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Transactions of the Philological Society Volume 96:1 (1998) 117±158

BINOMINAL NOUN PHRASES IN ENGLISH1
By Bas Aarts
University College London

(Received 20 June 1997; revised 16 January 1998)

Abstract
This paper discusses the structural and semantic properties of
Binominal Noun Phrases (BNPs) in English. BNPs involve two
nominals, N1 and N2, which are in a Subject-Predicate relationship with each other, such that N1 is the Predicate and N2 the
Subject. Examples are a hell of a problem, a wonder of a city, that
idiot of a prime minister etc. On the basis of various types of
syntactic evidence, it is argued that they are headed by the
second of the two nominals, not by the first one, as has often
been claimed. It is further argued that BNPs do not involve
movement, as has recently been suggested in the literature. A
consequence of this study is that it supports viewing syntax as a
flexible system, in which there may be a tension between a rigid
arrangement of elements into categories and constituents, and
the occurrence of unexpected configurations, or of shifts in
patterns taking place diachronically or synchronically.
1
This article is an extensively revised and expanded version of a study published
under the title `The syntax of Binominal Noun Phrases in English' in Dutch Working
Papers in English Language and Linguistics (no. 30, 1994, 1±28). Different versions of
this paper have been presented in the Department of English, University of
Massachusetts at Boston, the Linguistics Department, University of Manchester,
the Department of Language and Linguistic Science, University of York, and in the
Research Centre for English and Applied Linguistics, University of Cambridge. I
would like to thank the following people for comments: David Adger, John Anderson,
Kersti BoÈrjars, Gillian Brown, Keith Brown, Bill Croft, David Denison, Nik
Gisborne, Steve Harlow, Christopher Lyons, Donaldo Mercedo, Chuck Meyer,
Sharon Millar, John Payne, Bernadette Plunkett and Nigel Vincent. I would also
like to thank Martin Everaert and Ad Foolen for pointing out some useful references,
and Flor Aarts, Valerie Adams, Marcel den Dikken, Sidney Greenbaum, Dick
Hudson, Richard Larson, Elizabeth Closs Traugott, Randolph Quirk, And Rosta
and anonymous referees for reading, and commenting on, earlier drafts of this paper.
Special thanks are due to James McCawley for commenting perspicaciously and
constructively on different successive versions of this paper. Needless to say that none
of the above necessarily agrees with my views.

# The Philological Society 1998. Published by Blackwell Publishers,
108 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1JF and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.

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1. Introduction
In the structuralist linguistic tradition, and in the modern frameworks that stem from it, syntax is viewed as the component of the
grammar that deals with the segmentation of lexical linguistic matter
into hierarchical configurations of elements that are grouped
together into constituents, more specifically phrases. Constituency
lies at the heart of most current approaches to syntax, and with good
reason, as it can be shown, through such processes as movement,
substitution and ellipsis (see e.g. Aarts 1997), to play a crucial role in
language. However, while recognizing the need for syntactic theory
to be firmly based on phrase structure and constituency, there are
phenomena that pose serious problems for a grammar that places
too rigid and dogmatic an emphasis on segmentation into constituents. This paper discusses NPs of the type in (1) below which will be
seen to be intractable as regards a straightforward phrase structure
treatment.
(1) a.
b.
c.
d.
e.
f.
g.
h.

a hell of a problem
that plonker of a plumber
her nitwit of a husband
those fools of doctors
a wonder of a city
that idiot of a prime minister
some rotten little fig of a human being (W.5.1)2
a colourless mouse of a woman (adapted from S.1.3)

In these examples we have two nominals (italicized in (1) above),
which I will refer to as N1 and N2, respectively. I will call NPs of this
type Binominal Noun Phrases (BNPs). BNPs are of interest from
both a semantic and syntactic point of view. A semantic characteristic is that the first noun denotes a property or quality that is
predicated of the referent of the second noun. Interestingly, this
subject-predicate relationship is internal to a nominal maximal
projection, and it is reversed: the subject expression follows, rather
2
Sentences or phrases marked in this way are taken from the Survey of English
Usage at University College London.

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than precedes, the predicate. Syntactically, the interest of these
constructions lies in the fact that it is not immediately obvious
which of the two nominals is the head of the construction. While at
first blush N1 appears to be the head in a simple N+PP construction,
it can in fact be shown that N2 functions as the head in BNPs, both
syntactically and semantically. Also of interest is the question of the
role played by the element of: while it looks like a preposition, it can
be shown that it does not introduce a typical PP complement to N1.
English BNP constructions have not received very wide attention,
though there have been a few recent discussions (Kayne 1994, den
Dikken 1995).3 In this paper I will present a new analysis of English
BNPs that will be seen to be recalcitrant from the point of view of
strict constituency, but that can be motivated using distributional
evidence. Specifically, I will argue that a BNP like (1a) is structured
as in (2) below:
(2) [NP a [hell of a] problem]
Here N2 is the head, modified by hell of a. Before turning to the
particulars of this analysis in sections 3±8, I will have a few words
to say about the history of the BNP construction in the next
section, where I will also present a descriptive account of their
properties.

3
Their counterparts in Dutch have been extensively discussed. Among the first
Dutch linguists to discuss the construction were de Groot (1949) and Royen (1947±
54). The latter provides an impressively long list of examples of Dutch BNPs
(Vol.III.2: 117±131). However, it was Paardekooper (1956) that became the classic
BNP reference in Dutch linguistics. Its publication inspired a spate of further
discussion on the topic notably van den Toorn (1966) van Caspel (1970), Klein
(1977), Paardekooper (1984) and, more recently, Pekelder (n.d.), Everaert (1992), den
Dikken (1995) (who also discusses English BNPs), and Haeseryn et al. (1997). There is
also an excellent article in the Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal (`Dictionary of
the Dutch Language', the Dutch equivalent of the OED, vol. XVIII, columns 410±
413). Van Caspel's article contains useful additional references to articles and
grammar sections dealing with the construction both in Dutch and in other languages.
For French, important studies of BNPs can be found in Milner (1973, 1978) and
Ruwet (1982).

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2. The history of BNPs and their properties
It has been claimed that the English BNP construction was
borrowed from Latin via French (Einenkel 1901, mentioned in
Austin 1980; Curme 1914), the model being examples like monstrum
mulieris (monster woman.GEN; `a monster of a woman'), flagitium
hominis (disgrace man.GEN `a disgrace/crook of a man') and scelus
viri (crime man.GEN `a crime/criminal of a man') (Curme 1914: 56).
They are not attested in Old English (Curme 1931: 85).4 In the above
examples it is clear that we are dealing with a subjective genitive, and
most linguists would agree that N2 is the subject of N1 (`the woman
is a monster'; `the man is a crook/criminal'), notable exceptions
being van Caspel (1970: 281), who regards N1 in monstrum mulieris
as the subject of N2 (`a monster in the guise of a woman', `a monster
who is a woman'), and LittreÂ, who maintains that in French `un
fripon d'enfant, c'est un fripon qui est enfant; mon bourreau de
maõÃtre, c'est mon bourreau qui est mon maõÃtre, et ainsi de suite' (`a
rascal of a child, it is a rascal who is a child; my tormentor of a
teacher, it is my tormentor who is my teacher, and so on') (1956±58:
1307, quoted in Austin 1980: 359). The earliest citations for English
BNPs in the Oxford English Dictionary date from the fifteenth
century, though I find that the Middle English Dictionary (Kuhn
1980) lists thirteenth-century instances.
Turning to the present-day English construction, we can represent
the skeletal structure of BNPs as in (3) below:
(3) Det1 N1 of Det2 N2
Preceding N1 there is a determiner position which Austin (1980:
361f.) claims can be filled by any determinative element. However,
pace Austin, there appear to be some restrictions on Det1. For
example, the definite article the sounds distinctly odd in certain
combinations such as e.g. ?the lout of a businessman, ?the nincompoop of a civil servant, though not in others, cf. the rascal of a
landlord (Curme 1931: 85). John Payne (p.c.) has suggested that the
before N1 becomes more acceptable if an NP with the same referent
4
The Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal (Dictionary of the Dutch Language)
conjectures that the Dutch construction was also probably borrowed from French
(van Caspel 1970: 281). Royen (1947±54: III.2:8) agrees.

