LINGUIST List 22.400

Sun Jan 23 2011

Review: Morphology, Pragmatics, Semantics, Syntax: Høeg & Klinge (2008)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

        1.     Karen Chung , Essays on Nominal Determination

Message 1: Essays on Nominal Determination
Date: 23-Jan-2011
From: Karen Chung <>
Subject: Essays on Nominal Determination
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EDITORS: Henrik Høeg Müller; Alex Klinge TITLE: Essays on Nominal Determination SUBTITLE: From morphology to discourse management SERIES TITLE: Studies in Language Companion Series 99 PUBLISHER: John Benjamins YEAR: 2008

Karen Steffen Chung, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan


This is an edited volume of papers by scholars working in various frameworks who approach the issue of nominal determination, mainly in Germanic and Romance languages, in highly diverse ways. Paper titles, author names, and a brief summary of each paper follow below. Quotes, particularly from the abstracts and conclusions, are included in an effort to let the authors represent their own work as much as possible, and to avoid possible misinterpretations, especially where the frameworks are less familiar to this reviewer. I have numbered the chapters here for ease of reference in the evaluation part of the review.

1. Introduction, by Henrik Høeg Müller and Alex Klinge: In this opening to the book the editors first give a rationale for studying nominal determination in languages, and describe how it is of interest to researchers working on articles, linguistic number and other related features. They then provide a brief literature review and group the various authors and contributions by approach, giving their take on what the papers in each group have in common.

2. ''Determiners and definiteness: Functional semantics and structural differentiation'' by Peter Harder: Harder stresses the precedence of semantics over structure in how systems of definite and indefinite reference have evolved. Two quotable quotes: ''accounts based on abstract syntactic categories provide descriptions that are more complex than the structure of the expressions that are being described'' (p. 17); and: ''there is a cost-benefit mechanism operating to keep structural complexity down to what is optimal for achieving the relevant communicative purpose. No overall matching between semantics jobs and syntactic complexity is therefore possible'' (p. 22).

3. ''Articles, definite and indefinite'' by Michael Herslund: Using data mainly from Old and Modern French, Spanish and Danish, Herslund traces the origin of the definite article in Indo-European languages to ''the creation of noun phrase structure by the subordination of a noun to a demonstrative pronoun.'' He also points out that ''where an indefinite article exists, it is historically derived from the number 'one''', and that it can continue as a quantifier or become a classifier. He finds that only in English, however, ''have the ties between article and numeral been cut -- there is no longer any resemblance between the clitic article ''a'' and the numeral ''one'' (p. 42). Noteworthy quote: ''Pluralisation is homogenization'' (p. 27).

4. ''Typological correlations in nominal determination in Romance'' by Elisabeth Stark: Stark views the indefinite article and partitive article in French and Italian as a kind of nominal classification in that they can distinguish between a single ''contoured'' referent and a ''non-contoured'' substance, a function taken over from the partially-lost overt gender and number affixes in Latin. She contrasts this with the simpler system of ''differential object marking'' to indicate contoured and highly individualized referents in direct object position in modern ''peripheral'' Romance languages like Spanish and Romanian (p. 45). See also the descriptions of papers by Wilmet, Longobardi and Müller below.

5. ''A stranger in the house: The French article 'de''' by Marc Wilmet: Adopting a historical and theoretical approach, also addressing the question of what qualifies as an article, Wilmet proposes that French 'de' be recognized as a partitive article, when used either alone or in combination with another article (p. 64).

6. ''Determination in endocentric and exocentric languages: With evidence primarily from Danish and Italian'' by Iørn Korzen: Korzen's focus is on differences in the distribution of information in various elements of a language. For the purposes of this paper, ''endocentric'' languages are defined as having ''a relatively high level of lexical specificity and, therefore, informational ''weight'' in the verb,'' while ''exocentric'' languages have it in the nominal arguments (p. 79). Korzen broadly classifies Germanic languages as endocentric and Romance languages as exocentric, with English showing features of both. Danish, for example, has a very general word for 'vehicle', ''bil'', that can be used in forming compounds, e.g. ''lastbil'' 'truck', ''varebil'' 'van'. but Italian tends to have an unanalyzable noun for each kind of vehicle, e.g. ''camion'', ''forgone''. The reverse tends to apply to verbs in the two languages. Korzen concludes that ''exocentric languages are ... systemically programmed to promote their nominal arguments and to use them for instantiation of occurrences'' and that they thus ''will typically appear with a determiner.'' Nouns in endocentric languages, on the other hand, will tend to become denominalized and thus more likely to be ''incorporated into verbal units.'' This is reflected in the strict rules for article use in e.g. French, as compared to German, which has a less strong need for articles (p. 95).

7. ''Bare predicate nominals in Romance languages'' by Roberto Zamparelli: Zamparelli analyzes singular predicate nouns with an absence of determiners in Italian and French as referring to specific professions, roles and relations, e.g. 'daughter', 'head of the mafia'. His rationale is that the bare predicates have no set value for gender or sometimes other features.

