13.1853, Review: Language Description,Huddleston & Pullum (2002)

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Subject: 13.1853, Review: Language Description,Huddleston & Pullum (2002)

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Date:  Wed, 03 Jul 2002 14:49:33 +0000
From:  Joybrato Mukherjee <j.mukherjee at uni-bonn.de>
Subject:  Huddleston & Pullum (2002) Lang Description: Cambridge Grammar of English

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

Date:  Wed, 03 Jul 2002 14:49:33 +0000
From:  Joybrato Mukherjee <j.mukherjee at uni-bonn.de>
Subject:  Huddleston & Pullum (2002) Lang Description: Cambridge Grammar of English

Huddleston Rodney, Pullum Geoffrey K (2002)
The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.
Cambridge University Press, 2000,xvii\
+1842pp, Hardback, 0521431468, US$150.00

Book Announcement on Linguist:

Joybrato Mukherjee, University of Bonn

The new Cambridge Grammar was announced by its publishers as "the
grammar for the 21st century". In light of its size and
comprehensiveness, it is no doubt difficult to exaggerate the
admirable achievement and the monumental quality of this volume. It
should be noted at the outset that this grammar has benefited from
extensive collaboration with a couple of distinguished scholars who
have contributed substantial parts to individual chapters. The list of
co-authors includes Laurie Bauer, Betty Birner, Ted Briscoe, Peter
Collins, David Denison, David Lee, Anita Mittwoch, Geoffrey Nunberg,
Frank Palmer, John Payne, Peter Peterson, Lesley Stirling and Gregory

It is of course impossible to go into details about all topics covered
in such an impressively voluminous piece of work. In the following, I
will provide a brief overview of the contents of the twenty main
chapters. Afterwards, I will focus on some design features of the
general approach to language description that are characteristic of
the Cambridge Grammar. This critical evaluation will take the form of
a comparison of the grammar under review with another grammar of
similar range and depth of coverage. Specifically, the Cambridge
Grammar is an obvious competitor of Quirk et al.'s (1985)
well-established and widely used Comprehensive Grammar of the English
Language, the pioneering role of which is explicitly acknowledged by
Huddleston and Pullum in the preface to the Cambridge Grammar. Thus,
it stands to reason in this context to point out some major
similarities and differences between the two grammars.


At the beginning of Chapter 1 ("Preliminaries"), the authors set out
the aim of the book, which is intended to give a comprehensive and
descriptive account of the grammatical principles that underlie the
general-purpose, standard, international variety of present-day
English. What follows is a discussion of some general issues, e.g. the
different goals and coverage of prescriptive and descriptive grammars,
differences between speech and writing, and the relation between
description and theory. Finally, the authors introduce some basic
concepts in syntax (e.g. constituent structure and various syntactic
and lexical categories) and throw a glance at the pragmatic and
semantic implications of grammar (e.g. concepts such as pragmatic
presupposition).  Chapter 2 ("Syntactic overview") provides a synopsis
of central elements and constructions in English grammar. For example,
the authors deal with the difference between the concepts of sentence
and clause, with phrase types and clause types and with information
packaging. This brief overview sets the agenda for the subsequent
chapters in that each chapter is intended to describe a particular
level of analysis and/or a specific linguistic phenomenon in more
detail: "The verb" (Chapter 3); "The clause: complements" (Chapter 4);
"Nouns and noun phrases (Chapter 5); "Adjectives and adverbs" (Chapter
6); "Prepositions and preposition phrases" (Chapter 7); "The clause:
adjuncts" (Chapter 8); "Negation" (Chapter 9); "Clause type and
illocutionary force" (Chapter 10); "Content clauses and reported
speech" (Chapter 11); "Relative constructions and unbounded
dependencies" (Chapter 12); "Comparative constructions" (Chapter 13);
"Non-finite and verbless clauses" (Chapter 14); "Coordination and
supplementation" (Chapter 15); "Information packaging" (Chapter 16);
"Deixis and anaphora" (Chapter 17). Two chapters are devoted to
morphology and word-formation: "Inflectional morphology and related
matters" (Chapter 18); "Lexical word-formation" (Chapter 19). The
grammar is rounded off by a discussion of English punctuation (Chapter
20), which is followed by suggestions for further reading, a lexical
index and a conceptual index.

