13.1109, Review: Syntax, Morphology: Alexiadou (2001)

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Subject: 13.1109, Review: Syntax, Morphology: Alexiadou (2001)

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Date:  22 Apr 2002 16:45:29 -0000
From:  David Golumbia <dgolumbi at panix.com>
Subject:  Alexiadou (2001), Functional Structure in Nominals

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  22 Apr 2002 16:45:29 -0000
From:  David Golumbia <dgolumbi at panix.com>
Subject:  Alexiadou (2001), Functional Structure in Nominals

Artemis Alexiadou (2001), Functional Structure in Nominals.
John Benjamins, Hardback, ISBN 1 58811 055 9, $82.00 (Hardback),
			  ISBN 90 272 2763 2, NLG180.00 (Hardback)
Book Announcement on Linguist:
David Golumbia, New York, NY
Alexiadou provides a dense and powerful argument about a central issue
throughout the history of generative grammar, the role played by
nominalized verbs (for example, "destruction" in "the destruction of
the city"), most famously as the subject of Chomsky (1970). The
distribution of such phenomena seem to reveal a great deal about the
structure of nominal phrases (NPs) and more generally determiner
phrases (DPs), especially in languages like English that display
several nominalization patterns. Alexiadou's study is emphatically
cross-linguistic, using Modern Greek as its empirical base and
providing examples from a range of sample languages including English,
French, Spanish, Italian, German, Russian, Hungarian, Hebrew and
Arabic, with briefer glances at several other modern and indigenous
languages. This especially multivariate empirical base provides strong
support for the book's argument, which is carefully integrated into
recent generative theory.
Alexiadou argues that the distribution of nominals reflects abstract
functional projections, especially DPs/NPs. This abstract level of
representation determines the structure of apparent phrases, and not
vice versa. Following Halle and Marantz (1993), Alexiadou suggests
that the "syntactic categories N, V and A are actually morphological
categories created by the syntax, i.e. post-syntactically realized"
(211). Chapters 1 and 2 provide an overview of this argument; Chapters
3 and 4 provide a deep and impressive survey across languages to
support the argument; Chapter 5 extends this survey to argue that the
reliance on abstract functional projections reveals "certain
similarities between nominals in nominative-accusative languages and
certain patterns found in ergative languages" (167), ergativity taken
here in the spirit of the best-known study of the pattern, Dixon

