25.3041, Review: Linguistic Theories; Syntax: Hartmann & Veenstra (2013)

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Subject: 25.3041, Review: Linguistic Theories; Syntax: Hartmann & Veenstra (2013)

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Date: Thu, 24 Jul 2014 13:39:32
From: Avelino Corral Esteban [avelino.corral at uam.es]
Subject: Cleft Structures

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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-4908.html

EDITOR: Katharina  Hartmann
EDITOR: Tonjes  Veenstra
TITLE: Cleft Structures
SERIES TITLE: Linguistik Aktuell/Linguistics Today 208
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Avelino Corral Esteban, Universidad Complutense de Madrid


This book consists of a collection of 11 papers that aims at shedding light on
the analysis and interpretation of cleft constructions by addressing different
aspects of these constructions in a range of languages from new theoretical
and empirical perspectives.

The introductory chapter, written by Katharina Hartmann and Tonjes Veenstra
(the editors of this volume), lays the foundation for the remainder of the
book. It presents a general review of previous work on clefts and discusses
fundamental issues regarding their typological variation, giving an overview
on views on their origin, their syntactic structure, discourse functions,
semantic interpretation and their prosodic characteristics. The chapter
concludes by presenting a summary of the remaining 11 articles included in
this volume.

The remainder of the book is organized into three main sections. Part I
(Chapters 1 to 3) focuses on the interpretation of cleft constructions as
specificational or predicational sentences. Issues regarding the syntactic
representation of clefts and the internal structure of their constituents are
analyzed in Part II (Chapters 4 to 6). Finally, Part III (Chapters 7 to 11)
examines mostly the information structure of clefts. There is also a language
index and a subject index. Below is a chapter-by-chapter summary of the 11

In Chapter 1, Marcel den Dikken, in his paper entitled “Predication and
specification in the syntax of cleft sentences,” transfers the distinction
between predication and specification from copular sentences (Higgins, 1979)
to the realm of clefts, by applying the three criteria (i.e. word order,
control, distribution of the copula in non-finite predications embedded under
propositional attitude predicates) used by Higgins in order to claim that a
predicational / specificational distinction also holds in the domain of
“it”-clefts. Thus, den Dikken provides an original analysis of “it”-clefts by
arguing that: 1) specificational “it”-clefts are a particular subtype of
inverse specificational copular sentences where “it” acts as a pro-predicate,
which inverts its position with its subject by means of syntactic derivation;
2) in contrastive-focus “it”-clefts, the pro-predicate “it” takes the
projection of the focus as its subject and the cleft clause is a headless
relative clause structurally related to the projection focus via asyndetic
specification, rather than predication; and 3) in continuous-topic
“it”-clefts, both the value and the relative constitute the focus of the cleft
that occupies the subject position of the construction whose predicate is the
pro-predicate “it”.

Edith Aldridge analyzes the relationship between “wh”-clefts and verb-initial
word order in Austronesian languages, arguing that there is a parallelism
between the derivation of basic word order in verb-initial languages and the
fact that “wh”-questions are formed on clefts in a broad range of these
languages. In the first case, the absolutive DP moves to a topic position in
the left periphery and the remnant TP is fronted to a higher focus position
above the topic, which derives the VOS word order. Regarding the formation of
clefts, the cleft clause, which is a headless relative, is treated as the
topic, whereas the “wh”-word forms part of the predicate, since it is
contained in the fronted remnant TP, which moves to the focus position.
Therefore, Aldridge argues that the focus must be part of the predicate and
consequently is not the subject.  Likewise, this positioning leads to a
bi-clausal analysis that accounts for the irreversibility of clefts in these

In “Pseudo-clefts at the syntax-prosody-discourse interface,”Mara Frascarelli
and Francesca Ramaglia take an interface approach to the study of “it”-cleft
and pseudo cleft constructions by investigating their syntactic, semantic,
discourse and intonational properties cross-linguistically. In contrast to the
general (traditional) view that the relative clause corresponds to the
predicate of the relevant copular sentence and the focused element acts as the
subject in a small clause, these authors argue that it is the clefted
constituent that has the properties of a main predicate in a copular
construction and that the relative DP is a dislocated constituent, namely as a
right-hand Topic in “it”-clefts and a left-hand Topic in pseudoclefts, which
explains their presuppositional behavior in the construction.

