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  • Minimal words in a minimal syntax: Word formation in Swedish by Gunlög Josefsson
  • Kleanthes K. Grohmann
Minimal words in a minimal syntax: Word formation in Swedish. By Gunlög Josefsson. (Linguistik aktuell/Linguistics today 19.) Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1998. Pp. ix, 199. $83.00.

This book, the published version of the author’s Lund University doctoral dissertation, aims for a record on the chapter/page-ratio scale; eleven chapters for less than 180 pages of text. The corollary is a very clear presentation: the reader always knows the purpose of a particular chapter and how it fits in with the main goal of the book, as the title suggests, ‘a minimalist account of word formation in Swedish, applied to the open word classes’ (185). Josefsson presents her theoretical proposal in Ch. 3 and develops it mainly in Chs. 4–7, introducing the theoretical background in the first two chapters and addressing more general issues in the final chapters. Ch. 1 forms the brief ‘Introduction’ (1–9). Ch. 2 offers an overview of the various ‘Background theories’ (11–21) that J takes as her starting point. ‘A sketch of the principal ideas’ (23–53) follows next.

The main gist of J’s proposal is that word classes are defined exclusively by the inflectional part of a word; consequently the stem of a word does not play a role for determining the word class—all simple words come thus with a stem and an inflectional part. One of the ‘minimalist’ aspects is that stem and inflection are put together via the generalized transformation Merge. Adopting binary-branching bare phrase structure, inflection is always the head of (the projection of) a simple word, yielding word-class specification trivially. This element is also the part that creates asymmetry on the word level, by which J offers an antisymmetric view coupled with a grain of minimalism for both the phrase and the word level.

Ch. 4 discusses ‘Compounds’ (55–84). These are the result of (potentially recursive) left-adjoining lexical stems to categories with the same structure as words. Thus, in the Swedish compound bok + klubb ‘book club’ the stem bok, which doesn’t bear word class features, adjoins to N0, the inflectional part that first merged with the stem klubb. As this inflectional part projects, the resulting structure is still of the category N0 and subsequently may be further adjoined to (such as barn + bok + klubb ‘children’s book club’). ‘Derivation by means of suffixation’ (85–132) is the topic of Ch. 5. Here J proposes that derivational suffixes do more than change the word class—they bear, among other things, thematic features. They are thus better analyzed as morphemes with three functions: binding (referring to the selection of a theta-role related to the host), control (evoking additional theta-roles related to the one bound by the suffix), and assignment (of theta-roles, depending on the major ontological category of the suffix, for which J sketches a word-level theory of aspect and aktionsart). In Ch. 6, ‘Derivation by means of pre-fixation’ (133–45), J argues for two types of prefixes: one adjunct prefix with operator properties and one affix with binding properties (of the type proposed for derivational affixes). Ch. 7 discusses past participles (147–61). I quote the gist of this chapter, which also suggests the underlying ‘minimalist’ (or better, syntax-driven) approach: ‘The reason why a whole chapter [read: 15 pages] is devoted to past particles is that they represent a type of word formation not discussed before in this book, word formation involving Move’ (148), discussing ‘verbal’ and ‘adjectival’ participles and elaborating on the aspectual story told so far.

J presents a definition of the notion ‘Head of a word’ (163–71) in Ch. 8. In Ch. 9, J muses about ‘The universality of word formation principles’ (173–77). ‘Some notes on the lexicon’ (179–83) form Ch. 10. Ch. 11 is a ‘Summary’ (185–88) of the book. As is standard in this series, the references are followed by an index.

Kleanthes K. Grohmann
University of Cologne