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Review of  Nominal Syntax at the Interfaces: A Comparative Analysis of Languages With Articles

Reviewer: Joseph W Windsor
Book Title: Nominal Syntax at the Interfaces: A Comparative Analysis of Languages With Articles
Book Author: Giuliana Giusti
Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Issue Number: 27.4651

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Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


Nominal Syntax at the Interfaces provides support for a hypothesis that differentiates articles in European languages from other so-called determiners: syntactic elements such as proper nouns, pronouns, possessives, quantifiers, and demonstratives. Giusti argues that while articles, in languages that have them, are functional elements, the other so-called determiners do not meet (all of) the eight established criteria for functional categories:

Characteristics of functional categories (p. 127; cf. Abney 1987)
- They constitute a closed class
- They can be sisters only to one kind of category
- They can be phonologically and/or morphologically dependent
- They are usually inseparable from their sister projection
- They display a high degree of cross-linguistic variation (and micro-variation)
- They may be phonologically null
- The conditions on their merging are syntactic in nature
- They lack substantive content

By examining the distribution of nominal elements (the various so-called determiners, articles, nouns and adjectives) in a handful of European languages, and evaluating them against the criteria in (1), Giusti concludes that articles are merely inflectional morphology of a scattered N0 which has been internally remerged to complete its extended projection. The notion that articles are inflectional morphemes (which may be bound or free depending on the parameterization of the language) makes the prediction that they are necessarily, categorically, different from other so-called determiners – a prediction that Giusti examines in detail, providing a plethora of evidence from various languages to support.


The arguments for differentiating articles from other so-called determiners are broken down into an introduction, six substantive chapters, and a conclusion which recognises some of the limitations of the current work and areas for future research.

Chapter 1 situates the reader in terms of the theoretical framework that Giusti utilizes/argues for throughout the book. She assumes a minimalist framework (à la Chomsky 1995) which utilizes extended projections (in the sense of Grimshaw 1991) to allow for frequent internal merger (similar to Kayne 1994) to achieve the correct syntactic relations for Agree, Concord, and Projection – which she argues are necessarily different operations, requiring different structural relationships:

- Agree: Featuring-sharing triggered by Selection
- Concord: Feature-sharing through modification
- Projection: Feature-sharing via multiple merger (“head-movement” and “article insertion)

These different operations, and the differences between them, are used throughout the other substantive chapters to argue for the syntax that underlays the various constructions under examination. In this chapter, Giusti also introduces the unfamiliar reader to other core assumptions used therein, such as: the syntactic relations at the interfaces (LF and PF), the Principle of Full Interpretation, Economy, and parallelism between the nominal and verbal domains – especially at the Left Edge, the position she argues is the syntactic locus of referentiality.

Chapter 2 is titled “Articles at the Interfaces”, which, like the book’s title, is misleading as there is little-to-no discussion of the interface with PF. This chapter details three competing syntax/semantics accounts of articles and other determiner-like elements, and what the functions of those elements are (Longobardi 1994; Chierchia 1998; and, Bošković 2008). The core of the proposal addressed in this chapter is an attempt to unify the previous proposals and argue that; while articles (null or overt) are realized in the position typically labelled D, the other so-called determiners are the realization of an ι-Operator, which provides a referential index to an argument, and are in the position typically labelled Spec,DP.

Chapter 3 further situates the reader in the theoretical framework used to explore the proposal that articles are inflectional morphology on an N. Giusti expands on her previous assertion that Agreement and Concord are necessarily different syntactic operations, which will later be used to drive the syntactic representation she argues for. This chapter provides empirical data from a few European languages (notably, Italian, Czech, Romanian, and English) to show how the different processes work: that Agree is always a C-command relation, and Concord is always modification, which derives the difference between articles (heads) and the other so-called determiners (modifiers).

