LINGUIST List 26.3077

Mon Jun 29 2015

Review: Morphology; Syntax; Typology: Alexiadou (2014)

Editor for this issue: Sara Couture <>

Date: 19-Feb-2015
From: Marios Mavrogiorgos <>
Subject: Multiple Determiners and the Structure of DPs
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Artemis Alexiadou
TITLE: Multiple Determiners and the Structure of DPs
SERIES TITLE: Linguistik Aktuell/Linguistics Today 211
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2014

REVIEWER: Marios Mavrogiorgos, University of Cyprus

Review's Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


“Multiple Determiners and the Structure of DPs” is a linguistic monograph on multiple determiner marking across various (mainly European) languages. The author, Artemis Alexiadou, based on an extensive review and synthesis of the available literature on the topic, shows how languages systematically differ with respect to multiple marking of definite/ indefinite determiners, how such variation can be accounted for using a minimalist perspective, and what tools one can develop in order to be able to safely tell apart various (sub)-types of this complex phenomenon. Her main theoretical contribution is that multiple determiner marking is not amenable to a uniform analysis both within and across languages, contrary to what has been put forward in the past literature.

Chapter 1 introduces the main topic of the book, namely the phenomenon of double/multiple realization of definite/indefinite determiners in natural languages (see Plank 2003 for an overview). Alexiadou points out that she will confine herself to a subgroup of languages exhibiting multiple determiners, drawing from existing research, with the following aims: (a) to examine the conditions these phenomena are subject to, and (b) to address a number of theoretical questions which will allow her to determine whether a given language will exhibit the phenomenon or not. In sections 2 and 3 Alexiadou offers an overview of the empirical and theoretical domains covered by her discussion. Her main empirical claim is that although multiple marking (a term which subsumes doubling vs. spreading) seems to be crosslinguistically linked to some context of modification, languages differ wrt. various dimensions. In fact, whether a language exhibiting single determiner marking will also have multiple marking (multiple marking being contingent on the availability of single marking - see Plank 2003) depends on whether it allows for null determiners in certain contexts or not. Alexiadou’s main theoretical claim is that Plank is essentially right in pointing out that there may be more than one explanation for multiple marking within a language or across languages. In order to achieve her aims, Alexiadou proposes four research tools: (a) comparison of multiple marking to single marking (differences in interpretation point to different syntactic structures); (b) (non) obligatory character of multiple marking (obligatoriness could be linked to morphology, or to the syntax of modification); (c) (non) sensitivity to adjective type (non-sensitivity excludes a small clause analysis, as small clauses only accept predicative adjectives); (d) (non) sensitivity to the adjective form (morpho-phonological phenomenon). In section 4 Alexiadou gives the main theories on the functional structure of the DP, and argues that (in her data) there are three main cases of multiple determiner marking: (a) the syntactic pattern (sub-types: determiner doubling within a split-DP structure; determiner spreading with a reduced relative input (the latter being subject to the (un)availability of null Ds)); (b) the morphological pattern (sub-types: definiteness agreement; conditions on vocabulary insertion); (c) the spurious articles/relators pattern (instantiated in indefinite NPs). Section 5 offers the book outline.

Chapter 2 discusses core and non-core cases of definite determiner spreading in Greek. Section 1 presents the main properties of the Greek definite determiner and its theoretical status. Section 2 introduces the main case of determiner spreading in Greek, which is licensed in the presence of adjectival modification and for which Alexiadou proposes a structure that combines a reduced relative input with clitic doubling - alike input (assuming that Greek determiner spreading is subject to the Prominence Condition on a par with clitic doubling- an observation attributed to Tsakali 2008). She also describes how the semantics and focus properties of the construction follow from this structure, and why indefinite DPs are blocked from the subject position of the relative clause. Section 3 presents other instances of constructions with multiple determiners in Greek, and in what ways their properties differ from those of determiner spreading cases. These include substantivization, binominal, pseudo-partitive, and close appositive constructions. Alexiadou proposes a separate analysis for each one of these, contrary to previous accounts (see e.g. Lekakou and Szendröi 2012). Section 4 summarizes the chapter.