as has been noted by various linguists (e. the following is possible: o estuÂpido do rapaz (the stupid of-the boy. 6 The corpora were the Survey of English Usage (SEU) and the British component of the International Corpus of English (ICE-GB). Both corpora contain written and spoken material. .g. as the investigation of two corpora reveals: the corpora contain only a handful of instances. neither N1 nor N2 can be 5 The restrictions on the determiners preceding N1 and N2 also hold for Dutch (Paardekooper 1956) and German. where it is zero (see (1d) above).) to free coinages (a skyscraper of a man.5 Binominal NPs are often used as insults. `that charlatan of a doctor') (Ramsey 1962: 548±549). presumably. In Portuguese. *those bullies of them). and these are what Austin (1980: 361f. den Dikken 1995).2. if N2 is a proper name. . and a Kate Moss of a wine (BBC Food and Wine. that miser of a manager). . . a hell of a . as (1e) shows. used. and in the case of ICE-GB I used ICECUP (International Corpus of English Corpus Utility Programme). In all these cases a definite determiner precedes N2. predominantly from spoken material.97) to describe an old piano.1. a heck of a . I went to see my bank manager. (the charlatan of-the doctor. What does seem to be the case is that N1 is invariably evaluative.d:/96-1/aarts. For example. 4. `that scoundrel of a lawyer'). N2 can never be a pronoun (cf. except in plural NPs. BNPs are infrequent. `that idiot of a boy') (Mateus et al. The idiomatic coinages are relatively fixed.) calls `figurative' in that a simile or metaphor is involved. e. Two interesting examples I came across recently are a Miss Havisham of a piano (The Independent on Sunday. el charlataÂn del meÂdico. a rat of a schoolkid).g. I thank Nick Porter for helping me collect my data. Everaert 1992. Also. 5. 1989: 195). As for N2. She contrasts them with a `literal' type where N1 is the category to which N2 is assigned (e. It seems that among the figurative types we need to recognize a gradient from idiomatic coinages (e. *a creep of a James.g.6 The most frequent type involves the sequence hell of a as in (1a). I will return to this restriction below. The N1position can be filled by proper nouns. van Caspel 1970. And in Spanish we can have el briboÂn del abogado (the scoundrel of-the lawyer.g.97).3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp aarts ± binominal nps 121 as the BNP is introduced into the discourse first: e..g. I used WordCruncher software in the case of the SEU corpus to search for the string `of a'. but the sly fox of a man had just left. however. though not always. then N1 cannot be preceded by an indefinite article (cf. it is always preceded by the indefinite article a in Det2 position. to describe a wine with not much body to it. . *an egotist of an Alex).

I have italicized overall here because. in idiomatic BNPs. a heck of an awful job. If we treat N1 as the head. a hell of a nice guy. however we analyze BNPs. we can hardly say *a dreadful hell of a problem or *a tiresome heck of a journey which contain descriptive adjectives. but only one of them can be the head of the construction as a whole. is which of the two nominal elements inside the BNP is the head of the overall construction. The head in binominal NPs An important issue. adjectival premodifiers of N1 are limited in occurrence. both nominals are heads at some level. both from a semantic and a syntactic point of view. an NP like (1a) would be analyzed as in (4): (4) NP Spec N' N a hell PP P NP of a problem . unlike in less established instances of the construction.g. with an intensifying adjective.3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp 122 transactions of the philological society 96. although we can have e. Premodification of N1 in the literal types is unproblematic (cf. 1998 pluralized (cf. that dirty digger of a gutter journalist). Furthermore. *those hells of problems). It thus looks as though the left-hand portion of BNPs is more fixed than the right-hand portion. that dickhead of an inarticulate tourguide). at least in the figurative BNPs.d:/96-1/aarts. an absolute hell of a problem. as is premodification of N2 in both the figurative and literal types (cf. Thus. that useless prude of a counsellor. 3.

) and Everaert (1992). as is shown by the pragmatic oddity of (7) and (9).3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp aarts ± binominal nps 123 Among the studies in which N1 is treated as head are van Caspel (1970).d. (7) #She's a summer's day. (8) My uncle is a rock-hard stone of a man: he is completely inflexible. McCawley (1988). If we treat N2 as the head we end up with a structure like that in (23): (5) NP Spec N' MP N' N a hell of a problem Here the string hell of a has provisionally been assigned the label `MP' (Modifier Phrase). In resolving the issue of headedness in BNPs we might ask which of the two nominals in these constructions satisfies the selectional restrictions imposed on the construction as a whole. consider the sentences below: (6) She's a summer's day of a girl. In this connexion.d:/96-1/aarts. Pekelder (n. In (6) and (8) the selectional restrictions imposed on the italicized NPs are met by N2. Abney (1987). (9) #My uncle is a rock-hard stone. Napoli has observed that both in Italian and English BNPs it is N2 that satisfies selectional restrictions (1989: 224). Napoli (1989). . not by N1.

has suggested six criteria for establishing headedness. consider the following data: (13) I am getting fed up with this flop of a TV programme. in (14) a shining light of a seminar leader refers to a type of seminar leader. (11) My neighbor is the father of two. selectional restrictions are known to be an unreliable test for determining headedness. not to a summer's 7 I have left out a possible seventh criterion which pinpoints the head as the ruler of a constituent. Abney 1987: 268±269 and Everaert 1992: 50).e. not by its head. 1998 However. .) In (12) there is not even a head noun present in the nominal string following multiply to satisfy this verb's selectional restrictions. criterion for headedness asserts that the element which determines what the overall phrase is a `kind of' is the head.c. Similarly.3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp 124 transactions of the philological society 96. the word on which other elements depend. Consider also: (12) I multiplied what I had computed/*sliced by 2.d:/96-1/aarts. modifying proposals made in Zwicky (1985).71. From (13) and (14) it becomes clear that in both cases it is N2 that determines the reference of the overall NP. In view of the unreliability of selectional restrictions in determining headedness we have to look for some other way of establishing what the head is in BNPs. as the sentences in (10) and (11) show (McCawley 1968: 133): (10) My buxom neighbor is the father of two. witness (11) (see also Jackendoff 1972: 18. (see also Zwicky 1993). Also. With regard to this criterion. As this notion is controversial (see Zwicky 1985: 15). in (6) a summer's day of a girl refers to a type of girl. which I will apply in turn to the NP construction under investigation. Hudson (1987). In (13) this flop of a TV programme refers to a type of TV programme. i. (14) He's a shining light of a seminar leader. at least syntactic headedness.7 The first. p. (McCawley. I have ignored it here. and Hudson (1987) no more than mentions it. semantic. not to a kind of flop. The oddity of (10) is caused by the modifier inside the subject NP. not to a shining light.

then. following an idea floated in Abney (1986). not to a stone. Napoli has argued that N1 is the head in binominal constructions. in BNPs N1 is the syntactic head.3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp aarts ± binominal nps 125 day. and both a's as articles [(15b)]. It should be noted that while [(15b)] has the appearance of a structure in which bitch is the head. McCawley has made a similar claim: he posits the structures in (15a) and (15b) below for the BNP a bitch of a problem. and. Implicitly. and one in which bitch is treated as a N. In order to deal with facts like those in (6)±(14) she argues. It has been pointed out to me that N1 is a predicate which `is subcategorized to take the second N'. that we need two head notions. and in (7) a rock-hard stone of a man refers to a type of man. in that [a bitch of a problem] can be viewed as having both a structure in which bitch is treated as an A and the of and the second a are ignored [(15a)].d:/96-1/aarts. 9 . However.10 8 See also Napoli (1989: 193). and these never appear in subcategorization frames.8 As we have seen.9 For Napoli. van Caspel (1970). See also Everaert (1992: 52±53). of as a P. and comments that these structures can be viewed as a compromise between the semantic and syntactic demands of the [Adjectival Noun] bitch. I have used the prime notation instead of the bar notation. namely syntactic head and semantic head. for a diverging view. 10 McCawley's trees are an idiosyncratic adaptation of Chomsky's (1970) proposal. N2 is a subject expression. while N2 is the semantic head. it is really problem that is the head (1988: 741).