Chapter 4, for this reader, is by far the most substantive chapter, where Giusti provides the best evidence for her proposal. She investigates each of the other so-called determiners, comparing them against articles in a slightly wider variety of European languages to show that the predictions made by her proposal are largely borne out. She also shows that, unlike articles, the other determiner-like elements do not satisfy the eight criteria of functional elements provided in (1). Much of the evidence in this chapter comes from co-occurrence, feature-sharing, and ordering. Giusti provides evidence from languages such as Irish to show demonstratives and articles co-occur:

an fear seo
def man this
‘this man’ (Irish: Modified from Giusti’s (15b), p.135)

Giusti uses this type of co-occurrence data to show that articles and other nominal elements like demonstratives must have different syntactic positions – something absent from much of the current literature on demonstratives in European languages (cf. Roehrs 2013 and references therein). Extending the co-occurrence prediction, Giusti argues that, owing to the Principle of Economy, we predict that in some languages, personal pronouns and articles will be in complementary distribution, while it is expected that they will co-occur in others. However, because articles are argued to occupy D0 and other so-called determiners (other than quantifiers) are argued to universally occupy Spec,DP, she predicts that pronouns and demonstratives will never co-occur. This is where the cursory glance at various European languages fails Giusti; while she cites Irish as a language in which articles and demonstratives obligatorily co-occur, she misses the fact that demonstratives in Irish also frequently occur with personal pronouns (as well as vocatives and proper names):

Demonstratives with pronouns (adapted from McCloskey 2004)
Chuaigh sé seo ar seachrán
go.pst dem on straying
‘this person went astray’

B’fhearr liom é seo fanacht sa bhaile
prefer dem stay in home
‘I’d prefer this person to stay at home’

Demonstratives with proper nouns (adapted from McCloskey 2004)
Muiris Bhidí seo
Muiris Bhidí dem
‘this person Muiris Bhidí’

Bhí urradh as miosúr i nGoll seo
be.pst strength out.of measure in Goll dem
‘this guy Goll had astonishing strength’

Given the strong prediction made in her §4.4. (p. 155) that these elements will never co-occur, it is not clear how Giusti would account for these data, or what consequences data such as these hold for the proposal that she advances: that both of these elements are always modifiers in Spec,DP.

Chapter 5 deals with the central claim of the entire work; that articles, in addition to having different distributional properties, features, and semantics to the other so-called determiners, are inflectional morphology realized on a “scattered N.” Giusti uses the term “scattered N” throughout the work, but never completely defines it. She uses this term to refer to the internal merger (head-movement) of a lexical head, in this case, N, within its extended projection. This chapter provides short case studies of language specific phenomena in Italian, Scandinavian (Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, and Icelandic), and German to support the hypothesis that articles can/should be analyzed as inflectional morphology on the noun.

The final substantive chapter, Chapter 6, deals with an issue for the analysis of articles as functional elements which realize inflectional morphology of the noun; that is, that one of the criteria for functional elements —that they can be sisters to only one category as in (1b)— is apparently violated in some languages, like Greek, that allow adjectives to also take articles through determiner spreading:

to megalo (to) vivlio
the big the book
‘the big book’ (Giusti’s 11b, p.194)

To account for this apparent problem with her hypothesis, Giusti again provides three small case studies on specific phenomena in Balkan languages (Albanian, Greek, and Romanian), Italian, and German. She accounts for the data such as that in (6) by arguing that, due to her scattered N hypothesis, the article that appears to associate with the adjective in Greek is actually the realization of interpretable nominal features of a null N (p. 197), and cannot be the part of a scattered Adjectival head.

As previously mentioned, the book concludes with a recognition of some of the limitations of the research presented (i.e., that only European languages were investigated with sporadic glances at languages like Hungarian and Hebrew), and suggests avenues for future research; specifically, how to deal with articles in polysynthetic languages. In my subsequent evaluation of the work, I will attempt to stay within the defined limits of this research.