It is obvious that the overriding design of the Cambridge Grammar is
largely reminiscent of the Comprehensive Grammar (compare the
precursory second chapter and the similar range of topics covered by
many other chapters). However, the grammar under review does not
include a separate section on intonation (cf. Appendix II in the
Comprehensive Grammar), although aspects of prosody are taken into
account at various places (e.g. in discussing the correlation between
right dislocation and intonational phrasing, cf. p. 1414). On the
other hand, the Cambridge Grammar elaborates in a much more detailed
way on morphological issues than the Comprehensive Grammar. Despite
the similarity in overall structure, the Cambridge Grammar is
conceptually quite different from the Comprehensive Grammar. The
authors thus point out that "the present work often pursues a very
different theoretical approach and analysis from that of Quirk et al."
(p. xvi). To some of these differences I will turn in the critical


It would be beyond the scope of this review to list and discuss all
pros and cons of the Cambridge Grammar as I see them. As for the
positive aspects, suffice it to say that in many regards Huddleston
and Pullum (and their collaborators) succeed in not only systematising
previous linguistic research but also in opening up new perspectives
in the description of English grammar and in introducing new and
promising concepts. For example, the Cambridge Grammar is of great
benefit for all linguists who are interested in grammar both from a
morphological and a syntactic perspective, because a substantial part
of the grammar is explicitly devoted to a highly perceptive overview
of morphology and word-formation (in the sense of what may be called
'word-internal grammar'). The in-depth discussion of the various
internal structures of compounds is one case in point
(cf. pp. 1644ff.). Also, there are many examples of refreshingly
innovative concepts and/or terminology. For example, the notion of
"presentational status" (p. 229) is introduced in order to describe
semantico-pragmatic differences between different syntactic functions
of one and the same semantic role (e.g. 'Kim' in 'Kim shot Pat'
vs. 'Pat was shot by Kim'). A second example is the systematic
distinction of "canonical" and "non- canonical" structures throughout
the grammar (e.g. canonical 'Kim referred to the report'
vs. non-canonical 'Kim did not refer to the report', cf. p. 46).

On the other hand, there are many analyses that I feel uneasy
about. Sometimes, this is simply caused by unsatisfactory definitions,
as for example in the case of the vague distinction between sentence
and clause (cf. p. 45), the introduction to catenatives (cf. p. 65),
and the use of the terms 'genitive' and 'accusative' (cf. p. 458). In
many cases, however, my skepticism seems to be due to the fact that
the authors tend to start off from some theoretical model without
offering alternative approaches (in terms of a multiple analysis)
and/or to draw clear boundaries between categories which should rather
be taken to merge into each other (where preference should thus be
given to a descriptive gradient).

To begin with, the authors take for granted that syntactic constituent
structure should be represented by strictly binary-branching (or, in
some cases, singulary-branching) trees, which leads to the classic
generative ((NP)(VP(V)(NP))) analysis of clauses such as '((a
bird)((hit)(the car)))'. In fact, this is but one example of the
influence that generative concepts have obviously exerted on the
Cambridge Grammar (although in other cases, the authors deviate from
generative models and terminology, compare for example their comments
on the inapplicability of the notion of 'dative' to present-day
English on p. 457). Coming back to the bird/car-example, it is of
course far more convincing for many non-generativists to allow for
multiple branching as in the Comprehensive Grammar (that is, for three
parallel branches combining the clause node with the three phrases at
hand, functioning as subject, verb and object respectively). Generally
speaking, the authors' treatment of clause elements turns out to be
slightly confusing and - in my view - less plausible than the
description offered by the Comprehensive Grammar with its clear
distinction of five formally defined phrase types and five clause
elements as the functions fulfilled by phrases at clause level.