1. Introduction (1-26)

The Introduction provides a brief summary of the argument to come. The
goal is to understand "certain aspects of the internal structure of
DPs" (1) beyond simply the nominalizations indicated in the title, and
in common with other recent transformationalist studies. Alexiadou
surveys the types of nominals in English, breaking them down into
three categories:
 (1) Gerunds (e.g., "John's criticizing the book")
 (2) Derived Nominals (e.g., "The barbarian's destruction of the city")
 (3) Mixed Nominalizations (e.g., "Belushi's mixing of drugs led to his
Situating her work within a Distributed Morphology (DM) framework,
following Halle and Marantz (1993) and Marantz (1999), she argues that
these nominalization patterns can best be understood via "an approach
to word formation according to which lexical elements, unspecified for
syntactic category are introduced into variable syntactic
environments" (7); "on such an approach, functional heads fully
determine the category of a lexical head." This allows a satisfyingly
abstract approach, in that similar mechanisms are thought to determine
the pieces of linguistic phenomena regardless of the functional level
at which they appear.
Alexiadou follows Grimshaw (1990) among others in analyzing the event
structure of nominalizations to distinguish between process and result
nominalizations. She surveys eleven diagnostics for distinguishing
between the types, of which the first three are: "process nominals
denote an event; result nominals denote the output of an event";
"process nouns take internal arguments obligatorily, while result
nominals never do" and "process nominals can take agent-oriented
modifiers, while this is not possible with result nouns" (9-10).
Alexiadou contrasts her account with those of Grimshaw and Chomsky
(1970), but in concert with more recent generative approaches. She
argues that "there is a VP node within event/process] nominals" (14)
which is not true of result nominals. She then presents her model for
"the fine structure of process nominals" (16) via a functional
projection tree structure (19) with around seven nodes. The DP head of
this projection is said to be common to both verbs and process
nominals, thus collapsing the apparent noun/verb distinction for
certain kinds of surface forms; "the difference between result and
process nouns relates to the presence vs. absence of certain
verbal-like functional projections, much like the VP analysis of
process nominals. However, it differs from this approach in that it
allows for result nominals to take complements as well, since both
types are derived from unspecified roots that can take internal
arguments" (20). While this discussion forms the main part of the
book, as Alexiadou notes, it leads fairly naturally toward discussions
of ergativity that advance nominalization as a possible source.
2. The Functional Architecture of Nominalizations (27-76)
The first part of the main discussion returns to the structure of
event nominals, specifically examining the nodes of the tree presented
at the end of the introduction. In particular she surveys various
language data to emphasize the presence of an Aspect Phase (AspP) and
a light v/Voice Phase (vP). Recent work on the status of NP vs DP as
the dominating element of the overt NP. Elements thought to be
captured by this approach include the presence of agreement, number
and gender. The status of Spec,DP as A vs A' is explored, and
Alexiadou's polyglot approach is especially welcome here, since it has
been argued that "a crucial difference between English and Greek is
that in English Spec,DP corresponds to Spec,IP, thus being an
A-position, while in Greek it corresponds to Spec,CP, thus being an
A'-position" (30). Exploring the Greek DP, she demonstrates that
"Greek shows a preliminary distinction between event vs. result
nominals identified by the criteria of manner and aspectual
modification" (46). She goes on to explore the properties of AspP and
vP in process nominals, again pressing on the process vs. result
distinction. "The difference between result and process nominals is
not one of argument structure, since both nominal types can have
complements ... but rather it relates to the presence vs. absence of
functional layers that bring about process/event readings" (58).
While vP and AP layers are found in process nominalizations, there is
an absence of phenomena related to Tense (as well as other
inflectional categories such as Mood). More generally, "both sentences
and NPs denote events, but the manner with which they denote is quite
different [as] distinguished by their types. A proposition is seen as
the result of applying tense to an event description. To this end,
tense acts as a generalized quantifier over event descriptions. D
takes this function in the nominal context" (62). This allows
Alexiadou to account for the existence of languages (like some in the
Salish group) with weak or no noun/verb distinctions, by "predicting
that languages that lack Tense as a separate category should
neutralize the distinction between nouns and verbs" (62). She reviews
and rejects some arguments about the presence vs. absence of Tense in
DPs and an objection to the question of licensing in arguments, and
then reviews a manuscript proposal from Embick (1998) according to
which "the presence of agreement is not statable as a property of the
roots, but as a property of roots in syntactic environments" (68).
3. Intransitivity in Nominalization (77-126)
Chapters 3 and 4 present a detailed, step-by-step account of the
architecture of process nominals. Chapter 3 focuses on the vP found in
process nominals. She situates the argument by claiming that "event
nominals are ergative constructions" (78), providing an extensive
survey of examples from a wide variety of languages, showing that they
appear to be uniformly either "passive" or unaccusative (88),
according to a relatively theory-specific definition of passive
(accounting for her consistent use of scare quotes around the
term). Her demonstration shows that nominals in general fall into a
passive/unaccusative inflectional category, so that "(a) process
nominals of the destruction type are intransitive; (b) English
'passive' nominals are event nominals and thus have argument
structure, and (c) intransitive nominals are not derived by a process
