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Review of  Ways of Structure Building

Reviewer: Yosuke Sato
Book Title: Ways of Structure Building
Book Author: Myriam Uribe-Etxebarria Vidal Valmala
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Syntax
Subject Language(s): Bulgarian
Dida, Lakota
Issue Number: 24.1454

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This volume presents an up-to-date view of current approaches in contemporary syntactic theory regarding the nature of structure-building operations, their triggers and constraints. The fourteen chapters here investigate this issue on the basis of various phenomena from a rich variety of languages. Many of the specific proposals advanced pursue a new model of explanation solely based on the derivational mechanics of syntactic computation. This new model is different from the standard minimalist model (e.g., Chomsky 1995), which attempts to account for linguistic facts in terms of the interface of syntax with the phonological/semantic components or idiosyncratic lexical properties. The volume starts with Chapter 1 “Overview” written by Myriam Uribe-Etxebarria and Vidal Valmala, who summarize the central proposals in the following chapters. Chapters 2-7 in Part I (“Merge and Beyond”) present new proposals regarding the set of possible structure-building operations, whereas chapters 8-15 in Part II (“Triggers and Constraints”) put forth specific proposals regarding the the relevant operations.

Chapter 2 (“Constituent Structure Sets II”) by Dirk Bury and Hiroyuki Uchida proposes a novel structure representation system called “Constituent Structure Sets (CSS)” (p. 20), which defines a relation analogous to reflexive dominance between subsets of the numeration (N). Under this system, with N = {V, D} (where V = verb and D = determiner), the power set of N, namely, ℘ (N) = {{V, D}, {V}, {D}, Ø}, is partially ordered with regards to reflexive set containment. If the properties of reflexive dominance are attributed to reflexive containment, this system creates hierarchical relations which include the former relation between the subsets of the N. The CSS is less expressive than labeled trees in that it can only represent syntactic head copying with a provable maximal limit. This limited freedom of head duplication provides a structural explanation for German V2 data.

In Chapter 3 (“A Parallel Merge Solution to the Merchant/Johnson Paradox”), Barbara Citko provides a new analysis of the impossibility of voice mismatches in gapping. The issue here is how to reconcile Merchant’s (2008) analysis of voice mismatches in pseudogapping as applied to gapping, with Johnson’s (2009) arguments against treating gapping as ellipsis. The fact that both constructions disallow voice mismatches suggests they arise due to vP-ellipsis. However, Johnson shows that gapping involves an across-the-board movement of the gapped element above the vP-level coordination, though this analysis cannot account for the ungrammaticality of voice mismatches in gapping. Citko resolves this paradox using the Parallel Merge mechanism (Citko 2005), which crucially allows non-constituent elements v and V to be shared without necessarily sharing subjects/objects.

Parallel Merge is also a central concern of Antonio Fábregas in Chapter 4 (“Evidence for Multidominance in Spanish Agentive Nominalizations”). This chapter provides evidence for the multidominance structure in Spanish agentive nominalizations headed by the suffix -dor. This suffix requires the base verb to contain an initiator argument, blocking the presence of any other argument of this kind, and the noun is created from the verbal base. Fábregas proposes that the suffix occupies the specifier position of Initiator P and then remerges and reprojects its N feature. This analysis provides a unified account of various syntactic and semantic properties associated with -dor-nominalization. He also shows that remerge of an affix is only possible when it is ambiguous between a maximal and minimal category in the sense of Bare Phrase Structure (Chomsky 1995).

Martina Gračanin-Yuksek also discusses Parallel Merge in Chapter 5 (“Clitic Placement and Multidominance”) but from the perspective of linearization. She provides evidence, from Croatian multiple wh-questions and coordinated V2 clauses, that the attested linearization in multidominance structures cannot be predicted by standardly revised versions of the Linear Correspondence Axiom such as Wilder (1999). In the first case, the auxiliary third person singular clitic ‘je’ c-commands some shared material, but follows it in the linearization. In the second case, the shared subject c-commands both the V2 auxiliary and the vP but somehow ends up appearing between the two items. The author concludes that these cases can be accommodated instead by a “Constraint on Sharing”, which “requires all multiple highest mothers of a shared node to completely dominate the same set of terminal nodes” (p. 113).

