Dependency Syntax

Theory and Practice

By Igor Mel'cuk

Subjects: Linguistics
Series: SUNY series in Linguistics
Paperback : 9780887064517, 448 pages, September 1987
Hardcover : 9780887064500, 448 pages, January 1988

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

Mark Aronoff
List of Commonly Used Abbreviations and Symbols
I. Dependency Syntax: An Overview

I. The Case "Dependency vs. Phrase Structure"
II. Organization of the Presentation

1. Basic Elements of Dependency Representation in Syntax

I. Introductory Remarks
II. Dependency Language vs. Phrase-Structure Language
III. The Rationale behind Syntactic Dependencies
IV. Current Fallacies Concerning Syntactic Dependencies
V. Some Insufficiencies of Syntactic Dependencies
VI. Some Advantages of Syntactic Dependencies

2. The Meaning-Text Linguistic Model as the Framework for Dependency Syntax

I. Basic Postulates and Main Properties of a Meaning-Text Model
II. Utterance Representation at Different Levels
III. Major Components of a Meaning-Text Model
Appendix: Two Sample Entries of the Explanatory Combinatorial Dictionaries of French and Russian
I. Sample entries
II. Translating Means of an ECD

II. An Important Concept of Dependency Syntax: Surface-Syntactic Relations
3. Types of Syntagmatic Dependencies Between Wordforms of a Sentence and Surface Syntactic Relations

I. Possible Types of Syntagmatic Dependencies between Wordforms of a Sentence


1. Morphological Dependencies
2. Syntactic Dependencies
3. Semantic Dependencies


II. Possible Combinations of Syntagmatic Dependency Types between two Wordforms of a Sentence
III. Syntactic Dependency: A Logical Analysis of an Important Concept

III. Syntactic Theory: The Ergative Construction
4. Is There an Ergative Construction in Dyirbal?

I. Introductory Remarks
II. A Few Facts About Dyirbal III. Grammatical Subject in Dyirbal


1. Toward the Concept of Grammatical Subject
2. Subjecthood Properties in Dyirbal

IV. "Transitive" Verbs in Dyirbal
V. "Accusative" in Dyirbal
VI. No Ergative Construction in Dyirbal
VII. Active, Passive and Other Voices and "Near-Voices" in Dyirbal
VIII. Analysis of Possible Counterarguments

5. Is There an Ergative Construction in Lezgian?

I. Introductory Remarks
II. A Few Facts About Lezgian
III. Grammatical Subject in Lezgian


1. Subjecthood Properties in Lezgian
2. Absence of Voice in Lezgian
3. Rejecting Possible Counterarguments

VI. No Ergative Construction in Lezgian

6. Toward a Definition of the Concept "Ergative Construction"

I. Introductory Remarks
II, The Term Ergative
III. Levels of Representation in the Study of te Ergative Construction
IV. Typology of Predicative Constructions
V. The Ergative Construction: Attempt at a Definition
VI. Origins of the Ergative Construction

IV. Syntactic Descriptions: Surface-Syntactic Models and Notions
7. Toward a Formal Model of Alutor Surface Syntax: Predicative and Completive Constructions

I. A Few Facts about Alutor
II. Formalism and Notations Used
III. Nine Surface-Syntax Rules of Alutor


1. Predictive Constructions (Rules 1-3) 2. Completive Constructions with a Finite Transitive Verb in the Non-Resultive (Rules 4-9)

IV. Discussion of Predicative and Completive Constructions in Alutor

1. The Ergative Construction in Alutor
2. The Special Cases of Object Agreement of the Main Verb


8. Syntactic, or Lexical, Zero

I. The Problem Stated: Questions 1-3 II. From Morphological to Syntactic Zeroes
III. Syntactic, or Lexical, Zeroes in Russian
IV. "Zero" Terminology in Linguistics
V. Answers to Questions 1-3


V. Syntactic Methodology: Some Thorny Questions of Russian Syntax
9. On a Class of Russian Verbs that Can Introduce Direct Speech: Lexical Polysemy or Semantic Syntax? (Constructions of the type "Ostav'te Menja!" --Ispugalsja Bufetčik)

I. The Russian Direct Speech Sentences with Verbs of Emotion
II. The Problem Stated
III. Alternative Solutions: Lexical vs. Syntactic
IV. Three Arguments against the Lexical Solution
V. A Residual Case: Verbs of Emotion Having a Speech Semantic Component

10. Animacy in Russian Cardinal Numerals and Adjectives as an Inflectional Category: A Problem of Agreement

I. Introductory Remarks
II. The Problem Stated
III. Alternative Solutions: Animacy vs. a Specific Case
IV. Seven Arguments to Support the Animacy Solution
V. Important Residual Cases


1. In What Inflectional Forms of Adj and Num in Animacy Relevant?
2. For What Lexemes of Adj and Num in Animacy Relevant?


11. The Grammatical Case of the Numerical Expressions in Russian: Phrases of the Type (Bol'še) Na Dva Mal'čika or Po Troe Bol'Nyx: A Problem of Government

I. Constructions with "Difficult" Case Forms
II. The Problem Stated
III. Alternative Solutions: Nominative vs. Inanimate Accusative
IV. Four Arguments in Favor of the Accusative Solution
V. EXCURSUS: The Nominative Noun as a Syntactically Dependent Element in Russian

Four Methodological Principles of Linguistic Research
Index of Names
Index of Languages
Index of Subject and Terms


This work presents the first sustained examination of Dependency Syntax. In clear and stimulating analyses Mel'cuk promotes syntactic description in terms of dependency rather than in terms of more familiar phrase-structure. The notions of dependency relations and dependency structure are introduced and substantiated, and the advantages of dependency representation are demonstrated by applying it to a number of popular linguistic problems, e. g. grammatical subject and ergative construction. A wide array of linguistic data is used - the well-known (Dyirbal), the less known (Lezgian), and the more recent (Alutor). Several "exotic" cases of Russian are discussed to show how dependency can be used to solve difficult technical problems.

The book is not only formal and rigorous, but also strongly theory-oriented and data-based. Special attention is paid to linguistic terminology, specifically to its logical consistency. The dependency formalism is presented within the framework of a new semantics-oriented general linguistic theory, Meaning-Text theory.

Igor Mel'cuk is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Montreal.