Lisa L.-S. Cheng and Laura Downing´s paper “Clefts in Durban Zulu” is a study
of the structure of clefts in this aboriginal Bantu language spoken in South
Africa. According to these authors, clefts in this language are bi-clausal
structures involving a copular sentence formed by a copula and a cleft phrase,
and an adjoined DP or an adjoined adverbial clause, depending on whether the
cleft phrase is nominal or non-nominal respectively. These two constituents
are not only syntactically independent from each other, but also in prosodic
terms, since each forms an independent intonational phrase. Likewise,
following Adger and Ramchand´s (2005)  assumption for a special copular
sentence (i.e. the augmented copular construction) in Scottish Gaelic, they
claim that the copula is the head of a predicate phrase which hosts the cleft
phrase in its specifier and has a null pronominal element as its predicate.
Thus, the adjoined element provides a definite description for the
interpretation of the variable in the semantic representation of the
pronominal predicate.

Matthew Reeve, in “The cleft pronoun and cleft clause in English”, provides
new evidence on the nature of the cleft pronoun, the interpretation of the
cleft clause, and the relation between the clefted element and the cleft
clause. Based on Hedberg (2000), Reeve firstly offers a great number of
syntactic and semantic arguments for an analysis of the cleft pronoun as a
referential pronoun, and not as an expletive, and claims that both the cleft
pronoun and the cleft phrase form a discontinuous definite description, which
reflects the structural similarity between clefts and specificational
sentences. Yet, the author departs from the traditional specificational
analyses on claiming that the cleft clause is a restrictive relative clause
functions as a modifier of the cleft phrase, to which it is adjoined, and
therefore it cannot be extraposed from the cleft pronoun. Finally, Reeve
compares both relative clauses and clefts in terms of connectivity effects to
show that DP-clefts (and some PP-clefts) are derivationally ambiguous since
they may present two different structures: one structure where the clefted
constituent occurs in postcopular position and another in which the clefted
constituent is raised from inside the cleft clause.

Harold Torrence explores “The morphosyntax of Wolof clefts” in terms of their
structural and movement properties. In Wolof, a Congo-Niger language spoken in
Senegal and the Gambia, there exist two syntactically different types of
clefts, depending on whether the clefted element functions as subject of the
construction or not. As regards their internal structure, the copula, the head
of the copular phrase, of a subject cleft occurs with a TP-structure, while
its counterpart in a non-subject cleft occurs with a CP-like structure.
Torrence provides detailed evidence that the cleft phrase undergoes overt A´-
movement, via SpecCopP in subject clefts or directly in non-subject clefts, to
the cleft position (SpecFocP). This fact shows that clefts in this language
resemble their English counterparts since in both languages clefting involves
A´- movement. However, they also differ in that in Wolof clefting does not
involve the presence of a silent operator.

Nancy Hedberg examines the information structure of English clefts in a paper
entitled “Multiple focus and cleft sentences”. Assuming that the syntax of
clefts reflects the semantic interpretation, she takes a bi-clausal analysis
of clefts to show that the two semantic units of a cleft construction, that is
the exhaustive focus and the pragmatic presupposition, are mapped onto the two
syntactic constituents, namely the clefted element and the cleft clause. Next,
she provides a detailed analysis of the two semantic elements -- the
exhaustive focus and the pragmatic presupposition -- in terms of their
informational properties to illustrate that clefts can display distinct types
of organization, that is topic-comment and comment-topic, which reflect the
distinction made by Prince (1978) between ´informative presupposition` and
´stressed focus`. Thus, in topic-comment clefts the cleft clause carries the
primary sentence accent and presents information that is new in the discourse.
By contrast, in comment-topic clefts, the cleft clause expresses an activated
presupposition and the clefted element, which usually carries the primary
sentence accent, expresses a focus that is used to make a correction, to
answer a question, or to present a contrast. In addition to these two types,
Hedberg examines three subtypes of clefts that contain prosodic prominence on
both the clefted constituent and the cleft clause (i.e. all-comment
organization) and shows that the prosodic focus in both cases can be
considered to present semantic focus in the sense of Krifka (1992, 2007).
Thus, a prosodic focus on the clefted constituent can be associated with the
exhaustive focus operator, whereas a prosodic focus on the cleft clause can be
associated with an assertive focus operator. In addition, the focus particles
´only` and ´also` / ´even` can also appear if the prosodic focus is on the
clefted element and the cleft clause respectively. A prosodic focus on the
entire cleft proposition can possibly be associated with the assertive focus
operator and may also associate with a focus particle.

