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Review of  Chomsky's Minimalism

Reviewer: Kleanthes K. Grohmann
Book Title: Chomsky's Minimalism
Book Author: Pieter A. M. Seuren
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Issue Number: 16.1890

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Date: Sun, 19 Jun 2005 21:54:24 +0300
From: Kleanthes Grohmann
Subject: Chomsky's Minimalism

AUTHOR: Seuren, Pieter A. M.
TITLE: Chomsky's Minimalism
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2004

Kleanthes K. Grohmann, University of Cyprus

_Chomsky's Minimalism_ is an ingenuous title for a book that will
undoubtedly polarize readers: It is aimed to be a substantial critique of
the theoretical-conceptual foundations and scientific methodology
underlying the Minimalist Program (in particular, and I will address this
point below, Chomsky 1995) and its methodological and empirical

However, since the contents bear little resemblance to what one MIGHT
expect, it is also an unfortunate title. Take _Chomsky's Universal
Grammar_ (Cook & Newson 1996), for example, which is the main title of an
introductory textbook to the kind of "Chomskyan linguistics" Pieter A. M.
Seuren has been criticizing for quite some time (see e.g. Seuren 1996,
1998, 2001 for book-length treatments that express his 'anti-Chomskyan'
stance at varying length). By analogy, an innocent reader, a novice
linguist, or a casual catalogue browser might assume that he or she would
be dealing with a book that goes one step beyond Cook & Newson's
introduction to the Government-and-Binding Theory (GB), the best approach
to the Principles-and-Parameters Theory (P&P) that formalizes a specific
implementation of Universal Grammar (UG), and introduces to the reader the
most current version of the generative endeavor -- the one that has become
known as the Minimalist Program or minimalism. Perhaps a sub-title
like 'Not an introduction', "once jokingly proposed" by the author (Pieter
Seuren, personal communication), would have been a good idea after all.

This said, if one knows (of) the author, one can be pretty sure what to
expect, so matters might be simple after all. (This includes, by the way,
the eloquent style of writing: even if one doesn't agree with what Seuren
says, how he says it is a true pleasure to read -- something I am
unfortunately unable to reflect or reciprocate in this review.)


It becomes clear very early on that this book is not an introduction to
minimalism -- nor is it a (favorable or critical) explanatory commentary
on it. It is in fact a highly provocative and rhetorically loaded negative
critique. One only needs to consult the back cover with Geoffrey Pullum's
praise of this book as a "comprehensive and incisive critique of the most
influential confidence trick in the history of modern linguistics." Or
take the publisher's / author's synopsis of the contents as criticism of a
research program that "fails to satisfy the basic criteria for sound
scientific work" and manifests "the cult surrounding Chomsky and
Minimalism more generally."

Let me stay with the book's exteriors for one more paragraph. If there is
something I am certainly not, it's art historian or critic. But I was
fascinated by the cover art ("Landscape with mountain chapel" by the Dutch
surrealist painter Albert Carel Willink) and the imagery it provoked in
me. So I asked my wife, who is no art historian either (and not even a
linguist), to see what kind of impression it evoked in her. The response
was very interesting and probably something Seuren could have had in mind
himself. Her initial reaction was "It's go-go-go -- and then what?"
(presumably commenting on the steps that lead into the chapel with no end
point and the cave opening higher up the mountain). She felt that the
painting itself expressed something very old and something very modern at
the same time. But she also observed that something was missing and it
wasn't quite clear what. So, from the selling point of view, this book
seems to deliver a clear message.

In this review I want to show that such imagery reflects minimalism to a
certain point, but that one doesn't need to take this as a negative
reflection of the research program. Rather, as has been stressed over and
over again by Noam Chomsky himself alongside a large number of linguists
(see Hornstein, Nunes & Grohmann, in press, for a clear presentation along
these lines), minimalism is a research program that follows its P&P-
predecessor in many ways, but tries to minimize the humungous apparatus GB
required. (Incidentally, this includes minimization of levels of
representation and of internal modules, both vehemently criticized by
Seuren, but perhaps not for the most convincing reasons or even in a
relevant manner, as pointed out below.) Moreover, and this is the exciting
part of the project, it opens up new questions about the nature of
language and an adequate description thereof.

