LINGUIST List 15.1743

Tue Jun 8 2004

Review: Syntax/Semantics: Coene & d'Hulst (2003)

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  1. Miguel Rodr�guez-Mondo�edo, From NP to DP, Vol 2: The expression of possession in noun phrases

Message 1: From NP to DP, Vol 2: The expression of possession in noun phrases

Date: Mon, 7 Jun 2004 14:03:13 -0400 (EDT)
From: Miguel Rodr�guez-Mondo�edo <Miguel.Rodriguez-MondonedoHUSKYMAIL.UCONN.EDU>
Subject: From NP to DP, Vol 2: The expression of possession in noun phrases

EDITOR: Coene, Martine; d'Hulst, Yves
TITLE: From NP to DP, Volume 2
SUBTITLE: The expression of possession in noun phrases
SERIES: Linguistik Aktuell/Linguistics Today 56
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2003

Miguel Rodr�guez-Mondo�edo, 
Department of Linguistics, University of Connecticut

This volume presents a selection of the papers presented at the
special workshop on possession of the Conference ''From NP to DP''
(Antwerp, 2000). It is a nice overview of the current research on the
syntax and semantics of possession. The book opens with an
introduction by the editors that not only addresses the papers but
also makes an effort to place them in the general discussion regarding
each issue. This is remarkable, given the great amount of bibliography
dealing with these issues, and the impressive diversity of
cross-linguistic differences. Niney"apers, of course, are not enough
to cover all the details, but they make� worth-taken sneak-in.

I will summarize each paper first, and I will make some comments on
each one.

The book has three parts. The first one is called "Typology of
Possessors" and has two articles.

The first article is "A typology of possessive modifiers", by Tabea
Ihsan�. The author proposes that possessive modifiers must be
classified in three groups: determiner (Det), adjectival (Adj) and
pronominal (Pron) possessives. In addition, they can have a strong or
weak form (this depends on their morpho-phonetic form). All of them
are generated in the specifier of NP, and licensed in a projection of
possessive agreement (AgrPossP). Det possessives, which cannot
co-occur with articles, have a [+definite] feature, which forces it to
move to DP from AgrPossP; French "mon" (my) is a weak form (it's a
head and moves to D), whereas West Flemish "myn" (my) is a strong
one (it's a phrase and moves to Spec, DP). Adj possessives do not
have [+definite] and they can co-occur with articles; strong forms, as
French "mienne" (mine), appear when the noun is elided, and weak
ones, as Paduan "me" (my), when the noun is present. Pron
Possessives are exemplified by English "mine" or "hers"; they are
[+definite] and strong, and cannot co-occur with nouns or articles;
Italian "loro" (their) could be an example of weak form.

"The possessive via associative anaphor", by Georges Kleiber, is the
second paper. It tries to account for the behavior of the nouns
involved when a possessive adjective (PA) is used, by invoking the
relations at hand in associative anaphors (AA). AA related two
entities in several ways (whole-part, member-collection, location,
among others), that can be contingent or just stereotypical. The
author tries to find out until what extend AA are interchangeable with
PA. He found out an intricate pattern. For instance (1) is an AA:

(1) We entered the church. The village was celebrating.

The corresponding PA is ungrammatical:

(2) *We entered the church. ITS village was celebrating. (ITS=of the church)

But with other kind of AA relation this substitution is possible:

(3) We helped the driver. The/HIS car was aflame. (HIS=of the driver)

Kleiber proposes that the possibility of PA depends on the type of
lexical relations established between the corresponding nouns, as well
as on the ontological status of the entities involved--their place in
an ontological dependence scale: human > animals > concrete objects >
events > properties.

The second part is called "The internal syntax of possessor phrases",
and it has three papers.

"From DPs to NPs: A Bare Phrase Structure account of genitives", by
Carmen Dobrovie-Sorin, explains the behavior of synthetic genitives
(SG) in English Saxon genitives ("John's"), Hebrew Construct State
Nominals (CSN) and Rumanian al-less genitives. Dobrovie-Sorin departs
from Abney 1987 DP hypothesis and, using the Bare Phrase Structure
theory (Chomsky 1994), proposes that "John's house" is a maximal Noun
Projections, with the SG in the specifier. This allows her to use this
semantic composition rule:

(4) A SG is interpreted as the argument of a function from individuals
to individuals (type <e,e>), which yields the individual denoted by
the overall possessive phrase.