adjectives with respect to semantics but nouns with respect to morphology and surface syntax' (McCawley 1987: 459). a term borrowed from Ross (1973).d:/96-1/aarts. more specifically. are intermediate between adjectives and nouns. 1998 (15) a. . Surely. NP Det N' N P' P a bitch of NP Det N' a problem In (15b) N1 is the syntactic head. As McCawley admits. Adjectival Nouns (ANs). The fact that it shares with prototypical adjectives the property of being able . NP Det N' A N' N a (of a) problem bitch b. they are `.11 11 The term Adjectival Noun is an unfortunate one to my mind. . while N2 is the semantic head. this is all that is relevant. N1 is morphologically and syntactically a noun.3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp 126 transactions of the philological society 96.

witness (17). an analysis in which semantic and syntactic heads coincide is preferable to an analysis in which the two are distinguished. as a null hypothesis. The problem is that McCawley is confusing the notions of form and function: only if we wrongly take the prenominal modifying function of adjectives to be the pivotal part of the definition of that word class does it make sense to talk of `adjectival nouns'. if we simply assume that nouns can premodify other nouns. i. the place where any inflections are located. Any such assumption concerning learnability would naturally need to be substantiated by empirical research. from the point of view of the so-called `logical problem of language acquisition' (cf. If we pluralize a particular instance of a BNP. succinctly discussed in Huddleston (1984: 93): Is it being claimed that an X used as a Y actually is a Y or that it is merely functionally like a Y? If it actually is a Y. the result is an NP in which both N1 and N2 take the plural -s ending. Ceteris paribus. how can a word occur with that function and yet fail to be a Y? 12 On the issue of one or more heads in Noun Phrases see the opposing views of Andrew Radford (1993) (`Head-hunting: on the trail of the nominal Janus') and John Payne (1993) (`The headedness of noun phrases: slaying the nominal Hydra'). Hornstein and Lightfoot 1981) it is reasonable to suppose that a unified head analysis makes the task of explaining language acquisition easier.g. The issue at hand is identical to the problems posed by the locution `an X used as a Y' (in this case: `a noun used as an adjective'). A child would then need to acquire only one concept of headedness. e. . on general grounds of elegance and economy. (16) that fool of a doctor (17) those fools of doctors (=(1d) ) to have a modifying function does not make it an adjective.e. then in what sense is it also an X? If it is not a Y but just functionally like one. Firstly.d:/96-1/aarts. or even adjectival.12 A second criterion for identifying the head of a constituent is to find its morphosyntactic locus. just like adjectives can. to suppose that learning two notions of headedness is more difficult for a child than learning just one. the single head analysis is superior. Which constituent is the morphosyntactic locus in binominal NPs? Is it N1 or N2 that takes inflections? The most important inflection in the English NP is the plural marker. but it is plausible.3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp aarts ± binominal nps 127 Allowing for doubly headed phrases is conceptually unattractive for two reasons. More importantly. We will see below that it can in fact be shown that N2 takes on both head roles. (16) below. how can this be reconciled with a definition of Y in terms of function ± if Y is defined as a word having a certain function.

The general observation seems to hold that in BNPs there is no semantic relationship between N1 and the following of-phrase.e. In fact. it is difficult to establish any sort of semantic connection between N1 and the of-phrase. Of course.13 The third criterion for headedness pinpoints the head as the subcategorizand. then. which are typically expressed by of-phrases. Although N1 is not the head of the NP as a whole. This is evidence that it cannot be the head of the overall NP. reader of books corresponds to read books.d:/96-1/aarts. the following of-phrase being a complement (see (4) above).c. Compare (18) and (19): (18) a voracious reader of books (19) a despicable racist of a policeman In (18) we have a prototypical noun complement in the form of a Prepositional Phrase. the constituent which is subcategorized with regard to its complements.). p. we can establish a relationship between N1 and the noun inside the of-phrase. and the NP corresponds to the PP. Thus. Observe that in (19) clearly such a correspondence cannot be established. however. shows that N1 cannot be regarded as the subcategorizand in BNPs. i.3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp 128 transactions of the philological society 96. that the of-phrase in BNPs in no way resembles what are normally analyzed as PP complements. The contrast between (18) and (19). We are certainly not dealing with partitive or possessive meanings. such an analysis is unattractive. 1998 We have no way of pinpointing the inflectional locus here and conclude that this criterion does not apply in determining headedness in BNPs. in that N2 is the subject of N1. . but for reasons given above. The grounds on which the PP is regarded as a complement are that we can point to an analogical V+NP construction in which the verb corresponds to the noun in (18). as we have seen. data such as (20) and (21) show that it is evidently a head: (20) that destroyer of education of a minister (21) this manipulator of people of a mayor 13 (17) could be taken to suggest that both nominals in BNPs are heads (McCawley. We might argue that N1 takes on that role. Notice.

d:/96-1/aarts. In an analysis like (5). because the nouns destroyer and manipulator.14 The examples in (20) and (21) are instructive. so that both in American and British varieties of English (20)±(21) are relatively worse than (22)±(23). What is important is that NPs like (20) and (21) are possible in at least one variety of English. but observes that they are acceptable to British speakers. which will be elaborated in section 7 below. as proponents of the analysis in (4) above have argued. The reason is that if the PPs of a minister and of a mayor are complements in BNPs such as that destroyer of a minister and this manipulator of a mayor. with regard to BNPs neither N1 nor 14 Napoli (1989: 214±215. the differences between BrE and AmE do not really concern us here. N2 can also take PP complements: (22) a virtuoso of a director of finance (23) that genius of an instructor of music (20)±(21) and (22)±(23) show that both nominals in BNPs are heads. simply because the strings of a minister in (20) and of a mayor in (21) are not complements of N1. In any case. The difference in acceptability between these two sets of sentences is plausibly due to stylistic factors. because of education and of people in these phrases are nominal complements in anybody's book (cf. then they will be forced to say that destroyer and manipulator take two PP complements in (20) and (21). She puts two question marks in front of NPs like (22) and (23). and will be seen to constitute crucial evidence against the N+PP analysis of BNPs. In BrE (20)±(21) are slightly less good than (22)±(23).3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp aarts ± binominal nps 129 In these BNPs N1 takes a PP complement (of education and of people respectively. not three-place predicates. that is. this problem does not arise. cf. the unit in a constituent which can determine the morphosyntactic form of a sister unit. but unproblematic for N2: (i) ?that education destroyer of a minister (ii) that genius of a music instructor . are two-place predicates. this cannot be correct. he destroyed education/he manipulates people). he destroys education. 220±221) notes that NPs like (20) and (21) are totally unacceptable in American English (AmE). Notice that in both AmE and BrE a prenominal complement to N1 is dubious. he manipulates people). like their verbal counterparts destroy and manipulate. Clearly. but good in British English (BrE). However. Hudson's fourth criterion identifies the head as a governor.