Chapter 6 (“Sideward Movement: Triggers, Timing, and Outputs”) by Jairo Nunes discusses extensions and refinements of sideward movement. Nunes emphasizes that sideward movement comes as a natural possibility within the Minimalist Program (MP), wherein the computational system operates with more than one syntactic object, and movement is construed as the result of interaction between the more primitive processes of Copy and Merge. He shows that the relevant operation is constrained by independent minimalist principles such as Last Resort, No Look-Ahead, and phase-based local computations, just like “normal” upward movement. He further demonstrates that sideward movement also correctly predicts cases with non-canonical phonetic realization of copies.

In Chapter 7 (“Unconventional Mergers”), Mark de Vries proposes Parenthetical Merge as a second type of merger in addition to Internal/External Merge to account for the paradoxical fact that parenthetical expressions are syntactically integrated within the host, but invisible to c-command relationships with it. This merger, introduced by a functional projection ParP, headed by a “parenthetical specifying coordinator” (p. 158), which shields parentheses from establishing c-command relations with material higher up in the host. De Vries further suggests that cleft-/wh-amalgams are the combined result of Parenthetical Merge and External Merge.

Chapter 8 (“‘Lasnik-Effects’ and String-Vacuous ATB Movement”) by Jun Abe and Norbert Hornstein tackles the Janus-faced character of Right-Node-Raising (RNR): it is insensitive to locality conditions on movement but shared quantified phrases can scope out of coordinated clauses. Adopting Sabbagh’s (2007) across-the-board movement analysis of RNR, Abe and Hornstein propose that string-vacuous movement must be covert, due to the interface requirement that overt movement must bring about a PF (Phonetic Form) effect. They argue that string-vacuous RNR cases are insensitive to locality effects, because the tail of the movement chain is pronounced, thereby eliminating the offending “*” feature of its head. Non-string-vacuous RNR cases exhibit locality effects because the head of the movement chain is pronounced, resulting in a non-convergent PF representation.

Chapter 9 (“Disharmony, Antisymmetry, and the Final-over-Final Constraint”) by Theresa Biberauer and Michelle Sheehan provides an explanation for the Final-over-Final Constraint (FOFC) - that no structure exists with a head-final phrase dominating a head-initial phrase - and analyzes obligatory CP extraposition in OV languages as a further FOFC-compliance effect. They propose that this constraint arises from a minimality-based restriction on the distribution of the ^ feature, akin to an edge or EPP (Extended Projection Principle) feature, triggering syntactic movement within an extended projection, and a layered derivation approach outlined in Sheehan (2010) where certain phrases such as DPs are atomized for linearization. The extraposition arises when the CP, which they argue is headed by a little n, is forced to move to [Spec, V], followed by spell-out of the CP in its first-merge position.

Chomsky (2008) suggests that sentences like “Who was arrested?” involve simultaneous movements of the object to [Spec, T] and [Spec, C]. In Chapter 10 (“Don’t Feed Your Movements When You Shift Your Objects”), Željko Bošković explores empirical consequences of the Parallel Movement Analysis, based on quantifier-floating in West Ulster English and experiencer-blocking effects in Icelandic. He further shows that the contrast in quantifier floating between object shift and relativization contexts in Icelandic provides a new argument for the view that the landing site of object shift is higher than [Spec, v].

