Nominal Modification

The Research Training Group on Nominal Modification at the Goethe University Frankfurt

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Colloquium: Ruby Sleeman

On Tuesday, November 27th at 4pm in SH 3.104, Ruby Sleeman will be giving a talk in the GK colloquium.
Title: Prenominal modifiers in Dutch: ordinals and superlatives
Abstract: Ordinal numbers are an interesting topic from the point of view of several different fields of linguistic study: the morphology of Dutch and German ordinals (and English first) points to a potential relation to superlatives (eer-ste, twintig-ste, schön-ste). This morphological similarity leads to the question: to what extent do ordinals and superlatives share the same semantics, and where do they part ways? This question has been explored in formal semantics literature but no consensus has been reached (Bylinina et al., 2014; Sharvit, 2015; Köpping et al., 2017). In the field of generative syntax, ordinals are mentioned only in the context of order preferences in combinations of multiple prenominal modifiers, mainly concerning adjectives (e.g. Cinque, 2010; Laenzlinger, 2005; Scontras et al., 2018; Scott, 2002). The leading questions in this field include: which orders are allowed by speakers, are there crosslinguistic differences, are there preferences, and can we capture these preferences in a model that can predict them? My aim is to contribute to this ongoing debate on the possibilities and restrictions of combining prenominal modifiers by researching the interaction between ordinals and superlatives as well as cardinals. In this talk I present the preliminary results from my corpus study into the possible cooccurrences of superlatives, ordinals and cardinals in the prenominal domain in Dutch. Cardinals are generally placed rather high in the DP structure, usually in something called CardinalP or QuantifierP, but where to host ordinals is not clear. Svenonius (2008) makes the point that many more orders should be possible than just the preferred orders, and that language is a flexible tool for speakers to express whatever they want to say, using different orders as a means to highlight information. While I agree with this general notion, I will show that there are clear tendencies: in Dutch, both the orders superlative-ordinal (de hoogste tweede boom, the tallest second tree) and ordinal-superlative (de tweede hoogste boom, the second tallest tree), are found; but the latter is much more frequent.

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