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Jan Rijkhoff

Order in the noun phrase of the languages of Europe

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  • Section for Linguistics
The current investigation of the word order characteristics of the constituents of the noun phrase (NP) differs from other typological investigations of the issue in two major respects. First of all, it does not take for granted the existence of NPs or of the various NP-internal categories in a language. And secondly it deals with the sequencing of the modifiers of the noun not only relative to the noun but also relative to each other. Languages do not all make use of the same forms, distinctions, and constructions. Regarding NPs, for instance, many languages lack articles, numerals, sortal classifiers, a distinct class of adjectives, and/or adnominal relative clauses. It has been argued that certain languages even lack a distinct class of nouns; needless to say that if a language has no nouns, it does not have lexical NPs either. But even if a language has nouns, this does not necessarily mean that it also has noun phrases: it may use a string of appositives rather than a proper, integral NP. The existence of NPs and the presence of various NP-internal categories is not an issue that has received considerable attention in typological word order studies. Yet how can we hope to establish the cross-linguistic word order characteristics of NPs and determine how or whether the languages of Europe differ in this respect, if we do not address the question of the actual existence of the categories whose word order properties we are investigating? Thus, before we consider the internal syntax of NPs in a representative sample of European languages (Appendix 1), we first need to devote some attention to such basic questions as: Do all European languages have nouns? Do all European languages have proper NPs? Which NP-internal modifiers are attested in the European languages, and which are absent? These issues, as well the NP-internal word order patterns in European languages, will be discussed against the background of data from a representative sample of the languages of the world (Appendix 2). The relevance of such a comparison rests in the fact that many morpho-syntactic features which are attested in the European languages (as well as their distribution and frequency) can only be appreciated in the context of similar data from (a sample of) languages spoken in the rest of the world. Section 2 presents a cross-linguistic classification of (first order) nouns and investigates which nominal subcategories are attested in the languages of Europe. The results indicate that only four of the six basic nominal subcategories are actually attested in the languages of geographical Europe. Section 3 briefly discusses a universal model for the representation of the underlying structure of (integral) NPs and serves as a background for the discussion of the general principles of constituent order to be introduced in the next section. Section 4, then, is concerned with three (semantically motivated) ordering principles which determine the unmarked order of constituents in the NP. It is argued that ordering patterns other than those defined by these three principles either involve modifiers that are not part of the integral NP (appositional modifiers), or are the result of the influence of more pragmatically motivated forces. Here I will restrict myself to NP-internal matters only; for instance, I will not discuss theories according to which pre- or postnominal placement of (certain) noun modifiers is a function of the order of Object and Verb (Greenberg 1966; Hawkins 1983; Dryer 1988, 1992, this volume; Rijkhoff 1990a). Sections 5-7 compare the NP-internal ordering patterns as they occur in [i] the languages of Europe and [ii] the languages of the world, and discuss these patterns in the light of the ordering principles introduced in section 4. Section 8 is concerned with the position of embedded modifiers (such as possessor NPs and relative clauses) relative to other noun modifiers in the language of Europe and the last section is a general characterization of the languages of Europe as compared to the languages of the world.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationConstituent Order in the Languages of Europe
EditorsAnna Siewierska
Number of pages62
Place of publicationBerlin/New York
PublisherDe Gruyter Mouton
Publication year1998
ISBN (print)3-11-015152-9
Publication statusPublished - 1998
SeriesEmpirical Approaches to Language Typology 20-1

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