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Review of  Nominal Determination

Reviewer: Valeria Quochi
Book Title: Nominal Determination
Book Author: Elisabeth Stark Elisabeth Leiss Werner Abraham
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Linguistic Theories
Language Acquisition
Book Announcement: 19.1906

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EDITORS: Stark, Elisabeth; Leiss, Elisabeth; Abraham, Werner
TITLE: Nominal Determination
SUBTITLE: Typology, Context Constraints, and Historical Emergence
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
YEAR: 2007

Valeria Quochi, Istituto di Linguistica Computazionale CNR, Pisa, Italy.

This book is a collection of fourteen papers by different authors, subdivided
into 3 main sections, each addressing a specific topic on nominal determination
systems across languages.

The contributions in the book address several theoretical and empirical
questions about the Determiner Phrase such as the synchronic status and
properties of determiner phrases, the phylogenetic and ontogenetic development
of determiners in Germanic and other Indo-European languages, the structural and
universal nature of the Determiner Phrase (DP). All contributions provide
different perspectives on determiners within generative grammar and represent
primarily the two main streams of the theory: pro and con the universal status
of functional categories.

The introductory paper by the editors presents recent advances and
state-of-the-art research on nominal determination and definiteness across
languages and from various points of view: synchronic, diachronic, typological,
and theoretic. The main goal of the book is to address the research question of
whether the Determiner (D) category (and the functional DP) is universal or not,
given that not all languages or language stages manifest an overt DP or
determiner system.

The first paper, by W. Abraham, ''Discourse Binding: DP and Pronouns in German,
Dutch and English'', is a synchronic analysis based on Centering Theory of
pronouns and determiners in Standard German, with reference and comparisons to
Dutch and English. The focus is on their co-referential function and their role
in constructing discourse coherence.

The grammaticalization of the demonstrative pronouns and articles is explained
analyzing discourse properties and discourse functions of the elements involved.
The analysis results in personal pronouns being ''Thema continuants'' while
Article pronouns and Demonstrative pronouns ''Thema switchers''. A fundamental
assumption here is that the Standard German definite article (a subclass of
determiners) has a twofold function: it specifies a referent and refers to
preceding context. Abraham argues against purely linear linearization criteria
for Dutch and German, arguing that a criterion based on information structure,
i.e. on the position of the rhema, is more appropriate and preempts the
decisions based on serialization. The referential take up of the
article/demonstrative, then, would be determined solely in terms of
discourse-functional rhema in the preceding clause.

The main result of the paper is that the definite article occurs as a single
word and satisfies different anaphoric and quantitative functions depending on
both its clausal position and its accent status. The synchronic analysis
presented in this chapter is claimed to constitute an important prerequisite for
a reconstruction of the historical emergence of the definite article, which is
the subject of Abraham's second contribution (see below).

The paper by E. Stark is titled ''Gender, number and indefinite articles. About
the 'typological inconsistency' of Italian''. It analyzes typological
correlations in the nominal determination system of some Romance languages
(French, Italian, Spanish) and discusses the apparent diversity of Italian. The
claim is that the indefinite nominal determination is a means for nominal
classification, in that it marks the conceptually important distinction between
single delimited referents and non-delimited substance. The rise of such a
classification system is put in relation to the gradual disappearance of the
Latin declension system, which overtly marked gender and number. Stark rejects
the compensation hypothesis which sees a diachronic correlation between nominal
morphology and indefinite determination in the passage from Latin and Romance
languages (i.e the loss of case marking would have triggered the rise of
articles). Instead, she argues that the grammatical categories of number and
gender play a major role in the emergence of articles. Central to her functional
explanation is the notion of 'countability'. Of particular interest is therefore
the partitive article, for which she sketches a brief history in Italian and
French, concentrating on gender and number marking. In French she observes the
coincidence of the loss of phonetic realization of final -s endings (plural) and
the rise of the partitive article. From her corpus analysis Stark concludes that
countability and specificity are two fundamental denotational category for
article grammaticalization, and delineates the grammaticalization path for the
Italian determiners.