Notice that. as is the fifth criterion Hudson puts forward. b. e. but in fact. In (24b) we can leave out either noun because we can say That plumber fixed the shower to the wrong wall. if we leave out the Adjective Phrase wonderful in the sentence I consider Istanbul a wonderful city.3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp 130 transactions of the philological society 96. The final criterion defines the head as the obligatory constituent in a structure. 1998 N2 can be said to determine the morphosyntactic shape of any of its neighbouring constituents. if we change the determiner to that. ??I detest her nitwit). A hell of a problem came up in our meeting yesterday. if we look at BNPs in context. In the constructions we are investigating the distributional equivalent is NP. The other NPs of (24) are more problematic. then leaving out N2 is unproblematic: I detest that nitwit. the . I detest her nitwit of a husband. not to a kind of stone. c. In (24e) husband would seem to be the nominal that cannot be left out (cf. but equally well That plonker fixed the shower to the wrong wall. but because BNPs contain two nominal expressions. Similar considerations apply to (24c) and (24d). f. Consider the NPs in (24): (24) a. I consider Istanbul a wonder of a city. This seems to be closely related to the identification of the head as that constituent of which the construction as a whole is a kind.d:/96-1/aarts. either could be the head. which is not ungrammatical. but pragmatically odd. In (24a) clearly the nominal problem is obligatory as it would be odd to say ?*A hell came up in our meeting yesterday. I refuse to talk with that idiot of a prime minister. It is only a small step to drawing the conclusion that man must therefore be the obligatory element in this NP. a more complex picture emerges. which states that the head is the distributional equivalent of its mother. Here it would be odd to leave out wonder as we would end up with the sentence ??I consider Istanbul a city. This state of affairs is what prompted us to investigate the question of headedness in BNPs in the first place. That plonker of a plumber fixed the shower to the wrong wall. However. d. Thus we saw that the NP a rock-hard stone of a man refers to a kind of man. I told those fools of doctors a lie. simply because Istanbul is unquestionably a city. This criterion is therefore irrelevant. (24f) is a special case.

. is that N2 cannot occur as a `bare' nominal. respectively. then.15 All (24f) shows. not N1. the specifiers our and your before N1 unquestionably belong with N2: in (25a) and (25b) the `possessed' entities are not sod and jerk. but rather cleaner and brother. that jerk of a brother of yours Notice also the ungrammaticality of the following: (27) *our miserable sod of a cleaner of ours (28) *your jerk of a brother of yours These are bad because of the double possessive marking on N2. whereas in the literal cases either N1 or N2 can be left out. Consider the following examples (Napoli's 4±18): (25) a. then. specifically the leftmost specifier position inside them.16 These facts become particularly clear when we paraphrase (25a±b) as in (26a±b) (McCawley. Specifiers and modifiers in binominal NPs We turn now to some further properties of binominal NPs. others offer support for the contention that N2 is the head in BNPs. As we will see.c. our miserable sod of a cleaner b. See Austin (1980: 361) and also Napoli (1989: 212). 4. 15 This was pointed out to me by And Rosta. that miserable sod of a cleaner of ours b. that it is precisely in the idiomatic cases that N2 is obligatory.): (26) a. It appears. p. your jerk of a brother In these particular cases. Something similar seems to be the case in the following examples from Denison (forthcoming): 16 (i) these sort of ideas (ii) those sort of jokes Here the plural pre-N1 determiner clearly specifies N2. The conclusion we can draw from applying the Zwicky/Hudson tests is that while some are not applicable or inconclusive. who have both made this observation. this position must be construed to enter into a relationship with N2.3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp aarts ± binominal nps 131 same oddness occurs.d:/96-1/aarts. not N1.

Our analysis of BNPs should reflect this.17 Turning next to modifiers that precede N1 in BNPs. Consider (i) and (ii) below. because Det1 is definite. (1997: 854). because of the oddness of 17 Den Dikken cites interesting data from Dutch which confirm that Det2 does not specify N2. Royen (1947±54: III.3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp 132 transactions of the philological society 96.2:9) cites dat aap van een meisje (`that monkey of a girl') which is noteworthy because the neuter demonstrative pronoun dat can only go with the neuter N2 meisje. this oceanic barge of a woman (adapted from S. Conversely. N1 (aap) is a masculine noun. consider the following NPs: (30) a. shrinking in (30b) and curate's in (30c) modify N1. violet. i. which requires the demonstrative pronoun die. . taken from den Dikken (1995: 10). respectively. Given that Det1 specifies N2. and egg. some shrinking violet of a civil servant (adapted from S.10) b.1) c.1. which are possible for some speakers of Dutch. not N1. myself included: (i) ?(?) dat schandaal van een directeurssalarissen that outrage of a managers' salaries (ii) ?(?) die ramp van een getalscongruentiefeiten that disaster of a number agreement facts In these NPs plural N2 is preceded by the singular form of the indefinite article (een). 1998 Consider next (29) which contains an example of a demonstrative determiner that can be said to specify N2: (29) that clever little wretch of a Rebecca (Austin 1980: 361) This NP is especially interesting: despite the fact that the proper name Rebecca is preceded by an indefinite article. a curate's egg of a book (from a recent Language book notice) The most likely interpretation of the NPs in (30) is one in which the expressions oceanic in (30a). we should ensure that Det2 should not be taken to specify N2. It is pragmatically unlikely that oceanic modifies N2 in (30a). See also Haeseryn et al. Analysing (25) and (29) as in (4) above does not bring out the fact that Det1 specifies N2. The fact that the higher determiner belongs with N2 can also be seen from the impossibility of a combination like *a clever little wretch of a Rebecca (den Dikken 1995: 16) where indefinite Det1 a clashes with definite Rebecca.5. there would then occur a clash of definiteness between the higher and lower determiners in NPs like (29). barge. while Det2 is indefinite.d:/96-1/aarts. it refers to a definite person.e.

consider next the NP in (31): (31) another bitchy iceberg of a woman (S. However.d:/96-1/aarts. that clumsy oaf of a newscaster c. We must therefore assign a structure to BNPs that can accommodate this fact. at least outside a context. NPs like those in (32) are versatile from a communicative point of view. that oaf of a clumsy newscaster c. which is what one would expect. . just like curate's egg in (30c). Thus in (32b) there is no presupposition that the newscaster is clumsy.3) Here.3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp aarts ± binominal nps 133 the expression oceanic woman. (33a). What (31) shows. In (30) oceanic. then. as (33b±c) show: (33) a. Consider the NPs in (32) below: (32) a.1. not entirely ruled out for this AP to modify jewel. and in any case. as Austin (1980: 366) points out. shrinking and curate's can be regarded as adjuncts of N1. however. a jewel of a crescent-shaped island b. While in (30) and (31) it is clear which nominal constituents are being modified by expressions that immediately precede N1. clearly. is that we should allow for the possibility that modifiers that immediately precede N1 modify N2. cf. that maniac of a senseless driver18 18 The NPs in (33) are not exact paraphrases of those in (32). In (32b) and (32c) it is much more clearly the case that pre-N1 modifiers can modify either N1 or N2. there are BNPs in which this is not at all obvious. that senseless maniac of a driver In (32a) the most likely interpretation is for crescent-shaped to modify island. whereas in (33b) there is (James McCawley. The examples in (30) suggest that pre-N1 modifiers always modify N1. and we can therefore be sure that shrinking modifies violet and curate's modifies egg.c. p.). a crescent-shaped jewel of an island (from Austin 1980) b. It is. In (30b) it is difficult to imagine what sort of person `a shrinking civil servant' could refer to. in that language users can exploit the ambiguous status of the pre-N1 modifier. shrinking violet is a fixed expression. bitchy is pragmatically an inappropriate modifier of iceberg.

