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In the previous section I argued that names are
underspecified for syntactically relevant features like definiteness and
specificity. Underspecification allows for the fact that (a) proper names can
occur in spite of a constraint which disallows phrases marked for a particular
feature or that (b) they cannot occur where a particular feature is required.
One nagging question immediately reappears: could it be that there is a
categorial difference between common nouns and proper names after all, namely to
be found in the fact that common nouns are specified for certain features, while
names are not? Again, because of free conversion, such a categorial difference
is highly unlikely. Moreover, common nouns can, of course, be used as specifics
or nonspecifics, as definites or indefinites, which clearly suggests that the
relevant features are not inherent in the lexical categories, but are rather
supplied syntactically and therefore visible to syntactic rules.
Principles & Parameters framework one would, of course, hope to be able to
find general principles that the language specific syntactic characteristics of
proper names can be derived from. I doubt, however, that this is possible. In
English, the distribution of proper names is intuitively straightforward: proper
names are words that do not take a determiner in the singular. Nevertheless, as
I showed in the context of example (9), determiners of all kinds can full well
cooccur with proper names even in English, and in certain environments a
determiner is even required (e.g. when the name is modified – see below).
nonrepresentative and eurocentric survey of languages that use overt
determiners, one finds that determiner cooccurrences with proper names are
suspiciously regular: in English, German, French, and Spanish, proper names
stand by default without determiners. An indefinite determiner may be used to
convert the proper name into a generic or an explicitly novel predicative
expression, but - at least in the standard dialects - a definite article with a
simple unmodified name is to be considered ungrammatical. However, there are
particular syntactic environments which allow or even require the use of a
definite article with proper names:
a. I met the/*Ø old John.
b. I met the/*Ø John who I introduced to you yesterday.
a. Ich traf den/*Ø alten Johannes.
b. Ich traf den /*Ø Johannes, den ich dir gestern vorgestellt habe.
a. C’est ainsi que Rolland épousa la/*Ø belle Aude.
it-is so that Rolland married the beautiful Aude.
b. Le/*Ø Pierre que j’aime n’est plus.
The Pierre who I-love not-is any-longer.
a. El/*Ø buen Alberto se fue a la/*Ø hermosa Maracaibo.
The good Alberto REFL went to the beautiful M.
b. El/*Ø Alberto que estudia Filosofia es muy agradable.
The Alberto who studies Philosophy is very likable.
In all four languages, a definite article thus appears when
the proper name is restrictively modified. With nonrestrictive modification
proper names can still optionally occur without determiner, but since
nonrestrictive modifiers are usually set apart by phonological means (e.g. a
pause between the head noun and the nonrestrictive relative clause), one may
argue that they are not really part of the syntax. Restrictive modifiers, on the
other hand, are phonologically merged with the modified element. If the
Chomskyan view is correct that sentences are construed derivationally and that
there is a point Spell-Out at which the structure established so far is made
available to the phonological component PF, one could claim that restrictive
modifiers are base generated in their given position and are thus pre-Spell-Out
components of the syntax. The phonological component will thus treat them as
integral parts of the syntactic structure. Nonrestrictive modifiers, in
contrast, are separated from the main structure by the phonological module,
which suggests that they may actually be inserted at the level of PF. Since this
possibility exists, I will for concentrate on restrictive modification here.
Gary-Prieur (1994) explains the requirement for definite
articles with restrictive modifiers on semantic grounds: when a proper name –
in Gary-Prieur’s view a semantic category denoting an individual – is
restrictively modified, this triggers a type conversion process. While a name,
by itself, would be assigned type <e>, the structure [ [ N ] modifier ]
would be <<e, t>, t>. Being thus a set, this structure is treated
like any other set expression by the syntax, i.e. an overt determiner is
required to reestablish uniqueness.
