James R. Black and Virginia Motapanyane (eds), 1996:

Microparametric Syntax and Dialect Variation

(Current Issues in Linguistic Theory, 139)
Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

ISBN 90 272 3643 7 (hardback) Hfl. 120,- or $ 69,-.

reviewed by

Susann Fischer, University of Potsdam

E-mail: sfisher@ling.uni-potsdam.de

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The Principles and Parameters model of Universal Grammar contributes crosslinguistic variation to a limited inventory of choices among abstract properties of grammer (see, for example, Chomsky 1993, 1995). Microparametric Syntax and Dialect Variation is a contribution to research within this paradigm. The papers in the volume were originally presented at the 18th annual meeting of the Atlantic Provinces Linguistic Association, held 28- 29 October 1994 in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. The book contains eleven articles and a short introduction. Most of the empirical data is drawn from the Germanic and Romance languages, though a discussion of Chinese dialects is provided by Cheng, Huang & Tang while Johns discusses some dialects of the Inuit language. The articles in the book are highly specific, each dealing with a different topic at its finest grain, covering a broad spectrum of the ongoing research within syntax theory.

RICHARD S. KAYNE's introductory comments (ix-xviii) stress the point that comparative work on the syntax of closely related languages is a new research tool which provides an understanding of the principles of Universal Grammar as well as of the language-specific parameters which yield variation. To exemplify what we mean when we talk about microparameters, he draws on many examples from his previous work on Romance languages. The questions he asks are of the following kind: what form may syntactic parameters take; what are the minimal units of syntactic variation; how many irreducible syntactic parameters might there be? He concludes with some calculations of how many parameters make how many languages and how this affects our picture of language aquisition. Of course, the book concentrates on giving answers concerning the first two questions and these are highly dependent on the theoretical framework used.

J. -MARC AUTHIER & LISA REED,"Une Analyse Microparamétrique des Moyens dans les Langues Romanes" (1-23), present empirical data from Canadian French and Madrid Spanish middle constructions which counterexemplify both present claims about Romance middles, i.e. they must be generic, they disallow a by -phrase. They claim that the defining characteristics are not defining but can be reduced to a difference concerning the c-selection of the middle morphemes and the consequent condition on the identification of PRO. In "Treating that- trace variation" (25-39), PHILIP BRANIGAN provides new data from English dialects, compares it with Danish and German and finds that conventional analysis like the ECP can not explain the variation. According to the main claim of his article, that dialectal variation should be lexical, rather than the result of fundamental differences in grammars, or different settings of parameters, he ascribes the different structures to a difference in the phonological form of the primary complementiser in finite complement clauses, thus to a lexical difference.

LISA L.-S.CHENG; C.-T. JAMES CHENG & C.-C.JANE TANG, "Negative Particle Questions: A Dialectal Comparison", (41-78), argue very convincingly that the differences within the three Chinese dialects (Mandarin, Cantonese and Taiwanese) can be seen as a consequence of the historical development of negation markers as question particles. Whereas Mandarin negation markers are no longer question particles Cantonese and Taiwanese maintain the grammaticalization of negation markers as question particles.

In "Imperative Inversion in Belfast English", (79-93), ALISON HENRY argues that we should admit construction-specific differences between dialects, and optionality of movement, since her data cannot be explained following a strict minimalist analysis.

ANDERS HOLMBERG & GÖREL SANDSTRÖM, "Scandinavian Possessive Constructions from a Nothern Swedish Viewpoint", (95-120), start their article by defining minor and major parameters. According to them, major parameters concern feature values of a functional category with a general distribution, and are resistant to change and dialectal variation; whereas minor parameters concern feature values of a functional category with a restricted distribution, are vulnerable to change, and likely to show dialectal variation. Following this dichotomy they conclude that the variation in Scandinavian possessive constructions is due to one main and one minor parameter.

In "The Occasional Absence of Anaphoric Agreement In Labrador Inuttut" (121-143), ALANA JOHNS shows according to her previous work that in such languages where word-order is almost completely free a lot of the information usually signalled by movement is encoded in morphology. As a consequence parameters in Inuttut are reflected as variation in inflection alone.