Chapter 3 discusses multiple determiners in Romanian, Scandinavian and French, which unlike Greek show determiner doubling. Alexiadou shows that the Romanian definite article behaves differently from the corresponding Greek article and that in determiner doubling constructions the presence of the demonstrative article ‘cel’ is required. She points out that although the Romanian and Greek constructions have similar properties, they also differ in important respects. The analysis she proposes is similar to that put forward by Cinque (2004), namely ‘cel’ involves a reduced relative clause structure (although the function of the adjectives is that of restrictive apposition, which would explain their properties). Section 3 discusses doubling in Scandinavian languages. Alexiadou summarizes Delsing’s (1993) main findings regarding the semantic nature and the syntactic distribution of the enclitic definite article. Then, she offers arguments that show that both determiners in the doubling construction have semantic import, and hence point in favor of a syntactic/D-split approach (with the split being visible only in cases of modification). She also explains why a reduced relative input and other competing analyses are out. Section 4 discusses a sub-case of multiple determiners, namely doubling in the context of superlative adjectives (e.g. French), for which Alexiadou proposes a structural analysis that links superlatives (and noun ellipsis) to partitive adjectives. Section 5 concludes with a brief discussion of English. The main empirical point here is that English does not generally allow determiner doubling even in cases of postnominal complex adjectives, although the latter have been analyzed as having a reduced relative clause input. Alexiadou links this unexpected lack of doubling to the ability of English to license bare (DP) nouns in subject position, and proposes a reduced relative clause input with a bare subject DP and an overt external determiner.

Chapter 4 discusses cases that have been compared in the literature to determiner spreading/doubling in Greek/Scandinavian. These include Hebrew multiple determiners, Albanian adjectival articles, Slovenian adjectival determiners, and the particle ‘de’ in Chinese. Alexiadou’s main claim is that all these structures are not really determiner spreading/doubling cases (Slovenian and Chinese also support Plank’s implicational universal). Starting with Hebrew, Alexiadou points out that the (bound) definite article is a definiteness feature base generated on the nominal stem (i.e. it is semantically vacuous). Moreover, a reduced relative or a split DP analysis are out, as there are no restrictions associated with adjectives, and no interpretational effects associated with the multiple determiners. She proposes instead that Hebrew multiple determiners are agreement morphemes (possibly derived either syntactically or morphologically). Section 2 deals with adjectival articles in Albanian multiple determiner constructions, which seem to differ from the corresponding Greek, Romanian or Scandinavian ones in that they are subject to phonological or purely idiosyncratic restrictions. Alexiadou argues against a reduced relative clause analysis or an agreement analysis. For all these reasons, and given the fact that the article form is subject to locality restrictions, she follows Trommer (2002) in analyzing the phenomenon as a case of contextually determined allomorphy. Section 3 discusses Slovenian adjectival determiners, which differ from all other cases of determiner doubling/spreading, as they merely render a qualifying adjective into a classifying one. Her proposal is that these are not real determiners (i.e. D-heads), but elements realizing some adjectival projection. Finally, section 4 presents Chinese adjectival ‘de’, which does not behave like a D-head, and which does not seem to participate in a relator or relative clause modification structure. Alexiadou, building on the parallel behavior between ‘de’ and classifiers vis-à-vis noun phrase ellipsis, argues in favor of an analysis of ‘de’ as a classifier head which projects a classifier phrase right above the lexical N.

Chapter 5 briefly discusses three cases of multiple determiners in indefinite NPs, namely indefiniteness doubling in the context of intensifiers, indefinite determiner spreading in Scandinavian dialects, and indefiniteness spreading in Greek. Based on a discussion of the properties of indefiniteness doubling, Alexiadou argues in favour of a single DP analysis (where the second article is a relator head). Section 4 presents the case of adjectival indefinite spreading found in some northern Norwegian and Swedish dialects. Alexiadou argues that these adjectival articles are relator heads, and as a result both indefinite spreading and doubling structures can be assimilated under a single analysis. Given that relators are semantically void, indefiniteness spreading/doubling is different from standard syntactic cases of determiner spreading. Section 5 discusses Greek constructions which have been analyzed as instances of indefiniteness spreading involving null indefinite determiners, based on their similarities with definiteness determiner spreading. Alexiadou argues against a relator head analysis, and then revises the reduced relative clause analysis in Alexiadou and Wilder (1998), adopting the view that Greek indefinites are numerals heading a NumP (see Alexopoulou and Folli 2011) and behaving like pronominal adjectives merged high in the internal DP structure.