My objection is essentially the same as the one formulated
earlier: it is not clear how this type conversion is executed. The modifier
would somehow subcategorize for an individual, but return a set. Since one and
the same modifier can cooccur with proper names and common nouns, the semantic
subcategorization frame would redundantly have to be specified for two different
types as complements.
It is my task here to explain the requirement for the
definite article without appealing to semantic type (since the noun-modifier
construction does not differ in type from a simple noun), and a syntactic
explanation seems to be the closest alternative. The suspicion that syntax plays
a role is supported by the fact that it does not seem to be an issue whether the
modifer precedes or follows the noun, as in English the old John vs. the John
who... If semantics was solely governing these (surface) structures, as seems to
be suggested by Steedman (1996), one may wonder why e.g. a following relative
clause cannot modify a [DP D [NP N ] ] structure in which
the determiner is optionally left empty.
This structure is ruled out by the subcategorization requirement of the matrix
verb which expects a DP. A base generated structure like [[DP D [NP
N ] ] who...] could be argued to be a CP, however. Kayne (1994), in fact, argues
that the modified NP is generated in [Spec, CP] of the modifying relative
clause, but he also crucially assumes that is wrapped in a DP.
For bare proper names, I suggested the possibility of a D
head, which is phonologically empty but semantically contentful insofar as its
presence plays a role in the pragmatic intepretation. Many linguists are
uncomfortable with the proliferation of empty heads in current syntactic theory,
since the mere possibility of empty heads seems to make the theory far too
powerful. I would thus suggest a constraint on the licensing of empty heads:
(EHC) Empty Head Constraint (preliminary version)
Empty functional heads are only licensed by adjoined lexical heads.
It remains to be shown that unmodified proper names can
undergo head-to-head movement to D, but that this kind of movement is ruled out
as soon as a restrictive modifer is present. The first seems straightforward –
the head noun simply moves up to the next higher head position (see 23). This
movement is motivated by the licensing requirement of the EHC. I do not want to
speculate about Greed vs. Enlightened Greed, or Affect-alpha vs. Move-alpha,
since the status of the relevant principles seems very unclear to me at this
Since this movement is blocked in DPs with restrictive
modifiers, I suggest that it is the relationship between the restrictive
modifier and the modified noun which rules out such movements in more complex
DPs. Since the modifier introduces a predication over the modified, I assume in
the tradition of Generative Semantics that AP-N or N-relative constructions
contain an underlying predicate phrase:
a. [VP pro [V’ (is) [ AP ] ]
b. [CP pro [C’ who [ ... ] ]
Contrary to transformationalist views, I assume that these
predicative phrases are base generated in an adjoined position to the modified
NP (I do not have anything to say about the directionality of adjunction here).
There, they are lexically governed by the modified noun, such that pro in Spec
position of the adjunct is identified with the governing N:
If such an NP is selected by a D head, the D node needs to
be interpretable at PF, i.e. it requires P-features. P-features can be made
available in two ways: either D is supplied with independent phonological
realization (by insertion of an overt determiner), or it triggers movement of
the governed lexical head, i.e. the N. As already mentioned in footnote 5 above,
this is very similar to the relationship between INFL and the verb. In English,
INFL is not independently saturated, so the verb is moved up. In Bantu
languages, on the other hand, INFL is morphogically realized, such that the verb
may stay in situ (cf. Myers 1990). As the realization of proper names in
languages with overt determiners show, head-to-head movement of N to D is always
a syntactic possibility. I believe that even in the structures shown in (25),
N-to-D movement is syntactically possible. It is ruled out on semantic grounds,
however: if pro is not in the immediate domain of an overt N head, its referent
may be freely picked from the domain of discourse, such that pro fails to
reliably receive the intended interpretation.
If the above
analysis is correct, it should be applicable to other cases of null determiners.
Here, indefinite plurals have to be mentioned, since they can occur with null
determiners in spite of restrictive modification in English and German:
a. There were dogs of all ages, but I saw only old dogs.
b. ..., but I saw only dogs who were quite old.