3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp 134 transactions of the philological society 96. a monster of a machine b. and are conclusive in themselves in rejecting it. The of-NP sequence in binominal NPs As we have seen. more specifically. a little slip of a girl d. he was [a fool ti] f. there is further evidence which suggests that the of-NP sequences in BNPs are not even constituents. First. these data militate against the N+PP analysis of BNPs. and hence cannot be complements of N1. as a complement to N1. *[of a lawyer]i. of a minister and of a mayor cannot also complement this nominal. However. which take only one internal argument. determines N2. she was [a little slip ti] g. Det1. *[a little slip ti] came in [of a girl]i . the other is that preN1 modifiers sometimes modify N1. *[that fool ti] showed up [of a lawyer]i i. consider the following data. are problematic for this view: (34) that destroyer of education of a minister (35) this manipulator of people of a mayor In these examples of education and of people are clearly complements of N1 in both cases (see section 3). repeated here. 1998 Two important facts come out of this discussion. *[a monster ti] was delivered [of a machine]i h.d:/96-1/aarts. but this being so. taken from Abney (1987: 297): (36) a. because destroyer and manipulator are two-place predicates. 5. one is that the highest specifier in BNPs. it was [a monster ti] e. in previous studies the of-NP sequence in BNPs has been analyzed as a constituent. As we have seen. a fool of a lawyer c. Data such as (20) and (21). sometimes N2. *[of a machine]i. *[of a girl]i.

In this connexion. but if a proper context is constructed the results are acceptable: (38) They didn't send us a copy of the exam REGULATIONS. Leftward movement of such strings is less good. [a reading ti] was organized [of contemporary poetry]i In (37d±f) the of-NP strings have moved to the right resulting in acceptable sentences. *a crook of unspeakable stupidity of a chairman Napoli uses the data in (iii) to prove that the PP of a chairman is a complement of the head noun crook. but [of the exam PAPER]i they did send us a copy ti. The second piece of evidence suggesting that of-strings in BNPs are not constituents.19 By contrast. However.3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp aarts ± binominal nps 135 The data in (36d±i) show that movement of of-NP sequences from BNPs. [a copy ti] was received [of the exam regulations]i e. in Napoli's analysis the structure of the NP a crook of a chairman of unspeakable stupidity would be as in (iv) below (irrelevant details omitted): (iv) [NP a [N' crook [PP of [NP a [N' chairman of unspeakable stupidity] ]] ]] Clearly. to the right and to the left. [a new publication ti] was issued [on Russia]i f. `Then I saw a tree of a sailor standing over there. consider also the following (from Napoli 1989: 220): (iii) a. of a chairman is not a constituent here. a reading of contemporary poetry d. a crook of a chairman of unspeakable stupidity b.d:/96-1/aarts. The ungrammaticality of (iiib) is then explained by observing that the head is divorced from its complement by the phrase of unspeakable stupidity. movement is not problematic for of-NP sequences which are uncontroversially complements to a head noun. . and cannot be moved for that reason. concerns coordination facts: notice that we 19 See also Paardekooper (1956: 93±94) who must have been one of the first linguists to make the observation that rightward movement of the `PP' is not possible. He offers the following data from Dutch: (i) *Heb je dat niet altijd een schat gevonden van een kind? Have you that not always a treasure found of a child? `Haven't you always found her/him a treasure of a child?' (ii) *Toen zag ik daar toch een boom staan van een matroos. a copy of the exam regulations b. a new publication on Russia c. Then saw I there PTCL a tree stand of a sailor. Compare the phrases in (37a±c) with those in (37d±f): (37) a. is not possible.' See also Klein (1977: 33±39).

It involves the claim that in each case the trace left behind by the moved PPs is not properly governed. consider (41) and (42):20 (41) [The exam paper]i. Abney analyzes the BNPs in (36) as involving a PP complement. 1998 cannot coordinate two of-NP strings in BNPs. Notice that in AP+N sequences it is also not possible for an adjectival modifier to precede an extraction site:21 (43) a. Thirdly. they sent us a copy of ti. regular complements of of can be topicalized.d:/96-1/aarts. Abney's explanation is unsatisfactory. .3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp 136 transactions of the philological society 96. we saw a hellish ti. His explanation of the starred data in (36) is a stipulative theory-internal one. We conclude that of-NP sequences in BNPs have a different status from of-NP sequences in NPs involving regular nominal complements. the trace violates the Empty Category Principle. b. We saw a hellish movie. because the question arises of what the motivation is for analyzing 20 21 Pointed out to me by James McCawley. but Det2±N2 sequences cannot be moved in this way. stranding the preposition. which he claims is not assigned a thematic role by N1. but because it does not assign a Y-role. Such coordination is not problematic for straightforward PP complements. See also den Dikken (1995: 8). as the following example shows: (39) *She called him a bastard [of a husband] and [of a father]. These facts constitute strong support for an analysis along the lines of (5) where hell of a is treated as a complex modifier parallel to hellish. fn 7). The most immediate theta governor is N1. and because we cannot have antecedent government either. (42) *[An exam]i. *[movie]i. as expected: (40) They sent us a copy [of the exam paper] and [of the exam regulations]. we had to take a bitch of ti. Evidently. Pointed out in den Dikken (1995: 8.

the problem is a hell that plumber is a plonker her husband is a nitwit those doctors are fools the city is a wonder that prime minister is an idiot that human being is a rotten little fig that woman is a colourless mouse Den Dikken accounts for this observation by hypothesizing that in BNPs the indefinite article preceding N2 underlyingly belongs to N1. Movement accounts of BNPs Recently it has been proposed in the generative literature to deal with the peculiarities of BNPs in terms of movement. notice that the NPs in (1) can be paraphrased as in (44): (44) a. e. In an ingenious analysis he proposes that the BNP a hell of a problem is derived as follows: 22 The same conclusion is drawn by Akmajian and Lehrer (1976) and Selkirk (1977) in discussing partitive NPs such as a number of stories: the of-phrase in such constructions is not a constituent because it cannot be moved: (i) *A number soon appeared of stories about Watergate. but gets separated from it through movement. b. g. Den Dikken (1995) has observed that the reference of N1 is always indefinite. if N1 does not assign a thematic role to it. (Akmajian and Lehrer 1976: 398) In Klein's 1977 analysis of BNPs the of-NP string is also not a constituent. d. c. Instead.d:/96-1/aarts. h. A far more plausible way to interpret the data in (36)±(42) is to say that the PPs cannot move because they are not constituents. the preposition is rather unsatisfactorily analyzed as standing on its own. .3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp aarts ± binominal nps 137 the PP as a complement in the first place. f. In this connection.22 6.

adjoins to the functional head F. moves up to the specifier position of FP. then adjoins to the moved head of the SC. and . the discussion of (31) above). For a definite BNP like that crazy crackpot of a caretaker.d:/96-1/aarts. The indefinite article a. regarded as the head of NumP. Crucially. while the remainder of NumP. Agr. the nominal hell. den Dikken regards of in this process of `Predicate Inversion' (PI) as a `nominal copula' (1995: 8) spelled out in F. five movements are required: movement movement movement movement of of of of Agr to F the indefinite article a preceding N2 to F NumP to Spec-of-FP AgrP to Spec-of-DP at LF via Spec-of-AP The stopover in Spec-of-AP effects agreement between Det1 and N2. which contains a pre-N1 modifier that really modifies N2 (cf. The head of the SC. and whose predicate is the NumP a hell.3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp 138 transactions of the philological society 96. 1998 (45) DP Det F' F' NumPi F Agr F Agrk a [tj hell]i of AgrP NP Numj a problem Agr' Agr NumP tk ti (den Dikken 1995:11) The nominal problem is the subject of a small clause (SC) whose maximal projection is AgrP.