Chapter 11 (“Structure Building That Can’t Be”) by Samuel Epstein, Hisatsugu Kitahara and Daniel Seely attempts to deduce cyclic transfer from third-factor principles. Given Chomsky’s (2008) feature-inheritance analysis and the Law of Conservation of Relations (“In narrow syntax, syntactic relations (among existing terms) cannot be altered throughout a derivation,” p. 256), subject raising cannot insert a DP into the C-rooted object but instead creates two distinct, intersecting set-theoretic objects which share a term with no single node. Given the Label Accessibility Condition (“Only the label of an entire syntactic object, the root, is accessible to narrow syntax,” p. 254), however, these objects cannot undergo merge, causing the derivation to crash. The authors propose that one of these objects must therefore be eliminated, thereby deducing Cyclic Transfer. This analysis accounts for object agreement facts in Icelandic. They further show that the invisibility of [Spec, T] to C follows in this theory under the derivational approach to c-command in Epstein et al. (1998).

It is widely acknowledged in the minimalist literature that the Minimal Link Condition (MLC) overlaps with Phase Impenetrability Condition in deriving locality effects. In Chapter 12 (“Specificity-driven Syntactic Derivation”), Antje Lahne argues against the MLC and proposes instead that syntactic derivation is driven by the General Specificity Principle (GSP) -- that when there is more than one goal for Agree/Move, the operations target the more specific goal, where specificity is defined morphosyntactically. Lahne shows that the GSP covers both MLC-effects (e.g., A-over-A cases as illustrated in Breton agreement and phi-agreement in English gerunds) and anti-MLC-effects (e.g., Bulgarian multiple wh-questions and German adverbial fronting).

Chapter 13 (“Structure Building from Below: More on Survive and Covert Movement”) contributed by Winfried Lechner provides a new formulation of the Survive Principle which analyzes movement as a consequence of repulsion of incompatible sets of features. Specifically, Lechner proposes that movement of an element is triggered when it is incompatible in its local environment with respect to features or logical-semantic types. Coupled with an independent theory of reconstruction, Lechner’s proposal correctly predicts a wide array of complex scope possibilities, such as scope freezing effects in double object constructions and the impossibility of the intermediate scope reading of subjects in inverse linking constructions. He further demonstrates that the scope facts in the prepositional frame (DO + IO), as well as in VP-fronting, fall into place from the new Survive Principle.

In Chapter 14 (“On Transparent Adjuncts in Japanese”), Yoichi Miyamoto investigates the status of adjuncts. It has been commonly held since Huang (1982) that adjuncts are inherent barriers for movement. Miyamoto argues against this approach based on his detailed investigations of comparative deletion in Japanese, where extraction of the comparative clause from the secondary predicate oozei “many” is prohibited when the predicate is subject-oriented, but is possible in certain well-defined circumstances when it is object-oriented. Miyamoto proposes that the critical factor which makes the latter case transparent for extraction is the Agree relation between the Aspect head and the object (which inherits the boundedness feature from its floating quantifier). Subject-oriented secondary predicates are barriers, on the other hand, because they are merged too high in the syntactic derivation to enter into Agree with the Asp head.

Chapter 15 (“Feature-Splitting Internal Merge: The Case of Tough-Constructions”), by Miki Obata and Samuel Epstein, presents an analysis of tough-constructions as a case of “proper improper movement” (p. 367) which draws on their earlier theory of “feature-splitting internal merge” (p. 366; see also Obata and Epstein, 2011). Assuming that [uCase] is valued as [null Case], they propose that a tough-construction results when the embedded V is associated with [uCase]. The surface subject DP in this construction is merged with the V [uCase] and is valued as [Null Case]. When the matrix T [uCase] is merged later, it agrees with the DP, revising its Case to [Nom Case]. They also elaborate the feature-splitting analysis in this chapter to ensure that it correctly distinguishes between classic cases of improper movement (e.g. *John seems that Mary likes) and tough-constructions.


