The present work lies at the syntax/ semantics interface, being one of the rare studies that address both fields, to get a better understanding of a linguistic problem. In this case, the problem is the restrictive focus particles in English and Romanian, namely the English only and its equivalents numai and doar.
The topic addressed is of interest since, although there exist in the literature studies on these particles, they are rarely analysed as a class, due to the difficulties they arise both at the syntactic and at the semantic level. Semantically, one must distinguish between the inherent contribution of the particle and that of the focused constituent. Syntactically, the same problem of determining the relation with the focused constituent arises.
The work has a multiple contribution: a) of putting forth for English a complete and unitary syntactic account, that may be extended to Romanian as well; b) of proposing the first analysis of these particles in Romanian; c) of presenting a detailed and unitary semantic analysis (restrictive particles are adverbial quantifiers).
Undoubtedly, during the past decades, the studies on the concept of Focus have exploded, the literature containing research from complementary approaches, as the author points out. There are syntactic theories, which address the syntactic effects of focus deriving from the presence of a focus feature. There are semantic theories, which analyse focus as a quantificational element, investigating its scope, the alternatives introduced, and its effect on the truth conditions, or its interaction with other quantifiers. There are also phonological theories which highlight the prosodic properties of the focused constituent and derive the syntactic effects from prosodic constraints, and there are pragmatic theories that regard information structure as a separate level of analysis where focus plays an essential part in ensuring the coherence, by its property of answering the current question.
The approach of the book is syntactic and semantic, the two components having to correlate and control each other. Syntactically, a focus feature is used, present at Numeration, licensed by integration into a wider domain (informational focus), or by movement to a focus projection in the left periphery of that domain. Semantically, focus is a quantificational operator that introduces alternatives belonging to a certain class of entities. Restrictive focus particles (only, doar, numai) bear on contrastive focus, marked prosodically. This type of interaction between a given constituent, and another one, prosodically marked, has been labelled association with focus. The constituents dependent on focus are described as focus sensitive. Focus particles all share the property of association with focus, but they distinguish themselves by their specific lexical contribution.
An essential observation for the analysis presented in the next chapters is that, although association with focus is dependent on the prosodic marking of focus, the association of the particle with a specific constituent survives even in echoic contexts, where the main prosodic stress is shifted to another constituent, (the previous focus continuing to have some degree of phonological prominence though).
The introduction also contains a brief, but very clear, presentation of the Minimalist Program model implemented. The MP description is accurate and it proves that the author has intimate knowledge of the program. The phase theory is adopted. The analysis put forward is, indirectly, an argument for the advantages of the copy theory of movement. In this model, both LF and PF can access either the head or the tail of a chain, and the two components can process the same copy or different copies, as Bobaljik (1995, 2002) convincingly argues.
An important idea is that post-syntactic operations (such as Reconstruction, Quantifier Raising (=QR)) are constrained by principles of economy. Reconstruction, Quantifier Raising are allowed only if they produce effects at the interfaces. Generally, the generation of alternative configurations with the same semantic interpretation is banned. Chapter 2, The syntax of restrictive particles in English, sets out to specify the categorial status of only, to determine the distribution of this particle and to integrate the description into a broader theory of focus. The three structures analysed are the constructions only-XP, only-VP and left periphery –only.
(John invited only MARY.// John only invited MARY. //Only MARY did John invite).
The author first reviews some important analyses syntactically or semantically oriented: Kayne (1998), Drubig (2000), Buring and Harmann (2001), Herburger (2000). The semantic-syntactic analyses have in common the fact that they identify, in different ways, the quantificational properties of the restrictive focus particles and underline the common semantic effects of only phrases.
Moving on to her own analysis, the author provides a detailed description of the distribution of the particle in order to determine its categorization. Determining the category of the particle is a difficult task since only attaches to any type of phrase: NP/DP/AP/ PP/VP/CP (but not IP!). The more problematic cases are discussed: only appears rarely after prepositions, even in languages with preposition stranding (English or Dutch). The author points out that functional prepositions are more permissive. This restriction is clearly due to the fact that PPs are islands.
A semantic restriction is the fact that only cannot co-occur with universal quantifiers, unless they are modified: The Board will interview only everyone who presented an application on MONDAY.
The aims of the syntactic analysis are related to: (i) specifying the merge configuration; (ii) the distribution in the three positions, only-DP, only VP, LP-only; (iii) the contrast between the syntactic mobility of only phrases and their relatively stable semantic interpretation.
The categorization of this particle raises two problems to solve: if only is a head or an adjunct; b) which lexical category does it belong to. Given that the sentences resulting from reordering the constituents (onlyXP, XP-only) are synonymous, the author assumes that only is a head which projects its associate as complement, which can in turn be reprojected in the specifier position. But the movement of a complement to a specifier position is a case of anti-locality. In principle, the movement takes place to value an uninterpretable feature of the head. But in the case under consideration, valuation could also take place at merge, in the head-complement structure. Given the perfect synonymy of the two orders, the author proposes that antilocality applies to syntax, but not to post-syntactic PF movements. Therefore, only is an acategorial head with two features, [iQ], which introduces its quantificational properties and [uF] which solves the problem of its function as a selecting head. The constituent bearing a [uF] feature searches for a match, that is a constituent with an [iF] feature, which is precisely the focused constituent, from which it borrows a light categorial feature. The merge position thus ensures the association with focus (the head complement relation) and the quantificational feature which requires its movement to the clausal peripheries. Finally, the phrase-internal PF movement of the associate accounts for the order associate + only.
The next question is whether the only phrase is ever interpreted in the base position. The answer is negative, because the in situ position also creates intervention effects. It is important that the intervention effect is in fact created by focus, and it appears in the absence of only too: *He didn’t disclose his PLANS to anybody.
In conclusion, the constructions where only is apparently in situ are based on movement, the in situ effect resulting from the reading of the lower copy of the chain, a position which favours the prosodic marking. (…)
The work is interesting from the perspective of building an integrated linguistic model yielding ultimately referential interpretations (in line with Russell or Montague) of natural language propositions. Through its entire endeavour, the book illustrates the manner in which natural language syntax can offer a manner of selecting from among the multitude of formalization alternatives, often with equivalent descriptive power, proposed by logicians. In other words, the persistent study of the syntax/semantics relation strengthens the position of natural language syntax as a metalinguistic filter, but, equally important, it must contribute to the elaboration of a viable semantic theory, that is relying on strict empirical and axiomatic criteria.
For all these reasons I believe that the author deserves to be congratulated.
Professor Alexandra Cornilescu, University of Bucharest