We have seen that 23 Cf. the position that NumP trancends (Spec-ofAgrP). also Milner's (1973/1978) account. In den Dikken's analysis we might wonder what exactly the nature is of the functional head F and its maximal projection FP. For Kayne there are difficulties of a different nature. as expounded in Ruwet (1982: 240). Another account based on movement is Kayne (1994: 106). Kayne analyses the phrases in (46a) and (47a) as in (46b) and (47b) (1994: 106): (46) a. the de+IP sequences in (46) and (47) are constituents. It is also not obvious what licenses all the posited displacements.d:/96-1/aarts. lecture on `Prepositions as complementizers'. He suggests that F is an aspectual head. which is a DP-internal adjectival PI-construction).24 There are problems. School of Oriental and African Studies. though one of them. 1995: 184±185) for details. . London. 24 And for nothing to `mediate' between the subject and predicate underlyingly (Kayne. that [D/PP [NP idiotj] [of [IP a doctor I0 [e]j . First. see Chomsky (1993: 17. To bring this situation about the head Agr must be moved to F. but does not work out the details. . It projects into a prepositional determiner phrase D/PP (1994: 102).23 Presumably. however. July 1995). with movement accounts of BNPs. but only on theory-internal grounds: according to the tenets of the version of the minimalist framework that den Dikken adopts. . .). that idiot of a doctor b. French un droÃle de type. for whom of is a `prepositional determiner' (D/P) which is `comparable to a prepositional complementizer' (ibid. cet [D/PP [NP imbeÂcilej] [de [IP Jean I0 [e]j .g. and the position it lands in must be made `equidistant' from the position inside the SC that NumP moves from. where N1 is base-generated in Spec-of-NP. namely movement of the head of the SC (Agr) to F is motivated. the rationale for both movement analyses is the desire to have the subject expression precede the predicate at a deeper level of representation. . (47) a. Like den Dikken. cet imbeÂcile de Jean b.3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp aarts ± binominal nps 139 he assimilates his analytical account of the BNP construction to other PI structures (including structures like e. Kayne posits an underlying Small Clause whose predicate is preposed into Spec-of-D/PP.

The upshot of all this is that a transformational account like Kayne's for predicational modifier-head sequences in NPs of the type a hot summer is excluded because no single rule can account for all the permitted instances. i. the relative is not distant geographically.d:/96-1/aarts. Thus.). adjective phrase. A second objection against Kayne's analysis concerns NPs like (48): (48) a hot summer Notice that here hot is predicated of summer. 1998 this cannot be correct for various reasons. there is nothing to stop us from positing a derivation of the NP in (48) along the following lines: (49) a [ [hotj] [SC summer [e]j] And indeed. In Bolinger's (1967) terms.3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp 140 transactions of the philological society 96. distant is then a reference-modifying. Such APs cannot occur in predicative position salva veritate: (51) *the relative is distant For this reason a derivation like (49) is ruled out. given that relative cannot function as a subject expression in a clause which has distant as its predicate. and in BNPs in general. and because changes in meaning occur in certain derivations. not a referentmodifying. my shame was real). under one reading. As there is a predication relation between summer and hot (`the summer is hot'). while being permitted in (48). In the . we understand the AP distant to be used metaphorically.g. in the NP a real shame the meaning of real differs from the meaning of this adjective in predicative position (e. The burden is on Kayne to explain why predicate preposing is blocked in the case of AP-head sequences like (50). In other modifier-head cases an AP in attributive position can have a meaning that differs radically from the meaning of that same AP in predicative position. but distant in the abstract network of family relations. Problems arise for NPs like the following: (50) a distant relative Here. such a derivation is exactly what Kayne proposes for an NP like the yellow book (1994: 101). in French phrases like un droÃle de type. discussed by den Dikken (1995: 23f.e.

3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp aarts ± binominal nps 141 absence of such an explanation. which strongly suggests that they are not constituents. A synthesis We are now in a position to synthesize the evidence of the last few sections and to take a fresh look at BNPs. which had to be abandoned in favour of a lexical account. pre-N1 modifiers can modify N1 or N2. (52) NP Spec N' MP N' N your brat of a brother 2 Apart from the fact that N is the head of the NP. not N1 (brat). If it is the case. that yellow in a yellow book is a different kind of adjective from distant in a distant relative. that of-phrases in BNPs cannot be taken to be complements of N1. for similar reasons. and. that they are not moveable. we have been led to conclude that N2 is the head in binominal NPs. as has been suggested to me by an anonymous referee. in addition. We have also seen. this analysis also bears out the fact that the determiner your determines N2 (brother). As we have seen. on the basis of a variety of empirical data. Furthermore. taking your brat of a brother as an example. namely the fact that a nominalization transformation could not apply across-the-board.d:/96-1/aarts. for example (20) and (21). then it is incumbent on Kayne to elucidate this. I will briefly return below to the string brat of a. and that the highest specifier position modifies N2. a movement account like Kayne's for (46a) and (47a) is seriously undermined. rather than N1. . These facts lead to an analysis along the lines of (52) for BNPs. provisionally labeled `MP' 25 This situation is reminiscent of early generative proposals to handle nominalizations transformationally.25 7. and that the of -N2 sequence is not a constituent.

a number of problems b. The structure in (52) is reminiscent of the analytical proposals made in Akmajian and Lehrer (1976: 399). NP QP N' N QP NP a number problems of c. First I will deal with some matters concerning the interpretation of BNPs.d:/96-1/aarts. NP N'' N' NP Det N'' N' a N N number (of) problems . respectively. and present further evidence for (52).3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp 142 transactions of the philological society 96. are proposed for NPs of the type in (53a) (a number of problems): (53) a. where analyses like (53b) and (53c). 1998 (Modifier Phrase). and in Selkirk (1977: 313).

not to analyze it as a PP constituent. Now. The only difference between these sentences is the presence in (54) of the determiner those. (55) She bought him [NP [dozens of] daffodils]. simply because the latter is not an NP. The reason for this is that (57b) incorrectly allows a reading in which the relative clause can refer to football hooligans. namely the overall NP dozens of those daffodils and the NP those daffodils. by contrast. If this is correct. In (55) there is only one NP. but only a noun. the relative clause can only be related to the NP dozens of daffodils as a whole. by contrast. under another reading they were among the daffodils referred to by the phrase those daffodils. In (55). Selkirk analyzes the NP dozens of those daffodils as involving a head noun dozens with a PP complement of those daffodils. and this is one of the main reasons for Akmajian and Lehrer. and for Selkirk. Selkirk observes that the relative clause in (54) can be related to both NPs. The relative clause can here be related only to the NP many idiots of football hooligans as a whole. is analyzed with daffodils as head (cf.g. two of whom were English. namely dozens of those daffodils and those daffodils. (53c) ). e. not just to daffodils. yielding two interpretations. She discusses the sentences in (54) and (55) (1977: 307): (54) She bought him [NP dozens [PP of [NP those daffodils] ] ]. headed by daffodils. namely dozens of daffodils. only two of which were faded. *a number emerged of problems). Selkirk presents further evidence for her analysis in (53c). She argues as follows: in (54) there are two NPs. then a structure like (57a) is to be preferred over a structure like (57b). Under one reading the two faded daffodils were among the dozens of daffodils she bought. Consider now (56): (56) We saw many idiots of football hooligans.3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp aarts ± binominal nps 143 As in BNPs. the latter a prepositional complement. only two of which were faded. assuming an analysis like (53c).d:/96-1/aarts. not to football hooligans alone. (see also footnote 22). in (53a) too we cannot move the string of problems (cf. The NP dozens of daffodils. .

d:/96-1/aarts. NP Spec N' MP N' NP N' N many idiots of football hooligans b. NP Spec N' N many idiots PP P NP of football hooligans The evidence we have looked at so far in favour of an analysis of BNPs along the lines of (52) is not exhaustive: there are three additional types of evidence. consider again the BNP in (32b). 1998 (57) a. First. repeated here for convenience: .3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp 144 transactions of the philological society 96.

or N2 (`the clumsy newscaster is an oaf'). This difference in interpretation can be represented by two different tree structures.d:/96-1/aarts.3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp aarts ± binominal nps 145 (58) that clumsy oaf of a newscaster We saw earlier that (58) is ambiguous because the modifier that precedes N1 can be interpreted as modifying either N1 (`the newscaster is a clumsy oaf'). namely (59) and (60): (59) NP Spec N' MP N' N that (60) clumsy oaf of a newscaster NP Spec N' N' AP MP N' N' N that clumsy oaf of a newscaster .