So, to pick up on the imagery of the cover, "it's go-go-go" since
minimalism offers many new research areas, and at the same time there is
no end in sight (yet!). This is not bad at all: All it says is that
linguists can now ask interesting new questions, explore them in their
glorious detail -- and develop the program in such a way that it becomes a
theory of language one day. This theory will undoubtedly look VERY
different from today's Minimalist Program. In fact, the Minimalist Program
has undergone tremendous change already (something completely ignored by
Seuren, as also pointed out below). There is no 'minimalist theory' yet,
but some of us are working on it. And while contributions by Pieter Seuren
and the like (e.g. Rudolf Botha, Paul Postal, or Geoffrey Pullum, all
frequently quoted in this book, often from "personal communication") can
be much appreciated if they are substantial and constructive, negative
rhetoric and continued grief with the demise of generative semantics (and
here a plethora of like-minded authors could be listed) have little room
for sympathy and don't contribute to advanced understanding of the issues.
For a critical perspective, one might want to consult something like
Shalom Lappin and David Johnson's work (Lappin & Johnson 1997, 1999) that
presents the concepts and workings of minimalism as intended and offers a
critique of specific issues rather than with the present text and related
ones. (Unfortunately, the latter category also includes ill-guided
debates, in my opinion, such as the one initiated by the two
aforementioned scholars and Robert Levine in Natural Language & Linguistic
Theory a few years ago.)

For purposes of this review, each chapter will be presented in a concise
paragraph including the sections contained in it (minus the 'Conclusion'
sections of chapters 2 to 8), followed by some of the thoughts it stirred
in me. Length considerations led me to dwell on some chapters more than on
others -- for perhaps obvious reasons, I chose to concentrate on chapters
1, 2, and 8. There is much more to say, of course, and someone else would
surely focus on different issues; what follows is what I focus on for lack
of a different perspective.

The following outline is intended to help the reader assign title, length,
and topic to each chapter discussed below:

The preface (pp. v-vi) sets the stage: for those who are not familiar with
Seuren, this book is written by someone who has given up following the
direction of linguistic theorizing Chomsky has developed since
the 'generative semantics era' of the early 1970s, and this background is
reflected on virtually every page of the book.
1 -- Chapter 1 is a comprehensive 'Introduction' (pp. 3-30) to this book
in which Seuren lays out why he does what he does.
2 -- 'The Mechanism of the MP under Scrutiny' (pp. 31-50) forms chapter
2, Seuren's idiosyncratic presentation of the theoretical-conceptual
foundation of minimalism.
3 -- Chapter 3 deals with 'The Language Faculty' (pp. 51-96), and Seuren
lays out what Chomsky(ans) take(s) it to be, why that is misguided, and
how one should really think of it.
4 -- Chapter 4 offers 'Questions of Method and Adequacy' (pp. 97-124) --
yes, it tells the reader that Chomsky's methods are unsound and don't meet
scientific adequacy.
5 -- 'What Is Functional about the MP?' (pp. 125-149) is asked in
chapter 5 and answered in the negative, with particular emphasis given to
(perfect) language design.
6 -- 'What Is Conceptually Necessary about the MP?' (pp. 125-149) is
asked in chapter 6 and answered equally in the negative, where the two
main building blocks are the architecture assumed in minimalism and the
motivation of the "displacement property" (i.e. what has become known
analytically as 'movement').
7 -- Chapter 7 addresses 'Surface-Driven Elements of Semantic
Interpretation' (pp. 169-190) and Seuren's arguments against minimalism's
abolishment of a concept like "surface structure" on the grounds of
interplay with interpretation.
8 -- The concluding chapter 8 aims to disclose 'The Embarrassment of
Evidence' (pp. 191-230), which turns out to be an embarrassing discussion
of syntactic analysis.
The book is rounded off with the references (pp. 231-238) and an index
(pp. 239-244) containing authors, languages, and terms.