''Covert patterns of definiteness/indefiniteness and aspectuality in Old
Icelandic, Gothic, and Old High German'' by Elisabeth Leiss is a typological
paper on the relations between definiteness and aspect. The aim is to show the
close connection between (in)definiteness and verbal aspect arguing that they
are in fact realizations of the same grammatical function, i.e. equivalent
techniques of nominal and verbal quantification. In this respect, she proposes a
mereological approach to unify the description of noun phrases and verb phrases
and to show that the functions of articles and the functions of verbal aspect
have many overlapping features. Relative to the historical development of
articles, the paper is based on the observation that the definite article in
Germanic languages emerges in the period when the aspectual system of the
language changes. The main claim is that the definiteness effect of verbal
aspect on the syntactically neighboring noun creates complex patterns of nominal
determination. Grounding the analysis in Centering Theory, Leiss delineates the
developmental stages of the definite article in the Germanic languages under
investigation and provides an explanation for the supposed universality of
demonstratives as a source of overt marking for definiteness.

Among the reasons for claiming that DP is universal, Leiss observes that the
function of definite determiners is mainly to create a shared point of view
between speaker and hearer, which in turn is held to be a species-specific
communicative skill of humans.

In ''The definite article in Indo-European: emergence of a new grammatical
category?'' Bauer investigates whether the definite article in Indo-European is a
complex innovation or rather a formal innovation of an already existing
category, and explores the possibility of contact-induced development. In fact,
not all - even Indo-European - languages have articles. The same seems to happen
in other language families. This issue is analyzed considering the use of
definite articles in Ancient Greek and comparing them to similar uses in Latin,
Vulgar and Romance. Her study reveals for Ancient Greek an advanced use of
definite articles not found in Classic Latin. In the case of Latin, corpus data
show a general increase in the use of demonstratives and a persistence of some
forms over others. However, in Latin/Romance the emergence of the definite
article is much slower than in Greek and that it coincides with the
disintegration of the Classic Latin demonstrative system. According to Bauer,
therefore, the development of definite articles from Latin to Romance languages
occurred independently from Greek; it is not related to language contact phenomena.
Considering other cross-linguistic data, however, Bauer concludes that the
definiteness function is older in Indo-European than the definite article, and
cross-linguistically more widespread than articles. Nervertheless, she argues
that definiteness marked by articles results not only from a development of
form, but also of meaning. For this reason, the definite article is to be
considered a new grammatical category (i.e. a specific form in a unique
combination with a new specific function), even if the notion of definiteness
was pre-existent.

Agnes Jaeger in her ''German indefinite determiners in the scope of negation''
traces the evolution of the Standard German negative indefinite determiner
'kein' by analyzing the distribution of indefinite determiners in the history of
German. Her corpus analysis is based on proportional distribution of determiners
in typologically relevant contexts found in texts of various periods of the
German language. After introducing the typology of context relevant for the
analysis of determiners in the scope of negation, Jaeger enters into the details
of the uses in the various stages of German. She observes that the system of
indefinite nominal determination was more varied in the earlier stages of the
language and became narrower in subsequent phases. The present-day Standard
German negative word 'kein' (deriving from previous forms 'dehein'/'chein') is
described as undergoing a clear developmental pattern: from weak negative
polarity item in Old High German, to strong polarity item in Middle High German,
to negative word in Modern German. Such a development is explained as a kind of
''pull chain'' with the disappearance of one pattern pulling the neighboring one
to cover its function. Thus, through the frequent use in the scope of negation,
the negative polarity item 'dehein'/'chein'/'kein' becomes typically associated
with the negative functional feature, and thus becomes more grammaticalized.

''The functional range of bare singular count nouns in English'' by L.S. Stvan
examines the different possible readings of singular count nouns without
determiners in English, focusing especially on locative prepositional phrases.
His first surprising observation based on corpus data is that such a use is
productive. In the course of the paper, Stvan shows how prepositional phrases
containing bare singular count nouns can be found in various syntactic positions
(subject, object, complement) and can convey three possible readings:
familiarity, activity, genericity. These correspond to the three possible
referential functions of nouns: individual-referring, kind-referring and
non-referring (i.e. predicative). Stvan observes that not all nouns in his data
set can convey all three readings, but that all of them are compatible with a
generic one. Cross-linguistic counterparts of the above meaning distinctions are
found that are signaled through morphosyntactic marking other than article
deletion. As a conclusion, the author claims that English has no one-to-one
correspondence between the morphosyntactic form of the noun phrase and its
referential uses and thus the presence of the article alone cannot determine the
function of the noun phrase. Moreover, the existence of bare singular count
nominals in English with such a variety of interpretations is claimed to
disclose new research lines, to help clarify structural theories of the
structure of nominal constituent, and be of help in second language teaching.

