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Review of  A Feature-Based Syntax of Functional Categories

Reviewer: Christiane M. Bongartz
Book Title: A Feature-Based Syntax of Functional Categories
Book Author: Michael Hegarty
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Syntax
Language Acquisition
Subject Language(s): Greek, Modern
English, Middle
English, Old
Language Family(ies): Romance
Issue Number: 16.3442

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Date: Mon, 28 Nov 2005 12:11:51 +0100
From: Christiane Bongartz
Subject: A Feature-Based Syntax of Functional Categories

AUTHOR: Hegarty, Michael
TITLE: A Feature-Based Syntax of Functional Categories
SUBTITLE: The Structure. Acquisition and Specific Impairment of
Functional Systems
SERIES: Studies in Generative Grammar 79
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2005

Christiane M. Bongartz, Department of English, University of Cologne

In the spirit of Minimalist syntax (Chomsky, 1995a, 1995b, 2000,
2001), Hegarty builds on previous attempts to dispense with functional
categories as theoretical primitives (cf. Giorgi & Pianesi, 1996, 1997).
According to his proposal, functional features combine in different
ways to form bundles before they project onto functional architecture.
In a comprehensive proposal that accounts in a principled way for
various possible feature configurations, the author develops
constraints that regulate the distribution and projection of functional
features and block overgeneration.

In the remainder of the discussion, Hegarty illustrates how this
account of functional projection can serve as descriptive and
explanatory framework for a diverse range of linguistic applications.
Covering data from language change over time and from cross-
linguistic variation, as well as from first language acquisition in normal
development and from children with Specific Language Impairment
(SLI), Hegarty shows how seemingly disparate surface phenomena
can be plausibly related once a feature-based notion of functional
categories is adopted. The result is an impressively well-rounded and
instructive illustration of how theory development and empirical
validation can go hand in hand.

Exposition and application motivate the organization of the book (the
complete table of contents is available at, which is
divided into nine chapters. Chapter 1 (Introduction) and Chapter 2 lay
out the theoretical foundation for six empirically-oriented chapters and
the short concluding chapter. In the first chapter, ideas of minimalist
syntax are presented with a special focus on functional feature
projection and feature ordering. The theoretical core of the discussion
can be found in Chapter 2, where functional categories are derived as
feature matrices. Three constraints are central to the proposal,
namely the Economy of Feature Projection, the Economy of Projection
of Infl-Categories, and the Minimal Feature Ordering principle.
Together, they regulate possible functional feature bundles and their
projection onto clausal structures.

In the following applied chapters, the author first illustrates the
descriptive and explanatory adequacy of his feature-based account of
functional categories for phenomena of linguistic variation. Chapter 3,
devoted to verb-second patterns in Germanic languages (especially
Old English and Middle English), illustrates how different sets of
restrictions on feature co-occurrence motivate cross-linguistic and
language-internal variation of syntactic structures, as well as change
over time. In Chapter 4, a synchronic perspective is adopted, and clitic
placement and climbing (in Modern Greek and the Romance
languages) receive an explanation in terms of movement driven by
feature-matching associations. Also devoted to synchronic description
is Chapter 5, which gives an account of tenseless clauses in Modern
English. The relative paucity of projected features in the data
presented here, the author argues, obtains a motivated explanation
only when one supposes that features are projected and combined
according to minimal necessity.

Data from language acquisition serve as the second empirical testing
ground for Hegarty's proposals. Central to the discussion here are
claims previously made in the literature about the development of
functional categories (especially Radford, 1990, Guilfoyle & Noonan,
1992, Vainikka, 1993/94). Chapter 6, the first of three chapters
focusing on acquisition, re-examines longitudinal data for three
children obtained from the CHILDES database. Based on the evidence
thus presented, Hegarty stipulates that adult grammars differ from
grammars in early childhood in the distribution of features into feature
matrices. Convergence with adult grammar is seen as the result of
maturation, during the course of which children move from an initially
empty inventory of functional features through stages of gradual
feature acquisition that go hand in hand with the acquisition of
ordering and co-occurrence constraints. In Chapter 7, Hegarty goes
on to delineate the growth process involved in convergence with adult
grammars. Drawing on quantified data, he shows that development
over time involves an increase in the number of feature matrices that
can be projected as functional categories. Non-adult combinations, on
this account, are indicative of the maturation involved. When
functional categories are taken as primitives (e.g. I or C, as proposed
in the literature), however, such non-adult combinations cannot be
accounted for. The final chapter on acquisition, Chapter 8, focuses on
data from children with SLI. Here, Hegarty illustrates how his feature-
based account of functional categories can explain SLI phenomena as
the result of deficient resources for the projection of feature matrices
as functional categories. An overall summary, Chapter 9, concludes
the book.


