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Determiner phrase in a language without determiners (with apologies to Jim Huang 1982)

    • Published online: 01 March 1998

Serbo-Croatian (SC) is a language without articles, probably the only category of speech that has uncontroversially and crosslinguistically been argued to occupy the head of the Determiner Phrase (DP). This paper argues that even SC, a language without articles, projects a DP on top of NPs in argument positions. The strongest evidence comes from noun/pronoun asymmetries, where the pronouns precede, and nouns follow, certain intensifying adjectives. Assuming that these adjectives occupy a fixed syntactic position, the conclusion must be that pronouns occupy a structurally higher position than nouns. Since the evidence of such asymmetries is extremely sparse in the data, the children presumably cannot rely on them to conclude that there is a DP in SC. Since there are also no articles in SC, children have virtually no evidence of the existence of a DP. It must be then that the projection of DPs is a universal property, independent of the presence of the lexical item which solely occupies the head of the projection. Morphological properties of SC pronouns and adjectives actually support the existence of more than just one functional projection in the noun phrase in SC. The paper derives Greenberg's universal 43, which states that pronouns are more likely to have (gender) morphology than nouns, by arguing that pronouns move (overtly) through more functional projections than nouns, and ultimately land in D.

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Author's address: English Department, Wayne State University, 51 W. Warren, Detroit, MI 48202, U.S.A. E-mail:
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I am deeply indebted to the inspiring linguist circle gathered in Venice in the spring of 1995, especially to Anna Cardinaletti, Guglielmo Cinque, Giulina Guisti, Richard Kayne, Giuseppe Longobardi and Laura Bruge, who actually convinced me, unknowingly and unintentionally, perhaps, that there is a DP even in Serbo-Croatian. I am grateful to Martha Ratliff for offering insights on the historical and typological perspectives. The two anonymous JL referees provided me with most valuable comments.
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Journal of Linguistics
  • ISSN: 0022-2267
  • EISSN: 1469-7742
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-linguistics
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