CHAPTER 1 opens with the 'Stated aim': "to show that Noam Chomsky's latest
version of his linguistic theory, recently published as _The Minimalist
Program_ (MP) (1995), though presented as the crowning achievement of the
Chomskyan version of generative grammar, is in fact the clearest possible
demonstration that that version is fundamentally flawed" (p. 1). Do we
really need to say more? The rhetorical style of the book connects to this
opening sentence seamlessly. The remaining sections of this introductory
chapter are 'The hard truth about the MP', 'Further
misgivings', 'Presentation and terminology', 'Mysterious paradigm mixing',
and 'Empirical issues'. Here Seuren paves the way for his extensive
discussion and critique of the methodology behind Chomsky's minimalism (as
opposed to an 'alternative minimalism', for example).

As Seuren states in the Preface, he understands that "the focus of
attention [in minimalism] has shifted from theorizing about grammar
writing to the loftier level of methodological reflection" (v).
Consequently, he spends considerable time dissecting issues of contention
with such a "loftier level" throughout the book, introduced in CHAPTER 1.
He does so in particular in the chapters I will not discuss in any depth

My reasons for this decision are simple. By concentrating on Seuren's --
often misguided or misinformed -- portrayal of minimalist concepts and
analysis as well as his strong rhetoric, I believe I can highlight much
better what goes wrong in the book. Recall that by virtue of its title,
one can reasonably assume this book to be a critique of minimalism as a
whole. At least I do so and in the absence of an alternative review, stick
to it. If Seuren's main goal was to denounce the methodology behind
Chomsky's minimalist approach, he could have indicated this in the title
or pursued it more consequently by not attempting to discuss the
theoretical apparatus. Since half the chapters deal with technical issues
in one way or another, and since there are limitations of space, I believe
my decision is well justified.

To return to CHAPTER 1, part of the "hard truth" argument is that "in the
wider circles of intellectuals" (i.e. outside linguistics), "there is a
widespread belief that Chomskyan linguistics is the only serious form of
scientific syntax" (p. 7). And footnote 1 on this page, as sprinkled
throughout the book, picks out a random example which Seuren comments with
the words that "[o]ne could cite numerous other authors who put blind
faith in Chomsky's linguistics without, apparently, having actually
studied his works." I'm sure many readers will agree that a 'Chomskyan
linguist' would jump up and exclaim, "I wish!" -- the impact on non-
linguistic (biological, psychological, or any other) realms of
science "Chomskyan linguistics" has had over the past 50 years is by far
not as deeply-rooted as Seuren and other critics like to make it sound
(and even in linguistics, generativists don't constitute the majority if
we look at numbers world-wide). I don't see too many core "Chomskyan
linguistics" courses taught in psychology or biology departments, not even
an exegesis of the most fundamental concepts generative grammar has
developed in the past five decades. And most 'current' references to
generative grammar provided by non-generativists and non-linguists usually
stop in 1965, or the early 1970s at best.

In addition, Seuren is guilty of his own accusations. Most relevant for
the present review is the fact that Seuren sets out to
criticize "Chomsky's minimalism" (as the title promises), but in reality
the book is just, in Seuren's words, a critique of Chomsky's "_The
Minimalist Program_ (MP) (1995):" to refer to this as the "latest version
of his linguistic theory" (p. 3) and the 'definitive minimalism' (my term)
some 10 years after publication indicates that Seuren criticizes an entire
approach "without, apparently, having actually studied his works." As any
recently trained student of "Chomskyan linguistics" is aware, MP has been
followed up by a number of papers in which Chomsky clarifies, modifies,
and extends the program laid out in 1995, in particular Chomsky (2000b,
2001, 2004, 2005) of which the first three should have been available to
Seuren before the final draft of his book. Since he cites work dated 2003,
a 2001 manuscript published as Chomsky (2004) could have been accessed --
and studied -- easily. Moreover, _The Minimalist Program_ -- to repeat, a
first sketch of a new direction in research -- contains four chapters, two
of which are commonly taken to be precursors to minimalism, not minimalist
contributions in and of themselves (chapters 1 and 2, which appeared as
Chomsky & Lasnik 1993 and Chomsky 1991, respectively).

CHAPTER 2 tries to present 'Some "guiding ideas"' of MP and offers 'A
closer inspection of the "computational system"' (in particular, the
operations Select, Merge, and Move as well as the concepts Reference Set
and Numeration).

