LINGUIST List 14.2484
Thu Sep 18 2003
Review: Morphology/Syntax: Plank, ed. (2003)
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Yura Lander, Noun Phrase Structure in the Languages of Europe
Message 1: Noun Phrase Structure in the Languages of Europe
Date: Thu, 18 Sep 2003 12:43:25 +0000
From: Yura Lander <land_yupisem.net>
Subject: Noun Phrase Structure in the Languages of Europe
Plank, Frans, ed. (2003) Noun Phrase Structure in the Languages of
Europe, Mouton de Gruyter, xxi + 845 p., hardback ISBN 3-11-015748-9,
Empirical Approaches to Language Typology / Eurotyp 20-7.
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/14/14-217.html
Yury A. Lander, Institute of Oriental studies, Moscow
This volume presents results obtained by a group of typologists
working under the EUROTYP project on noun phrase. Therefore, it may be
taken as sequential of other EUROTYP volumes published by Mouton de
Gruyter during the last decade and as a continuation of the well-known
collection Plank (ed.) 1995, with which the present volume
considerably overlaps as regards the set of contributors.
The scope of ''Noun Phrase Structure...'' is very broad including, in
particular, the issues of nominal morphological categories as well as
certain general problems of formal marking. On the other hand, such
subjects as word order and the syntactic structure of noun phrases are
touched only briefly (for these see, e.g., Rijkhoff 2002, the work of
another member of the EUROTYP project). Also the topics of adjectival
and relative clause modification, which certainly constitute very
important aspects of noun phrases, have been largely left outside.
This, of course, does not decrease the value of the volume (see
The collection is divided into four parts, among which three are
dedicated to particular aspects of noun phrases. In addition, the
volume contains indexes of subjects, languages and authors, as well as
two tables of contents (the second is detailed) and a list of
The introductory part includes one paper only, and not so
surprisingly, it is written by the editor. In ''Noun phrase structure:
AN UND FUER SICH, in time, and in space'' (pp. 3- 33), Frans Plank
provides background for the EUROTYP research acquainting the reader
with the typological aims and methodology assumed by the authors of
the volume. A useful appendix to the introduction includes the
contents of the works published by the EUROTYP noun phrase group.
Part II ''On inflection'' consists of papers covering morphological
categories related to noun phrases.
Aleksandr E. Kibrik's ''Nominal inflection galore: Daghestanian, with
side glances at Europe and the world'' (pp. 37-112) introduces data
from various Daghestanian languages, which are remarkable in their
highly developed case system, with the rich category of localization
being in its heart. However paradigmatically transparent and
syntagmatically compositional at first sight, the Daghestanian
inflection is asserted to reveal features that do not easily fit
traditional conceptions of case and the inflection/derivation
Edith Moravcsik in her ''Inflectional morphology in the Hungarian noun
phrase: A typological assessment'' (pp. 113- 252) gives a
comprehensive description of such aspects of the Hungarian inflection
as syncretism, allomorphy, cumulation, zero exponence etc. against a
background of general characteristics of Hungarian (such as vowel
harmony and presumable agglutination) and both typological universals
and ''euroversals'' (i.e. statements beginning with something like
''In all languages, if they are European ...'', p. 114).
''The selective elaboration of nominal or pronominal inflection''
(pp. 253-287) by Frans Plank contrasts with the other papers in that
it does not discuss any concrete language material. The conclusions of
this chapter come from statistical data based on a large sample of
languages of the world. Plank's main findings are that (i) cross-
linguistically the degrees of complexity of the categories of number,
pronominal distance and person correlate with each other, and (ii)
there are languages whose nominal inflection is elaborated more than
the pronominal one (contrary to familiar typological
generalizations). The latter fact is suggested to be related to the
word order parameter. Curiously, it turns out that Europe itself
cannot provide evidence for either of these observations.
The most part of Greville G. Corbett's ''Types of typology,
illustrated from gender systems'' (pp. 289-334) is devoted to the
typology of gender resolution (rules determining agreement in conflict
situations, where different gender features can be assigned to a
target) and the typology of bases for gender systems (''gender
assignment''). Though on the first view the two typologies are
autonomous, it is argued that the rules of gender resolution (partly)
depend on the type of gender assignment.
Part III ''On (over-)determination'' is concerned with diverse effects
that can be related to the referentiality categories.
''Double articulation'' (pp. 337-395), another paper by Frans Plank,
examines the phenomenon of marking (in)definiteness and
(non-)specificity (at least) twice in a single constituent. The data
(this time mainly from European languages) is rich. The exposition
starts with multiple occurrences of articles in conjunctive noun
phrases and ends with definiteness marking on nouns that already
contain a historical trace of (in)definiteness exponents, but also
includes manifold cases where double articulation cannot be explained
by simple considerations. At the end of the paper, Plank touches upon
possible motivations of the phenomenon.
