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Review of  Current Issues in Spanish Syntax and Semantics

Reviewer: Miguel Rodríguez-Mondoñedo
Book Title: Current Issues in Spanish Syntax and Semantics
Book Author: Javier Gutiérrez-Rexach Professor Silva-Villar
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Semantics
Subject Language(s): Spanish
Issue Number: 13.947

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Gutierrez-Rexach, Javier, and Luis Silva-Villar, ed. (2001)
Current Issues in Spanish Syntax and Semantics. Mouton
de Gruyter, vi+254pp, hardback ISBN 3-11-016929-0,
Studies in Generative Grammar 53
Announced at

Miguel Rodriguez-Mondonedo, Department of Spanish and Portuguese,
The University of Arizona

This book contains a collection of thirteen papers that
present a wonderful overview of current linguistic theory,
which is used to analyze some old problems in Spanish
Grammar. Writing from a minimalist point of view, the
papers deal with some features of clitics and various
aspects of the structure and interpretation of Determiner
Phrase (DP) and Verbal Phrase (VP). It has to be noted that,
despite of the fact that they display a rigorous
argumentation, all articles elucidate their contents in a very
clear way. It allows considering this book not only a worth-
reading update of traditional analysis, but also a useful
introduction to some complex issues in Spanish

The book has three parts. Part 1 discusses the structure and
interpretation of DP. It has three papers.

The first article, by Ignacio Bosque, is ''Adjective Position
and the Interpretation of Indefinites''. Bosque introduces
the idea that prenominal attributive adjectives (1b) and
elatives (1c) in Spanish behave in the same way with
respect to (non)specificity. For instance:

(1) a. Las cinco muchachas hab'ian conocido a un actor FAMOSO
'The five girls had met a [specific/non-specific] famous actor'
b. Las cinco muchachas hab'ian conocido a un FAMOSO actor
'The five girls had met a [specific] famous actor'
c. Las cinco muchachas hab'ian conocido a un actor FAMOSISIMO
'The five girls had met a [specific] extremely famous actor'

Sentence (1a) is ambiguous because each girl could have
met a different famous actor (non-specific) or all of them
could have met the same person (specific); but sentences
(1b) and (1c) have only specific interpretation. The same
contrast appears when different tests of (non) specificity are
used: generic operators, quantificational adverbs, indefinite
nominals in directive context, negation, subjunctive relative
clauses, inter alia.

To explain these facts, Bosque assumes that prenominal
attributive adjectives (i) move overtly to Specifier of Degree
Phrase (DegP), and then, (ii) covertly, to Specifier of some
Functional Projection (FP) above DP (''-i'' is my mark for

(2) OPERATOR.[FP (Famoso)-i [D un [DegP famoso-i [Deg]
[AP* actor [AP (famoso)-i ] ] ] ]

In this way, a specific interpretation (with ''variable''
reading) is avoided, since FP blocks binding between
OPERATOR and the variable provided by the indefinite.

The next paper is ''Issues in the Syntax of DP in Romance
and Germanic'', by Enrique Mallen. The author observes
that derived nominals in Spanish and German usually
realize their arguments (as well as possessors) in a
postnominal position (3a), however, genitive proper nouns
(arguments and possessors) can occur prenominally in
German but not in Spanish (3b). In the other hand,
attributive adjectives must be prenominal in German, but
they are often postnominal in Spanish (3c).

a'. La descripci�n del ladr�n (Spanish)
a''. Die Beschreibung des Diebes (German)
'the description of-the thief'
b'. *De Bokan el ataque fue inexcusable (Spanish)
b''. Bokans Angriff war unverzeihlich (German)
'Bokan attack was inexcusable'
c'. El 'exito arrollador de la abuelita
c''. Omas unubertreffliche Erfolge
'granny's superlative success'

To account for these and other similar Spanish/German
contrasts, Mallen assumes that attributive adjectives (AP)
are generated in [Spec, AgrP] in both languages, and then,
in German, AP raises to Spec of KP (Case Phrase), because
a [+strong] case feature---which will be [-strong] in Spanish.
It assumes a DP structure like (4), where Agr goes upstairs
cyclically and NP raises to [Spec, PredP] (Sanchez 1996).