Apart from the fact that no post-1995 reference of Chomsky's (or anyone
else's!) work on theoretical issues in a minimalist setting has been
consulted, giving this chapter (and the entire book) a rather outdated
feel, Seuren does not seem to have understood the mechanics presented in
MP all that well. (And no, I do not consider the works he does mention,
Chomsky (1998, 2000a, 2002), relevant in this respect; neither do I accept
the author's stated aim, reiterated in personal communication, to look
at "the loftier level of methodological reflection" as a valid reason --
as mentioned above, Seuren could have just abstained from an inclusion of
the technicalities altogether.) This begins on a trivial level with the
continued use of the term "human language computational system" (which
Chomsky calls CHL for "computational system of human language") inside
double quotes, suggesting either a quotation of Chomsky's use (in which
case it's mistaken) or an apprehension towards the term (in which case
it's not clear why he doesn't stick to Chomsky's term).

But there are also some technical problems in Seuren's presentation. When
he claims, for example, that "[n]o argument is offered for the implicit
assumption ([Chomsky] 1995: 243 and elsewhere) that branchings resulting
from Merge should be binary" (p. 34), the reader might get the impression
that this is a novelty within syntactic theorizing proposed first within
minimalism. Binary branching has been a standard assumption in P&P-
approaches, or "Chomskyan linguistics," since at least Kayne (1984) -- a
source cited and discussed as early as chapter 1 of _The Minimalist
Program_ (Chomsky 1995: 61-62). Binary branching itself thus need not be
re-introduced and -justified; the existing literature is large enough and
those readers of MP that are interested in it, will be familiar with the
relevant literature or at least willing to read up on it. If Seuren's
point is that binarity necessarily holding of the technical operation
Merge is not clearly enough argued for, he may want to read Chomsky's
justification for a bare phrase structure approach again and familiarize
himself with Chomsky's adoption of set theoretic argumentation. If this is
not formal enough either, or simply wrong in Seuren's opinion, he may say
so and offer his arguments. For clearer presentation, he may also (read
and) refer to the first two papers on phases (Chomsky 2000, 2001,
circulated in manuscript form in 1998 and 1999, respectively), in which
Chomsky sheds enough light on the issue to either fully understand the why
or to reject the approach altogether -- but this can be reviewed or
criticized in better ways than Seuren's off-hand remark provides.

The same goes for Seuren's discussion of labels. The question what serves
as the new constituent label when A and B are merged, the MP answer is
either A or B: {G, {A, B}} with G = A or G = B. Seuren considers an option
that was not entertained by Chomsky (who did offer two alternative
conclusions -- intersection and union of A and B, respectively -- and
rejecting both, as correctly reported by Seuren): the new label is neither
A nor B, "an option grammar cannot do without" (p. 35). Even if we leave
endocentricity issues aside, a hallmark concept in linguistic theorizing
predating both "Chomskyan linguistics" and minimalism (cf. Harris 1951:
275-276, Lyons 1968: 231-235), Seuren's option is still not compatible
with the Inclusiveness Condition (Chomsky 1995: 228) -- applied to
minimalism, I refer the interested reader in particular to sections 2.4
and 6.2 of Hornstein, Nunes & Grohmann (in press). Likewise, even if one
agrees with Seuren's claim just quoted, a formulation in terms
of "proposition" or "predicate" as he does (see also his sections 3.5.1
and 6.2.1) doesn't seem fruitful in light of independent minimalist
assumptions. Among other things, these concepts are not primitives of the
theory. In any case, a slightly more detailed discussion beyond the three
paragraphs offered might have been useful to determine whether Chomsky's
(and all his 'followers'') choice was justified, partially correct, or
totally wrong.

Seuren also criticizes the other important operation first clearly
formulated in minimalism, Select (which takes a lexical item from the
Numeration and enters it into the syntactic computation, the derivation).
He wants to cast doubt on its purported being "conceptually necessary"
with the help of Paul Postal's observation ("personal communication") that
a sentence such as 'The French word for milk is 'lait'' could never be
generated: "In the Select-and-Merge setup, sentences containing such ad
hoc words could never be generated, since such words are not in the
English lexicon. The entire Select-and-Merge system thus seems ill-
conceived" (p. 34). The 'argumentation' makes me wonder. Does this
particular type of case -- which involves much more than a sketch of a
minimalist approach to linguistic theory can reasonably set out to
accomplish (presumably, issues of interlanguage, multi-lingual lexicons,
and so on) -- now render the entire system "ill-conceived"? I leave the
judgment to the reader. (One could also mention in this context, as Winnie
Lechner points out to me, that metalinguistic reference is possible to
everything that can be written, not only to parts of the lexicon unique to
a particular language. In other words, there must be a function which
takes as input everything that can be expressed in writing and imports it
into the lexicon.)