The case made by Hegarty for functional categories as projections of
feature-bundles rather than primitives of syntactic structure is of much
theoretical appeal. A rigorous application of minimalist ideas appears
easily compatible with the enterprise of systematically breaking down
the functional categories in sentences and nominal phrases into
functional features. Especially elegant in this respect is how Hegarty
works out how these features, allowed to combine freely into feature-
bundles, can account for variation in functional architecture both in
terms of an individual's linguistic competence and in terms of
typological differences between and among languages.

It is a definite strength of this ambitious book that it defines its
proposals with respect to those made previously in the literature, while
at the same time seeking a much wider scope and contributing new
data (e.g. in Chapter 5). In what might be called an exemplary
illustration of the dialectic relationship between theory-development
and evidence of relevant linguistic phenomena, the book first
establishes theoretical tenets, then offers a discussion of cross-
linguistic data, and finally gives an account of language acquisition. A
buy-one-get-three pitch would be well suited for this triangulation,
because all parts appear well reasoned and thoroughly composed. A
discussion of the book in a graduate seminar, for example, will bring
home the point of what Chomsky (1986) demanded in postulating that
linguistic theory ought not only to describe knowledge of language but
also to explain the acquisition of such knowledge.

Due to the scope of the material, appreciation and evaluation of the
presented evidence will be facilitated by special expertise of readers
in either typology or acquisition studies. For this reviewer, especially
the sections with a psycholinguistic focus proved a test case for
plausibility. While the cohesiveness of the argument is always
maintained, the sequencing of Chapters 6 and 7 on language
acquisition might have been negotiated somewhat more overtly.
Theories and predictions made in continuity accounts have been
placed in the latter chapter, but readability and clarity would have
benefited from addressing the theoretical proposals prior to all
discussion of data. Some methodological issues in this part, while
addressed briefly by the author, cannot ultimately be resolved, such
as, for example, the focus on child language production in the
normalization procedures that informed data quantification. Still, the
use of data from the public domain (cf. CHILDES database, makes the whole range of data available
for follow-up analyses, which no doubt will prove stimulating to further

Overall transparency and thorough documentation characterize the
book as a whole. Figures and language examples have been carefully
edited with only the very occasional typographical error (p.
17 'welchen film'), relevant and up-to-date sources have been listed in
the bibliography, and a highly accessible index allows efficient work
with the book as a reference. For those planning to use the book in
graduate education, it will be useful to explain the notations used in
syntactic bracketing and tree diagrams, however; basic notational
conventions have been taken as given.

In general, the care taken to ground the theoretical proposals made in
the book in data from diverse linguistic areas should prove thought-
provoking for linguists in all the areas the book addresses. For
psycholinguistic research in particular, one can expect a renewal of
the discussion about what drives acquisition of functional projections.
Certainly, the falsifiability of Hegarty's claims will motivate further
inquiry. One promising area of application, beyond the scope of the
argument presented in the book but in very close proximity to it, would
be the field of second language acquisition, which has regularly
responded to developments in generative theory with productive lines
of research. In particular, the inquiry into what motivates differences
between native and non-native grammatical representations should
receive new momentum with the testable hypotheses offered in
Hegarty's feature-based account of functional projections.


Chomsky, Noam (2001) Derivation by phase. In Michael Kenstowicz
(ed.), Ken Hale: A life in language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press,1-52.

Chomsky, Noam (2000) Minimalist inquiries: the framework. In Roger
Martin, David Michaels, and Juan Uriagereka (eds.), Step by step:
essays in Minimalist syntax in honor of Howard Lasnik. Cambridge,
MA: MIT Press, 89-155.

Chomsky, Noam (1995a) Bare phrase structure. In Gert Webelhuth
(ed.), Government and Binding Theory and the Minimalist Program.
Oxford: Blackwell.

Chomsky, Noam (1995b) Categories and transformations. In The
Minimalist Program. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 219-394.

Chomsky, Noam (1986) Knowledge of language: its nature, origin, and
use. New York: Praeger.

Giorgi, Alessandra & Fabio Pianesi (1997) Tense and aspect: from
semantics to morphosyntax. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Giorgi, Alessandra & Fabio Pianesi (1996) Verb movement in Italian
and syncretic categories. Probus 8, 137-160.

Guilfoyle, Eithne & Máire Noonan (1992) Functional categories and
language acquisition. Canadian Journal of Linguistics 37 (2): 241-272.

Radford, Andrew (1990) Syntactic theory and the acquisition of
English syntax: the nature of early child grammar of English. Oxford:

Vainikka, Anne (1993/1994) Case in the development of English
syntax. Language Acquisition 3 (3): 257-325.

Christiane M. Bongartz is Professor of English Linguistics at the
University of Cologne. Her research interests include language
typology, generative grammar and problems of second language
acquisition, especially those related to the syntax-morphology

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 3110184133
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: xiii, 348
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