(4) [DP [D Agr-i] [NumP [Num t-i] [KP [Kase t-i] [PredP [NP N]-k
[AgrP [AP] [t-i] t-k ]]]]]

It is possible to make the same claim regarding arguments
inside DP, assuming more complex Agr projections, to
explain distribution of Theme and Agent.

''The Syntax and Semantics of Preverbal Topical Phrases in
Spanish'', by Eugenia Casielles, addresses the features of
topical phrases in Spanish. Contreras 1991, Olarrea 1996,
among others have proposed that preverbal subjects in
Spanish are always adjuncts and they do not use any
specifier position. Casielles challenges this idea observing
that Spanish does not allow bare nouns (BN) as preverbal
subjects (5a) but it does allow them as preverbal topics (5b):

(5) a. *Ni�os jugaban en el parque
'Children were playing in the park'
b. Libros hay en la biblioteca
'Books there-are in the library'

In addition, since BNs cannot rise (left-dislocated BNs do
not involve movement), they have to stay inside VP and
cannot get a generic interpretation (only an existential one).
Therefore, there must be two different positions for subjects
(6a) and dislocated phrases (6b).

(6) a. [IP SPECIFIER [I' I [VP ] ]
b. [IP XP [IP XP [IP XP [IP ] ] ] ]

However, subjects can be dislocated, as in:

(7) [A 'el] [su madre] [el coche] no se lo dejar'ia nunca
[to him] [his mother] [the car] not would-lend never
'His mother would NEVER let him borrow the car'

This suggest that (5a) could be grammatical if [Ni�os] is
topical. Casielles tells that this is not true, and proposes to
use the distinction between two points of view: Topic-
Comment and Focus-Background (basically, the idea that
topic is not equal to non-focus). According to her, BNs
cannot be Topics, but Backgrounds. In addition, (7) has no
topic, because the ''appearance of a dislocated elements
means that the sentence has a Background-focus
structure'' (p.75). Then, we can conclude that (5a) will be
grammatical if the sentence has a Focus-Background

Part 2 discusses the distribution of clitics. It has five

''On the Doubling of Overt Operators'', by Jon Franco,
addresses the fact that, in Basque Spanish and other
Spanish dialects, clitic-doubling of wh-words and
quantifiers is possible, as in:

(8) ?A qui�n-i le-i viste?
to whom ACC-CL3sg saw-2sg
Who did you see?

However, (8) is possible only if the wh-word is linked with
an element inferred from the discourse. Franco argues that
a clitic can double only presupposed entities. To encode
presuppositionality without using an ad hoc feature, the
author assumes that these structures have a referential
pro, which, in some dialects, can be licensed by discourse:

(9) ?[ A qui'enes pro-i ] les-i deportar�n?
to which-pl ACC-CL-3-PL deport-fut-3-pl
Which ones of them will be deported?

To obtain a discourse referent from presuppositions, Franco
uses Rizzi's 1997 structure of left periphery, and supposes
that Topic Phrase (TopP)'s head licenses pro (under c-
comand and coindexation), and then, the clitic-doubled
element raises to [Spec, TopP], covertly, forcing a discourse
referent. Unlike Spanish Basque, the dialects where (8) is
not grammatical do not accept Top as a licenser of pro.

''Interface Conditions and the Semantics of Argument
Clitics'', by Javier Gutierrez-Rexach, proposes that clitics
are Determiners, with D feature. They may select an overt
DP (the doubled element) and can saturate a verbal
argument. Since clitics are prosodically weak, they need to
move ''to a host that will be the prosodically strong element''
(p. 111), namely, V. Since some times there is not a
doubled element, we can conclude that ''the selectional
feature D of the clitic is optional'' (p. 113). Then, (11) is a
derivation for (10), leaving aside the feature structures:

(10) Mar'ia le dio el libro a Pedro
Maria him gave the book to Pedro
'Maria gave the book to Pedro'

(11) a. MERGE: =>
b. MERGE: => a Pedro>
c. MOVE:
d. MERGE: => dio el libro a Pedro>

This analysis allows to consider a clitic as a ''function
mapping sets--the context set argument---to arity reducers''
(p. 118). The denotation of clitic will depend on semantics
properties of its case (an interpretable feature, according to
Gutierrez-Rexach). Accusative Clitics require that the
doubled element will be semantically definite (a principal
filter), excluding, therefore, the non-specific interpretation
of doubled existential quantifiers. Dative clitics have not
such requirement.

