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Reviewed by:
  • Clause structure and adjuncts in Austronesian languages
  • Maria Polinsky
Hans-Martin Gärtner, Paul Law, and Joachim Sabel, eds. 2006. Clause structure and adjuncts in Austronesian languages. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter. 332 pp. ISBN 978-3-11-019005-2. $109.00, hardcover.

Just as teenagers divide the world into jocks, nerds, goths, preps, townies, posers, and so on, linguists tend to categorize languages in broad strokes by what is best known about them: Bantu languages are defined by applicatives and tones, Slavic languages by palatalization and aspect, Native American languages by polysynthesis and attrition, and so on. Ask a linguist who does not work on Austronesian what he or she knows about these languages and you are likely to hear about nasal substitution, infixation, verb-initial word order, articulated systems of grammatical voice, or restrictions on movement. Any book that is addressed to the general public, not just to Austronesianists, and that takes the reader beyond these staple topics fills an important gap. The book reviewed here does just that and more. If pressed to name its goals, I would identify them as twofold: to make issues that at first sight may seem parochial to Austronesianists relevant to the entire field by identifying the theoretical challenges they pose, and to move the analysis of Austronesian beyond the traditional stereotypes, such as named above, but in a way that also connects the new theoretical challenges with established ones. The interests of the three editors are nicely distributed: Gärtner is best known for his semantic work on a number of languages, Sabel is a dedicated explorer of everything Malagasy who has done important work in theoretical syntax, and Law combines interests in syntax with attention to Malagasy.

Leaving phonology and morphology aside, the most publicized, although not yet fully understood, aspects of Austronesian languages include verb-initial word orders (often accompanied by the right-hand subject), articulated voice systems, and very rigid constraints on what can be extracted—usually the only constituent undergoing extraction is subject-like, or what many researchers call an external argument ("subject-only restriction"). The introductory chapter, "Clause structure and adjuncts in Austronesian languages," by Gärtner, Law, and Sabel, does an excellent job surveying the main approaches to these three phenomena, and in so doing will be of clear use not only to specialists in Austronesian but also to generalists and syntacticians. With respect to verb-initiality, a number of researchers have argued that pathways to verb-initial order may differ across languages, and even within a language family or group. The well-recognized possibilities include (i) nonconfigurationality (see, for example, Austin 2004); (ii) base-generation, with parametric variation in the position of the specifier in functional projections either to the right or to the left (the rightward specifier of T allows one to derive VOS order in a direct way); (iii) subject lowering (as argued for Chamorro and Māori by Chung 1998); (iv) verb-raising; and (v) VP-raising. The introductory chapter does a particularly good job presenting options (iv) and (v) and discussing their pros and cons. Still, more explicit comparisons with other verb-initial languages outside the Austronesian family would have been useful—after all, these languages may present additional test cases for particular theories.

This criticism notwithstanding, the background part of the introductory chapter is clearly written and can be a valuable companion in courses on verb-initiality, restrictions on [End Page 522] (the subject-only condition), and complex verbal morphology. The editors also show that each of the three topics has been subject to intense debate, and present varying perspectives in a careful, thoughtful manner.

The editors then build on their survey of the main approaches to verb-initiality, complexvoice systems, and the subject-only restriction to introduce two main issues in the syntax of adjuncts as viewed from the vantage point of Austronesian: theories of adjunct licensing and placement, and argument vs. adjunct asymmetries in extraction.

Word order derivation is central to the topic of licensing adjuncts and their position in a clause. The introductory chapter and several of the following chapters address two competing approaches to licensing and linearization: the feature-based approach and...


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