As mentioned above, the Cambridge Grammar also differs from the
Comprehensive Grammar in not allowing for multiple analyses. One
example should suffice to illustrate the problem involved. In
commenting on the concept of phrasal verbs (e.g. in 'He put in his
application'), for example, Huddleston and Pullum write that they
(i.e. 'put + in') "do not form syntactic constituents" and that "it is
for this reason that we do not use the term 'phrasal verb' in this
grammar" (p. 274). In contrast, the Comprehensive Grammar
(cf. p. 1152) distinguishes between 'phrasal', 'prepositional' and
'phrasal-prepositional verbs', thus establishing a gradient of
multi-word verbs with different strengths of linkage between the verb
and the preposition. Also, the Comprehensive Grammar (cf. p. 1156)
explicitly mentions two complementary analyses of verb-preposition
combinations, so that a sentence like 'She looked after her son' can
be analysed either as 'S-V-A' ('She - looked ^Ã- after her son')
or as 'S-V-O' ('She - looked after - her son'). To me, it seems to
be a general weakness of the Cambridge Grammar not to allow for such
multiple analyses nor to sketch out descriptive gradients in the first
place. What is more, this self-imposed restriction to one particular
analysis (which, I should add, may also be seen as a strength in that
it helps to increase the overall theoretical stringency) is to some
extent strangely at odds with the authors' statement that "the primary
goal of this grammar is to describe the grammatical principles of
Present-Day English rather to defend or illustrate a theory of
grammar" (p. 18).

The second major weakness of the Cambridge Grammar is of a more
methodological nature and concerns the data and the 'evidence' that
have been drawn on by the authors. They write in the preface
(cf. p. 11) that the data have been of four different kinds: (1) their
own intuitions as native speakers; (2) other native speakers'
intuitions; (3) computer corpora; (4) other (pre-corpus and
corpus-based) dictionaries and grammars. It should be noted that the
only corpora that have been directly used by Huddleston and Pullum are
the one-million-word Brown Corpus, LOB Corpus and the Australian
ACE. Other text sources remain unspecified, and the Wall Street
Journal, in my view, does not qualify as a representative 'corpus' but
is an example of a linguistically unstructured 'archive' (which may be
used as a source of authentic examples but from which general trends
in language cannot be extrapolated). Can a reference grammar of the
English language, published in the year 2002, really be based on
corpus material containing three million words only? I would say
no. Although information obtained from corpus-based dictionaries and
grammars have been taken into consideration in various regards
(e.g. for lists of words that tend to be frequently used in a
grammatical construction), the use of corpus data remains unsystematic
because there is no discussion of how the data (both corpora as such
and other corpus-based resources) are related to the grammatical
description. Additionally, the reader is kept in the dark about which
of the example sentences are invented and which ones are authentic. In
a sense, then, Stubbs's (1993: 9) critical remark on the Comprehensive
Grammar, which is partially based on the Survey of English Usage, also
applies to the Cambridge Grammar: "This relation between corpus,
example sentences and description is not discussed at all in the
introduction to Quirk et al (1985), and the accountability to data of
description and theory is theref!  ore undefined." It has to be kept
in mind, though, that the Cambridge was published 17 years after the
Comprehensive Grammar. That is to say, very large corpora would have
been easily available to the authors of the Cambridge Grammar. In
passing, it should also be noted that the Comprehensive Grammar has by
now been complemented with a genuinely corpus-based description of
English by Biber et al. (1999) who capitalise to a very large extent
on the descriptive apparatus provided by the Comprehensive Grammar. In
the preface to the Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English,
based on a 40-million-word corpus of spoken and written English, Biber
et al. (1999: viii) thus point out that "the two grammars complement
rather than compete with each other." In other words, I would contend
that the largely intuition-based Cambridge Grammar cannot measure up
to the combination of the structuralist-oriented and theoretically
eclectic Comprehensive Grammar and its corpus-based counterpa!  rt,
i.e. the Longman Grammar, from an empirical point of view. Note, for
example, that in the Cambridge Grammar (cf. p. 1403) non-extraposition
of to- clauses is described as the "basic version", although corpus
findings on frequencies in natural data clearly show that it is better
to regard the extraposed form as the more basic form (cf. Biber et
al. 1999: 724f.). Additionally, the Cambridge Grammar does not give
any detailed information on the significant correlation between the
distribution of extraposition/non-extraposition and genre

