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Reviewed by:
  • Natural language syntax
  • Robert D. Borsley
Natural language syntax. By Peter W. Culicover. (Oxford textbooks in linguistics.) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Pp. xvii, 490. ISBN 9780199230181. $49.95.

This book is an introduction to syntax by a scholar who has made many important contributions to the study of syntax over a long period. The book considers all of the syntactic phenomena one would expect a syntax textbook to deal with and at least one phenomenon, ellipsis, that does not often receive much attention in textbooks. Throughout the book the main theoretical point of reference is the simpler syntax approach developed in Culicover & Jackendoff 2005, but Culicover also presents the main ideas of what he calls mainstream generative grammar (MGG), essentially minimalism and its predecessors.

As C puts it, simpler syntax is an approach that holds that ‘a syntactic description should be the simplest one that is capable of accounting properly for the correspondence between form and meaning’ (7–8). It assumes that a sentence has a single simple constituent structure and that the only abstract level of syntax is provided by a set of grammatical functions. A major role is played by conceptual structure (CS) representations of the kind originally developed by Jackendoff. As C acknowledges, it is similar in many ways to lexical-functional grammar (LFG) and head-driven phrase structure grammar (HPSG), and it is very different from MGG. Most obviously it differs from MGG in rejecting all movement processes. The simpler-syntax framework is not particularly prominent in the first three chapters of the book, but from Ch. 4 onward it plays a central role. [End Page 945]

After a brief introduction in Ch. 1, C discusses syntactic categories in Ch. 2 and then looks at basic sentential structure in Ch. 3, considering especially complements, arguments, adjuncts, grammatical functions, and tests for constituency. In Ch. 4 he turns to phrasal categories, endorsing what he calls ‘weak X-bar theory’ (106) but rejecting ‘strong X-bar theory’, by which he means MGG assumptions about IP, CP and DP, and VP-internal subjects.

Ch. 5 focuses on CS and the lexicon. C characterizes a CS representation as a ‘representation of the meaning that a speaker intends to convey by using a particular linguistic expression, or that the hearer constructs on the basis of apprehending a particular linguistic expression’ (143) and considers the relation of such representations to syntactic structure, looking in particular at thematic roles, grammatical functions, and also modification.

In Ch. 6, C discusses argument correspondences, looking at passives, applicatives, and dummy subjects, inter alia. For simpler syntax, passives are the result not of movement but of a nonstandard linking of CS representations and grammatical functions. The chapter concludes with a critical discussion of the transformational approach to passives.

Ch. 7 considers raising and control sentences. Both involve a nonstandard linking of CS representations and grammatical functions in simpler syntax. Obviously there is no movement in raising sentences, and there is no phonologically empty subject in control sentences. The chapter also looks critically at the transformational approach to raising sentences and the configurational approach to control assumed in MGG.

After a discussion of various kinds of predication in Ch. 8, C turns in Ch. 9 to A′-constructions. He looks at wh-questions (including echo questions), relative clauses, and topicalization, inter alia, and presents various simpler-syntax analyses. He also discusses the MGG movement-based approach.

In Ch. 10, C examines coreference and binding. A central idea here is that condition A applies to grammatical function (GF) representations, requiring an anaphor to be locally GF-bound, while condition B applies to CS representations, banning a pronoun from being locally CS-bound. This accounts, for example, for the fact that while John saw a snake near himself is grammatical, John saw a snake near him need not show disjoint reference. This chapter additionally introduces the binding theory of the government-binding (GB) framework and minimalism’s copy theory of movement.

Finally, in Ch. 11 (‘Fragments’), C considers ellipsis. He presents a variety of objections to an approach in which elliptical utterances have a full syntactic structure just like nonelliptical utterances, so that On Tuesday said in...


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