LINGUIST List 14.1620

Mon Jun 9 2003

Review: Syntax/Typology: Rijkhoff (2002)

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  • Mohammad Rasekh, The Noun Phrase

    Message 1: The Noun Phrase

    Date: Sun, 08 Jun 2003 20:13:01 +0000
    From: Mohammad Rasekh <>
    Subject: The Noun Phrase

    Rijkhoff, Jan (2002) The Noun Phrase, Oxford University Press, Oxford Studies in Typology and Linguistic Theory.

    Announced at

    Mohammad Rasekh Mahand, Linguistics Department, Bu-Ali Sina University, Hamadan, Iran.


    This book presents a semantic model to describe the underlying structure of noun phrase in any natural language. Its author, Jan Rijkhoff, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Linguistics, University of Aarhus, Denmark.


    The book under review tries to achieve three aims: first, to provide a cross-linguistic account of the constituents of the noun phrase (NP)(chapters 2-6); second, to present a typologically adequate model of the NP in the general framework of Simon Dik's Functional Grammar(chapter 7); and third, to attempt for word order patterns in NPs as they are attested in languages of the world (chapters 8-10). The theoretical framework selected for this study is that of Dik (1997), Functional Grammar, which assumes that the languages should be studied in the light of their communicative function, and the underlying structure in this theory is semantic, rather than a syntactic representation. The study is based on data from a sample of fifty-two languages, mainly selected because of their genetic diversity. The cross-linguistic investigation of the establishment of nouns as a word class has shown that languages can be divided into three types;(1)languages without a major word class of nouns,(2) languages in which nouns cannot distinguished from other word classes (verbs, adjectives), and (3) languages with a distinct class of nouns. The writer has talked about Hengeval's (1992) view that two basic types of languages should be distinguished, one, flexible languages which have at least one major class of multifunctional lexemes and ,two, rigid languages which only have one or more classes of specialized lexemes.

    After the preliminary discussion in the first chapter, the second chapter is about nominal subcategories. This chapter investigates certain morpho-syntactic and semantic properties of both flexible and distinct nouns in different languages. It is argued that four noun types are used to refer to a singular discrete spatial entity (such as 'dog'); singular object nouns, set nouns, sort nouns and general nouns. Then the classification is presented in terms of two semantic features; Shape and Homogeneity. It is concluded that singular object nouns are (+Shape/ Homogeneity), set nouns (+Shape), sort nouns (-Shape/ - Homogeneity) and general nouns (-Shape).

    Chapter three is also concerned with nouns, not NPs yet. It shows how real and apparent class distinctions can be relevant for the proper expression of linguistic structures. There are examples of the effect of class systems on constituents outside the domain of NP; like predicates, adpositions and case affixes. Then the writer tries to show how such systems can influence the form and order of constituents inside the NP. Following Dixon (1986), he distinguished between noun classifiers and noun classes. Some semantic features like (+/-Human) and (+/-Animate) are discussed related to noun class systems. He has shown that there are some languages in which nouns can be classified on morphological basis, and some languages in which nouns can be classified phonologically.

    Chapters 4, 5 and 6 are concerned with the properties of modifiers of the noun in the NP such as determiners, numerals and adjectives. Chapter four is on qualifying modifiers in the NP. Cross- linguistically, there are two categories that pertain to quality features in the NP; one concerns certain dimensional of the property that is designated by the noun; this is the new grammatical category of nominal aspect markers. The second category involves lexical elements that typically specify more or less inherent properties of the referent: adjectives. The first part of the chapter argues that in many languages number markers are better analyzed as nominal aspect markers; they are both used with nouns that can be in a direct construction with a numeral. They are different in that a number marker specifies the number of individual object, while the nominal aspect marker specifies a qualitative property of the referent. The second part of the chapter talks about the adjectives, as lexical expressions of quality in the NP. Not all languages have adjectives. In languages that have no distinct class adjectives, other lexical means are normally used to express more or less inherent properties of the referent. At the end of the chapter, there is an implicational universal, stating that a language can only have adjectives if it employs singular object and set nouns.

