept, that of Ross’s (1969) “sluicing”. That is, the ICs
are full phrases that have been elided at the phonetic form (PF) interface and,
unlike traditional sluiced constituents, “have no correlate in the antecedent
clause” (p. 110). Kluck gives a detailed theoretical account of her reasoning,
the simplest of which is shown below (as (4), from her (31), (32), and (33), pp.

(4) a. Bob married [you’ll never guess who].
IC = “you’ll never guess who”.

b. #You’ll never guess [DP who].

c. You’ll never guess [CP who [IP Bob married]].

(4a) is an Andrews amalgam and (4b) is meant to show that the IC cannot stand on
its own (i.e. cannot take the Determiner Phrase “who” as a complement). Only
(4c) is possible: the IC is a clause sluiced at the level of the Inflection
Phrase. The non-sluiced version of (4a), then, is (5), with sluiced parts
appearing in angled brackets (Kluck’s (34), p. 24):

(5) Bob married [you’ll never guess who ].

In short, “[t]he IC is structurally derived as a full-fledged clause at the
level of syntax” (p. 166) and sluiced at the PF-interface. The sluicing is
licensed by features on complementizer phrase heads within the IC, which
explains its ability to sluice at the IP, while the retention of non-sluiced
material (i.e. wh-words in Andrews amalgams) is retained through simple
A’-movement (p. 158).

Chapter 5 is data heavy, with the ultimate goal of showing that “the content
kernel is the remnant of sluicing in the IC” (p. 170). This is achieved via the
presence of reconstruction effects (i.e. “clefted pivots are accessible to
c-command-based relations with the cleft clause, via their reconstruction site”,
p. 173), island effects (p. 174), case-matching constraints (i.e. “[a]
wh-content kernel must bear the case that its selecting verb assigns”, p. 184)
and P(reposition)-stranding generalizations (i.e. prepositions cannot be
stranded under sluicing in languages that require pied-piping).

While Chapters 4 and 5 discuss the internal structure of the IC, Chapters 6 and
7 discuss its relation to the matrix clause. It is argued by the author that ICs
are non-subordinate clauses; instead, they are examples of a type of
parenthetical. To show this, in Chapter 6, Kluck relies on pragmatic/semantic
interpretation, building on what Lakoff originally “characterized in terms of
‘exclamatory force’ and ‘hedging’” (p. 8). Importantly, the illocutionary
aspects of the IC and its relation to the matrix clause show that the
above-mentioned multidominance hypothesis of amalgams (which, to this point in
the thesis, had been presented as the most complete theoretical explanation, due
especially to its treatment of the IC as non-subordinate) is unlikely to be
true: “the information in the IC adds information that reflects the speakers
[sic] cognitive relation towards a part of what is asserted in the matrix” (p.
227). As a parenthetical with a null anchor (Chapter 7), this is predicted;
under a multidominance model, we would predict separate illocutionary force for
the IC and the matrix.

Chapter 8’s conclusion summarizes Kluck’s findings and suggests avenues for
further research. Among the most important of the latter include what amalgams
can tell us about sluicing in general, including, but not limited to, its
ability to target the CP layer with the exception of material that has been
moved into the CP’s specifier.


It is fair to say that the topic under review in Kluck’s recent dissertation has
been understudied over the last 35 years. Speaking with the benefit of
hindsight, Lakoff’s original descriptive account of amalgamation does not
approach explanatory adequacy, especially from a syntactic point of view. As
such, Kluck’s work, in both its theoretical analysis and execution, is a welcome
addition to the scant literature available since Lakoff’s presentation. It
establishes itself as one of the most complete and in-depth analyses of the
topic to date, and is likely to become necessary reading for any future
researchers wishing to venture into the curiosities of sentence amalgamation.

There is a lot of information present in this dissertation; more than can be
covered with any justice in a short review, and in general, the material itself
is complicated and uses other advanced texts as its foundation. I found myself
pausing more than once to read or review a cited text. However, this is to be
expected in a dissertation, and in this very important way, Kluck pushes the
envelope of the available literature and theories regarding not only
amalgamation, but also sluicing, relative clauses, and parentheticals. As such,
the overall goals of her dissertation are met with incredible success.

On a more detailed level, Kluck is meticulous in her organization by clearly
stating the goals for each chapter and section at the beginning and ending of
the relevant chapters and sections, and by showing exactly how those goals have
been met (and at the end of each chapter, they inevitably are). The data
presented are relevant and poignant, and in each case, further the support of
her hypotheses. My only regret is that the data had to be limited largely to
Germanic and other European languages. Future ambitious researchers might
seriously consider applying her ideas to African or Asian languages.

Syntacticians desiring a concise and interesting look into an understudied
phenomenon will benefit most from the first three chapters. Those who have
followed the work of Kluck’s committee member, Henk van Riemsdijk, may
especially be interested in her treatment of his multidominance approach, and
especially, her ultimate rejection of that hypothesis (outlined in Chapter 2).
For non-syntacticians, Kluck provides a very interesting look into
parentheticals by means of a pragmatics approach (Chapter 6), and the formal
semanticist may find her treatment of sluicing and ellipsis in Chapter 4 to be
of note. Regardless, any interested linguist will likely benefit from having had
read some of the important texts under review (Lakoff (1974), and Ross (1969),

Despite the difficulty of the text, it ought to be recommended, at least in
part, to students of linguistics at all skill levels. Kluck’s early, brief
review of Minimalism, X-bar theory, Merge, and other fundamental concepts in
syntax are among the clearest and most concise I have read. I will readily
admit, however, that the reader may have benefited from a short introduction to
the formal semantics and logical symbols that are present throughout.

For intermediate students such as me, the skill level (and perhaps general
esoteric or unheard of nature of the phenomena in question) forces the reader to
push just beyond what may be his or her current level. Lastly, since Kluck
builds upon and even improves the work of some of the most important names in
syntactic research today, it is most likely safe to assume that even seasoned
experts will not be disappointed.


Chomsky, Noam. 1957. Syntactic Structures. The Hague: Mouton.

Guimarães, Maximiliano. 2004. Derivation and representation of syntactic
amalgams. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Maryland.

Lakoff, George. 1974. Syntactic amalgams. In Papers from the 10th regional
meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society, ed. Michael Galy, Robert Fox, and
Anthony Bruck, 321–344. Chicago: University of Chicago.

van Riemsdijk, Henk. 2006. Free relatives. In The Blackwell Companion to Syntax,
ed. Martin Everaert and Henk van Riemsdijk, volume II, Chapter 27, 338–382.
Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Ross, John R. 1969. Guess who? In Papers from the 5th regional meeting of the
Chicago Linguistic Society, 252–286. Chicago: University of Chicago.

R. E. Santana-LaBarge is a student of Elly van Gelderen at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. His fields of interest include Minimalist syntax, formal semantics, the philosophy of language, and Cartesian rationalism.