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  • The syntax of argument structure by Leonard H. Babby
  • Peter Arkadiev
Leonard H. Babby. The syntax of argument structure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009, pp. xviii + 307. [Cambridge Studies in Linguistics, 120.]

In the book under review, Leonard Babby,1 an eminent linguist renowned for his influential work on many aspects of the syntax of Russian, presents an ingenious and sophisticated theory of morphosyntax stemming from his previous studies and in many important ways diverging from the current mainstream of generative grammar. While for most proponents of Government and Binding and Minimalist Program “argument structure” is either read off the semantic representation of predicates (as in, e.g., Levin and Rappaport Hovav 1995as in, e.g., Levin and Rappaport Hovav 1998) or reduced to syntactic configurations (e.g., Borer 2005, Ramchand 2008), Babby argues for a view that argument structure is an autonomous module of grammar, and in fact the core one, from which syntactic representations are built, and which cannot be fully reduced to semantics. For Babby, argument structure is not just a static representation, but a dynamic component of language where various operations such as passivization, causativization, etc., apply, and which is crucial for the determination of the initial syntactic representation of clauses. Despite its explicit theory-constructing goals, the book is thoroughly empirically-oriented, presenting a number of in-depth case studies of Russian morphosyntax, such as the structure and syntax of “short” (SF) and “long” (LF) forms of adjectives, control of infinitives, participles and gerunds, and the predicate instrumental construction, each elucidating particular aspects of the theory. A reader, accustomed to associating the term “argument structure” with such issues as “unaccusativity,” “dative shift,” or “spray/load alternations,” might be surprised by Babby’s choice of subject matter. However, the book shows, and quite convincingly, [End Page 259] that the phenomena Babby investigates can be elegantly and revealingly accounted for from the chosen perspective.

The book consists of an introduction, five chapters, endnotes, references and indices. In the introduction (pp. 1–10) Babby provides the reader with a very useful nutshell presentation of the main theoretical claims of the book and locates his conception of argument structure against the background of current generative theorizing. Importantly, Babby acknowledges from the outset that his theoretical thinking has been largely motivated by his empirical work on Russian, whose morphosyntax, being different from English in many important respects, cannot necessarily be adequately accounted for by “Anglocentric” approaches reducing all grammatical complexity to basic syntactic operations such as Merge and Move.

In chapter 1 “The structure of argument structure” (pp. 11–73) Babby presents the conceptual and technical basics of his theory of argument structure and syntactic projection. The theory rests on the notion of diathesis consisting of two “autonomous but related tiers” (p. 13) of theta selection and category selection, in part going back to the corresponding notion developed in the Leningrad school of typology (Xolodovič 1974). Two assumptions about diathesis underlying the whole theory are the following: (i) all predicates and productive predicate affixes in all languages have the same universal diathesis structure (see below); (ii) syntactic operations such as movement cannot alter the predicate’s diathesis and, consequently, the basic grammatical relations in the clause. From (ii) it follows that many argument-structure-related operations often assumed to be syntactic, e.g., passivization or subject suppression with infinitives, occur at the level of argument structure and not in syntax proper. Therefore, argument structure is a dynamic morphosyntactic component of grammar where the lexically determined diathesis of the verbal stem is successively combined (“amalgamated”) with the diatheses of whatever productive affixes2 the verb attaches, and this interaction between the diatheses of the predicate stem and affixes determines the potential syntactic configurations in which the predicate occurs.

Technically, the diathesis is a 2 × 4 grid where the upper tier represents up to three thematic roles and the lower tier, in turn, the syntactic categories corresponding to them; see (1) below for a tabular notation [End Page 260] and (2) for the corresponding linear notation of the diathesis of a three-argument ditransitive predicate. The order of theta positions in the upper tier and their mapping to phrase structure...


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