8. ''Definiteness effect and the role of the coda in existential constructions'' by Manuel Leonetti: Leonetti relates definiteness to information structure, and notes how, with certain exceptions, English ''there is'' and Spanish ''haber'' expressions are incompatible with definites, e.g. ''There are two dogs.''/''Hay dos perros.'' but: *''There is the dog.''/*''Hay el perro.'' In Italian and Catalan, however, he finds that definites are only incompatible with a coda when it is inside the same VP, with differences often strongly dependent on varying intonational patterns (pp. 131-2).

9. ''Determination of N2 modifiers in Spanish nominal syntagmatic compounds'' by Henrik Høeg Müller: Müller conducts a highly focused examination of differences between two types of what he calls ''nominal syntagmatic compounds'', one with and one without the definite article, as exemplified by ''crisis de la energía'' 'energy crisis' and ''fuente de energía'' 'energy source'. He concludes that ''the definite article attributes to N2 either a referential reading or a prototype reading, while the zero determiner brings about an interpretation as either a mass or concept'' (p. 163). This is relevant to the papers by Stark (see above) and Longobardi (discussed just below).

10. ''Reference to individuals, person, and the variety of mapping parameters'' by Giuseppe Longobardi: Longobardi, working in a minimalist framework, distinguishes between ''objects'', i.e. primitives or individuals, and ''kinds'', and how these correspond to the use or omission of a definite article (raising ''to the D position'', p. 191). He proposes that ''nouns are never sufficient, by themselves, to refer to individuals'' and that *reference* to individuals ... turns out to be ... an essentially syntactic, computational property of nominal arguments'' and ''requires at least a functional position (the head D, a full phrase DP)'' (p. 192), more or less echoing the lines of thinking in Müller and Stark.

11. ''English 'th-' forms'' by Judy B. Bernstein: Bernstein finds that ''what unifies English 'th-' forms is not a feature encoding definiteness or deixis, but rather person''; '''th-' is a morpheme that encodes 3rd person in English, and that person is associated with D, the head of the functional projection DP''; also that '''th-' is unspecified for number and gender'' (p. 230).

12. ''Stating the case for 'þ-' [th-] root and 'hw-' root determiners'' by Alex Klinge: Klinge argues that ''the, this, that, there, then, etc.'' are related through a shared pan-Germanic 'th-' morpheme, whose common level of semantic description is ''ostention'', i.e. the speaker drawing the hearer's attention to the specific entity the speaker has in mind. Similarly, the common description for ''who, where, when, etc.'' is ''the introduction by the speaker of a 'variable' referent.'' ''Since the two morphemes distribute as D-heads ... their central semantic purpose is to guide the procedure of reference assignment. Notions such as definiteness, familiarity, and accessibility are probably derived from the procedure of reference assignment'' (pp. 260-1).

13. ''On certain differences between noun phrases and clauses'' by Naoki Fukui and Mihoko Zushi: This paper was the most strongly grounded in a generative approach. It proposes that ''noun phrases (nominal expressions) have a single-layered internal structure having a single phase and are complete (or ''closed'') in terms of licensing of internal elements, whereas clauses have a double-layered internal structure with two internal phases, one of which is not completed or (''open'')'' (p. 266).

14. ''Determination, nominalisation and conceptual processing'' by Helle Dam-Jensen: Dam-Jensen examines the differences between nominalizations of verbal infinitives, with and without the definite article 'el' (e.g. ''¿Puede ser peligroso (el) beber mucha agua?'' 'Can the drinking of much water be dangerous?'), nominalized complementizer phrases, and morphological nominalizations.

15. ''The semantics and pragmatics of the possessive determiner'' by Georges Kleiber: This paper treats the similarities and differences between definite articles and possessive pronouns in French. Kleiber attempts to provide an account for the fact that certain contexts allow only one, or the other, while others allow both, e.g. ''Il s'abrita sous un vieux tilleul. *Le* (vs. *Son*) tronc était tout craquelé.'' ('He sheltered under an old limetree. *The* [vs. *Its*] trunk was full of cracks.') (p. 310).

16. ''Reference, determiners and descriptive content'' by Thorstein Fretheim and Nana Aba Appiah Amfo: The authors challenge the claim of Gundel et al. that ''whatever a demonstrative can do, a definite article can do equally well,'' and suggest that while there is no extrinsic difference between the definite article and the distal demonstrative determiner in Norwegian, they are distinguished intonationally in certain syntactic environments in spoken Norwegian. The chapter ends with some data offered as support for the proposal that ''segmentally identical determiners and pronouns in the Niger-Congo language Akan are semantically distinct lexemes'' (p. 337).


This book is satisfying in that it offers a focused treatment of the very basic and important linguistic feature of nominal determination, which encompasses definite and indefinite articles, possessives, demonstratives, quantifiers, numerals, adjectives, nouns and their phrasal projections, and discourse management, as pointed out in the introduction. It is not, nor does it intend to be, a comprehensive survey or account of nominal determination, but rather reflects the diverse directions which several interested researchers have pursued in their involvement with this topic.

