Prenominal Adjectives

Linguistics 322

Intermediate Syntax

Prenominal adjectives precede the noun its modifies and it must occur in the same NP (see L222). Consider the italicized parts of the following two sentences:

(1)    The student is eager.

(2)    The eager student is usually successful.

The italicized portion of each sentence has the same conceptual meaning. Compare (2) with (3):

(3)     The student who is eager is usually successful.

The only difference in conceptual meaning is that the adjective eager is not modified by tense in (2). It is shown in Predicate Adjectives that the predicate adjectives assign one or more arguments, each assigned a distinctive theta-role. In (1) eager assigns experiencer to its argument student. The same must hold true for the prenominal adjective eager in (2), since the relationship between eager and student is the same in both sentences.

Up to now the only modifiers that we have discussed have been operators. Eager is a modifier--it modifies student in all three sentences, but eager is lexical. (See 322 LF NP.htm (or open 322 LF NP.pdf: it is easier to read.)) Let us concentrate on the NP in (2). Let us assume the following structure for the eager student:


The two operators and the predicate each modify the object STUDENT. In the first pass through the lexicon the categories D, Nu, A, and N are assigned to the appropriate heads in (4):


The major problem here is to account for the plural agreement of the noun with the head Q which contains the inherent feature [-Pl]. The hypothesis we have proposed is that a link is established between a head and its complement. Linking a a head directly with the complement of another head would be ad hoc; there is no reason to believe that such a direct link exists. Suppose the features of a head and its complements are shared. In this view the adjective copies the features of Q, and the N acquires the features of A which copied from Q. But, as you might object, the adjective in English is not inflected for number much less the count/mass distinction. This is true; it is not. But, we have not made the second pass through the lexicon. In the second pass, the adjective in English fails to show overt inflectional endings for any grammatical category except degree (old, older, oldest). Similarly, the non-demonstrative definite article is not inflected at all. In the second pass to the lexicon, D is spelled out as the, Q is null, A is spelled out as eager. The default for nouns is that the plural is marked by an inflectional ending adjoined to the right of the noun marking plural.Student is not marked for irregular features:


Note that agreement applies only within the domain of NP. For example, the object noun of a verb cannot agree with the subject Q of the same or any other verb:

(7)     *The two dogs bit a cats.

(8)     *A dog bit two cat.

Cat must agree with a in (7) and with two in (8):

(9)     The two dogs bit a cat.

(10)    A dog bit two cats.

There is evidence to support the above. The evidence is not found in Englihs, but in such languages as French, Spanish, German, the Slavic languages, Arabic, to name a few. In these languages there is overt agreement of between the adjective and the head. We will choose French to cite an example. In French adjectives agree with nouns for gender and with Q for number:

(11)      le petit étudiant the small student (masc. sing.)

(12)      la petite étudiante the small student (fem. sing.)

(13)      les petits étudiants the small students (masc. plural)

(14)      les petites étudiantes the small students (fem. plural).

Both the determiner (le, la, les) and the adjective agree in gender with the noun. 'e' marks the feminine gender. The masculine gender is unmarked. As in English ONE in French is phonologically and orthographically empty when it follows a definite determiner. The French noun, adjective, and determiner agree with Q. The plural ending is 's', which is an inflectional suffix. It is not pronounced except in the liaison phenomenon, though it required in the orthographic system. We will not attempt to cover the phonology of French grammatical categories here.

The structure for (14) is:


Similar to the English noun, D, A, and N are marked so that they form the plural by adjoining a suffix to the right of the stem. The plural is formed first, then gender agreement is similarly marked adjoined a suffix to the base stem. The suffix 'e' in nouns is not productive and is derivational in nature. We will not cover derivational morphology here.

In the case of indefiniteness in the French noun, the idefinite plural is marked with the indefinite quantifier "de":

(16)      un petit étudiant          a small student (masc. sing.)

(17)      une petite étudiante          a small student (fem. sing.)

(18)      des petits étudiants         small students (masc. plural)

(19)      des petites étudiantes small students (fem. plural).

We assume that, as in English, the conceptual marker of indefiniteness is copied to the quantifier [-One, -FV], where each bundle of features is spelled out in the appropriate form indicated in (16)-(19).

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