Rosmin Matthew, in a paper called “Recursion of Focus Position in Malayalam”
explores cleft constructions in Malayalam, a Dravidian language spoken in
South India, especially focusing on their focus-related properties by adopting
a mono-clausal analysis. By means of a comparison between clefts, which
involve the focus marker “a:nu”, and another type of focus non-cleft
construction, she gains a better understanding of the proposed focus position
for two domains, namely, CP in clefts and vP in non-clefts. Her analysis
presents morphological, syntactic and semantic evidence that these two
positions involve a different syntactic behavior and distinct Information
Structure properties of Focus. Thus, whereas cleft constructions with the
focus marker “a:nu” involve a higher position at the left periphery of the CP
and express Exhaustive Focus, non-cleft constructions involve a preverbal
Focus position and expresses Information Focus. Consequently, the author shows
that the two positions available for the Focus, namely, in the vP level (i.e.
in the lower IP area) and in the CP level (i.e. in the left periphery), encode
Information Structure of a different nature, and, therefore, it would be wrong
to assume that the same Information Structure appears recursively at every
Phase, at least for this language.

In “Multiple ´wh`- questions and the cleft construction in Malayalam”,
Punnapurath Maadhavan, also examines the formation of “wh”-questions in
Malayalam. Despite the commonly held view that Malayalam is a “wh”-in-situ
language, Maadhavan presents detailed evidence that “wh”-questions can also be
formed by means of a different strategy: 1) clefting the “wh”-element or 2)
clefting the whole cleft clause containing the “wh”-element, with the clefted
element occupying the cleft focus. In addition to this, Maadhavan also
observes an interesting asymmetry regarding the formation of “wh”-questions:
unlike the strategy of clefting, which may occur in both matrix and embedded
clauses, it is not possible to have an in-situ “wh”-phrase in an embedded
context, in this case the only option being to cleft the whole embedded
clause. Consequently, these proposals are not only significant for their
contribution to the study of clefts in this language, but also because they
provide valuable insight into the cross-linguistic typology of “wh”-questions,
leading to the conclusion that a finer-grained typological account than that
dealing with the dichotomy between “wh”-in-situ languages and “wh”-moving
languages is required.

In “Cleft partitioning in Japanese, Burmese and Chinese”, Daniel Hole and
Malte Zimmermann provide a comparative account of clefts in these three
(South) East Asian languages that, despite showing typological variation in
terms of several morpho-syntactic (e.g. word order, case marking, among
others) and phonological parameters (e.g. tone system), they all exhibit
clefts displaying syntactic cleft partitioning, which in these languages
involves a backgrounded clause headed by a nominalized element. Yet, the
author notes some differences between Japanese and Burmese, on the one hand,
and Chinese, on the other hand, regarding the position of the copula, the
relationship between the different constituents of the cleft construction, and
its interpretation. Thus, in Japanese and Burmese, the copula follows the
cleft clause and the cleft focus phrase, with which it forms a constituent,
which in its turn is opposed to the cleft clause, thereby illustrating an
example of syntactic partitioning; the nominalizer heads the backgrounded
cleft clause and is followed by a topic marker. By contrast, in Chinese, the
copula precedes the complete cleft construction; the nominalizer is the
element responsible for the linking of the cleft phrase with the cleft clause
and therefore it is also the element that triggers the syntactic partition.
Finally, they show that syntactic partitioning in the form of clefting leads
to an exhaustive interpretation in all three languages, although the
exhaustivity effect in Japanese and Burmese is linked to the presence of the
Topic marker attached to the nominalized cleft clause, unlike in Chinese where
the exhaustivity effect is tied to the nominalizer de.

In the final paper, Italian clefts and the licensing of infinitival subject
relatives”, Petra Sleeman analyzes the licensing of infinitival subject
relative clauses by clefted constituents. The author shows that, unlike in
English or French, infinitival subject relatives are not only licensed by
superlatives and comparable modifiers, but they are also licensed by cleft
constructions with clefted DPs and two types of cleft constructions with
clefted quantifiers. In order to account for this fact, Sleeman provides
detailed syntactic evidence that clefts in Italian are used with a somewhat
negative presupposition and therefore express a contrastive focus, which
allows these constructions to license infinitival subject relative clauses.
Furthermore, regarding the structure of clefts in this language, she adds that
the infinitival relative clause functions as the complement of the cleft
phrase - which is in a high position- , rather than an adjunct, since, except
when it occurs with one type of  “che”-cleft, the infinitival relative clause
allows for extraction from it.