''Adverbial Weak Pronouns: Derivation and Interpretation'',
by Javier Gutierrez-Rexach, analyses weak adverbial
pronouns (temporal and locative ones) as clitics,
disregarding the idea that they are expletives. Some
Spanish forms for this category are ''ahi'' ['aj] ('there'),
''ahora'' ('now'), ''ya'' ('already'), aun ('still'). All of them have
a corresponding strong form, which some times has a
different stress, for instance, ah'i [a'i] ('there'). Only the later
ones can be focused:

(12) a. Anda por ['aj] / *[FOCUS 'aj] over there
'Go away!'
b. Anda por [a'i] / [FOCUS a'i] over there
'He is walking over there'

As nominal clitics, they can be doubled and the derivation
of this structure will follow similar steps than nominal
pronoun (see (11) above), that is, clitic and doubled element
merge, and, in some moment, the clitic moves to a verbal
host because of a prosodic feature (13a). However, also it
can be morphologically attached to the doubled element
(13b) or other non-verbal hosts.

(13) a. ['Ahi] te lo pongo [sobre la mesa]
there to you it put-I over the table
b. Te lo pongo ['ahi sobre la mesa]
to you it put-I there over the table
'I put it on the table for you'

A main difference between adverbial and nominal clitics is
that the former ones has semantics restricted to properties
of events. However---since thematic roles can be properties
of events (Parsons 1990)---adverbial clitics can satisfy
thematic properties of a verb. They have also interesting
interactions with aspect, ergativity, negation and telicity.

''Universal Constraints on 'Superfluous' Elements: The Case
of Galician 'Arb Che' '', by V�ctor Longa and Guillermo
Lorenzo. This paper analyses the behavior of ''che'', a
special ethical dative in Galicean. This form (always in
second person singular) express ''an arbitrary (or supra-
individual) interest in the subject matter of the sentence''
(p. 177); for that reason, the authors call it 'Arb CHE'.

(14) As rapazas de hoxe sonCHE moi descaradas
the girls of today are-ARB very impudent
'Today's girls are very impudent'

The authors assume that 'Arb CHE' is the head of a tau
Projection (tP), between VP and Dative Phrase (DatP), which
is also the position for reflexive anaphoric clitics like ''se'',
since they have complementary distribution.

(15) [AgrOP [AgrO DO clitic] [DatP [Dat IO clitic] [tP [t Arb CHE]
[VP ] ] ] ]

'Arb CHE' is base-generated, which explains why it cannot
appear in non-clitic form (it is non-argumental); also, there
is a PRO in [Spec, tP], to account for its arbitrary reading.
Since [Spec, tP] is an inherent case position (PRO could get
a Null Case), a minimality effect occurs when a dative with
Experiencer Role raises to [Spec, DatP] (another inherent
case position) to check case in constructions with psych-
verbs: it crosses two case positions of the same kind. It
explains why 'Arb CHE' cannot appear with psych-verbs.

''Clitic Doubling and the Acquisition of Agreement in
Spanish'', by Marta Luj�n and Claudia Parodi, also
addresses clitic-doubling constructions, but in the context
of languages in contact, namely, English (E) and Spanish in
Los Angeles (LAS), and Spanish and Quechua (Q) in South
America (AS, Andean Spanish). Surprisingly, the same kind
of ''free doubling'' (with no agreement) occurs in both
places, regardless of the difference between the other
language in contact with Spanish, as in (16):

(16) LAS
a. LO veo LA NI�A
'I see the girl'
b. LA dej� EL COCHE en la esquina
'S/he left the car at the corner'

(17) AS
a. Me LA han roto MI COMETA
'They've ruined my kite'
'I didn't see his brothers'

To explain this fact, Lujan and Parodi, following Chomsky
1995, assume that Objects are checked in [Spec2, vP], after
the adjunction of V to v. We can see the derivation in (18).