Although I agree with many of the insights provided by the author concerning referentiality and nominal-verbal parallelism, I am unfortunately left unconvinced that a scattered N hypothesis is a syntactic universal (Giusti argues that the conclusions of Chapter 5 unify an analysis of both languages with, and without, articles (p.188)). Some of this skepticism for the universality of this proposal comes from the range of interpretations given to articles cross-linguistically. As Giusti notes (p. 78), Matthewson (1998) notes that articles cross-linguistically do not have a unique semantic value; she provides the example in (7, her example 50) to illustrate this fact:

a. definiteness English
- specificity Turkish (Enç 1991), Polynesian (Chung 1978)
- visibility Bella Coola (Davis & Saunders 1975)
- proximity St’at’imcets (Van Eijk 1997).

Given the difference in possible semantic values of articles cross-linguistically, a question is raised as to whether or not all of these elements represent a homogeneous cross-linguistic category. Especially problematic for the proposal are languages which utilize deictic determiners (7d) (cf. Wiltschko 2014); if Giusti does extend her analysis to other languages, including polysynthetic ones such as the Indigenous languages of North America, she will need to account for deictic/non-deictic determiners in languages like Squamish (Wiltschko 2014), which are necessarily different from the demonstrative/article system of Blackfoot (see Windsor & Lewis forthcoming). I anticipate that an analysis of such languages would make it very difficult for her to maintain the strong hypothesis that syntactic categories (i.e., articles) are universally inflectional morphology, and that demonstratives are universally specifiers. Apart from investigating other non-European languages, I believe a more in depth investigation of the interfaces with syntax would also prove difficult for Giusti’s current proposal.

For a book titled, Nominal Syntax at the Interfaces, there is a distinct lack of influence from multiple interfaces. While Giusti does utilize some semantic arguments in Chapter 2, despite the claim that the essay aims to fill a gap in the literature by providing syntactic arguments in support of semantic analyses (p. 1), those semantic analyses are almost entirely missing from the remainder of the book. More importantly, if the work is to be concerned with multiple interfaces, as the title suggests, one would expect to see the interface with PF also play a role in the discussion. Instead, the spell-out to PF is limited to a few small discussions on the timing of syntactic phases, and little more than a page of discussion of phonological forms in Italian (§6.2), which begins with the statement that the definite article in Italian “is morpho-phonologically dependent on the phonological form of the following word” (p. 202); and ends with the conclusion that “these forms cannot be captured by general phonological rules and are the result of standardization” (p. 203) in apparent contradiction of the initial statement. Had Giusti considered a more in depth investigation into the interface with PF, she may have been forced to abandon some of the structures she proposes; specifically, that demonstratives are always specifiers. By investigating the phonology-syntax interface in Irish, I use data from pitch accents, consonant weakening (lenition), phonological phrasing, co-occurrence, scope, and coordination (Windsor 2014 et seq.) to show that--pace Giusti (1993 et seq.), Brugè (2002), and Roberts (to appear)--demonstratives cannot universally be specifiers and must be analysed as projections within the nominal spine, at least in Irish (see also Windsor & Lewis forthcoming for a phonology-syntax and syntax-semantics analysis of demonstratives in Blackfoot, which lends cross-linguistic support to the fact that demonstratives are not universally specifiers).

