We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE
Determiners: Universals and variation (review)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by
Jila Ghomeshi, Ileana Paul, and Martina Wiltschko, eds. 2011. Determiners: Universals and variation. In the series Linguistik Aktuell 147. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. Pp. 247. US $149.00 (hardcover).

The authors whose papers are included in this collection seek to contribute to answering one of the core questions in modern linguistic theory:Which properties of languages are universal, and which are variable? The main goal of the volume is to identify, based on recent formal and interpretational work, the range of variation in morphological, syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic properties of determiners across a relatively broad range of typologically and geographically unrelated languages. The proposed analysis and theorizing recognize the necessity of separating word class determiners from the syntactic position which hosts the items so classified, namely D, since recent investigations have shown that membership in the word class determiner is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for occupying the syntactic position D. Moreover, determiners not only play a role in the creation of arguments, but they are also associated with the feature of definiteness. The book is divided into three parts, each one addressing one of the following core issues: (i) characterization of the category of Det and of the features it comprises, (ii) function of determiners, and (iii) relation between determiners and the notion of definiteness. Based on the most recent theoretical proposals and interpretations, much of language variation is argued to stem from differences in the properties of features associated with functional heads. Determiners are assumed to occupy a position fixed by the hierarchy of functional categories, allowing for the dissociation between the word class (determiner) and the syntactic position its members occupy (D). In other words, there is no one-to-one correspondence between them, and therefore word classes other than determiners should be able to occupy D (e.g., pronouns, proper names, demonstratives).

Although the papers in this collection generally support the idea that features can bundle together in different ways in different languages, the notion of definiteness and its relation with determiners and D are treated as central, apparently because the authors are inclined to believe that any determiner has two key syntactic and semantic roles: it is the head of a noun phrase and the indicator of definiteness. Therefore, the relation between determiners and the [End Page 128] realization of other features, primitive or derived, such as referentiality, specificity, genericity and so on, is given little or no attention throughout the book. The fact is that featural interpretations vary (among linguists) and featural saliency is different in different languages. For example, while specificity is more salient in Ukrainian, definiteness seems to be more salient in English. One could say that just as accusativity is a universally prototypical or canonical marking of internal arguments, definiteness could be a canonical (but not a defining) property of determiners. This generalization allows for the existence of other features equally realisable on different determiners crosslinguistically. In this perspective, referentiality, and argument-hood could be associated with DP only.

In Part 1 Wiltschko investigates the morphosyntactic features that make up determiners (i.e., features expressed on D) in Blackfoot, German, and Halkomelem, without addressing the categorical identity of D. Definiteness is not among these features, though. It is shown that the formal properties of these features differ significantly in a way which is independent of feature content. Some features, associated with a binary opposition, enter into an obligatory contrast while others do not, being monovalent. The first type of features corresponds to a head-complement relation. The second set of features is either present or absent. In the latter case, the determiner is simply not specified for this feature.

Determiners in the context of proper names are the subject of investigation offered by Ghomeshi and Massam. They take the DP approach (as opposed to the NP approach) towards names appearing with an overt determiner, given that in some languages names can be preceded by regular determiners and can also function as predicates. This analysis supports the idea that there is indeed a phonologically empty D specified for the feature [proper] in languages in which names are not preceded by an overt determiner and that determiners...