1998 In (59) clumsy modifies oaf. as is shown by (62)± (64) below: (62) That clown of a milkman vs. The interpretation represented by (60) cannot thus be accounted for in a phrase marker. to be interpreted as `I live in a house which is too big'. That oafish bus conductor (64) This fool of a pilot vs. because the only structure available is (61).3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp 146 transactions of the philological society 96. 26 See also McCawley's comments re (15a). The native speakers I asked about this all rejected this view. whereas in (60) it modifies newscaster. Notice that a phrase like a foolish doctor does not entail that the doctor is foolish. . there is a close parallel interpretation between the sequence N1 of a in BNPs and AP modifiers. (61) NP Spec N' N' AP that clumsy N PP oaf of a newscaster Secondly. This foolish pilot26 27 In this connexion. The N+PP analysis cannot account for the ambiguity of (58). That clownish milkman (63) An oaf of a bus conductor vs.d:/96-1/aarts. recall that in section 3 above I discussed the sentences in (65) and (66): (65) I consider Istanbul a wonder of a city. but it has been suggested to me by an anonymous referee that a fool of a doctor does. 27 Consider also the string too big (of) a house in the sentence I live in too big (of) a house (Abney 1987: 325). and the parallel ungrammaticality of (42) and (43b). quoted above. where the pre-N1 modifier modifies N1.

results in the same pragmatic deviance can be explained if we analyze both as pre-N2 modifiers. b. Randolph Quirk tells me that in AmE one can say (i). where the PP is a complement of N. (ii) *She was making a very hell of a problem. but not (ii): (i) She was making the very hell of a problem. cf. Ulysses is a tough book for freshmen to read. Treating N1 of a in BNPs on a par with AP modifiers also accounts for the fact that for some speakers N1 can be preceded by intensifiers.3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp aarts ± binominal nps 147 (66) I consider Istanbul a wonderful city. which appears to be more acceptable than (i) in BrE: (iii) Dad. The fact that omitting wonder of a and wonderful in (65) and (66). We saw that leaving out wonder of a in (65) or wonderful in (66) is pragmatically odd: ??I consider Istanbul a city. 28 This was pointed out to me by John Payne. respectively. Ulysses is a bitch of a book for freshmen to read. o pobre do Manuel (the poor of-the Manuel `poor Manuel'). Consider next (iii). also pointed out by Quirk.d:/96-1/aarts. compare (62)±(64) with Portuguese a estupida da Flora (the stupid of-the Flora `that stupid Flora'). Consider next the following data. The oddness is the result of the fact that our world knowledge tells us that Istanbul is without doubt a city. For McCawley (67b) is an example of a noun (bitch) mimicking adjective behaviour. I'm in the very devil of a hole! It could be the case that the very that we have in these constructions is the very that we have in phrases like his very soul. because the burden will be on them to explain why such strings do not otherwise occur in tough constructions: (68) *Ethnic cleansing is [a violation of human rights] for the UN to combat. which are typically modifiers of adjectives. that very wonder of a city. . VII: 342).28 In this connexion. cited in Jespersen (1909±49. Therefore stating that you consider it a city is strange. Example (67b) is a problem for linguists who claim that bitch of a book is a regular N+PP construction. but notice that we can also employ these data to show that both tough and bitch of a have the same (modifier) function. from McCawley (1987: 461): (67) a. Compare also the most devil of a predicament. as James McCawley has pointed out to me.

Notice that we can phonologically contract the words hell. In general. a one-to-one matching of a particular meaning with a particular structure is desirable. such that /hel@v@/ results. in view of the currency of such phrases as sunnuva bitch (or sunavabitch). see also Ruwet 1982: 251±252). in this case we would not want to argue for an analysis where son of a is taken to modify bitch. Clearly.d:/96-1/aarts. une droÃle d'ideÂe (a funny of idea `a funny idea') (Littre 1956±58: 1307. of and a. the indirect relationship between syntactic structure and phonological/intonational structure makes predictions about the former difficult. Of interest in these cases is the fact that adjectives occupy the N1 position. Furthermore. or French son perfide d'eÂpoux (her treacherous of husband `her treacherous husband'). el pobre de Benito (the poor of Benito `poor Benito') (Ramsey 1962: 57). 1998 Spanish la tonta de Juana (the silly of Juana `that silly Juana'). . This contraction is so common that it has an orthographical reflex in the spelling helluva. this fact should perhaps be regarded with some suspicion. A final piece of data that might be put forward to support the analysis of BNPs presented here concerns the most common type of BNP. and the analysis of BNPs proposed here treats both N1 of a sequences and APs as modifiers occurring in structurally the same position. However. that involving the sequence hell of a.3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp 148 transactions of the philological society 96. A residual issue is the nature of the string brat of a in (52) ± repeated below as (69) ± which I labelled `MP'.

but clearly it defies a straightforward phrase-structure treatment.3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp aarts ± binominal nps (69) 149 NP Spec N' N' MP N that brother brat of a As we have seen. brat of a must be a unit of some sort. This is a significant point to which I will return below.d:/96-1/aarts. In the mean time I propose the following refinement: (70) NP Spec N' NP N' NP Det N' N your φ indef brat N of a brother .

(21) and (30) above. e. and this concerns the fact that in many BNPs the of a sequence seems to have become dysfunctional. f. Similarly.29 However. The string of a is Chomsky-adjoined to it. g. h. this does not seem to constitute evidence against contraction. also den Dikken 1995: 9±10): (71) a. 29 McCawley (p.) disputes that a contraction like some fool of a policeman 4 some fool policeman is significant.d:/96-1/aarts. That brat is indeed a regular nominal head becomes clear by considering data such as (20). and instead of her nitwit of a husband we can say her nitwit husband (see also Quirk et al. For example. for a simpleton of a judge we can also have a simpleton judge. the NPs in (1) can be paraphrased as in (44). 1998 In this tree diagram brat is analyzed as a Noun Phrase involving a zero indefinite determiner. and can often be left out altogether. d.3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp 150 transactions of the philological society 96. This can be shown by paraphrasing your brat of a brother as your brother is a brat (Austin 1980: 359). Positing a zero indefinite determiner before N1 is motivated by the fact that this noun is always interpreted as nonreferential and indefinite. which show that N1 is unexceptional in its complement-taking and modificational properties. For example. which signals that phrases that contain it should receive an evaluative reading. c. For some BNPs this process is unlikely to take place.c. However. the phrase a barge woman is not equivalent to a barge of a woman. there do seem to be restrictions on of a-deletion. 1985: 1285 who discuss the contraction of some fool of a policeman to some fool policeman). And Den Dikken (1995: 12) suggests that some fool policeman could be a compound or appositive construction. In these cases of a seems to function as a pragmatic marker. repeated here as (71) (cf. . since the plural these fool policemen is also possible. There is some evidence for treating this string as a unit. b. the problem is a hell that plumber is a plonker her husband is a nitwit those doctors are fools the city is a wonder that prime minister is an idiot that human being is a rotten little fig that woman is a colourless mouse I will regard of a as a syncategorematic formation in adjunct position.

