Date: Sun, 06 Jun 2004 22:22:47 -0400
From: Miguel Rodríguez-Mondoñedo <Miguel.Rodriguez-Mondonedo@HUSKYMAIL.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
ANNOUNCED IN: http://linguistlist.org/issues/14/14-2246.html
Miguel Rodríguez-Mondoñedo, Department of Linguistics, University of
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. Nine
papers, of course, are not enough to cover all the details, but they make
a worth-taken sneak-in.
I will summarize each paper first, and I will make some comments on
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 Ihsane.
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 >
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
''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 Schürcks 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 constructions:
(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 Guéron. 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 constructions.
''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
The last paper is ''Grammaticalization and external possessor structures
in Romance and Germanic languages'' by Béatrice 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
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.
Schürcks 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)
Guéron 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.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Miguel Rodríguez-Mondoñedo 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.