The second paper of Edith Moravcsik ''Non-compositional definiteness
marking in Hungarian noun phrases'' (pp. 397- 466) takes up the topic
of multiple expression of the same category attempting to enter it
into the general typology of non-transparent formation of
phrases. Such a typology includes undermarking (the absence of overt
exponents in spite of the obvious presence of the corresponding
property), overmarking (a case of redundancy) and contradictory
marking (manifesting contrasting properties within the same
phrase). All these types are thought over in details in relation to
the distribution of (in) definiteness marking in Hungarian.
David Gil (''English goes Asian: Number and (in)definiteness in the
Singlish noun phrase''; pp. 467-514) concentrates on the description
of certain aspects of the noun phrase in Singlish, a colloquial
variety (or descendant) of English spoken in Singapore. The author
focuses on the syntactic issues related to (what could be called)
determiners, and on their impact on the number interpretation of the
whole phrase. Naturally, many of the effects discussed in this chapter
turn out to be areal features that are shared by Singlish and other
South-East Asian languages.
The last paper of this part is ''A WOMAN OF SIN, A MAN OF DUTY, and A
HELL OF A MESS: Non-determiner genitives in Swedish'' (pp. 515-558) by
Maria Koptjevskaja-Tamm. The topic of this article is various semantic
and syntactic properties of a group of non-prototypical possessives,
whose representative translations are given in the title. It is
demonstrated that these constructions do not form a homogeneous class
but occupy different places in the continuum between adjectives and
prototypical genitive phrases (which in Swedish directly affect the
definiteness of a nominal).
Part IV ''On amplification'' is devoted to complex noun phrases.
''The interaction between numerals and nouns'' (pp. 561-620) by James
R. Hurford is a survey of constructions with cardinal numerals in
European languages. The parameters Hurford gives a more or less
comprehensive description include in particular word order, formation
of complex numerals, morphological characteristics of components of
Another detailed survey is Maria Koptjevskaja- Tamm's ''Possessive
noun phrases in the languages of Europe'' (pp. 621-722). This paper
elaborates on Europe-internal tendencies and distinctions in the
marking of possessives with non-pronominal specific possessors. A
special attention is given to the geographic distribution of different
marking types of possessive constructions.
''Action nominal constructions in the languages of Europe''
(pp. 723-759) by the same author may look like a supplementation of
the preceding chapter. Still it is not only a survey. Actually, in
this paper Koptjevskaja-Tamm forwards a number of remarkable
universals concerning the form of action nominal constructions
although she also highlights that the patterns under discussion show a
high degree of variation, e.g., as to how close they are to the
The final paper of the collection, ''Noun phrase conjunction: The
coordinative and the comitative strategy'' (pp. 761-817) written by
Leon Stassen, illustrates the application of typological techniques to
the domain of conjuctive phrases. The focus of this chapter lies on
the distinction of the two strategies of conjunction, which roughly
can be named the AND-strategy and the WITH- strategy. Besides the
general description of these strategies, a large part of the paper
deals with their distribution (both areal and structural) among the
languages of the world.
The first impression of this volume is that it contains an enormous
amount of non-trivial information. I will firstly touch upon the data
and the method of its presentation, and then briefly discuss the
In my opinion, it is certainly a positive feature of the volume that
its contributors are more often governed by language facts than govern
the data (as often happens in ''theory-oriented'' works). Actually,
unlike some recent collections reflecting the growing interest in noun
phrases (see, e.g., Coene & D'hulst (eds.) 2003), the authors of
''Noun Phrase Structure...'' do not focus on any formal and
interpretative analysis but in many respects choose the atheoretical
One of the goals of the volume was to represent the European data in a
typological perspective. Hence a number of contributors had to attract
the data from wide samples of languages, and in several papers the
study of such samples has occupied the central place (Plank's paper on
(pro)nominal inflection, Stassen). Further, the need to characterize
certain languages according to various typological parameters has led
to the rummaging and rethinking of relatively familiar matter (see
especially Moravcsik's articles). On the other hand, a few chapters
focus on the facts that are often left in a periphery, even though
their importance is hardly to be denied: some examples are double
articulation (Plank), ''non-determiner'' genitives
(Koptjevskaja-Tamm), the interdependence between the number
interpretation and determination (Gil). Importantly, many papers show
a great descriptive strength. In this respect I should mention at
least the papers by Kibrik and by Gil, both introducing splendid and
Thus, one could conclude by formulating two merits of the collection
. the interest to the details and the representation that is oriented
on the data rather than on the support of deductive hypotheses. This
is not all, however, and it is interesting to look at how the
contributors managed with problems that almost necessarily accompany
inquiries based on cross-linguistic comparison.