All the contributions in this volume are high-quality papers suggesting a highly indigenous solution to a particular issue regarding structure building within the MP. Many chapters explore further theoretical and empirical ramifications of the recent minimalist proposals (parallel merge, multidominance, sideward movement, the phonological theory of movement, parallel A/A′- movement, cyclic transfer, agree and feature-splitting internal merge) whereas other chapters advance a radically new approach to various issues of structure-building (telescope-based constituency structures, parenthetical merge, specificity-driven movement, and the Survive Principle) with various empirical consequences worthy of further investigation. As the editors note in chapter 1 (pp. 1-2), a common thread among the contributions is that all the main proposals advanced in each chapter crucially rely on the computational properties of syntactic derivation themselves rather than on properties of syntax-external interface systems or lexical parameters. The volume is a useful guide not only to the current state of the art in minimalist syntax, but also to possible future directions of syntactic research within the MP.

I suspect that many syntacticians working within the MP must have felt at some point or another that current minimalist papers have been becoming progressively difficult and technical, due to stringent methodological boundary conditions imposed on the logical space of analytic options permitted within the MP (Chomsky 1995). Some might have taken this as a sign that generative syntax is “passé”, having reached “full maturity” with no further clear goals in sight, at least within the area of purely theoretical syntax. After all, we have only a handful of mechanisms such as Merge, Agree, Phase, Transfer, and Feature-Inheritance; what else can we do with these? This might be a truism for many students of the “minimalist generation”, but the current volume shows that there is so much we can do even within the rigorous methodological guidelines set by the MP. The volume also serves to remind us that creative endeavor is needed more than anything to advance the minimalist enterprise, much more so compared to the earlier Government-Binding era (Chomsky 1981) where a fixed set of working principles (X′-theory, binding, the Empty Category Principle) were provided in a top-down fashion to accommodate a wide range of linguistic phenomena. Therefore, this collection should be of tremendous value for syntacticians who would like a new research topic to work on within the MP.

I recommend this volume for all researchers and advanced graduate students in the minimalist, generative syntax enterprise.


Chomsky, N. 1981. Lectures on government and binding. Dordrecht: Foris.

Chomsky, N. 1995. The minimalist program. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Chomsky, N. 2008. On phases. In Robert Freidin, Carlos Otero and Maria-Luisa Zubizarreta (eds.), Foundational issues in linguistic theory: Essays in honor of Jean-Roger Vergnaud, 133-165. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Citko, B. 2005. On the nature of merge: External merge, internal merger, and parallel merge. Linguistic Inquiry 36: 475-496.

Epstein, S., Groat, E., Kawashima, R. and Kitahara, H. 1998. A derivational approach to syntactic relations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Huang, C.-T. J. 1982. Logical relations in Chinese and the theory of grammar. Doctoral dissertation, MIT.

Johnson, K. 2009. Gapping is not (VP) ellipsis. Linguistic Inquiry 40: 289-328.

Merchant, J. 2008. An asymmetry in voice mismatches in VP ellipsis and pseudogapping. Linguistic Inquiry 39: 169-179.

Obata, M. and Epstein, S. 2011. Feature-splitting internal merger: Improper proper movement, intervention and the A/A′-Distinction. Syntax 14: 122-147.

Sabbagh, J. 2007. Ordering and linearizing rightward movement. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 25: 349-401.

Sheehan, M. 2010. Extraposition and antisymmetry. In Jeroen van Craenenbroeck (ed.), Linguistic Variation Yearbook 10: 203-254.

Wilder, C. 1999. Right node raising and the LCA. In Sonya Bird, Andrew Carnie, Jason D. Haugen and Peter Norquest (eds.), Proceedings of the 18th West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics, 586-596. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.
Yosuke Sato received his PhD in Linguistics from the University of Arizona. After a post-doc at the University of British Columbia, he moved to Singapore, where he's currently assistant professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at National University of Singapore. His research specialties are in Generative syntax and linguistic interfaces. His current interests lie in the syntax of Singapore English and the biological foundations of language.

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