Other lamentations of Seuren's include the complaint that "on p. 155 [of
Chomsky 1995 -- note to the reader: this is the pre-minimalist chapter 2]
it is suggested that existential 'there' should be considered 'an LF-
affix', a kind of element not mentioned before" (p. 38). One might point
out that GB enjoyed a very similar analysis of anaphors (cf. Lebeaux 1983,
Chomsky 1986), so this concept is anything but new. Later on in the book,
Seuren attacks the analysis of expletive 'there' (and existential
constructions in general) within "Chomskyan linguistics" further. One may
not share Chomsky's insistence on constantly overhauled analyses
of 'there', but one surely has to admire the consequence with which
theoretical advancements are followed through and applied to this
construction, which has gained notoriety for exactly this reason. None of
the elegance and technical finesse managed to secure Seuren's
appreciation -- or reflection in the book.

This chapter contains a large number of bones I have to pick, most of
which I cannot discuss here for length considerations. Regarding the
Reference Set, for example, Seuren may be pleased to learn that this
concept seems to have been given up around 1997 (see some papers collected
in Wilder, Gärtner & Bierwisch 1997 for discussion). Likewise, the
Numeration has evolved into the (Lexical) Array since Chomsky (2000) --
whether his original 'doubts' (if one can characterize thus his loose
musings) disappear, however, is a different question. Other issues of
contention include Seuren's derivational tree diagram (Figure 2.1 on p.
38, adapted from Johnson & Lappin 1997: 282) and the ensuing discussion
which highlights gaps in his technical understanding of the core
minimalist concepts (Select, Merge, Move, and Spell-Out).

On a more philosophical level, Seuren addresses some interesting issues
that "Chomskyan linguistics" faces quite independently of 'minimalism'
(such as questions about evolution and exaptation of language, language
acquisition as instantaneous development, or the cognitive/grammatical
distinction, for example). Here one may choose to agree or disagree with
Seuren -- but the style of presentation does unfortunately not invite
readers like myself to take the content all that seriously.

CHAPTER 3 contains five main sections: 'Principles and Parameters: a
historical note', 'Modularity and the random-generator
position', 'Chomsky's ambiguous realism', 'Instantaneous language
evolution', and 'An alternative view of the language faculty'.

One of the most interesting aspects of this chapter is Seuren's criticism
of the architectural reduction of levels of interpretation. Where MP tries
to reduce the four GB levels by eliminating D- and S-structure (leaving
just Logical Form and Phonetic Form), Seuren argues that there should in
fact be four interface levels: (i) "[t]he output end of the thought-
producing machinery," (ii) "[t]he output end of the lexicon," (iii) "[t]he
output end of the grammar module," and (iv) "[t]he output end of the
phonetic-orthographic machinery." However, since the chapter is, as all
others, phrased in such an attacking manner on Chomsky(an linguistics), it
is hard to see how, if at all, Seuren's sound architectural ideas could be
made fit into a minimalist model -- or even in how far, if at all, these
offer a challenge.

CHAPTER 4 is a provocative discussion of or attack on 'What can confirm or
disconfirm a paradigm?', 'Chomsky as a higher authority', 'Ecologism and
formalism', and 'What to do with evidence?'.

CHAPTER 5 attacks the 'The minimalist version of functionalism' and
asks 'How perfect is language?'. The section heading 'Optimal language
design and model building: the "fable"' speaks for itself. Seuren then
addresses 'Language and communication' and attempts to show in which
ways 'The minimalist program is not minimalist'. 'Why choices? The case of
Mauritian Creole' is followed by 'Sociolinguistic factors' that should be
taken into account.

CHAPTER 6 is an attempt to justify an answer in the negative to two
questions: 'Conceptual motivation for the random generator?' and 'Is
the "displacement property" conceptually motivated?'.

