Typology of Noun Phrases

Donka Farkas and Henriette de Swart
Section: Language and Logic
Level: Introductory


The course approaches noun phrase typology from the perspective of recent static and dynamic theories. The material is broken down into four sections, a brief survey of the challenges addressed followed by three specific proposals meant to address them: a flexible type-theory, a constraint-based approach to variable assignment and a novel approach to argument structure in DRT within which we formulate a theory of noun incorporation.

The material is organized along the following three challenges: (a) The combinatorial versatility of noun phrases, which renders the question of their type-assignment a non-trivial one. (b) The richness of the distribution and interpretation of various determiners in natural language, which leads to a diversity which escapes the net of type-theoretical taxonomies. (c) The fine-grained distinctions concerning discourse transparency found upon a close examination of incorporated singulars and plurals in Hungarian, which establishes the need for a more articulated approach to argument structure in DRT.

The data surveyed comes mainly from Hungarian, Rumanian, French and English.

As an answer to (a) we develop a flexible type theory (based on de Swart 1999 and to appear) which elaborates on Partee's original proposal of assigning noun phrases a family of denotations and investigates ways of relating them.

As an answer to (b) we develop a constraint-based theory of variable evaluation (based on Farkas 1997, 2000), which aims at accounting for the interpretation and distribution of a variety of definites and indefinites in English, Hungarian and Rumanian, as well as for the definiteness hierarchy discussed in Aissen 1999 and the functional literature.

In the last part of the course we develop a DRT-based theory of noun incorporation, starting from Hungarian data, which establishes a crucial distinction between thematic arguments and discourse referents. Incorporated nominals are treated as constraining the former, which captures the insight, due to Van Geenhoven (1998), that they denote properties.


The course presupposes (basic) knowledge of first-order logic, type theory and lambda abstraction. It can be seen as a follow-up of textbook introductions to semantics such as de Swart (1998) or Heim & Kratzer (1998), although it does not presuppose either in its entirety.


PDFlecture notes


Donka Farkas
Linguistics Research Center
University of California at Santa Cruz

Henriette de Swart
Utrecht University