Chapter 6 summarizes the main claims made in the book. The main conclusion is that there are tools one can use to diagnose the properties of multiple determiners across languages, that these may be applied to other languages, and that there is no single analysis that works for all patterns. This summary is followed by a brief discussion which attempts to address the main issues raised by the patterns presented in the previous chapters. Alexiadou points out that morphologically conditioned multiple determiners, like those found in Hebrew or Albanian, are expected to be rare cross-linguistically, given the inherent variation agreement displays cross-linguistically. On the other hand, syntactic variation may be related to various factors that may co-occur. For example, one could argue that double definiteness in Scandinavian involves a split DP structure due to the diachronic development of the adjectival syntax in these languages (from low to high), as opposed e.g. to Greek. Another possibility would be to link a certain choice to independent properties of a language. For instance, Greek has multiple determiners as it allows for a reduced relative clause source for adjectives, whereas Scandinavian has determiner doubling because it has a split DP structure and moreover its adjectives cannot be associated with a relative clause input. Another question has to do with why languages like English do not allow for multiple determiners in the context of adjectival modification. Alexiadou attributes the English pattern to a combination of factors (e.g. the lack of a split DP structure and the availability of null Ds). Indefinite articles seem to behave cross-linguistically as spurious articles because they are vacuous semantically when in predicative position, while Scandinavian adjectives can be predicates only in indefinite noun phrases because this is the only context where they occupy predicative positions.


This book is interesting and quite successful in its aims. From an empirical point of view, Alexiadou offers a detailed cross-linguistic description of various structures involving double/multiple articulation of (definite/indefinite) determiners and of the actual (sub) patterns one can detect (including their grammatical properties). In this respect she follows Plank (2003), although for methodological reasons her study focuses only on a subpart of the languages and phenomena discussed there. From a theoretical point of view, Alexiadou provides a number of research tools which allow one to probe into the syntactic, morphological/phonological and semantic aspects of multiple articulation and as a result to establish patterns at various levels of grammatical analysis and to elucidate the various ways these levels interact in order to give rise to a complex empirical picture. In addition, she proposes that a uniform analysis for double/multiple articulation both within a single language and across languages fails to adequately account for the crosslinguistic empirical picture and consequently for the nature of the phenomenon itself.

Alexiadou’s main thesis, namely that multiple/double articulation is a phenomenon that cannot be given a uniform analysis, is both important and novel and seems to be supported by the data she provides and the discussion thereof. However, in view of Plank (2003) and the basic scientific premise that hypotheses are constructed so that they can be eventually disproved, this is hardly a surprising thesis. What I find even more potentially important is her idea that in order to understand double/multiple articulation deeper and on a wide empirical basis, one needs to test and continuously develop well designed tools which will allow one to dig into the data (even if the available data are numerous and complicated) and to understand how a surface pattern is derived and constrained. This is so because these tools have both a practical and a theoretical value, independently of whether one agrees or disagrees with Alexiadou’s conclusion or with the way she puts this idea into practice: practically, they allow us to dissect the data and tease different properties apart. This is a welcome result, and fully compatible with the minimalist assumption (which Alexiadou adopts as her working hypothesis) that the grammar involves a minimal computational system which interfaces with LF/PF representations (and these with non-linguistic faculties). Theoretically, these same tools allow us, at least potentially, to probe into a grammatical phenomenon and decide, based on the information we collect from various sides, which part(s) thereof belong to grammar, and to which grammatical component. In this way, we hope we can eventually understand better what grammar is and how it works. Although both the use of research tools and this more general question have been of central importance in (generative) linguistics, their use in this particular context (namely, the investigation of double articulation crosslinguistically) and on the basis of fairly non-controversial minimalist premises is a potentially fruitful research choice.

Besides this more theoretical point, what is also important about this monograph is that Alexiadou gives a detailed empirical and theoretical overview of the phenomenon under discussion, as she attempts to synthesize various views, arguments, and observations pointed out in the literature into an integrated theoretical model. This type of work, which differs in certain respects from original data collection or from a theoretical approach to a novel data set, gives us a view which is otherwise hard to get, as its coverage is both larger and wider. The fact that it seems to give rise to a coherent picture lends further support to her approach. This is also facilitated by the fact that, at least on the macro-level, the book is fairly well structured.