This accounts for the restriction on quantifiers and determiners
(*every/a John's house), that must combine with expressions that
denotes properties (type <e,t>), and for the so-called
"(In)definiteness Spread" (the possessive phrase inherits the
(in)definiteness of the Saxon genitive):

(5) There is a man's dog
(6) *There is the man's dog

This does not account for Hebrew indefinite CSN:

(7) beit iS
 house man
 ''a house of a man''

This construction can have a reading similar to English
(ungrammatical) phrase "a man's a house". To maintain the core
analysis, the author proposes that CSN are bare nouns of type <e,t>,
assuming that <e,t> expressions cannot occupy Spec,N positions.

The next paper is "Determiner-possessor relation in the Bulgarian DP",
by Lilia Sch�rcks and Dieter Wunderlich. The authors propose that the
short form of Bulgarian possessive pronouns (SFPP) appears only as an
extended projection of the definitive determiner, accounting for the
fact that they cannot appear with indefinite NPs. The definitive
article is a suffix that can be attached to the adjective, but is
semantically related with the noun. Given the background assumptions
(that come from Lexical Decomposition Grammar and Minimalist
Morphology), this produces a mismatch between the actual position of
the article and its interpretation. Then, they must use the generative
power that their model grants to Semantics in order to overcome the
discrepancy. Interesting, SFPP---like "mu" (his)---are identical to
the dative clitics, which suggests that they are the same form; then,
verbs can also undergo argument extension to integrate the possessive.

"On the asymmetrical but regular properties of French possessive DPs",
by Anne Zribi-Hertz, explains the complementary distribution between
lexical and pronominal French possessors. The author rejects the idea
that subject pronouns are clitics, and she suggests that they are
inflectional elements generated in a functional head F, which still
stand as argument markers; then, they cannot combine with lexical
subjects, as agreement markers do. In the same way, the person
morpheme in possessive DPs with pronominal Possessors still behaves as
an argument. Lexical possessors, in the other hand, cannot be used to
spell-out inflectional features. This explains why the Possesse cannot
be relativized (in the sense of Kayne 1993) when the Possessor is
pronominal, which in turn is the reason why the pronominal Possessor
appears to the left of the Possesse. This idea also can be used to
explain cross-linguistic differences, in particular between English
and French.

The third part is call "External syntax", and it has 4 papers.

"Some notes on the structure of alienable and inalienable possessors",
by Artemis Alexiadou, makes the suggestion that the inalienable
possessor (InP) is different from the alienable one (AliP) in that the
former constitutes a complex predicate with the possessed noun
(forming an XP), whereas the later is generated in a functional head
(PossP) that contains the possessed noun. For the complex predicate
hypothesis, the evidence comes from Greek, showing that InP establish
a closer relation with the possessed noun: InP cannot occur in post
copular position, and they block determiner spreading---the other
elements cannot have an additional article, which is possible in AliP

(8) *to oreo to miti tu Jani
 the nice the nose the John-gen

(9) to oreo to vivlio tu Jani
 the nice the book the John-gen

This analysis explains some facts regarding possessor marking and word
order across languages.

The next article is "Inalienable possession and the interpretation of
determiners", by Jacqueline Gu�ron. The author proposes that InP
constructions involve A-bar binding, but under the condition that
Binding Theory holds of formal features. In addition, she suggests
that, in French but not in English, articles are not determiners, but
nominal classifiers. They project a ClassP that is embedded in a DP
headed by an empty Determiner with a feature variable that must be
locally bound by a [+Locative]; this feature situates the nominal in
space only, not in time. In all possessive constructions, this DP
(the Possessee) is the complement of a PP (that acts like a locative
small clause), with the Possessor in the specifier. In this way, P and
the Possessee have an "extended spatial Aktionsart" in inalienable
constructions; in the other hand, alienable ones have a [+referential]
feature in the Determiner, and then the possessor can control "both
the spatial and the temporal extension of the event". This accounts
for the (in)alienability, as well as for other peculiarities of these

"The external possessor construction in West Flemish" by Liliane
Haegeman is the next paper. It deals with West Flemish (WF)
constructions where a relative or interrogative element external to
the clause that contains the Possessum can be the Possessor. Only
doubling possessive pronouns are allowed here ("eur" her):

Wekken verpleegster zei-je gie dan-ze gisteren [DP eur/*sen us] verkocht 
Which nurse said-you you that-they yesterday [DP her/*sen house] sold 
Who was the nurse whose house you said they sold yesterday?

The author rejects a left-branch extraction analysis of these
constructions on the basis that it would amount to unwelcome
asymmetries inside WF and between WF and other German languages
(violating standard constrains in A-bar movement). Instead, she
proposes that the relation between the external Possessor and the
Possessum is possible thanks to a resumptive pronoun with a
wh-operator. The resumptive pronoun could be the doubling possessive
pronoun, or the possessive pronoun could be a clitic that identifies a
small pro in its specifier.