One of such problems concerns the reliability of data, - and here most
authors tried to do their best. Two papers of the collection (Kibrik
and Gil) are based on apparently thorough fieldwork, Moravcsik's
papers reflect a native speaker's intuition (although to a great
extent her own idiolect only), and almost all other contributors have
worked extensively with informants. This is not to say, of course,
that the collection misses shortcomings in this respect. Indeed, I
have found a few examples that raise doubts either in spelling or in
interpretation. Yet most data seems to be perfect, and this (together
with other factors) makes the authors' conclusions convincing.
Another problem that is unavoidable in all data-oriented
investigations is that even this kind of work needs a conceptual
system to control the data. Apart from one exception (namely, David
Gil's attempt to discuss the Singlish noun phrase in purely intuitive
notions), the authors just commit themselves to the terminology that
is more or less conventional. The use of commonly adopted terms makes
the papers easily readable and understandable, the more so that
(almost) all secondary notions are related to accepted linguistic
notions in some or other way.
Nevertheless, this practice of using traditional conceptual system is
not without its flaws. Thus, if one takes the labels as already
assigned to concrete phenomena, they may simplify the real
situation. Let me give just two examples.
Moravcsik's treatment of referential devices in the Hungarian noun
phrase is based on a conceptual system that does not distinguish
between genericity and non-specificity (the two features that are by
no means identical; cf. Givon 1979 and a number of formal semantic
works dealing with ''kind-referring'' phrases, see e.g. Carlson &
Pelletier (eds.) 1995). Moreover, in respect to some phenomena (e.g.,
AZ, the definite or specific article, and EGY, the indefinite article
or perhaps a numeral 'one'; see Szabolcsi 1994 for some discussion),
the applicability of such notions as definiteness and indefiniteness
remained untested - although these terms did receive a more or less
strong commentary in the beginning of the paper. It seems to me that
in some cases this could lead Moravcsik to certain misinterpretations.
To continue with a rather general example, there is a tacit agreement
among the authors to represent noun phrases in traditional way, with a
noun being the head of the constituent (see Zwicky 1985, Corbett et
al. (eds.) 1993 for why this is not necessarily the case). Of course,
nobody may require of anybody to follow the DP hypothesis (Abney
1987), according to which it is the determiner that heads the nominal
constituent (though the absence of even mentioning of Abney's name in
the volume looks surprising, given his profound effect on many current
theories of nominals). Still, the matter is debatable, and from this
point of view, some phenomena touched upon in the volume may be less
odd than they are shown. Take one of the most interesting facts
reported by Hurford, the behavior of Finnish plural numerals, which
(usually) mean 'n groups of' - unlike what happens with ''singular''
numerals; cf. the following minimal pair (Hurford's (46)):
(1) ostin kolme autoa
bought:1SG 3:ACC:SG car:PARTIT:SG
'I bought three cars'
(2) ostin kolmet autot
bought:1SG 3:ACC:PL car:ACC:PL
'I bought three sets of cars'
Hurford (pp. 584-589) analyzes the phenomenon of Finnish plural
numerals under the rubric ''Meaning of whole noun phrase determines
number of numeral and noun'', thus assigning the crucial role to the
construction. However, the examples given above show that while in the
''normal'' construction (1) the numeral governs the noun, in the
construction with a plural numeral (2) the most likely head is the
noun, and presumably the plural marking on the numeral is an instance
of agreement similar to those discussed by Hurford under another
rubric, ''Number assigned to numeral by sister noun''. (Possibly, the
situation is more complex, since in plural the accusative form of
Finnish nouns coincides with the unmarked nominative form.)
Presumably it is certain peculiarities of the Finnish category of
number (which is not studied by Hurford) . rather than the
construction . that are responsible for special semantic
effects. Thus, it seems that the disregard of dependency issues (in
fact, overtly declared by the author on p. 563) led to some
inconsistency here . although the data presented by Hurford does not
decrease in value, of course.
The motivation of such shortcomings is most likely the inherent
complexity of many purportedly simple notions. Hence it is indicative
that when the authors take some of such notions more deeply they meet
difficulties. The discussions of the problem of the application of the
concept of case in respect of Daghestanian languages (Kibrik), of the
notion of determiner in respect to Swedish genitives
(Koptjevskaja-Tamm) and on the concept of agglutination for Hungarian
(Moravcsik) may serve as illustrations. But the most intriguing is the
fact that the very palpability of the noun phrase category turns out
not to be apparent.
Really, in several places of the volume one can find considerations
that are based on that what is usually assumed to constitute a single
noun phrase in reality does not form any well-established syntactic
category. Such observations are justified in respect to languages that
display non-configurational characteristics (see Heath 1986 and Plank
(ed.) 1995 among others), but it is exciting to find remarks of this
kind in case of European languages, many of which are often thought to
be the standards of configurationality. Plank in his speculations on
double articulation and Stassen show that even here the degree of
cohesion within a presumable noun phrase may vary and some components
of such a ''constituent'' may be more autonomous than others. After
all that, Gil's arguments for that syntactically the category of noun
phrase in Singlish is at times indistinguishable from that of sentence
look quite natural.