CHAPTER 7 is mostly empirical. Once 'The question stated' is on the table,
Seuren goes on to attack analytical shortcomings of "Chomsky's Minimalism"
by considering 'Focusing strategies', 'Presuppositions', and 'Operator

The section headings describe the content of CHAPTERS 4 to 7 very well. In
fact, one might be tempted to take these chapters, "the loftier level of
methodological reflection" proper, to be the core of the book. If that is
so, my decision to concentrate on the other three chapters (plus CHAPTER 8
addressed below) may not have been the wisest. However, the chapters I do
discuss offer most for the direction pursued in this review -- and they
address issues I happen to understand best and know more about. As a
consequence, I was able to point to a number of misunderstandings and -
interpretations on Seuren's side regarding the technical implementations
and the real conceptual aims of MP. To lay out the methodology underlying
minimalism that Seuren takes issue with might deserve a separate review --
it simply cannot be integrated into the present one which concentrates on
exposing and clarifying Seuren (mis)presentation of MP in other areas.

The chapters I am skipping over ever so gently contain mostly well-known
quibbles with "Chomskyan linguistics" -- these are neither specific to
minimalism nor new in any way, but in fact go back to the early 1970s,
when scholars like Seuren got upset with the post-Aspects model and
the 'generative semantics war' (which in and of itself is arguably not the
best way to put it, but since I wasn't around at the time, who am I to
talk?). And unfortunately, the reader finds a lot of Chomsky-bashing (as
becomes clear from the section headings). Other, perhaps less known,
quibbles concern Seuren's interpretation of the history of science, with
particular reference to the figures mentioned most prominently by Chomsky
himself (Galileo and Descartes, but also Copernicus, Newton, and Darwin)
and the relevance of Cartesian investigation to linguistic methodology.

They also contain some data discussion (continued in the final chapter 8)
in which Seuren wants to dismantle any viability of minimalist analysis on
the basis of a few facts about language. These include prepositional
adjuncts (section 4.1.1) and operator scope (section 7.4). I pick out
these two issues for the simple reason that Seuren uses them 'best' to
show how inadequate minimalism is, and because he cross-references both
sections, in particular the idiosyncratic take he adopts on these two
constructions. In section 4.1.1, Seuren offers an incomprehensible nine-
page treatment of prepositional adjuncts within his own
framework, "semantic syntax" (Seuren 1996), while, at the same time,
leaving the reader in the dark as to why prepositional adjuncts would
constitute such disastrous empirical counter-evidence to a minimalist
approach. (And even if one contends with Seuren, reinforced in personal
communication, that he "do[es] not pick out [these constructions] to show
the inadequacy of the MP but to show the superior adequacy of [his]
Semantic Syntax," one wonders why he chose to include them in a book that
is apparently mainly concerned with "the loftier level of methodological

The three-page discussion of operator scope -- and in particular, the fact
that scoping elements must be present at LF ("in the logico-semantic
analysis") -- highlights Seuren's motives once again: "[t]his point is
implicitly recognized in May (1977), where the rule schema of Operator
Lowering, developed in the framework of generative semantics, is simply
reversed into Operator Raising (but without attribution)" (188). (In note
1 on p. 171, Seuren attributes these discoveries to Lakoff (1971) and
McCawley (1972).) He continues noting with interest that "the
determination of operator scope is not mentioned in Chomsky's later
writings." Somewhat flippantly but with reference to Seuren's own words, I
would like to respond, "Come on, read "Chomsky's later writings" for a

CHAPTER 8 is a continuation of the analytical shortcomings addressed in
the previous chapter. Here Seuren investigates in some more
detail 'Deletion and Raising in infinitival complements', various 'Copying
phenomena', and the infamous 'Existential 'there''.

It starts very nicely with a footnote in which Seuren challenges
minimalists (or so one could understand this note) that "the burden of
proof lies with those who wish to deny surface structure as a level of
representation, not with us" (192). Au contraire (whether or not this is
in the lexicon of an English speaker), the burden of proof lies with those
who wish to continue believing in S(urface)-structure as a level of
representation! At least, so one must argue in criticizing minimalism in
its own right, as a continuation of the successful P&P-approach of GB with
its stated aims. In GB, S-structure was solely motivated theory-
internally, as Chomsky (1995: chap. 2) recaps (for a concise discussion,
see e.g. chapter 2 of Hornstein, Nunes & Grohmann, in press). If Seuren
means his own (or other continuations from the generative semantics era or
the Aspects-model) understanding of S-structure, call it "surface
structure," then we can't easily come to a decision -- nor can we easily
compare the two. GB S-structure and Seuren's "surface structure" simply
have different formal properties and hence a different standing in the
respective approaches. Pitting these two notions against one another
absolves anyone from providing a "burden of proof" -- at this point,
without further discussion (on a technical level, which Seuren does not
provide), it's comparing apples and pears.