That being said, there are also some shortcomings that should be mentioned. One issue has to do with the choice of languages and particular structures: although Alexiadou explicitly states that she is going to look only into a specific set of languages (in typological terms) for methodological reasons that make absolute sense, it is not unambiguously clear why she actually chose the languages and the structures included in the monograph. Apparently, this could (also) be related to the patterns of articulation she is interested in (syntactic pattern, morphological pattern, syntactic-not semantic pattern); however given that not enough context is provided (i.e. how these patterns fit into the larger picture) besides one paragraph on page 6, the reader (especially one who is not an expert in double/multiple articulation) cannot safely evaluate her choice and its implications. This is an important issue, especially given her goals and the approach she adopts. A second issue has to do with the actual presentation: although the discussion of both data and analyses are generally convincing, in certain instances not enough information is provided or the discussion is somewhat difficult to follow. For instance, certain structures are not even given a tree diagram, or the discussion of the specifics of a proposed analysis is not detailed enough, or is condensed within a few lines. The result is that the discussion may give the impression of being uneven or even unclear and thus difficult to evaluate appropriately. Although this may be less of a problem for someone who has a good grasp on the topic, it becomes important given that the validity and exact function of the tools proposed need to be precisely evaluated and further elaborated by future research. One way to achieve this would be by constructing tools that can be replicated and integrated into a wider theoretical analysis (potentially, supported by other types of evidence, e.g. from corpora or from acquisition). To illustrate why details may be important, in Chapter 3 it is proposed that determiner spreading in Greek should be analyzed using a combination of a reduced relative input and a doubling construction (based on independent observations that determiner spreading is subject to the Prominence Condition, on a par with clitic doubling). Although this observation makes sense to me (determiner spreading seems to share properties with doubling), the actual analysis does not systematically explain how any similarities and/or differences are being captured. For example, clitic doubling is pronominal doubling, whereas determiner spreading is supposed to be determiner doubling. The fact that both articles and clitics may be analyzed as D-heads does not really explain how any differences are captured, given (for example) the fact that definite determiners are not subject to the Prominence Condition in Greek (as opposed to pronominal clitics, which are topic markers). If, on the other hand, the adjectival determiner is a clitic, what does this really mean and how does it compare to (other) clitic pronouns? As a result, one is unable to fully evaluate the actual proposal and what lies behind the empirical observation. A final point is editorial in nature, namely the book contains quite a few cases of typos, which however do not jeopardize the reader’s understanding.

Despite these shortcomings, in this monograph Alexiadou puts forward an idea which is important, both for the analysis of double/multiple articulation and for linguistic theory more generally.


Alexiadou, Artemis and Wilder, Chris. 1998. Adjectival modification and multiple determiners. In Possessors, Predicates and Movement in the DP [Linguistik Aktuell/Linguistics Today 22], Artemis Alexiadou and Chris Wilder (eds.), 303-332. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Alexopoulou, Theodora and Folli, Rafaella. 2011. Topic strategies and the internal structure of nominal arguments in Greek and Italian. Ms, University of Cambridge, and University of Ulster.

Cinque, Guglielmo. 2004. A phrasal movement analysis of the Romanian DP. In Studia Linguistica et Philologica in Honorem D. Irimia, Anna Maria Minut and Eugen Munteanu (eds.), 129-142. Iasi: Editura Universitatii ‘Al. I. Cuza’.

Delsing, Lars-Olof. 1993. The Internal Structure of Noun Phrases in Scandinavian Languages. PhD dissertation, University of Lund.

Lekakou, Marika and Szendröi, Krista. 2012. Polydefinites in Greek: Ellipsis, close apposition and expletive determiners. Journal of Linguistics 48: 107-149.

Plank, Frans. 2003. Double articulation. In Noun Phrase Structure in the Languages of Europe. Frans Plank (ed.), 337-395. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Trommer, Jochen, 2002. The post-syntactic morphology of the Albanian preposed article: Evidence from distributed morphology. Balkanistica 15: 349-363.

Tsakali, Vina. 2008. Similarities in the interpretation of doubling constructions. Paper presented at the 2008 Meeting of the Department of Linguistics of the University of Thessaloniki.


Dr. Marios Mavrogiorgos specializes in clitics and other related morphosyntactic phenomena in Greek and Romance languages within the Minimalist Framework. He has published a number of papers (alone and in collaboration), and a monograph (with John Benjamins Publishing). From September 2015 he will be holding a post doctoral research position/Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship (project supervisor: Prof. Adam Ledgeway) at the Modern and Medieval Languages Faculty, University of Cambridge.

Page Updated: 29-Jun-2015