In "Hypothetical Infinitives and Crosslinguistic Variations in Continental And Quebec French" (145-168), FRANCE MARTINEAU & VIRGINIA MOTOPANYANE argue that hypothetical infinitive configurations meet the criteria for finite clauses. Therefore, licensing and identification of null subjects at the internal level is possible in pro-drop languages. In this sense they claim that Quebec French behaves like a pro-drop language whereas Continental French behaves like a non-pro-drop language.

GRAHAM SHORROCKS focuses on English dialects. In "The Second Person Singular Interrogative in the Traditional Vernacular of the Bolton Metropolitan Area" (167-188), he gives an extensive description of this dialect including phonological and morphological details, historical backgound information, an overview of earlier scholarship to reach the conclusion that there is more variation amongst English dialects than previously assumed.

KNUT TARALD TARALDSEN studies two seemingly unrelated topics - "Reflexives, Pronouns and Subject/Verb Agreement in Icelandic and Faroese" (189-211) - and relates them to one another. Basing his discussion on conceptual considerations and certain empirical observations about Icelandic and Foroese he argues that DP-movement to SPEC-positions is not in general motivated by the need for feature checking, but by the need to form structures that can be interpreted as predications. He then shows that an analysis which treats nominative Case as the default value assigned at PF to an unspecified Case-feature and incorporates an identification condition on the empty argument slot within predicates together with the principle of Economy of Derivation (see also Speas 1994) sucessfully accounts for the properties of subject/verb agreement and object/verb agreement as well as for the distributional properties of reflexive and non-reflexive pronouns.

MARIE-THÉRÈSE VINET, in "Advervial Quantifiers and Dialectal Variation in a Minimalist Framework" (213-227), looks at Quebec French and Standard French adverbial quantifiers. In order to account for the variation in placement in a minimalist framework where movement has to be driven by morphological necessity only, she adopts an analysis in which adverbial quantifiers are generated in situ in various positions in the domain of the predicate, depending on their lexical properties.

In "Verb Clusters in Continental West German Dialects", (229-258), JAN-WOUTER ZWART criticizes classic analysis of verb clusters because in these analysis the direction of adjunction cannot be kept constant even within one single language. Thus, accordingly to his previous work he proposes an analysis on the lines of Kayne (1994) presupposing that languages should be structured alike: i.e. the specifier precedes the associated head, the head precedes the associated complement, adjunctions must always be to the left and never to the right.

My general view is that the book's strength lies in the range and subtlety of the examples cited in developing argumentation. Most articles reflect a major commitment to field work as well as a careful study of the scholarly literature. Many of the papers have the flavour of work in progress, and therefore many unresolved questions remain, which makes for a very stimulating read for specialists. Necessarily, therefore, the articles might be a little too diverse and too specific to be all of general interest. The problem of accessibility for a broader audience, especially for students who only have background knowledge in the Principle and Parameter model, could be overcome if an introduction that gave a general overview of developments over the last few years in the analysis of the setting of parameters had been included. In addition, how does the Shorrocks article -- interesting though it is -- fit into the scheme of the book as a whole, as it does not really treat the subject of microparameters in the way outlined by Kayne in the introduction and in the other articles of the book? I should also have liked to have seen abstracts introducing each paper, an English translation of Authier & Reed's French-language contribution, and, while we are on this subject, English translations of the German quotations in the Shorrocks article.

However, these criticisms do not spoil my generally positive view of this interesting compilation of recent work on microparametric syntax.


Chomsky, Noam, 1993. "A Minimalist Program for Linguist Theory". In:Kenneth Hale & Samuel Jay Keyser (eds), The View from Building 20: Essays in Linguistics in Honor of Sylvain Bromberger , Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 1-52.

--, 1995. The Minimalist Program . Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Kayne, Richard S., 1994. The Antisymmetry of Syntax . Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Speas, Margaret, (1994), "Null Arguments in a Theory of Economy of Projection", In: Elena Benedicto and Jeff Runner (eds). University of Massachusetts Occasional Papers in Linguistics 17. Amherst, MA. 179-208.

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