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  • Inflectional defectiveness by Andrea D. Sims
  • Frank Y. Gladney*
Andrea D. Sims. Inflectional defectiveness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Cambridge Studies in Linguistics.] 2015. pp. xxi, 309.

The Russian verb pobedit' 'conquer' shows what Sims calls canonical defectiveness, "the complete lack of any word-form filling a given paradigm cell […] in the context of a maximal expectation that there should be some form corresponding to that cell" (250). That cell is the first-person singular nonpast, in which *pobežu is bad and so are *pobedju and *pobeždu. In this wide-ranging study she cites data from two dozen languages and employs a variety of tools like statistical analysis and information theory in order to provide a context for understanding the defectiveness of pobedit'.

Introductory chapter 1 poses the question: Are paradigm gaps random anomalies, epiphenomena, or normal morphological objects? They are anomalies when they are generated by the regular rules of inflection but then must be specified [–lexical insertion] to prevent their occurring in a sentence. They are epiphenomenal when they reflect morphological rule competition, such as the competition between the Russian reflex of /dj/ (in *pobežu) and the Church Slavic reflex (in *pobeždu). The epiphenomena explanation could have been pursued further. The same competition between Russian ž and Church Slavic žd is seen in the nonoccurring imperfective *pobeživat' and the standard imperfective pobeždat', which shows that the Church Slavic reflex, although acceptable in derivation, is not acceptable in inflection (or no longer acceptable: Pushkin had straždut as the 3pl. of stradat' 'suffer', but it has been replaced by stradajut). Sims rejects these two options and throughout the book repeatedly argues that such gaps are "normal morphological objects" (209) and that inflectional defectiveness is "a systemic variant of normal inflectional structure" (11).

In chapter 2 Sims defines inflectional defectiveness and evaluates candidates for it. In the Yimas sentence taŋatpul 'You didn't hit me', the absence of ma 'you' is not a gap because the sentence is well formed and interpreted as having a second-person singular subject. ("This is thus an example of zero expression of the nominative, which is not to be confused with lack of expression" [32]) "Inasmuch as [taŋatpul] is a well-formed sentence and the ineffability requirement of the definition is thus not met, this does" [surely the author [End Page 141] meant to write "does not"] "qualify as an example of inflectional defectiveness according to the criteria employed here" (32). The same goes for On–vrač 'He is a doctor', which is fully effable, so the zero copula of byt' does not constitute a paradigm gap.

Sims says Ja kupila čto bylo v magazine 'I bought what was in the store' is grammatical because čto "exhibits nominative-accusative syncretism [and] is thus able to simultaneously fulfill the requirement of the matrix verb for an accusative subject, and of the subordinate clause verb for a nominative subject" (29–30). Compare the ungrammaticality of Ja ne mogla ponravit'sja *komu/*kogo on nenavidit 'I could not please the one whom he hates', which she ascribes to the lack of dative-accusative syncretism. But all the first sentence shows is that a relative clause's pronominal antecedent is sometimes omitted, as it is in Mne nužno čem pisat' 'I need something to write with', which cannot be considered a case of accusative-instrumental syncretism. The pronominal antecedent that makes Sims's sentence grammatical—Ja ne mogla ponravit'sja tomu, kogo on nenavidit—is the dative of tot, the antecedent of the relative clause, not the dummy to, which precedes a complement clause, for example, in Ja uznala i to, kogo on nenavidit 'I also found out who(m) he hates'.

Sims asks "whether there is an empirically grounded distinction between periphrasis and defectiveness" (38), which I take to mean, Can defectiveness in a paradigm be repaired by periphrasis? At issue is the perfect passive in Latin, where corresponding to the present passive laudor 'I am praised' we have the periphrastic perfect passive laudātus sum. Sims deliberates whether laudātus sum pertains to morphology or to syntax. It is syntactic in consisting of two distinct, wordlike units...


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