    Chapter five is on quantifying modifiers in the NP and it discusses the constituents of the NP that specify quantitative purposes of the referent: number markers and numerals. The chapter concerns both the grammatical expression of quantity (quantity operators) and lexical expressions (quantity satellites).

    Chapter six discusses localizing modifiers in NP. Localizing operators and localizing satellites are related to locative properties of the referent of the matrix NP. Demonstratives, and articles are examples of localizing operators, relative clause, possessive modifier and locative modifiers are examples of localizing satellites.

    After discussing some of the important properties of nouns and their modifiers in previous chapters, chapter seven looks at the NP structure in Dik's Functional Grammar. It is argued that the NP and the clause can be analyzed in a similar way and they could share same grammatical and lexical modifier categories. The analysis is based on the Aristotle's description of physical phenomena using three notions: Quality, Quantity and Location. The morpho-syntactic manifestations of these notions at the clause and NP level are discussed. The symmetrical relations in the underlying structure of NPs and sentences are presented. The chapter concludes that clauses and NPs can be analyzed in the same manner, according to the theory of Functional Grammar (Dik 1997).

    Chapters 8,9 and 10 discuss the order of constituents in the noun phrase. Chapter 8 introduces an overview of the main morpho-syntactic properties of the selected languages and a typology of constituent ordering principles. The principle of Domain Integrity accounts for the syntactic phenomena captured by notions like constituency or dependency in other grammatical theories and also explains why the preferred position of embedded domains is in the periphery of the matrix domain.

    Chapter 9 is concerned with the Principle of Head Proximity, originally formulated to account for some of the Greenbergian Universals. The Principle has two predictions: first, modifying adjectives occur immediately before or after the head noun, and second, noun modifiers tend to precede the noun in a head-final language but to follow the noun in a head-initial language. For the first prediction, only Oromo is an exception but for the second prediction, it is argued that it mostly holds for embedded modifiers, not modifiers of simple NPs. It is also shown that the Principle of Head Proximity accounts for several of Dryer's correlation pairs (Dryer 1992).

    The third principle that determines ordering patterns in the noun phrase is the Principle of Scope, presented in chapter 10. It predicts that modifiers occur next to the part of expressions they have in their scope. For the simple NP, this means that in actual ordering the localizing modifier, which has the largest scope, is always the first or the last; the qualifying modifier, is always the adjacent to the noun and the quantifying modifier never appears between qualifying modifier and noun.

    The last chapter of the book is an epilogue which summarizes the previous chapters. The book also includes references, an index of subject, an index of languages and an index of authors.


    The volume under review is a complete study of the structure of NPs in different languages. The number of languages covered in this study is considerable, though they could be more to give comprehensive results. Discussing NP structure from semantic point of view is not something which is previously talked about, and the book is a milestone from this perspective. The first six chapters comprehensively cover the different kinds of modifiers. Only chapter seven is based on a definite theory. Although the Functional Grammar, discussed in this chapter, is a proper theory for discussing the semantic structure of NPs, the underlying assumptions of this theory are not well discussed in this chapter. In other words, there is only one chapter in the book that both tries to cover the theoretical background and to give a description of the NP's structure on this basis. One of the main points of the book is providing several examples for each discussion, which also helps the reader to grasp the theoretical ideas mentioned in the book. Moreover, from typological studies perspective, the book is promising, since it studies a syntactic structure on the basis of semantic foundations. The book is highly recommended for those interested in typological studies and functional grammar. Also the data included in the book can provide authentic language data accessible to other researchers.


    Mohammad Rasekh Mahand is a member of Linguistics Department, at Bu-Ali Sina Universty, Hamadan, Iran. His research interests include syntax, syntax-pragmatics interface and typology.