The languages investigated are mostly Germanic (English, German, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish) and Romance (Old and Modern French, Italian, Spanish, Catalan, Romanian, Latin) -- the editors teach in Spanish and English departments at Copenhagen Business School. There is also a bit on Greek, and a short section on Akan, spoken in Ghana.

As is almost inevitable in an edited volume, the papers vary greatly in approach and richness of content.

One of the editors' goals was to bring together researchers working in different frameworks; the book blurb states: ''This volume shows that different theoretical frameworks may be brought fruitfully together in the effort to formulate new analyses of well-known problems, but also to raise new questions and point to new areas which may prove interesting topics for future research both in functional and formal paradigms.'' This kind of ''integration'' is certainly good for promoting exchange across frameworks.

The papers written from a generative approach, chapters 7, 8 to some extent, 10, and 13, largely accessible, even to those not personally working in a generative framework, though not necessarily always easy going or strongly engaging. I would have preferred more data in some of these papers, for example, in chapter 13, which is apparently mostly based on self-generated ''John and Mary'' examples rather than corpus data. The editors are right that generativists and non-generativists can in any case benefit from reading each other's work -- good quality will shine through whatever framework is adopted.

The introduction is relatively short and provides a useful roadmap for the rest of the book. I appreciated the arguments in ch. 2 in support of ''form follows function'' -- and not vice-versa -- in language. Ch. 3 notes two distinct functions of indefinite articles: they can function as quantifiers, harking back to the origin of the singular indefinite article in the number 'one', used with heterogeneous nouns; and classifiers, such as the French 'du', a partitive used with homogeneous mass nouns. The following chapter compares the differing uses of indefinite nominal determiners across several Romance languages. Ch. 5 makes a fairly strong and tidy case for including 'de' as an additional article in French.

Ch. 9, which focuses on individual vs. generic reference of determiners, moved quite slowly. And ch. 14 mainly pointed out things which speakers of Spanish will likely already be aware of. Ch. 15 contrasts the use of the definite article and the possessive in French, a difference most would probably consider transparent and self-evident, but the author does offer some original thoughts on the topic. The final paper builds its argument on a small intonational difference between the definite article and distal demonstrative in Norwegian. This paper also contains the beginnings of interesting data from Akan (apparently the native language of one of the co-authors), which nevertheless do not quite mesh with the rest of the book.

Usually collections like this one will contain at least one treasure that makes one feel the book as a whole was worth slogging through. My personal gem in this volume is chapter six, ''Determination in endocentric and exocentric languages: With evidence primarily from Danish and Italian,'' by Iørn Korzen. Korzen takes up in a quite original way the issue of relative information density of nouns vs. verbs in Germanic and Romance languages. I haven't yet had the chance to further test the findings, but this book provides a valuable resource to build on.

Two other papers I especially enjoyed were chs. 11 and 12, which discuss 'th-' and 'hw-' words in Germanic. The approaches are intriguing and the results noteworthy. But while the author of ch. 11 does state that it is a synchronic study, in the course of strongly advancing the position that 'th-' marks the third person, she might have at least addressed the issue of the historical thou/thee/thy/thine forms in English, also the corresponding /d/ forms in German, du/dich/dir/dein. These are in fact mentioned in the next chapter. In ch. 12, Klinge recognizes the fragments 'th-' and 'hw-' as *morphemes* -- some may call them phonaesthemes -- a viewpoint I was happy to see in print.

I would give this book four and a half out of five stars -- a full five stars for the quality of the editing and presentation (only a few very minor glitches here and there), but with one half star taken off for some papers that could have been considerably condensed.

This is a very simply designed but handsome volume, inside and out. Like many specialized academic works, it is quite pricey, with the electronic version costing the same as the paper one, making it more suitable for purchase by libraries than by casual readers. Because this is a dense work that branches off into many disparate directions, most readers are probably best advised to first skim it to identify which chapters are of interest or potentially useful as references in their personal research, and to concentrate on those. The table of contents, introduction, abstracts and conclusions will give readers with limited time a good idea of what to expect from each contribution. Adding chapter numbers would have made it easier to find and cite chapters. There is a medium-sized general index, something not all edited volumes include, which is not quite comprehensive enough to find everything you're trying to track down, but is certainly very useful.

In sum, if you are interested in topics like definite and indefinite articles, generic plurals, and linguistic number, you are bound to find something in this volume that rewards you for whatever time you invest in it.

REFERENCE Gundel, J.K., Hedberg, N. & Zacharski, R. 1993. Cognitive status and the form of referring expressions in discourse. _Language_ 69(2): 274-307.


Karen Steffen Chung is an associate professor of English and linguistics in the foreign language department of National Taiwan University in Taipei, and also teaches English over the radio and Internet. Her areas of specialization include phonetics, teaching of pronunciation, and Chinese morphology. She is the author of _Mandarin Compound Verbs_, which received an NTU excellent research award in 2007. (See .)

Page Updated: 23-Jan-2011