Despite the fact that the arguments in this book have not convinced me that a scattered N hypothesis is the correct analysis for articles cross-linguistically, I contend that many of the insights provided by Giusti are especially valuable as research in this area continues. One of the most valuable contributions of this book is the notion that demonstratives (and possibly other Left Edge elements) realize an ι-Operator, which is responsible for providing the referential index to an argument. Although Irish and Blackfoot data, as mentioned above, would potentially be very problematic for Giusti’s scattered N analysis, I reach the same conclusion about the syntactic function of demonstratives in those languages on independent grounds. Thus, while the scattered N analysis might fail once other languages also receive an in depth analysis, the insights into the function of these Left Edge elements can be cross-theoretically backed up. The referential ι-Op in the Left Edge of nominal expressions gains further cross-theoretical support when one considers the nominal-verbal parallelism that Giusti underscores her analysis with: Giusti argues in the initial chapters of this book that the Left Edge of nominal expressions are parallel to the Left Edge of clauses (she seems to remain agnostic as to whether the appropriate parallel of D is C or T, but argues that there is a higher projection in the nominal domain devoted to hosting displaced elements associated with discourse features – see also Giusti 1996; Aboh 2004; Thoma 2014; or, Wiltchko 2014 for supporting cross-linguistic evidence of this). If there is an ι-Op which provides referentiality to an argument at the Left Edge of a nominal expression, associated with demonstratives for example, then we expect to find a clausal parallel of this structure. This prediction also seems to be borne out with several other researchers arguing that CP is the domain of referentiality in the clause (Cinque 1990; Szabolcsi 2006; deCuba 2007; deCuba & Ürögdi 2009; deCuba & MacDonald 2012, 2013; Haegeman 2006; Haegeman & Ürögdi 2010). Haegeman (2006), in fact, argues that the referential features of CP are best analyzed as speaker deixis, a striking parallel to demonstratives at the Left Edge of nominal expressions. Finally, deCuba (2007), and deCuba & MacDonald (2012, 2013) argue on independent grounds that clausal referentiality, or lack thereof, utilizes a null ι-Op to explain the distribution of sentential complement clauses of factive and non-factive verbs in a variety of European languages, and embedded polarity answers in Spanish respectively.

Insights such as the obvious distinction between articles and other so-called determiners such as demonstratives (and between demonstratives and adjectives pace. Leu (2008) and Roehrs (2013) and references therein), and the semantic function of occupants of the Left Edge of nominal expressions as providing referential indexes to arguments are the major strengths of this work; these insights transcend theoretical commitments and must be accounted for by any author working in this area regardless of the hypothesis they pursue.


Nominal Syntax at the Interfaces is not an aptly titled book as it has very little to do with syntax at the interfaces, though there is a limited discussion of semantics. The primary focus of this book is in arguing for a universal analysis of articles as inflectional morphology of an internally merged, or “scattered,” noun. Part of the evidence for a scattered N hypothesis comes from empirical data presented from several European languages, and part of the evidence is theoretical, stemming from the author’s treatment of three separate syntactic operations (Agree, Concord, and Projection), which allow feature sharing through different structural relations. The latter theoretical contribution is used to motivate when a syntactic element internally merges, used to ultimately argue for the structures presented in favour of the scattered N.

In this review, I have presented no arguments against the scattered N hypothesis as it was used to account for the data examined in the book. At times, in reading some of the sections, I was skeptical of the analysis, but the predictions made by the hypotheses were borne out. The skepticism I have presented here stems from the claim that the scattered N analysis should be universal, including a prediction for a null ι-Op in Spec,DP in languages without articles (p.188)). Although there is not consensus as to whether a DP projection exists in all languages (i.e., Longobardi 1994; Chierchia 1998; Borer 2003; Bošković 2008), this book provides additional evidence in favour of a universal DP claim; and, while I take no issue with a universal DP layer hypothesis (or at least a universal anchoring layer, regardless of label, cf. Wiltschko 2014), I am not convinced by the argument that all languages could be analyzed with a scattered N as Giusti puts forward in this book.

Despite the skepticism I have outlined here, I believe that the author makes several important a-theoretical contributions, especially in her insight into the syntactic position of referential indexes being at the Left Edge of the nominal expression, in a position higher than D. This, and the fact that nominal elements such as demonstratives, pronouns, and proper nouns seem to have very different distributional facts from articles in many, if not all, languages are insights that any researcher working in this area will need to account for, regardless of their theoretical commitment, or whether they are convinced by the scattered N hypothesis advanced by Giusti.


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Joseph W. Windsor is a Ph.D. candidate in Linguistics at the University of Calgary. His research focuses on the phonology-syntax interface of nominal expressions and nominal-verbal parallelism, which he investigates primarily using data from Irish and Blackfoot. His forthcoming dissertation, The Demonstrative Phrase: Prosodic and Syntactic Evidence from Irish and Blackfoot argues that (at least in the languages of focus) demonstratives are not specifiers, but rather, part of the nominal spine, and suggests consequences this analysis has for both the Minimalist Program, and the Universal Spine Hypothesis.

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