The last paper is "Grammaticalization and external possessor
structures in Romance and Germanic languages" by B�atrice Lamiroy. It
deals with inalienable possessive dative constructions, that is, when
the possessor is expressed by a non-lexical (non-argumental)
dative. There are several restrictions on the presence of possessive
dative, but they are different across languages (Spanish being a very
permissive one, whereas English does not have it at all). The author
relates these differences with a process of grammaticalization in
these languages; this process is started by the competition between
dative and nominative, which is resolved in favor of the
nominative. In this view, datives are intermediate structures (between
nominative and accusative), and this explains why possessive datives
easily co-occur with middle passives (both express a process that
affects a participant that is not the agent).


Now I will make some very brief comments on each paper.

Besides its declared merely descriptive purpose, Tabea Ihsane's paper
about the typology of possessors provides an excellent start point for
looking at the similarities and differences between the lexical items
that hold a possessive meaning. The tripartite typology (determiners/
adjectives/ pronouns) is, essentially, a formal implementation of some
traditional intuitions about possessives, that, most likely, will be
able to encompass several other languages

Georges Kleiber's paper proposes a very intriguing idea regarding the
relation between associative anaphors and possessives. He establishes
a new typology using lexical relations and an ontological
hierarchy. No attempt, however, is made to derive these facts from
anything else; but certainly the author posses an issue to be
explained by a theory of possession.

Dobrovie-Sorin departs from the well-established tradition regarding
DPs, and considers phrases with possessives just NPs. This allows her
to account for several phenomena. However, it is not to say that the
DP hypothesis should be disregarded---although it does say that it is
not necessary in this case---since the author herself offers a way to
account for the same facts still using DP.

Sch�rcks and Wunderlich's paper about Bulgarian DP tries to solve a
mismatch between the surface position of the article and its
interpretation. They rightly disregard any solution purely based on
overt syntactic movement, but they don't mention the possibility of
displacement driven by constraints in the Phonetic Form (PF) that
interact with Syntax. There are successful accounts for the position
of Slavic clitics that make use of this alternative (for instance
Boskovic 2001). Although they are working in a different framework, it
is clear that if PF can provide reasons to move, their conclusion that
Semantics has a generative power loses motivation.

Zribi-Hertz presents an interesting system to distinguish between
languages and stages inside languages with respect to possessive
constructions. The explanation is based in the interactions between
the inflectional system and the process of argument identification,
which has applications beyond the possessive constructions (as in the
case of subject clitics in spoken French). It also presents support
for Kayne's idea of Possessee Raising.

Alexiadou's paper explains the difference between alienable and
inalienable constructions from a very syntactic point of view. This is
an important achievement, since we are dealing with an issue that has
a very semantic flavor. His idea links the structure of Alienable
possession with the syntax of double object constructions and the
little v (vP) hypothesis.

Gu�ron provides an explanation for the contrast between Alienable and
Inalienable Possession making use of A-bar-Binding. Interesting, it is
able to deduce also the semantics of both kinds of possession with a
feature difference that affects the Aktionsart.

Obviously, Alexiadou's and Gueron's papers present different solutions
for the same phenomenon, and it is tempting to ask if a reduction to a
common explanation is possible.

Haegeman's paper links external possession structures in WF with the
syntax of resumptive pronouns, successfully accounting for the
distribution of these items without resorting to left-branch
extraction. This allows her to preserve several parallelisms across
German languages, and constitutes a starting point to compare the
structure of the DP with the structure of the clause.

Lamiroy's paper explains a remarkable symmetry between middle voice
and possessive datives, which, once again, reflects deeper
parallelisms between DP structure and clause structure. The paper also
offers some clarification about the process of grammaticalization as a
key to understand different language stages.

Overall, this is a wonderful bunch of papers that represents a
valuable portion of the rich research on possessive
structures. Reading them has been not only an enlightening experience,
but also a very enjoyable one.


Abney, S.P. 1987. The English noun structure in its sentential aspect,
MIT: PhD Dissertation.

Chomsky, Noam. 1994. Bare phrase structure, MIT Occasional Papers in
Linguistics no. 5. Cambridge, MA: Distributed by MIT Working Papers in

Kayne, Richard. 1994. The Antisymmetry of Syntax, Linguistic Inquiry
Monographs 25. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Boskovic, Zeljko. 2001. On the nature of the syntax-phonology
interface: cliticization and related phenomena: North-Holland
Linguistic Series, v. 60. Amsterdam ; London ; New York: Elsevier.


Miguel Rodr�guez-Mondo�edo is a PhD student in the Department of
Linguistics, in the University of Connecticut. He has done research in
DP structure, Binding Theory (Romance obviation), existential
constructions, clitics and nominalizations.
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