LINGUIST List 5.115

Wed 02 Feb 1994

Disc: *These man and woman

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  1. , *These man and woman

Message 1: *These man and woman

Date: Fri, 28 Jan 1994 09:48:23 *These man and woman
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Subject: *These man and woman

Paul Kershaw and David Powers had some interesting observations on NP
coordination a few days ago.

The first one concerns the impossibility of a plural determiner to occur in
front of a coordinated NP consisting of singular conjuncts:

(1) *these man and woman

I do not know of any language in which this kind of construction is
acceptable, and believe the reason must be that the plurality of a nominal
phrase is a functional feature which, if not already present in the
individual conjuncts, can only be resolved at a functional projection
level. In other words, a DP can be interpreted as plural even if it
contains a conjunction phrase consisting of singular conjuncts, but an NP
can only be interpreted in terms of the actual features of its daughters.
It is not surprising, then, that a plural determiner like *these* cannot
take as its complement a singular NP, even if this NP is of the category
CoP[NP, sg, sg]. The whole nominal construction is only plural at the
functional projection level.

Similarly, a determiner with a feature X cannot have a complement of
conflicting features since a non-functional category is not the place for
resolution of feature conflicts. Thus, the Norwegian (2a) is not possible,
because there is a gender conflict between the determiner and the second

(2) a. *en (M) stol (M) og bord (N)
 a chair and table
 b. en (M) stol (M) og lampe (M)
 a chair and lamp

I have discussed elsewhere (e.g. in my dissertation) the phenomenon of
Unbalanced Coordination. Languages vary a lot with respect to the extent
that they allow it. However, the examples of comparable constructions
there, i.e. constructions in which there is a resolved feature conflict,
all happen at a level above the functional, nominal internal projection,
as in the following example from the Cushitic language Qafar (taken from
Hayward and Corbett 1988), which can choose between unbalanced coordination
(agreement with one conjunct only) or balanced coordination (agreement with
both conjuncts via number resolution). It therefore seems reasonable to
suggest that resolution of feature conflicts can only occur at a functional
level, making sub-functional conflicts impossible.

(3) a. lubak-kee yanguli yumbulle /yumbullen
 lion.ABS.-and hyena.NOM.M.SG. were.seen.M.SG/PL

The second observation is that two conjuncts cannot always share the same
determiner, even when there is no feature conflict, as in (4).

(4) a. *a man and woman
 b. the man and woman
 c. this man and woman

I do not know why there is a difference here. It certainly is language
specific (since the Norwegian equivalent of (4a) is fine), but it is also
lexically determined, since (4b,c) are better or even fine.

The third observation concerns the fact that there is an unresolved
conflict between the conjuncts with respect to verb agreement in some

(5) a. ?John or I am happy
 b. ?John or I is happy
 c. *John or I are happy

As I have mentioned to Paul Kershaw earlier, I don't think this case is
quite comparable with the above ones, since here, there is disjunction
instead of conjunction, so that number resolution typically picks out one
conjunct only. However, one should expect either conjunct to be allowed to
agree with the verb in a fully acceptable way. Instead, all alternatives
are odd or out. I agree with him that the reason (5a) is better than (5b)
is "phonological", in that it is a string that we are used to hearing.
However, I don't think this is the reason that (1) is bad, since (6) is
also unacceptable:

(6) *these men and woman

More generally, I do not think adjacency is a syntactic factor that plays
a role in coordination, since (as I have shown in my dissertation) what is
important in unbalanced coordination is what is specifier and what is
complement in CoP, and not what happens to be adjacent to what. Of course
there is often a great deal of overlap, but not always.

Janne B.J.
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