A lot more can be said on the 'disastrous' empirical evidence against MP
that Seuren offers (see section headings), where he ignores minimalist
work on raising and inflected infinitives in Portuguese, exceptional Case-
marking/subject-to-object raising in Balkan subjunctives, purported bans
on rightward movement, and so on. Or even the claim that, since "[c]opying
is a widespread phenomenon in the languages of the world," "it finds no
place at all in the MP" (216). Once again, Seuren's corpus of material
under discussion (which is basically limited to Chomsky 1995), a book of
420 pages (including references and index) simply cannot provide the
motivation behind minimalism, the conceptualization of the program, the
technical basics, and an exhaustive analysis of all facts found in human
language(s). This is why _The Minimalist Program_ is a comprehensive
presentation of a minimalist approach to linguistic theory which can be
extended, adopted, and amended to find a satisfactory treatment of all
this -- collectively, by all linguists interested. And this is indeed what
some of us are working towards.

I'd rather close with rebutting an(other) utterly unnecessary ad hominem
attack Seuren couldn't hold back. In the context of 'believe'
vs. 'expect', Seuren fights with an answer to the question why the first
is only an ECM verb, while the second can also be a control verb. He can't
find one and comments his frustration: "No answer is provided. One fears
that the author is simply forgetful, or careless" (205). This is followed
by a wonderful footnote, which I quote in its totality:

"Some carelessness is apparent anyway on the same p. 345 [of Chomsky
(1995)], where, in the same context, the sentence (172b) 'I expect someone
to leave early' is discussed. Five lines below the example presented, one
reads: "In the ECM structure (172b), H [the relevant Case-assigning head]
assigns no case, so 'John' raises to the checking domain of Agro
[Agreement for object] in the matrix clause." A little care would have
shown the author that, for once, the sentence isn't about 'John', but
about 'someone'." (205: fn. 8)

At this point one wants to jump up and... On a more peaceful note, I
cannot help but state that Seuren is just as "forgetful" or "careless" as
he accuses Chomsky of being. Some such instances are:

- in section 2.2.1 on p. 34, one reads: "see section 2.2.1."
- the German for 'president' in sentence (29a) on p. 221 is misspelled
- on p. 188, a section "" is referred to, which doesn't exist
(intended was one 4.1.1 less)


Do I have anything positive to say about Seuren's book? No, not really.
Since it's rhetorically very hostile, it can hardly be called "balanced"
and since it doesn't refer to any real literature or research, it can
hardly be called "informed." These factors lead to only one conclusion:
_Chomsky's Minimalism_ is just not informing.

Is it at least entertaining? If you like Chomsky-bashing, sure thing!
(Then you'll surely find a warm welcome at all those websites and blogs
dedicated to this type of activity and references to _The Anti-Chomsky
Reader_ and other works -- one of which, Michael Covington's (at
), praises the book
under review with the words: "It is all the more impressive if you've met
Seuren (as I have) and realize that he is a very mild-mannered person."
Well, big deal. I haven't met Seuren and I'm sorry, but I can't say that
this is the style of "a very mild-mannered person.")

Does it provide new insights into the study and/or architecture of
grammar, analysis, minimalism, and so on? My answer is a very simple "No."

I conclude that this book offers very little beyond heavy rhetoric and
misunderstandings-turned-unjustified-criticism. Admittedly, this review
was written by someone who is very biased against the kind of criticisms
the author offers. That said, the author himself is very biased towards
the program he set out to criticize. To get a different impression of the
book and its virtues and possible shortcomings (or as I would put it, its
shortcomings and possible virtues), one would need to read a review by
someone as antagonistic to the Minimalist Program as Seuren, or someone
who went "with Chomsky" a long way and split for whatever reason with the
rise of the Minimalist Program.