This book is inspired by the conference “Zentrum für Allgemeine
Sprachwissenschaft”, which took place in November 2008 in Berlin, but it is
not only a relevant selection of papers. A great effort was made in the review
process in order to strengthen links between the different papers and the
final result makes this book a useful resource for scholars and advanced
students who are interested in cleft constructions.

This volume provides the reader with a comprehensive picture of research
trends on clefts, and consequently, the overall goal of this book, which
consists in solving the problems derived from the interaction between syntax,
semantics and pragmatics in the analysis and interpretation of cleft
constructions, is met with incredible success.

One of the strongest assets of this volume is that it brings together a wide
array of contributors (all top scholars in the field) to successfully
represent current research trends in a coherent fashion. The assortment of
languages and the wide range of aspects dealt with in this edited volume is
indicative of just how much the study of clefts has advanced since Akmajian
(1970), Chomsky (1977) and Gundel (1977). Each chapter guides the reader to
the study of a specific aspect of this construction in a particular language
and addresses questions that outline the current state of knowledge and offer
future lines of research. Therefore, not only do these chapters offer
important insights into the origin, structure, and meaning of clefts, but they
also provide the reader with the necessary background information to further
explore and develop a greater understanding of the issues that are of
relevance to each of those lines of research that arise from this book.
Despite the fact that it is very difficult to make strong cross-linguistic
claims regarding this construction and many questions related to its structure
may remain unsolved and therefore they will have to be dealt with in future
research, the findings obtained in this volume mean a relevant step forward in
the direction of the right analysis of this construction. While the variety of
languages and the methodological diversity of this compilation are notable, it
may perhaps be most appropriate for audiences interested in studying this
construction through a generative lens. This book includes a wide range of
examples of cleft constructions in languages belonging to many different
families, such as Indo-European, Austronesian, Bantu, Sino-Tibetan,
Niger-Congo, Altaic, and Dravidian. The editors´ clear and thorough
introduction highlights the syntactic, semantic and pragmatic aspects that
make this construction so challenging for theoretical analysis. Afterwards,
all the chapters in the book offer a wealth of new data on the analysis of
this construction that contribute to our current understanding of the issue.

Summarized below are the most relevant findings included in these papers.
Firstly, den Dikken transfers the distinction between specificational and
predicational copular sentences to the analysis of cleft constructions and
examines the syntactic structure of specificational “it”-clefts,
contrastive-focus “it”-clefts, and continuous-topic “it”-clefts. Aldridge
accounts for the derivation of clefted “wh”-questions by comparing it to the
derivation of basic word order in VOS languages and argues that the absolutive
DP is a topic that moves to the left periphery and the remnant clause is
fronted to a focus position above the topic. Frascarelli and Ramaglia offer an
interface approach to the cross-linguistic interpretation of pseudo and
“it”-cleft constructions at different levels of analysis that supports the
view that (pseudo) cleft sentences are Topic-Comment structures that may host
different types of topics either in the left or in the right periphery . Cheng
and Downing accounts for the syntactic properties of Zulu clefts by analysing
their prosodic properties, which leads to their analysis as copular sentences
with an adjoined DP/CP, depending on the type of pivot. Reeve argues against
both specificational analyses and expletive analyses of English clefts by
claiming that the cleft clause functions as a syntactic modifier of the
clefted element and that the cleft pronoun is non-expletive. Torrence offers
two different types of syntactic structure for clefts in Wolof, according to
their syntactic function, and examines their derivation on the basis of the
overt movement of their clefted constituent. Hedberg discusses the information
structure of English clefts by examining how the semantic components of
exhaustive focus and pragmatic presupposition map onto the categories of topic
and comment, which leads to an analysis of certain types of clefts as multiple
focus constructions. Mathew analyses the two different types of Focus, namely
Identificational Focus and Information Focus, in Malayalam clefts by focusing
on the position that these two different types of Focus occupy in their
respective domains. Madhavan provides a typological account of clefted
“wh”-questions in Malayalam to prove that this language is not a typical “wh”
in-situ language like Chinese. Hole and Zimmermann compare clefts and other
focus strategies in Japanese, Burmese and Mandarin Chinese, showing that,
despite having different morpho-syntactic features, these languages share the
fact that clefts and related focus constructions involve backgrounded clauses
headed by a nominalizing element. Finally, Sleeman examines the infinitival
subject relative clauses licensed by clefted constituents and argues that the
reason why clefts in Italian, unlike in other languages, are able to license
the infinitival relative is due to the fact that they express a contrastive
focus, just like superlatives and comparable modifiers.

