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Reviewed by:
  • Micro-syntactic variation in North American English ed. by Raffaella Zanuttini and Laurence R. Horn
  • Neil Myler
Micro-syntactic variation in North American English. Ed. by Raffaella Zanuttini and Laurence R. Horn. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. Pp. 365. ISBN 9780199367214. $39.95.

This excellent and timely volume, published in the ‘Oxford studies in comparative syntax’ series, is a collection of papers on various morphosyntactic phenomena in North American English dialects. The contributions come from scholars representing many institutions, but the impetus behind the book stems broadly from the Yale Grammatical Diversity Project, and specifically from the symposium on ‘Micro-syntactic variation in North American English: Aspects of negation and polarity’, held at the 85th annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America in Pittsburgh in 2011. [End Page 746]

The opening chapter, by Raffaella Zanuttini, places the volume in its theoretical context and summarizes the contributions. Differences between closely related languages and dialects have played an important role in the development of parametric approaches to morphosyntactic variation since their inception. Richard Kayne, a pioneer of microcomparative syntax, has emphasized the power of such studies as a test-bed for parametric hypotheses (Kayne 1996). In the last few decades, systematic efforts to document and analyze such variation have contributed to an explosion in our knowledge and understanding of the morphosyntactic component of the language faculty. Many of these efforts have concerned the languages of continental Europe. To name just three of many prominent examples,1 we have the project to develop an atlas of North Italian dialects associated with Paola Benincà, Richard Kayne, and many others (Atlante Sintattico d’Italia, ASIt); the work of the Merteens Institute, spearheaded by Hans Bennis and Sjef Barbiers, to document and analyze variation in Dutch varieties; and such projects as Scandinavian Dialect Syntax (Scan-DiaSyn) and the Nordic Center of Excellence in Microcomparative Syntax (NORMS), focusing on North Germanic.

The English-speaking world, by contrast, has yet to see its Merteens Institute, its ScanDiaSyn, or its ASIt. This is curious, both because of how well studied and well represented English is as the native language of many working linguists, and because dialectological and sociolinguistic documentation of relevant phenomena is abundant. The Yale Grammatical Diversity Project, a research team led by Jim Wood and Raffaella Zanuttini, has begun to fill that unfortunate gap. The publication of this volume, the first collection of papers that explicitly aims to relate syntactic variation in English dialects to questions of theoretical syntax, is a landmark event in that endeavor.

The rest of this review summarizes the remaining chapters in turn, before turning to a more general evaluation.

Ch. 2, ‘SO [totally] speaker-oriented: An analysis of “drama SO” ’, by Patricia Irwin, presents an analysis of the use of so found in such examples as everyone is so wearing flip-flops this season. This phenomenon, dubbed drama-SO by Irwin, is found mainly in the speech of people born in the late 1960s or more recently, and thus reflects a case of generation-dependent microvariation (reflected in the term ‘Generation X-so’, the term used by Zwicky (2010) in a discussion of the same phenomenon). Irwin proposes that drama-SO is simply degree-modifier so modifying an optionally silent speaker-oriented adverb totally. Since this speaker-oriented use of totally is restricted to Generation X and below, this accounts for the generational restrictions on the construction. As Irwin also shows, this hypothesis accurately predicts many of the distributional properties of drama-SO.2

The third chapter, ‘Affirmative semantics with negative morphosyntax: Negative exclamatives and the New England so AUXn’t NP/DP construction’, by Jim Wood, analyzes the SAND (SoAux-NP/DP) construction associated with New England English, exemplified by so don’t I, which coexists with the more familiar so do I construction in the same dialect. Wood demonstrates, using a battery of tests going back to Klima 1964, that the construction has affirmative polarity (despite the presence of the negative morpheme -n’t). Rather than propose that the negative is simply not interpreted for some special reason, Wood provides a compositional analysis...


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