of passivization. This is consistent with the assumption that
transitivity is a derived property" (111). Returning to process
nominals, then, she again invokes DM to propose that the "type of v
found in process nominalizations is the one found in unaccusative
structures, i.e. the one that does not project an external
argument/agent" (112). She then glances at by-phrases (e.g., "the
destruction of the city by the barbarians") noting certain patterns in
the availability of this construction with nominals and arguing that
"the by-phrase is strictly parallel to ergative case, if this is
analyzed as a prepositional/lexical case" (119).
4. Variation in Functional Structure (127-166)
The architecture of nominalizations is explored in this chapter via an
especially wide typological survey of nominalization
patterns. Alexiadou accounts for variation in terms of the kinds of
functional projections encountered in across languages, so that core
features of nominalization can vary widely. She surveys differences in
patterns of presence vs. absence of a Complementizer (C) level, of
AspP, vP, number, D, and the presence of agents in Spec,DP. The survey
is meant to demonstrate that "the presence of Aspect contributes to
event specification, and moreover, it is linked with the availability
of adverbial modification"; that "while the presence of v contributes
to eventive interpretation, the transitivity of v regulates the
agentive vs. non-agentive character of the nominal and the
availability of the accusative case;" and "the A vs. A' status of D
regulates the availability of transitive nominalizations" (157). In a
brief Appendix (158-162) to this chapter, Alexiadou surveys nominal
infinitives in Italian, Dutch and German, finding more evidence for
the claim that "nominalized infinitives include AspP and vP" (158).
5. Nominalization and Ergativity (167-210)
In a sense, the preceding chapters have been building a base for the
argument put forward in the book's fifth and final chapter. Here,
Alexiadou turns to what is her main theoretical target, which is to
craft a connection between the structure of nominalization and the
development of ergative patterning in some languages. This follows a
distinguished tradition in the generative literature, due in no small
part to the obvious typological splits in world languages (especially
between ergative-absolutive and nominative-accusative clause
alignments), which present a challenge to models of universal
functional structure. Alexiadou considers construals of ergative
patterns in terms of Case and Agreement and the formation of the
perfect, and then examines in detail genitive constructions and
constructions with auxiliaries. She finds significant similarities in
patterns of nominalization and ergative patterns in both Case and the
formation of perfects. In an Appendix to this chapter (198-204), she
follows a complex recent line of discussion about participle
formation, finding that "it must be the case that adjectives and
participles differ in that the former are bare roots, while the latter
include certain layers of functional structure" (204).
6. Conclusions (211-213)
The brief conclusion largely reiterates material from the
Introduction; again drawing attention to her DM foundation according
to which "there are no differences between word formation and syntax"
This is a fascinating, dense and important book that both provokes and
to a lesser degree frustrates. It continues the important work of
Alexiadou and her colleagues in various (especially European) groups
of generative grammarians, and the polyglot base of her analysis is
fascinating. The book speaks to what are some of the most central and
challenging issues in the generative tradition, and knits arguments
about the issues together to show how they have persisted throughout
the literature. Her presentation of the evidence and arguments is
succinct, interesting, and often extremely pointed with regard to the
question at issue.
At the same time, this book suffers from issues one is familiar with
in volumes from this publisher. There are a number of proofreading and
copyediting errors, occasionally making the interpretation of phrases
and clauses ambiguous. Alexiadou's English is very strong, but one
nevertheless suspects it is not her first language, and certain key
argumentative passages suffer from a lack of editing that might have
made the passages clearer. This is usually a minor problem, but
because this book runs up against some of the deepest issues in
generative grammar, the reader cannot help wanting to understand the
author's points as precisely as possible.
The book is persuasive, although there remain open questions even at
its core; for example, and it is hard to say whether this is due to
editing or not, it remains hard to keep Alexiadou's base observations
about nominals clearly in sight at all moments. Does the process
vs. event reading rest on the presence of functional layers, or are
the layers simply options that can be present but are not coextensive
with a lexical phenomenon? That is, there are hints of circularity
around some of her main contentions, so that one worries that the
theory is verging on description as it becomes complex enough to
handle so much typological data. These are metatheoretical worries
that Alexiadou, like many of the best generative grammarians, attempts
to address as her argument goes forward, and one looks forward to more
work along these lines with anticipation.
Chomsky, N. (1970). Remarks on Nominalization. In Chomsky (1972), 11-61.
Chomsky, N. (1972). Studies on Semantics in Generative Grammar.
The Hague: Mouton.
Dixon, R. M. W. (1994). Ergativity. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Embick, D. (1998). Syntax and Categories: Verbs and Participles in the
Latin Perfect. Ms., MIT.
Grimshaw, J. (1990). Argument Structure. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Halle, M. and Marantz, A. (1993). Distributed Morphology and the
Pieces of Inflection. In K. Hale and S. J. Keyser (eds.), The View
from Building 20. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Marantz, A. (1999). Creating Words Above and Below Little v. Ms., MIT.
The reviewer is an independent scholar who works on cultural studies
of linguistics, philosophy and computation.


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