This volume is certainly not an introductory book owing to the complicated
material included and consequently a solid knowledge of the specific
linguistic issues (as well as knowledge of generative grammar) is required. It
includes one of the most complete and in-depth analyses of the topic to date.
Its rigor and clarity as well as the significance and relevance of its
contribution to the study of such a complicated linguistic issue will make
this book useful and challenging to students and researchers alike who are
interested in cleft constructions across languages.

In conclusion, the papers collected in “Cleft structures” highlight a great
number of aspects of cleft constructions that should be taken into account in
future research and therefore I believe that this volume will become an
important reference on the matter.


Akmajian, Adrian. 1970. On deriving cleft sentences from pseudo-cleft
sentences. Linguistic Inquiry 1 (2): 149-168.

Chomsky, Noam. 1977. On wh-movement. In Formal Syntax. Peter Culicover, Thomas
Wasow & Adrian Akmajian (eds), 71-132. New York NY: Academic Press.

Cottell, Siobhán. 2002. The Comparative Syntax of Cleft Constructions. Ph. D.
dissertation. University of Wales, Bangor.

Davidse, Kristin. 2000. A constructional approach to clefts. Linguistics 28
(6): 1101-1131.

Declerck, Renaat. 1988. Studies on Copular Sentences, Clefts and
Pseudo-Clefts. Leuven: Leuven University Press.

Delahunty, Gerald. 1981. Topics in the Syntax and Semantics of English Cleft
Sentences. Ph. D. dissertation, University of California, Irvine.

Delin, Judy. 1989. Cleft Constructions in Discourse. Ph. D. dissertation.
University of Edinburgh.

Den Dikken, Marcel 2009. Predication and specification in the syntax of cleft
sentences. Ms, City University of New York.

E. Kiss, Katalin. 1999. The English cleft construction as a focus phrase. In
Boundaries of Morphology and Syntax [Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 180],
Lunella Mereu (ed.) 217-229. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Gundel, Jeannette. 1977. Where do cleft structures come from? Language 53:

Halvorsen, Per-Kristian. 1978. The Syntax and Semantics of Clefts. Ph.D.
dissertation, University of Texas.

Hedberg, Nancy. 1990. The Discourse Function of Cleft Sentences in English.
Ph. D. dissertation, University of Minnesota.

Hedberg, Nancy. 2000. On the referential status of clefts. Language 76 (4):

Heggie, Lorie. 1988. The Syntax of Copular Sentences. Ph. D. dissertation,
University of Southern California.

Lambrecht, Knud. 1994. Information Structure and Sentence Form, Topic, Focus,
and the Mental Representations of Discourse Referents. Cambridge Studies in
Linguistics 71. Cambridge: CUP.

Lambrecht, Knud. 2001. A framework for the analysis of cleft constructions.
Linguistics 28(3): 463-516.

Pavey, Emma Louise. 2004. The English it-cleft construction: a Role and
Reference Grammar analysis. Ph. D. dissertation. University of Sussex.

Percus, Orin. 1997. Prying open the cleft. Proceedings of NELS 27:337-351.

Reeve, Matthew. 2011. The syntactic structure of English clefts. Lingua 121:

Reeve, Matthew. 2012. Clefts and their Relatives. Amsterdam. John Benjamins.

Sornicola, Rosanna. 1988. It-clefts and wh-clefts: two awkward sentence types.
Journal of Linguistics 24 (2): 343-379.


Avelino Corral Esteban is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English
Philology at both Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and Universidad Complutense
de Madrid, Spain. His main research focus is the study of the grammar of the
Native American languages spoken in the Great Plains area, such as Lakhota,
Cheyenne, Blackfoot or Crow, within the Role and Reference Grammar framework.

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