German (parallel constructions)
c. Da waren Hunde jeden Alters, aber ich say nur alte Hunde.
d. ..., aber ich sah nur Hunde, die schon ziemlich alt waren.
Both English and German have a lexical gap in the
indefinite plural of determiners. However, the lexical gap can obviously not
serve as an explanation, but rather needs to be explained itself. The Spanish
unos perros or the French des chiens do not seem to contain more information
than English dogs or German Hunde. Thus, one could argue that unos or des do not
convey any information that is not already contained in the plural nouns.
sets. A singular marked noun denotes an individual from a given set, i.e. in my
view: a subset with cardinality one. For the listener, definiteness vs.
indefiniteness is relevant information, because it certainly makes a difference
whether a particular individual is meant (definiteness entails specificity) or
just any individual from the given set. In the singular, all four languages thus
mark for definiteness and indefiniteness (notice that proper names default to a
definite interpretation, see below).
If a noun is
marked for plural, it denotes a subset of unspecified cardinality. Similar to
definiteness and indefiniteness (cf. Heim 1991), singular and plural form a
scalar implicature: if a noun is marked for singular, it donotes a subset with
cardinality of exactly one; if a noun is not marked for singular, it does not
denote a subset with a cardinality of exactly one. Thus, plural means a
cardinality higher than one. This scalar implicature is a pragmatic expectation.
Therefore, the continuation of the scenario in (27) given in (28) may be
somewhat puzzling to a listener, but the second sentence does not falsify the
(28) ..., but I saw only old dogs. To be honest, I saw only one dog and that was old.
In any case, a
noun marked for plural carries the implication that the denoted set contains
more than one element. Which elements exactly are to be included is not
relevant. For all purposes, a plural noun is thus indefinite, unless
specifically marked otherwise. Spanish unos or French des are thus redundancies
that simply support the indefinite interpretation of the plural noun. Note that
redundancies in overt expression are not on par with redundancies in e.g.
subcategorization frames. The first is a computational service to the listener,
whereas the second would introduce unnecessary computational difficulties.
The fact that
English and German do not require overt determiners with restrictively modified
indefinite plurals poses a problem for the EHC as formulated so far: even though
the indefinite article would be redundant, one would expect it to be required,
since N-to-D movement is not an option given the structural assumptions made
above. Thus, either my structural assumptions are wrong, or the EHC is too
strong. I opt for the latter and propose a weakened version:
(EHC2) Empty Head Constraint (final version)
Empty functional heads can only add semantic information iff they are licensed by an adjoined lexical head.
This new version of the
EHC allows for indefinite determiners to be phonologically null if the modified
noun is already indefinite, e.g. pluralized. This weaker EHC has the welcome
effect for syntacticians to allow for empty heads with a purely syntactic
function, but it still constrains the theory so far that random introduction of
semantic information via empty categories is ruled out.
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© Philipp Strazny 1998
 Nonrestrictive adjectival constructions often do not exhibit a phonological separation, but rather the opposite, i.e. an complete phonological merger. Consider German Klein-Erna (‘little Erna’) or English Little John. Both in English and in German, these adjective-noun constructions can occur without determiner, i.e. they have the distribution of a regular proper name. There is an intuitive sense that adjective and noun form a tight unit that is different from typical nominals with adjectival adjuncts. I believe that this intuition stems from the fact that these words are, in fact, not nominal phrases, but rather compounds formed in the lexicon. Thus, such names are not counterexamples to my view that only restrictive modification is a pre-Spell-Out syntactic process.
 I believe that nonrestrictive modifiers can actually yield structures like the ones ruled out for restrictive modifiers: however, the relevant Merge occurs at PF such that the subcategorization frame of the verb is not affected.
 Notice that I hedged by claiming this licensing requirement only for functional heads. Thus, it will apply to e.g. INFL, C and D, but not to lexical heads such as PRO, pro, NP-traces, or light verbs.