(18) [vP Spec2(=Object-k) [v' Spec1(=Subject) [v' [v+V-i] [VP t-i
[t-k] ]]]]]

Since doubled constructions are interpreted as focal in
Standard Spanish (SS), but not in LAS or AS, we can
assume that the doubled object does not erase AGR
features in v; then, the clitic can check AGR when V raises
to v (as in 18). In LAS and AS, AGR and Case can be
checked separately, therefore, the clitic can double Objects
freely (with no agreement). A similar approach explains
other doubling constructions, like double genitive. Sets of
features with parametric strong/weak values take care of
these differences, making unnecessary the notion of
'transfer' to account for this phenomenon.

Part 3 discusses some properties of Verbal Phrase. It has five

''The Causee and the Theory of Bare Phrase Structure'', by
Luis L�pez, analyzes Spanish causatives like (19), where
the causee (in capital letters) is interpreted as receiving two
thematic roles: from HACER, and from
REPARAR (repair):

(19) Yo le hice reparar mi coche A MI MECANICO FAVORITO
I CLITIC made repair my car DAT my favorite mechanic
'I made my favorite mechanic repair my car'

Lopez assumes that the causee is merged with REPARAR,
receiving its first role, and then moves to [Spec, HACER] to
receive its second role. This is a problem for traditional
analysis because a role cannot be assigned via Move. Lopez
states that Move would have to work with no semantic
limitations. As evidence, he argues that the causee cannot
check case in the lower predicate, and it needs to raise
upstairs. Since his proposal violates the Theta Criterion, he
needs to find an advantage to his hypothesis: it eliminates
''asymmetry between Merge and Move with respect to Theta
Theory'' (p. 238)

''Temporal Modification, the 24-Hour Rule and the Location
of Reference Time'', by Gerhard Brugger, is a study of the
Present Perfect (PrP), which is defined in Reichenbach's
(1947) system as E_R,S----with Event Time (E) preceding
(''_'') Reference Time (R), which is simultaneous ('','') with
Speech Time (S). However, Brugger finds variation in the
meaning of PrP cross-linguistically (also, it could be E,R_S).
For Spanish, a 24-hour rule can be formulated (''PrP can be
modified by a definite adverb, but only if the adverb denotes
an interval that is part of today''--p. 247), but it does not
work in other languages as Italian, French, German or
English. The author proposes that different forms have to
account for differences in meaning.

He assumes that E, R and S are represented syntactically
in Tense Projection (TP), to explain their temporal order, as
in (20):

(20) [TP S T R [TP2 E ... VP...] ]

This allows explain cross-linguistic differences, if we
postulate an Agreement-Tense Correlation (ATC):

(21) ATC
''The PrP-auxiliary distinguishes person (in all tenses) or
has semantic content or both'' (p. 267)

According to ATC, if PrP-auxiliary has no personal
distinctions, must express a temporal relation semantically,
with a [-PAST] feature which sets R,S; otherwise, if PrP has
personal distinctions, since it may not express such
relation, the feature [+PAST] sets R_S.

''Ergative Patterning in Spanish'', by Clancy Clements,
examines constructions where Spanish, traditionally a
Nominative-Accusative (Nom-Acc) language, shows ergative
patterns. The first case is the position of bare plurals and
mass nouns, which can be Direct Object (DO) with
transitive verbs but must occur postverbally in passives
and intransitive verbs; in addition, a bare plural subject
will be always focus and, therefore, cannot be in sentence-
initial position. The second case is the higher frequency of
clitic-doubling when the order is not SVO. To explain these
facts, Clements proposes that Spanish has a Nom-Acc
marking for the subject, but an Ergative-Absolutive (Erg-
Abs) one for the topic-focus distinction.

The Erg-Abs marking is particularly evident in the
pronominal system, since that, in Castilian Spanish, the
same clitic LE is used to double DO and Indirect Object
(IO)---this phenomenon is called ''le�smo''. This marking is
expression of a Primary Object-Secondary Object pattern in
Dryer's 1986 sense, which the author identifies with an
ergative pattern.

''Morphological Underspecification and Overt Subjects in
Child Catalan and Spanish'', by John Grinstead, raises the
question about what determines the presence of overt
subjects in children's Spanish and Catalan. The author
offers evidence showing that number and tense morphology
is unavailable in children's early stages of language
acquisition; therefore, no overt subject is used, since
Nominative Case cannot be checked. However, the covert
subject used by children cannot be pro, given that pro is
licensed, essentially, in the same conditions of overt
subjects, that is, under a context of rich agreement.
Therefore, PRO is the ideal candidate to explain the null
subject being used.

