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Reviewed by:
  • Current approaches to syntax: A comparative handbook ed. by András Kertész et al.
  • Joyce Tang Boyland
Current approaches to syntax: A comparative handbook. Ed. by András Kertész, Edith Moravcsik, and Csilla Rákosi. ( Comparative handbooks of linguistics.) Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 2019. Pp. xvi, 600. ISBN 9783110538212. $310 (Hb).

With its wide appeal across multiple audiences and its focused and coherent content, this book is an essential volume of the 'Comparative handbooks of linguistics' series published by De Gruyter Mouton. Thirteen syntactic theories are each represented by a chapter detailing the theory's own perspective on goals, data, conceptual tools, and evaluative criteria, together with an analysis of the sentence After Mary introduced herself to the audience, she turned to a man that she had met before, to illustrate how different theories treat the same material. Following these theoretical chapters are six chapters of metatheoretical commentary, drawing on the philosophy of science to provoke foundational questions seldom asked in linguistic theorizing.

Of the broadly comparable books cited in the introduction, this one is most reminiscent of Stefan Müller's magisterial textbook Grammatical theory, now in its fourth edition (2020); both share in combining broad coverage of theories and metatheoretical analysis putting theories in context. Yet Kertész, Moravcsik, and Rákosi's compendium fills a different niche, as it is neither a textbook nor a work written from a single author's point of view. Rather, the chapters on theory are a carefully curated collection written by proponents of the respective theories, explicitly addressing [End Page 419] a specific set of key issues, and the metatheoretical chapters challenge any linguist to reflect deeply on foundational issues. The collection is intentionally structured to help working linguists and graduate students speak and write more precisely about the positions of different syntactic theories in a wide multidimensional landscape. The chapters are a bit uneven in how well they follow the editors' framework, perhaps to be expected given the diversity of theoretical content being described.

Edith Moravcsik's introduction sets the stage for a systematic analysis. Sections on goals, data, conceptual tools, and evaluative criteria each prepare the reader for differences in how authors in Part I might address these required points. A brief section pointing to Part II makes it clear that reflection on the applicability of Popperian falsificationism (Popper 1959) to linguistics is a major focus, although more general concerns are also considered, for example, what kind of properties linguistic theories must ideally have and what processes constitute satisfactory linguistic theorizing. The chapter concludes with sections in which Moravcsik applies some of these organizing principles to the theories contained in Part I; I wish that a full chapter in Part II could have been devoted to these and similar analyses.

The thirteen theory chapters of Part I run in alphabetical order by author. Although this choice safely avoids communicating anything misleading or awkward, it would have been defensible and perhaps a helpful act of iconicity to attempt to lay out the chapters according to any of the dimensions along which syntactic theories vary. This review proceeds in order of decreasing distance from Chomsky, beginning with approaches initiated in full-scale opposition and ending with minimalism.

Ronald Langacker's cognitive grammar (CG) was conceived as a thoroughgoing repudiation of autonomous syntax; instead, meaning is paired with form within its basic building blocks, which both exist in themselves and are assembled with each other according to known cognitive principles. Beginning with principles like categorization and construal, Cristiano Broccias launches into the meat of the theory, namely the multifarious elaborate diagrams that represent everything from attentional focus to irreality to a unit's status as head or modifier or complement, and more. Assemblages of lower-level units schematize grammatical patterns in which constituent-like elements form various kinds of clauses. Broccias presents a balanced view, ascribing value to this descriptive approach, which incorporates cognition so fully, while acknowledging the need for still greater theoretical clarity and empirical testability.

Ritva Laury and Tsuyoshi Ono's chapter on usage-based grammar focuses on interactional linguistics as developed...