notes that apart from ein Schurke von einem Bedienten (`a villain of a servant') with von governing dative case. forthcoming). In the latter cases it makes sense to analyse the string sort of as a modifying phrase. it seems that the N1+PP analysis. BNPs and the N+PP analysis: some speculations So far I have argued for a treatment along the lines of (69) for the NP your brat of a brother. somehow plays a role in the way we . such as fool of a policeman. By contrast. and removal of the of a sequence seems to result in semantic indeterminacy: a barge woman could mean anything from `a woman who lives on a barge' to `a woman who rents out barges' and so on. I will attempt to explain in the next section how the MP in (69) came to be there. and what its function is. and also NPs like these sort of ideas and those sort of jokes (mentioned in note 16. constituency and configurational possibilities. It seems that non-literal BNPs resist deletion of the of a-sequence. The analysis in (69) is open to the reasonable objection that brat of a is an atypical modifier. It would appear that in this last example von has lost its case governing properties. Van Caspel (1970: 286). citing other sources.3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp aarts ± binominal nps 151 Notice that the latter is evaluative and metaphorical. We were inexorably led to this analysis by a number of considerations based on headedness. von in German BNPs seems to have gone this way. German can also have ein alter Schelm von Lohnbedienter (`an old villain of a waged servant'. from Heine) without an article before N2 and with nominative case on N2. However. 8. there is some independent evidence for structures like (69) which concerns NPs like a number of problems. as well as on the interpretation of determiners and modifiers. precisely because this would result in the loss of metaphorical meaning. compression is unproblematic because they do not lose their evaluative feel when of a is deleted. given the fact that the plural determiners these and those cannot be associated with the singular noun sort. discussed above. Thus. as shown in (4). from Denison. for literal BNPs.d:/96-1/aarts. There is some evidence that the counterparts of of in BNPs in languages other than English have also lost their original function. However.

while N2 is plural. What follows is speculative. In this sentence the adjective head innocent appears to be modified by far from. for example. Notice that crucially this account presupposes that N1+PP was available at some point in the history of English. which can be pronounced as /hel@v@/. Of floures such a wonder syhte (1393. Kajita (1977) has argued for a dynamic model of syntax where certain syntactic groupings are rearranged. One example given by him is the following: (73) Those people are far from innocent. One possibility is that (69) is the result of a process of grammaticalization. This resulted in realignment of of a with N1. but evidence for it is hard to come by. The question is `how'? In this section I will look at two possible answers. which may suggest that at the time it was a regular PP. I did find the following in Kuhn (1980: 76): (72) Out of his sepulture Ther sprong. However. Hopper and Traugott 1993: xv). . namely idiomatization. here regarded as the development of grammatical function ± in this case a modifier ± from lexical elements. or simply some sort of genitival construction. . this example is far from straightforward. The grammaticalization hypothesis is attractive. by . We have already seen that the most commonly occurring BNP is the type that involves the sequence hell of a. given that N1 is singular in this string. or from constructions (see.d:/96-1/aarts. It is not clear whether a wonder syhte of floures is in fact a BNP. 1991: 2. In order to account for this Kajita proposes a rule of syntactic reinterpretation such that (74) is reanalyzed as in (75). Heine et al. BNPs are certainly characterized by what many linguists agree is one of the hallmarks of grammaticalization. 1998 process BNPs. Perhaps a more plausible way of tackling the problem at hand is to discuss BNPs in terms of processing. Gower. Confessio Amantis) Within the italicised portion of this Middle English sentence the ofsequence has been topicalised. The trigger for this grammaticalization process could be the fact that N1 has at some point in time lost its ability to assign a theta role. Another feature of grammaticalization is phonological reduction (Hopper and Traugott 1993: 64±65). The latter option is more plausible.3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp 152 transactions of the philological society 96.

and one in which Y is unambiguously the head. The motivating factor for reinterpretation is the existence of what Kajita calls a `head-nonhead conflict' (i. modifying a verbal projection: (77) It far from exhausts the relevant considerations. for example (78) and (79) below: (78) [AP far [PP from the city] ] (79) [AP [Adv hardly] [Adj innocent] ] (=(76) ) Assume. and those that follow are taken from Kajita's paper): (74) [AP [Adj far] [PP from innocent] ] (75) [AP [Adv far from] [Adj innocent] ] (76) [AP [Adv hardly] [Adj innocent] ] The string far from is reinterpreted as an adverb. In Kajita's terms we might speculate that in BNPs there is also a head-nonhead conflict such that an NP like (80) is reinterpreted as in (81). as in the phrase under investigation. a conflict between innocent and far). as in the .3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:42 ± disk/mp aarts ± binominal nps 153 analogy to (76) (these data.e. where far from appears in a distinct syntactic environment. Assuming that processing takes place linearly in a left-to-right fashion. Suppose that the grammar generates two structures. Kajita's analysis is supported by such data as (77). one in which X is unambiguously the head.d:/96-1/aarts. by analogy to (82): (80) [NP a [fool [PP of a solicitor] ] (81) [NP a [fool of a] solicitor] (82) [NP a [foolish] solicitor] We could formalise Kajita's idea of a head-nonhead conflict by looking at BNPs in the context of a theory of parsing. far from innocent. This is understood in the following way. We then have a case of head-nonhead conflict which is resolved through a process of syntactic reinterpretation. furthermore that there are situations where headedness is not immediately determinable.

but can be attached to it in accordance with the phrase structure rules of the grammar. so unless reanalysis takes place the PP remains thematically `in the air'. My hypothesis is that at this point. merely that the grammar initially erroneously 30 GivoÂn (1993: 267) also talks of Reanalysis. and hence should take longer to process. does not assume that the N1+PP analysis in (4) is available at any time. if a word of category C uniquely determines M (MNC). but suggests that all the lexical material before N1. would initially be parsed as in (84): (83) Det1 N1 of Det2 N2 (84) [NP Det [N' N1 [PP of a N2] ] ] Such a parsing procedure would conform to Hawkins' principles of Mother Node Construction (MNC) and Immediate Constituent Attachment (ICA). as contrasted with (84). headed by N1. . when the N2head is reached. This account should in principle be testable: (85) is structurally more complex than (84). unlike the grammaticalization hypothesis. after which of would cause a PP to be formed deriving the N+PP complement structure of (84). Clearly. is reanalyzed as a complex modifier.30 This purely synchronic parsing account. the sequence in (3). repeated here as (83). Essentially. then it must be attached as quickly as possible (ICA) (1995: 62). An experiment could be devised that measures the time it takes to parse and interpret structures like (85).3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:43 ± disk/mp 154 transactions of the philological society 96. backtracking ensues and the structure is reanalyzed as in (85): (85) [NP Det [N' [MP N-of a] [N' N] ] ] Backtracking occurs because the structure in (84) is semantically uninterpretable: as we have seen. including the determiner. and that if an immediate constituent does not itself form a mother node M. 1998 theory of Hawkins (1995). In (83) Det1 would instruct the parser to construct an NP over it.d:/96-1/aarts. especially if backtracking is indeed necessary for correct interpretation. (83) is a garden path structure. that is. which assert that in the left-to-right parsing of a sentence a mother node M must be constructed over a category C. such an experiment cannot be conducted within the bounds of this paper and will be left as a topic for further research. N1 does not assign a thematic role to the PP.

or of shifts in patterns taking place diachronically or synchronically.aarts@ucl. this processing account raises the question why the grammar makes available garden path BNP structures. among the fundamental taxa of linguistic analysis. 1997. these sort of stories etc. .d:/96-1/aarts. I will not attempt to answer this question here. English Syntax and Argumentation. Abney.g.).uk References Aarts. Of course.'s desiderata for the study of sentence structure (1991: 233): What is required . in that it also applies to some of the other constructions we looked at (e. 1986. in which there may be a tension between desiring to arrange elements rigidly into categories and constituents and recognising the possibility of unexpected configurations. a number of books. the main aim of this paper with regard to the synchronic analysis of BNPs has been to show that N2 is the head (see (69) ) and N1 performs a modifying function. The results of this study endorse Heine et al. then. Paper presented at the 1986 Girona GLOW conference. . Bas.ac. . because it has a much wider scope. `Functional elements and licensing'. Whatever the exact provenance of English BNPs.3d ± 31/3/98 ± 17:43 ± disk/mp aarts ± binominal nps 155 assigns this structure to BNPs. This has an important consequence for the way in which syntax should be viewed. discrete units such as word classes or constituent types but rather includes dynamic entities such as chains of grammaticalization as well as other types of continua. Department of English Language and Literature University College London Gower Street London WC1E 6BT e-mail: b. Steven. is a framework for linguistic descriptions that is not confined to static. on which future (psycholinguistic) research will have to shed more light. Syntax. should be seen as a flexible system. London: Macmillan.

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