A third shortcoming of the Cambridge Grammar is of a formal
nature. Unfortunately, only very few tables and diagrams are used (in
comparison with, say, the Comprehensive Grammar). The Cambridge
Grammar may be "typographically superior", as announced in the
prospectus, but it is clearly less reader-friendly, I feel, than the
Comprehensive Grammar due to its lack of graphical
visualisation. Also, the sections are not numbered consecutively
throughout the grammar, and I personally find the distinction between
a lexical and a conceptual index less useful than the integrated (and
in all regards much more refined) index of the Comprehensive Grammar.

In conclusion, I would suggest that, at the end of the day, any
"grammar for the 21st century" be open to competing theoretical
approaches in general and be based on a systematic and detailed
analysis of authentic corpus data in particular (although I am fully
aware that this must cause a stir in the formalist camp). While
theoretical breadth (in terms of multiple analyses and descriptive
gradients) are at the heart of the Comprehensive Grammar, the first
attempt to write a corpus-based reference grammar has already been
made, as mentioned above, in the form of Biber et al.'s (1999) Longman
Grammar of Spoken and Written English. In both regards, the Cambridge
Grammar thus comes across as a quaint anachronism: too many axiomatic
assumptions (such as a strictly binary-branching constituent
structure) are taken for granted prima facie, and the language data
are not consistently and systematically obtained from naturally
occurring discourse. Despite the notable and astounding achievement
that the Cambridge Grammar represents, it is not the kind of grammar
that fills me with enthusiasm. More specifically, I personally
continue to regard the combination of the Comprehensive Grammar and
the Longman Grammar (in spite of all their weaknesses and
inconsistencies) much more elegantly convincing than the Cambridge
Grammar. Needless to say, the preference for a particular reference
grammar will always be a matter of personal taste and, in the final
analysis, an act of faith. Comprehensive as it is, the Cambridge
Grammar is without any doubt a reference work that should be available
to all grammarians. Whether it will gain a position similar to the
Comprehensive Grammar after, say, ten years remains to be seen.


Biber, Douglas, Stig Johansson, Geoffrey Leech, Susan Conrad and
Edward Finegan (1999): Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written
English. Harlow: Pearson Education.

Quirk, Randolph, Sidney Greenbaum, Geoffrey Leech and Jan Svartvik
(1985): A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. London:

Stubbs, Michael (1993): "British traditions in text analysis: from
Firth to Sinclair", Text and Technology: In Honour of John Sinclair,
ed. Mona Baker, Gill Francis and Elena Tognini-Bonelli. Amsterdam:
John Benjamins. 1-33.


Joybrato Mukherjee is an Assistant Professor of Modern English
Linguistics in the Department of English of the University of
Bonn/Germany. His research interests include corpus linguistics, EFL
teaching, intonation, stylistics, syntax and text-linguistics. He is
the author of 'Form and Function of Parasyntactic Presentation
Structures' (2001), published by Rodopi Editions, and of
'Korpuslinguistik und Englischunterricht' ('Corpus Linguistics and
English Language Teaching', 2002), published by Peter Lang. At
present, he is working on a corpus-based study of English ditransitive


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