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Adverb Licensing and Clause Structure in English


Dagmar Haumann


Linguistik Aktuell, Volume 105

Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2007

Hardback. 435 p. ISBN 978-90-272-3369-1. 125 €


Reviewed by Wilfrid Rotgé

Université Paris-Ouest Nanterre-La Défense




Adverbs have always puzzled grammarians who like to provide clear definitions of the various word classes of the English language, because of the relative lack of homogeneity within this class. It is easier to see how the two words tea and constitutionality share similar syntactic properties than, say, very and lovingly. Some linguists are tempted to define adverbs negatively: an adverb is a word that does not belong to any of the other (typically) seven parts of speech. It is then considered a “catch-all” category, which is not intellectually or linguistically satisfactory. One temptation is to split up the category of adverbs into at least two parts of speech, with open class adverbs on the one hand and closed-class adverbs on the other.

Haumann reminds us that the characterisations of adverbs that one finds in traditional grammar or standard reference grammars of English do not differ much from their original characterisation some 2000 years ago, except that the modifying function of adverbs has been generalised to domains other than verbal predicates. (We have known for a long time that we should beware of the etymological fallacy of the Latin names of the word classes). It must be said about generative grammarians—but that is true of cognitive grammarians too—that they certainly know how to distance themselves from the earliest definitions of word classes provided by the Alexandrian grammarian Dionysios Thrax (100 BC).

The starting point of Haumann’s book is Ernst’s (2002:1) conclusion that “Nobody seems to know exactly what to do with adverbs”, or at least with adverbs as a whole. Most studies deal with subclasses of adverbs, which are easier to analyse. Haumann’s aim is to investigate the factors that govern the structural integration and licensing of adverbs in English, with special emphasis on the relation between the position and interpretation of adverbs. The notion of “licensing” is taken for granted, because of the book’s explicit theoretical framework, that of generative models of grammar. Readers who are not familiar with the theory of government and binding may sometimes find it difficult to follow the author. But they will be rewarded by the convincing arguments used by Haumann and the extensive literature she draws on for her citations.

As expected, she first introduces the ongoing debate between proponents of the functional specifier analysis (i.e. should adverbs be integrated into structure as “specifiers”?) and proponents of adjunction-based semantic scope theories (i.e. should they be integrated as “adjuncts”?), which is very useful when you are not too familiar with recent developments in generative grammar. Her general claim throughout the book is that the licensing of adverbs is contingent on a strict one-to-one relationship between a given syntactic adverb class and a designated clausal head.

In other words, the various and multifarious elements that constitute the traditional word class “adverb” (invented over two thousand years ago) do not come together as one discrete category, defined in its relation to syntax. Adverbs must be considered in their heterogeneity, as a large set of discrete categories that are identified on the basis of the distributional properties of the lexical items constituting them. The semantic properties of adverbs have to be taken into account but that does not mean that the syntax of adverbs follows solely from their semantics.

Even though generative grammar has moved a long way from Dionysios Thrax’s first characterisations of word classes, Haumann is quite willing to acknowledge her indebtedness to the semantic subclasses of adverbs “that have been populating works on grammar since traditional grammar” (411).

Any study of the licensing of adverbs has to rely on a subtle semantic classification of the elements constituting that category. Haumann provides a list of twenty subclasses, some of which are quite traditional, like manner adverbs, temporal adverbs or spatial adverbs, and others which are not, like scene-setting adverbs. Some are not traditional in the label used, like epistemic adverbs,—despite the general acceptance of the word “epistemic” by linguists all over the world, it has not really made its way yet into traditional grammar—but constitute a relatively traditional and well-documented subclass of adverbs. What is missing in the list of the twenty subclasses of adverbs given in the general conclusion of the book is a few examples, because the reader cannot be expected to know or remember after reading the book what “pure domain adverbs” stand for. The reader has to look up “DomP” in the index, because each subclass has a specific code like “DomP” for “pure domain adverbs”, to refresh his or her memory. There is a minor problem here, which is by no means a reflection on Haumann’s book, as the first reference given in the index for “DomP” is page 167ff, when pure domain adverbs are actually defined on page 163, where the reader discovers that these adverbs correspond to the more traditional “sentence adverbs”.

As would have been expected, the word not stands apart and occupies a subclass of its own, that of “sentence-negating not”. It still seems to be considered as belonging to the category of adverbs, if only because it is listed in the twenty subclasses that constitute adverbs, although Haumann is actually more cautious, in that in the pages devoted to not (in chapter 4), she prefers the phrases “negative marker”, “negative operator” or “sentence-negating not and n’t” and her comment is that “traditional grammar classifies [not and n’t] as negative adverbs”, a claim that is not endorsed by the author. In fact, not and n’t are not treated as one and the same element: whereas not is analysed as “specNegP”, n’t is analysed as a derivational suffix (and, more precisely, a “syncategorematic” derivational suffix [195]).

I would definitely recommend Haumann’s book to anyone who is interested in adverb licensing. It would be difficult to do any research on the topic now without first perusing it. A more general reader with little knowledge of government and binding theory may find it a hard read, however it is worth the challenge if you want to understand the intricacies of adverbs. All in all, a stimulating read. The book is punctuated by many useful summaries that provide great help to the reader. It would have gained from an extensive glossary and a few clear (re-)definitions (of the word “licensing”, to begin with). Ideally, Haumann could have provided the reader with clues of how to include her findings in “standard reference grammars”. As a writer of several grammars, the present reviewer would have certainly appreciated that!


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