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Reviewed by:
  • Clefts and their relatives by Matthew Reeve
  • Vadim Kimmelman
Matthew Reeve. Clefts and their relatives. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2012. 236 pp. [Linguistik Aktuell, 185.]

The book Clefts and their relatives by Matthew Reeve offers a new account of the syntax and semantics of clefts in English and Russian. The book tries to solve a number of puzzles in a uniform way and raises the theoretically important issue of compositionality, which according to the author should be formulated in a non-traditional way. However, the Russian data used in the book are often debatable, so that some of the arguments for the proposed analysis are not convincing.

The book consists of six chapters. In the first chapter the author notes the lack of a thorough analysis of clefts in English and Russian. In the second he proposes a syntactic analysis of English clefts. The third chapter discusses the licensing of relative clauses in English clefts. The fourth offers an analysis of clefts in Russian similar to that proposed for English. In the fifth chapter the syntax of specificational sentences is discussed, and some remaining issues with the syntax of clefts are resolved. Chapter 6 concludes the book.

The main focus of this review is the analysis of Russian clefts, since this topic is of particular interest to JSL readers. However, in order to present the theory that Reeve proposes for Russian clefts we must first discuss his analysis of clefts in English, at least in outline. The discussion of the Russian clefts will contain more details, critical points, and counterexamples.

Examples in this review come from various sources. Some are taken from the book under review (listed as [R] and the page number). Most of the other examples come from the Russian National Corpus (RNC) ( and from a small survey I created online to confirm my intuition on constructed examples. My respondents’ judgments are reported for the relevant examples and are marked [Q]. [End Page 317]

1. Clefts in English

Clefts in English, such as (1), consist of a pronoun (it), a copula (was), a focused XP (John), and a restrictive relative clause, also known as the cleft clause (that Mary saw). The main question is what the syntactic relation is between these elements. Reeve proposes that the cleft pronoun is non-expletive, that the cleft clause is adjoined to the clefted XP, and that the cleft clause semantically modifies the initial pronoun. Reeve argues against other theories of clefts which either analyze the pronoun it as an expletive, thus unifying clefts with focus-fronting (Kiss 1998), or treat the cleft clause as extraposed from the cleft pronoun (Percus 1997). He also argues that the relative clause has to be licensed syntactically and semantically, but that in the case of clefts there are two separate licensers, each satisfying one of the conditions.

  1. 1. It was JOHN that Mary saw.       [R 1]

In chapter 2 Reeve provides arguments in favor of two of his claims, namely, that the pronoun in clefts is non-expletive and that the cleft clause is adjoined to the clefted XP and not to the pronoun.

Evidence for the non-expletive nature of the clause-initial pronoun is both syntactic and semantic. The first piece of syntactic evidence is that cleft it, but not expletive it (such as weather pronouns and raising it), can be replaced by a demonstrative pronoun this. Second, cleft it can control PRO, which is unexpected if it is an expletive, as in (2). [End Page 318]

  1. 2.

    1. a. It was THE FURNITURE that annoyed John on Sunday

      [despite PRO being THE DÉCOR the day before].

    2. b. It seemed that John was wrong [without it/*PRO seeming that Mary was right].       [R 12, 11]

Third, evidence from Germanic languages suggests that there are different kinds of expletives and that languages can allow the use of pro for some expletives but not for others (Vikner 1995). However, in these languages pro is never allowed for referential pronouns. Therefore, it is expected that the cleft pronoun cannot be replaced by a pro, which is indeed the case. Fourth, in Italian, definite referential DP’s can be replaced...


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