LINGUIST List 5.495

Fri 29 Apr 1994

Sum: English A(P) of DP

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Message 1: sum: English A(P) (of) DP

Date: Fri, 29 Apr 1994 12:38:04 sum: English A(P) (of) DP
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Subject: sum: English A(P) (of) DP

On April 7 LINGUIST posted two queries which I submitted under the heading of
'English AP of NP'. I am interested in cases like _too big of a hurry_ and/or
_big of an error_ alongside _too big a hurry_, _big an error_. Following
Abney's Ph.D. dissertation, I assume that _a hurry_ is a DP rather than an NP;
and I suppose that for _big_ on its own it might be argued whether it is just
an A or a full-blown AP. Hence the new heading, A(P) (of) DP. This is to
acknowledge the reactions I have had; and, while continuing to welcome any
ideas / suggestions / ..., below I will summarize what has emerged so far.

Apart from a respondent who wishes to remain anonymous, I would like to thank
for their reactions Steve Abney, Lori Altmann, Tim Beasley, Sherri Condon,
John Cowan, Michael Fearn-Wannan, Nancy Frishberg, David Johns, Nigel Love,
John Phillips, Christer Platzack, David Powers, And Rosta, Geoffrey Simmons,
David Solnit, and Stephen Spackman. I apologize to them if I misrepresent any
of their points below.

About [AP of DP], in my query I referred to a case I had come across in Donna
Tartt's _The Secret History_, and to its discussion in Abney's 1987 MIT
dissertation, _The English noun phrase in its sentential aspect_, pp 324-326. I
asked for any (further) literature on the construction, but noone came up with
any references. I myself have been unable to find any discussion in the
encyclopedic grammars of English like Jespersen, Poutsma, or Quirk et al,
either. I should add, however, that Abney refers to Bresnan, J.W. (1973),
'Syntax of the comparative clause construction in English', _Linguistic
Inquiry_ 5, 275-343: where, indeed, she (p. 298) notes "that one sometimes
hears _too good of a man_ or _How good of a player is he?_". In his 1993
Utrecht MA thesis, Stijn Hoppenbrouwers also briefly discusses the construction
with _of_.
 Although I hadn't asked for any judgments on this point, many
respondents confirmed that alongside of _too big a hurry_ it is also possible
to have _too big of a hurry_; only one respondent rejects the latter. A few
respondents suggested that _too big of a hurry_ might owe its existence to
some kind of mixing or analogy with _too much of a hurry_, with Q instead of
A (which, indeed, is also the point Bresnan 1973:298 makes). Accordingly, it
was specifically suggested to me that [AP of DP] might be best with a
'quantifying' A like _big_; cf. ? _too nice of a man_. I was also reminded
that with Q one also gets an alternation between presence and absence of _of_:
_she was too much (of) a scholar to fall into the trap_.

About [A (of) DP] only one respondent was prepared to countenance [A DP], in a
"high literary" style, no longer really prevalent today. I had one or two
requests for a reference to my paper, and just in case there is a wider
interest, I give the details here: Frits Stuurman (1985), 'Big a puzzle', pp.
177-185 in H. Beukema & P. Coopmans (eds) _Linguistics in the Netherlands
1985_, Dordrecht: Foris. In my paper, I provided an account of the cases I
found in Jespersen's _MEG_, Vol. II [1914], pp. 365 & 509 (also Vol. III
[1926], p. 176, & Poutsma _GLME_ I-II, 2nd edition [1929], p. 710):

 EXCELLENT A WOMAN as she is, I would not like to live in lodgings
where there was a lady so addicted to playing (from W.M. Thackeray, *The
Newcomes*, [1853] 1901:139)
 BIG A PUZZLE as it [= the affair of the water-power] was, it hadn't
got the better of Riley (from George Eliot, *The Mill on the Floss*, 1860, Ch.
III, p. 9)
 Whatever possessed you to let her pump you, BRIGHT A GIRL as you are
(Sinclair Lewis, *Main Street*, [1920] 1923:371)

At the time I wrote the paper, I was not aware of P. Christophersen (1974) 'A
note on the construction "adjective + _a_ + noun"', _English Studies_ 55,
538-541; which cites:

 Pusey ... ventured to say that GREAT A MAN as Luther might have been
he could not absolutely submit his judgement to that of a man who had not
only broken his own vows but had induced a nun to break hers (J.A. Froude,
about 1856, in W.H. Dunn, *James Anthony Froude*, 1961)
 ADVENTUROUS A CHARACTER as Colonel Richardson undoubtedly is, the
phlegm of the classic London policeman is the basic quality here (*TLS*,
 The State Department is not satisfied ... that mutual peril -POWERFUL
A COHESIVE though it is - is sufficient (*Times* leader, 1957)

Given the Sinclair Lewis 1920 example in Jespersen and the 1950s examples in
Christophersen, I am not sure that the structure is now entirely obsolete; but
even if it is, I suppose one should still be able to account for its viability
between the 1850s and 1950s. Also, given 'informal' features like contraction
and perhaps _get the better of_ in George Eliot's example, and _pump you_ in
Sinclair Lewis', I am not entirely convinced that the structure was / is indeed
a 'high literary' one. If it isn't, then this would also dispose of the
suggestion that [A DP] with A = _big_ would be a clash of registers, so that it
should become better with a literary A like _grievous_: cf. _grievous an error
as it was, ..._.
 Even the respondents who dislike [A DP] overwhelmingly felt that [A of
DP] is even worse. Nor have I found any examples in Jespersen, Poutsma, ...,
or Christophersen. Of course, if the presence of _of_ is a colloquial feature,
and the construction [XP _as/though_ ...] is literary, one could again have
recourse to a conflict between registers. But if my hunch is right that [XP
_as/though_ ...] is not really all that literary, then perhaps there might be
a case for saying that [A DP] and [A of DP] cannot be headed in exactly the
same way: if [XP _as/though_ ...] is OK, and [YP _as/though_ ...] is bad, then
presumably X =/= Y. In other words, tenuous as the empirical evidence evidently
is, I would like to suggest that if [A DP] is headed by A, then [A of DP] is
not headed by A (or the other way around). And, if such extrapolation be
admissible, perhaps the same goes for [AP DP] vs. [AP of DP].

One of my respondents writes "I'd dislike trying to draw neat binary trees to
represent these [structures]". Unlike her/him, that is precisely what I would
LIKE to (be able to) do; and I will work on solving the puzzle. If I ever
manage to come up with a solution, it will be thanks to the LINGUIST list and
my respondents.
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