Surprisingly, in English, French and German (overt subject
languages), children use null subjects as well as overt
subjects from the very beginning, although no
morphological specification of tense and number is found.
The author makes an interesting generalization regarding
the arrival of tense and agreement morphology in child
language. In null subject languages, this arrival indicates
the beginning of overt subject use (and of pro), whereas in
overt subject languages, this same arrival indicates the end
of null subject use.

''Verbless Derivations in Historical Syntax: A Case Study of
Northwestern Iberian Languages'', by Luis Silva-Villar,
studies verbless sentences in some Northwestern Iberian
(Languages Spanish, Galician, Portuguese and Leonese),
like in (22)

a. Mi vieja leal DOLA? (14th C Spanish)
My old-woman loyal where-her
'I wonder where my loyal old friend is'

b. Mira la lle�a secu.- ULO? (Leonese)
look the firewood dry where-it-neuter
'Look at the dry firewood. Where is it?'

In traditional terms, these ULO-sentences are structures
where the verb ''to be'' is no overtly present, whose overt
subject is an enclitic form, and whose general meaning is
''Where is X?'' To explain them, Silva-Vilar assumes a
distinction between ''regular'' and ''irregular'' syntax
(Chomsky 1998) to account for the fact that these
sentences can only be derived partially, since some kind of
precompiled syntax needs to be added to the Numeration.

ULO is conceived as a multicategorial form [C+D], a verbal-
like item with T-feature but with an inert [+V], whose
internal syntax is not accessible by the Computational
System. This implies that we need to see ''irregular'' syntax
from a representational point of view. According to Silva-
Villar, this insight helps to understand the syntax of
Spanish HE (from Latin ECCE) and Brazilian Portuguese
distinction CADE^/QUEDE^.

My brief comments on this book will not be focused in
details from the articles, but in some evident relations
among the papers.

It is worth noticing the extreme importance that the
discussions about Topic and Focus have in the syntactic
research in Spanish (and other languages, as well). Almost
no paper escapes from this issue in this book. Some
address the subject directly, but even these that make no
mention of it need to be revised from this perspective
because the grammatical judgments they make (that is, the
asterisks they put) are very sensitive to Topic-Focus

Another feature of the papers is that they present (as is
common practice in the field) very issue-oriented solutions
to the problems they address. No attempt is made to make
compatible their solutions, not even in the Introduction. It
is possible that such propose would be unattainable, given
the very dissimilar explanations for similar phenomena (on
DPs and clitics, especially). Of course, it is not necessarily a
failure, but it is evidence that we lack general working
frames in formal Spanish Linguistics. That means that a lot
of work needs to be done yet. For the moment, this book
represents an extraordinary contribution that will help to
create the big picture.

Chomsky, Noam. 1995. The Minimalist Program. Cambridge,
Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Chomsky, Noam. 1998 ''Minimalist Inquires: The Framework''.

Contreras, Heles. 1991. On the position of subjects.
Syntax and Semantics 25:63-79.

Dryer, Matthew. 1986 Primary object, Secondary objects,
and antidative. Language 62, 808-845

Olarrea, Antxon. 1996. Pre and Postverbal Subject
Positions in Spanish: A Minimalist Account. University of
Washington: PhD Dissertation.

Parsons, Terence. 1990. Events in the Semantics of
English. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Reichenbach, Hans. 1947. Elements of Symbolic Logic.
New York: MacMillan.

Rizzi, Luiggi. 1997. The fine structure of the left
periphery. In Elements of Grammar: Handbook in
Generative Syntax, ed. Liliane Haegeman, 281-338.
Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Sanchez, Liliana. 1996. Syntactic Structure in Nominals:
A Comparative Study of Spanish and Southern Quechua.
USC: PhD Dissertation
I'm a graduate student in the Department of Spanish and
Portuguese, in The University of Arizona, Tucson. I want to
become a formal linguist and I have strong interest in
syntax, phonetics, and syntax-pragmatics interface. Right
now, I'm working in a thesis about modality in Spanish to
get my MA. Also, I'm looking for a place to get my Ph.D in