''The definite article in non-specific direct object noun phrases. Comparing
French and Italian'' by T.Kupisch and C.Kroops tackles the issue of the degree of
grammaticalization of the definite article in French and Italian presenting
empirical data against the established position that articles are more
grammaticalized in French than in Italian (cf. Greenberg 1978, Longobardi 1999).
Two types of empirical studies, a corpus analysis and a questionnaire on
French-Italian parallel data, are reported in order to identify the parallelisms
and discrepancies between the choice of definite or indefinite articles in
non-specific contexts. Both studies result in the observation that Italian has a
strong preference for the use of definite article in non-specific contexts over
the indefinite article, and even more surprisingly that the use of zero
determiners in non-specific object NPs is not so high.

D. Bittner's paper ''Early functions of definite determiners and DPs in German
first language acquisition'' investigates the development of the use of simple
and complex Determiner Phrases in two young German speaking children (age range:
20-34 months and 21-48 months respectively). Determiner phrases are studied from
two perspectives: according to sentence-internal and sentence-external
properties. Bittner's data reveal that definite determiners are acquired as a
special class of determiners from an early stage and that their production
reflects the one of adults in terms of context types but differ from it in terms
of realization of case and gender. This seems to demonstrate that children
master the individualization function quite early, while case and gender are
acquired later on. From this study Bittner also observes that children appear to
acquire case distinctions before gender distinctions. Regarding
sentence-external properties, Bittner discovers a tendency towards distinct
functions of pronominal DPs on the one hand and noun-including DPs on the other.
While pronominal DPs are used anaphorically to indicate referents already
mentioned in the previous utterance, complex DPs are used to indicate a referent
that was not previously mentioned, but is present in the situation. The latter
is therefore a means to establish the prominence of a referent and joint
attention. Such results are discussed in the light of the new perspectives that
they open for German first language acquisition.

In ''The discourse-functional crystallization of the historically original
demonstrative'' Abrahams investigates from a technical point of view the
emergence of the definite article in the history of German, reporting text
samples from different stages of German. He shows how from the homonym
determiner in Old High German, we come to the use of definite article in Modern
German. This paper builds on the results described in the first contribution to
the volume, in particular on the crucial role of discourse-function properties
in the development of German definite articles. Relative to the historical
emergence of the article, Abrahams confirms the existence of a correlation
between case and aspect: the definite article emerges as the aspectual system of
Old High German fades.

A.Bartra Kaufmann ''Determinerless noun phrases in Old Romance passives'' is a
study of Bare Noun Phrases appearing both in subject position and as displaced
complements in Old Spanish and Old Catalan. The main goal of this chapter is to
demonstrate that it is possible to relate lexical, morphological and syntactic
properties in a minimalist integrated theory of grammar. The analysis is based
on the Principle and Parameter framework. Bartra Kaufmann belongs to the stream
of generative grammar that advocates the non-universality of functional
categories. In particular, she believes that one should posit in the grammar of
a language only those functional categories for which there is formal or
morphological realization.

T. Lohndal, ''On the structure and development of nominal phrases in Norwegian''.
This contribution investigates the difference existing between Old Norwegian and
Modern Norwegian definite articles - a clitic in the former and a suffix in the
latter - and the presence of double definiteness in Old Norse. Such a difference
in realization of the definiteness marker is accounted for in terms of
difference in the grammar of the two languages, namely in phrase structure. The
change is attributed to an unusual pattern of grammaticalization:
grammaticalization ''down the tree'', from a determiner phrase in Old Norwegian to
a noun phrase in Modern Norwegian. Again, Lohndal's analysis supports the view
of the non-universality of functional categories like definiteness. As a
complement to the study Lohndal analyzes some movement phenomena both in Old
Norse and Modern Icelandic, which are generally held to be very close languages,
and demonstrates that they in fact should be analyzed separately, because the
two phenomena can be explained by two different structural properties, similar
to that occurring in the pair of languages previously analyzed.

F. Osawa ''The emergence of DP from a perspective of ontogeny and phylogeny.
Correlation between DP, TP and aspect in Old English and first language
acquisition'' is an investigation of the development of nominal structures in
English following the Minimalist Program and Higginbotham's mechanism of
theta-binding (1985). According to this principle, the referential status of
nominals is established either by a functional determiner or by case morphology.
In addition to the study of the evolution of nominal structure in the history of
English, Osawa reports also data from first language acquisition showing a
parallelism with the diachronic pattern. Osawa supports the idea of a
correlation between the absence of determiner and temporal phrases and aspect:
Old English is shown to have no functional category for determiners, but aspect
system and case morphology, whereas in Middle English, because of the fading of
the aspect system, such a functional category is emergent. Therefore, functional
categories are not present from the beginning of the language, but they emerge
over time bringing about syntactic changes. The claims and observations made
about the phylogeny of determiner phrases in English seem to be confirmed also
by first language acquisition data, in that English-speaking children's grammar
would not possess a functional category for determiners around 20 months of age,
while in the same period aspectual information is already present.

