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  • The syntax of adjectives: A comparative study
  • Melita Stavrou
The syntax of adjectives: A comparative study. By Guglielmo Cinque. (Linguistic inquiry monographs 57.) Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010. Pp. viii, 202. ISBN 9780262514262. $35.

In the first boom of transformational theory in the 1960s, adjectives as adnominal modifiers featured in a set of transformational rules that created them out of relative clauses. The derivation of adnominal1 adjectives proceeded along the following three transformational steps (see Alexiadou et al. 2007 for extensive discussion and references): (i) the adjective is generated as the predicate within a relative clause, (ii) the relative clause is 'reduced' by whiz-deletion, and (iii) predicate fronting places the adjectival predicate to the left of the noun (see 1).

The equivalence in 1 was one argument in favor of the claim that the two sides of the arrow in 1 are related derivationally.

  1. 1. The problem (which) is [AP interesting] ↔ the interesting problem [End Page 419]

Such things happened in the old days of linguistic innocence. But 1 entailed certain notorious complications (Bolinger (1967) was perhaps the first linguist to discuss such complications): (i) adjectives such as former, present, and alleged, as well as denominal classifying adjectives like nuclear, medical, and electrical, resist predicative use (*the murderer was alleged), and (ii) some adjectives can appear in either a prenominal or a postnominal position but with a different interpretation in each position.

  1. 2.

    1. a. The present president voted against the proposal, the former president approved. (the current president, temporal reading)

    2. b. The students present voted against the proposal. (those attending...)

The transformational operation could not capture such interpretive asymmetries, because transformations were not supposed to alter meaning.

Things began to change in the 1970s following Chomsky's pioneering article 'Remarks on nominalization' (1970), which was expanded in Jackendoff's (1977) X' theory. The focus of inquiry being transferred to the phrase structure component, transformations were considerably reduced. Many operations that were previously handled transformationally were now brought back to the 'base'. Thus, adnominal adjectives were base-generated (at the N. level). But even then, adjectives and adjective-containing noun phrases were not put under scrutiny. Also, issues of crosslinguistic differences/asymmetries were not yet addressed.

With the advent of the so-called DP hypothesis, many functional categories emerged and found their proper place in the syntax, both nominal and clausal. In the golden age of generative grammar, expressed in what became known as the theory of government and binding, attention was paid to the detailed study of adjectives both from a syntactic and semantic point of view and from a typological perspective.

Since the early 1990s, the name that came to be near synonymous to nominal syntax within the Chomskyan tradition, which later came to be known as the cartographic approach, was that of Guglielmo Cinque. Cinque was one of the first generative linguists to advance a theory of adjective distribution and interpretation within a broader theory of nominal architecture, in which N-movement played an important role. Simplifying greatly, the raising of the noun past one or perhaps more adjectives accounted for the fact that those adjectives that were passed by the noun surfaced following it. This operation could account for pre- and postnominal adjectives within a particular language as well as across languages. That was the mainstream hypothesis within the DP theory until the early 2000s. With the current book under review (see also Cinque 2005a,b) C revisits his original assumptions about N-movement, primarily as regards adjective placement and ordering. On the basis of a detailed comparison between English (Germanic) and Italian (Romance), he abandons his original idea about N-movement in favor of phrasal (NP) movement.

The syntax of adjectives comprises an introduction, seven chapters, a separate conclusion, an appendix with data from six languages, notes, references, a subject index, and a name index.

In the introduction and in Ch. 1, the reader gets an overview of the problems of the N-movement analysis advanced by the author in the 1990s, which further constitutes the focus of Ch. 2. First, APs in prenominal position in the Romance group and APs in the Germanic group (when possible) are contrasted via a number...


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