Chomsky, Noam (1986) Knowledge of Language: Its Nature, Origin, and Use.
New York: Praeger.

Chomsky, Noam (1995) The Minimalist Program. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Chomsky, Noam (1998) Linguagem e mente: Pensamentos atuais sobre antigos
problemas [= Language and Mind: Current Thoughts on Ancient Problems, Part
I and Part II. Lectures presented at the Universidade de Brasilia, 1996.].
Brasilia: Editora Universidade de Brasilia. [Seuren adds: "(Page
references are to the English text as sent from MIT.)"]

Chomsky, Noam (2000a) New Horizons in the Study of Language and Mind.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Chomsky, Noam (2000b) 'Minimalist Inquiries: The Framework'. In R. Martin,
M. Davis & J. Uriagereka, eds. Step by Step: Essays on Minimalist Syntax
in Honor of Howard Lasnik. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 89-155.

Chomsky, Noam (2001) 'Derivation by Phase'. In M. Kenstowicz, ed. Ken
Hale: A Life in Language. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1-52.

Chomsky, Noam (2002) On Nature and Language. Ed. by A. Belletti & L.
Rizzi. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Chomsky, Noam (2004) 'Beyond Explanatory Adequacy'. In A. Belletti, ed.
Structures and Beyond: The Cartography of Syntactic Structures, Vol. 3.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 104-131.

Chomsky, Noam (2005) 'On Phases'. Ms., MIT.

Cook, Vivian & Mark Newson (1996) Chomsky's Universal Grammar: An
Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell.

Harris, Zellig S. (1951) Methods in Structural Linguistics. Chicago: The
University of Chicago Press. [NB: Page references quoted above refer to
the fourth imprint of 1964 published under the title _Structural

Hornstein, Norbert, Jairo Nunes, and Kleanthes K. Grohmann (in press)
Understanding Minimalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[expected: September 2005]

Johnson, David E. & Shalom Lappin (1997) 'A Critique of the Minimalist
Program'. Linguistics & Philosophy 20, 272-333.

Johnson, David E. & Shalom Lappin (1999) Local Constraints vs. Economy.
Stanford, Calif.: CSLI Publications

Kayne, Richard. (1984) Connectedness and Binary Branching. Dordrecht:

Lakoff, George. (1971) 'On Generative Semantics'. In D. D. Steinberg and
L. A. Jakobovits, eds. Semantics: An Interdisciplinary Reader in
Philosophy, Linguistics and Psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 232-296.

Lebeaux, David (1983) 'A Distributional Difference between Reciprocals and
Reflexives'. Linguistic Inquiry 14, 723-730.

Lyons, John (1968) Introduction to Theoretical Linguistics. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

May, Robert. (1977) 'The Grammar of Quantification'. Ph.D. diss., MIT.

McCawley, James D. (1972) 'A Program for Logic'. In D. Davidson & G.
Harman, eds. Semantics of Natural Language. Dordrecht: Reidel, 498-554.

Seuren, Pieter A. M. (1996) Semantic Syntax. Oxford: Blackwell.

Seuren, Pieter A. M. (1998) Western Linguistics: An Historical
Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell.

Seuren, Pieter A. M. (2001) A View of Language. Oxford: Oxford University

Wilder, Chris, Hans-Martin Gärtner & Manfred Bierwisch, eds. (1997) The
Role of Economy Principles in Linguistic Theory. Berlin: Akademie Verlag.


For discussion of the material reviewed and comments on this review, I am
grateful to Winnie Lechner and Pieter Seuren, for encouragement and
feedback, to Cedric Boeckx and Norbert Hornstein.]


The reviewer is Assistant Professor of Theoretical Linguistics in the
Department of English Studies at the University of Cyprus in Nicosia. His
main interests lie in syntactic theory (esp. within Principles-and-
Parameters approaches) and comparative syntax (esp. Germanic, Romance,
Slavic, Greek). He has worked on different topics, such as wh-
constructions, left dislocation and resumption, cliticization, and reverse
locality effects, ("anti-locality"). He is also a member of the expert
panel of the Ask-A-Linguist service offered by LINGUIST List. For further
personal and professional information see

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