J.L. Wood ''Demonstratives and Possessives: From Old English to present-day
English'' focuses on the three possible word orders for the co-occurrence of
possessive and demonstratives in Old English, Middle English and Present-day
English (i.e. determiner-possessive-noun, possessive-determiner-noun, and
determiner-noun-possessive). Her analysis starts from the observation of the
similarity Between Italian and Old English in the use of demonstratives and
possessives, namely that both seem to have 'adjectival genitive', whereas
present-day English only has 'determiner-genitive' (which is not allowed to
co-occur with other determiners). Contrary to the general conclusion drawn from
diachronic evidence that in Old English the three word orders are free variants
and that the determiner-genitive construction in Present-Day English gradually
emerged from one of such variants, Wood claims that they are in fact different
syntactic structures with different syntactic distributions and that they follow
different paths of development.

The book as a whole offers interesting insights into the structure, use and
development of nominal determination from different - and even opposite -
perspectives within generative grammar and provides research questions and
claims that are stimulating also for different theoretical approaches. In
particular, the analysis of functional properties linked to unexpected
grammatical features and to discourse functions are of great interest. Although
deeply grounded in the generative tradition, most papers are easy to follow also
for non-generativist linguists, except perhaps Abraham's and Bartra's chapters,
which are highly technical. Abraham's claims appear moreover to be more
theory-internal than others. Very interesting is also the mereological account
of noun and verbs presented by Leiss, which shows how distinct lexical
categories are means to express different perspectives on a same entity in the
world. It is surprising, here, not to find references to cognitive functional
linguistics works dealing with the same issue, such as Langacker (1987) to
mention but perhaps the most well-known.

Many contributions to this volume are based on empirical studies of some sort,
which is important in order to give credit to the claims made. Stark, for
example, conducts a quantitative study on Italian texts from the 13th, 14th and
15th century to support her interesting claim that countability and specificity
are two fundamental denotational categories in article grammaticalization and to
show the different status of Italian article system within the Romance language
group. Countability and specificity appear in fact as emergent properties of
Italian Noun Phrases also in an unsupervised learning experiment (Quochi and
Calderone forthcoming).

If a critique to most empirical approaches described in this volume has to be
made, it should be directed to methodological issues of empirical approaches
employed (e.g. corpus/data size and frequency estimates). Stark's study on the
development of articles in Italian, for example, is based on texts from
different authors and different periods. In such a case the use of absolute
frequency does not provide very significant results in that it is not able to
balance the different dimensions of texts and preferences of authors. The same
observation can be made for the quantitative study in Bauer's and Jaeger's
chapter, although Jaeger is aware of the problem and tried to normalize the
texts in terms of pages. The results presented in such papers, therefore, should
not be taken as actual statistical evidence, rather as quantitative indications
of development trends otherwise assessed.

Greenberg, J.H. (1978). ''How does a language acquire gender markers?''. In:
Greenberg, J.H et al (eds). _Universals of human language_, Vol III. Stanford:
SUP, pp. 47-82.

Higginbotham, J. (1985). ''On semantics''. _Linguistic Inquiry_ 16:574-593.

Langacker, R. (1987). _Foundations of Cognitive Grammar I: Theoretical
Prerequisites_. Stanford: Stanford University.

Longobardi, G. (1999). ''The Structure of DPs: Some principle, parameters and
problems.'' In: Baltin, M. and Collins, C. (eds). _The Handbook of Contemporary
Syntactic Theory_. Oxford: Blackwell, pp.562-603.

Quochi, Valeria and Basilio Calderone (forthcoming). ''Learning properties of
NPs: from data to functions''. _Language Resources European Conference_. 28-30
May 2008. Marrakesch, Morocco.

Valeria Quochi, Ph.D. in Lingustics, is a grant researcher at the Institute for
Computational Linguistics in Pisa, Italy. Among her interests are Computational
lexicography, cognitive and data-driven approaches to language, and the
syntax-semantic interface. Her PhD research concerned the acquisition of
semi-productive constructions (light verb constructions) in Italian, from a
Construction Grammar perspective. Currently, she is also working on a project on
the unsupervised learning of nouns and noun phrase properties in Italian, in
which the role of determiners emerge as prominent.