Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Clarification on obligatory adjectives

The following guest post is from Rodney Huddleston.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to comment on your `More on obligatory adjectives' of July 08. I wouldn't put it this way. It's not the adjective which demotes the NP to a nominal but rather the determiner `a', although `a' is only possible if followed by a modifier. I think it's misleading to say `if we add the adjective before the determiner': you're adding it before the determinative, but also adding a determiner. (In CGEL we distinguish between `determiner', a *function*, and `determinative', a *category*. In `the book', say, `the' is a determinative functioning as determiner, but there isn't a one-to-one relation between these. The determiner function is not always filled by a determinative: it can also be filled by an NP, usually genitive, as in `Kim's book'. And determinatives don't always function as determiner, as in `these fifty students' or `a surprising fifty students', where the determinative `fifty' is modifier -- or `this big', where the demonstrative determinative is modifier in an AdjP.)

I don't think it's helpful to work in stages, as you do. Your second tree can't form an NP by itself, so it's not comparable to the first tree. I'd skip the second tree and contrast the first and third.

The reason the numeral plays no part in marking the definiteness is precisely that it is functioning as modifier, not determiner: the indefinite property is marked by the determiner `a'. Note that in some cases you can have a definite determiner: compare

`an additional two months'
`the additional two months'

The contrast in definiteness is marked by `a' vs `the': `two' has no bearing on it.

I would say that semantically `a' leads to an interpretation where the plural is interpreted as a quantity or the like: "a further period of two months". In the second example the number of students that failed is surprising. Note here that while you have `surprising' at the beginning, you change to `exuberant' at the end, but it seems to me that `an exuberant 50 students failed' (or `passed') is much less natural than your `surprising' example.

The question is not so much why the adjective requires a determiner as why the determiner requires an adjective -- it doesn't in the construction shown in [71] on the next page of CGEL (p354), e.g. `[That ten days we spent in Florida] was fantastic'.

1 comment:

Russell said...

Cool! Thanks so much for communicating his thoughts on the matter. Now I must do some thinking ...