However, this collection would not be of great value if the denial of
the accepted status of noun phrases was its main result. After all,
giving up assumptions on the existence of a syntactic category cannot
be fruitful until an alternative system is offered, and seemingly, it
was not the authors' wish to work on new theoretical systems. It is a
great number of other conclusions (which cannot be discussed in
details here, unfortunately) that do credit to the collection. Their
power varies broadly, however.
To begin with, there are generalizations that cover only concrete
areal or genetic formations and generalizations that attempt to be
relevant for most (or even all) languages. The former type of
generalizations is itself significant for areal and historical
investigations. But it becomes of typological and theoretical interest
only if compared with generalizations of the latter type. In fact, the
picture given in the volume conforms to the intuition of many
typologists that Europe cannot reflect the real diversity adequately
and in some respects it even occupies a periphery. Hence a lot of
beautiful conclusions cannot be made exclusively on the basis of
European languages. On the other hand, the surveys of such phenomena
as constructions with numerals (Hurford) and possessives and action
nominals (Koptjevskaja-Tamm) show that a considerable structural
variation can be observed even within Europe, so that what is
sometimes thought to be most typical may be only ''one of many''.
Interestingly, in spite of the ''global'' orientation of the volume,
the statistical generalizations are at times preferred to
universals. It is important to realize, however, that statistical
generalizations are not identical to ''statistical universals'':
tendencies may be greater or smaller, while statistical universals
typically operate with the (seemingly) simple notion of ''the absolute
majority of languages''. It could be then a target of criticism that
sometimes the authors center on tendencies that are NOT true for most
languages, and declare that these tendencies are typologically
relevant. Yet it is important to draw attention to what is studied. As
has been noticed by Dryer (1998), ''random variation and historical
accident are considerably less plausible as explanations for
differences in frequency that involve correlations between two
linguistic parameters rather than a single parameter''. Now, most
authors do not limit themselves to mere one-parameter classification
but point a special attention to various co-variation phenomena (as a
task of the general typology, this is particularly emphasized by
Plank). Moreover, sometimes the direction of attention towards
co-variation (which presupposes the cluster view on certain phenomena)
helps to explain the existence of such probably unexpected phenomena
as, e.g., the constructions that are intermediate between WITH- and
AND-strategies (Stassen): as many other theoretically unique but in
reality widespread patterns discussed by the authors, these
constructions are the product of historical change, which leads to the
gradual replacement of typically coexisting properties.
Maybe, it is indeed the orientation to the study of co- variation that
is responsible for non-triviality of what is presented in the
volume. And it is apparently the feeling that the grammar should be
harmonious (inspired by the very idea of co-variation) that guided the
authors of ''Noun Phrase Structure in the Languages of Europe'' and
that allowed them to create a volume that will, I believe, stimulate
research in different domains of grammar.
Abney, S.P. 1987. The English Noun Phrase in Its Sentential
Aspect. Ph.D. diss., MIT.
Carlson, G.N. & F.J. Pelletier (eds.) 1995. The Generic
Book. Chicago/London: The Univ. of Chicago Press.
Coene, M. & Y. D'hulst (eds.) 2003. From NP to DP. 2 vols.
Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Corbett, G.G., N.M. Fraser, & S. McGlashan (eds.) 1993. Heads in
Grammatical Theory. Cambridge etc.: Cambridge Univ. Press.
Dryer, M.S. 1998. Why statistical universals are better than absolute
universals. Chicago Linguistic Society 33: The Panels, 123-145.
Givon, T. 1978. Definiteness and referentiality. In J.H. Greenberg
(ed.), Universals of Human Language, vol. 4, Stanford: Stanford
Univ. Press, 291-330.
Heath, J. 1986. Syntactic and lexical aspects of nonconfigurationality
in Nunggubuyu (Australia). Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 3 (3):
Plank, F. (ed.) 1995. Double Case: Agreement by
Suffixaufnahme. N.Y. etc.: Oxford Univ. Press.
Rijkhoff, J. 2002. The Noun Phrase. N.Y. etc.: Oxford Univ. Press.
Szabolcsi, A. 1994. The noun phrase. In F. Kiefer & K. E. Kiss
(eds.), The Syntactic Structure of Hungarian, Syntax & Semantics 27,
N.Y. etc.: Academic Press.
Zwicky, A. 1985. Heads. Journal of Linguistics 21: 1-29.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Yury Lander is a research fellow in the Institute of Oriental Studies,
Moscow. His current interests include the morphosyntactic typology of
noun phrases (possessives, quantification and relativization) and
various configurationality issues.