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Show all head of the quantificational binominal construction

It is often not immediately clear whether N1 or N2 constitutes the head of a certain QC. This section argues that we have to distinguish the three types of QC in (9), and discusses which types of N1s can enter into which types of QC. Some N1s may occur in more than one construction type; these N1s are often ambiguous between a reading as quantifier noun and one of the other types in example (2) above.

Quantificational binominal constructions
a. Type 1: N2 is both the syntactic and the semantic head of the construction
b. Type 2: N1 is the syntactic and N2 is the semantic head of the construction
c. Type 3: N1 is both the syntactic and the semantic head of the construction
[+]  I.  Determining the syntactic head of the construction

This subsection provides two agreement tests to determine which N functions as the syntactic head of the binominal construction. These tests will also reveal that QCs are sometimes ambiguous in the sense that both N1 and N2 may function as the syntactic head.

[+]  A.  Subject-verb (number) agreement

The first test focuses on the fact that the finite verb agrees in number with the subject of the clause. Given that the two nouns in the QC may differ in number, we can determine the syntactic head of the construction by looking at the number specification of the finite verb: the noun that the verb agrees with is the syntactic head. Example (10) illustrates this for the quantifier noun boel'a lot' and the collective noun groep'group'. In (10a), the number specification on the finite verb clearly shows that we should consider the plural N2studenten'students' as the syntactic head of the construction and not the singular N1boel. In (10b), on the other hand, the singular agreement on the verb unambiguously shows that it is the singular N1groep that acts as the syntactic head.

a. Er demonstreren/*demonstreert een boel studenten.
  there  protestpl/protestssg  a lot [of] students
  'A lot of students are demonstrating.'
b. Er demonstreert/*demonstreren een groep studenten.
  there  protestssg/protestpl  a group [of] students
  'A group of students is demonstrating.'

Since we have seen in Section that the noun aantal is ambiguous between a quantifier and a collective reading, it is expected that QCs with this noun will show mixed behavior with respect to subject-verb agreement. The examples in (11) show that this expectation is indeed borne out. It should be noted, however, that the two examples seem to differ in their preferential agreement pattern: a search in the Corpus Gesproken Nederlands by Van Eerten (2007) has pointed out that in examples such as (11a)the majority of cases (76%) exhibit plural agreement, whereas in examples such as (11b) there is a clear preference for singular agreement (70%). This may be related to the fact that the QC in (11) is indefinite, and that placement of indefinite phrases into clause-initial position triggers a partitive reading, which may be more readily available on the referential reading of N1.

a. Er demonstreert/demonstreren een aantal studenten.
  there  protestssg/protestpl  a number [of] students
  'A number of students are demonstrating.'
b. Een aantal studenten demonstreert/demonstreren.
  a number [of] students  protestssg/protestpl
  'A number of students are demonstrating.'

If N1 is a measure noun, there are also two options: in (12), the verb may exhibit singular agreement, in which case it agrees with the singular N1kilo'kilo', or plural agreement, in which case it agrees with the plural N2appels'apples'. To our ear, the primeless examples are equally good, whereas the primed examples with the QC in clause-initial position, which is always somewhat marked, clearly prefer singular agreement.

a. Er ligt een kilo appels op tafel.
  there  liessg  a kilosg [of] apples  on the.table
a'. ? Een kilo appels ligt op tafel.
b. Er liggen een kilo appels op tafel.
  there  liepl  a kilo [of] applespl  on the.table
b'. * Een kilo appels liggen op tafel.

This suggests that in this case we are also dealing with an ambiguity between a purely quantificational and a more referential reading of the noun. This seems to be supported by the fact illustrated in the primeless examples in (13) that measure nouns exhibit different behavior with respect to pluralization in the two constructions: these examples show that N1 is marked for the plural if it agrees with the verb, but not if the verb agrees with N2, the substance noun melk'milk'. From this we should conclude that when the measure noun liter is not the syntactic head of the QC, it loses its ability to form a plural, which might be construed as an indication that it has lost its referential status of count noun.

a. Er staan/*staat twee liters melk in de koelkast.
  there  stand/stands  two liters [of]  milk  in the fridge
a'. ? Twee liters melk staan in de koelkast.
b. Er staat/*staan twee liter melk in de koelkast.
  there  stands/stand  two liter [of]  milk  in the fridge
b'. * Twee liters melk staat in de koelkast.

This is also supported by the fact that there is also a semantic difference between the examples. In (13a) we perceive the milk as two quantificational units of one liter each; from now on, we will call this the package unit reading, given that there is an implication that the milk was purchased in containers that each contain one liter of milk. In (13b), on the other, we do not perceive the milk as being available in certain units: there may be a single container that contains two liters of milk or there may be more, as long as the total quantity is (about) two liters. The primed examples show again that the QC can only occur in clause-initial position if N1 has a referential reading.
      The ambiguity described above may only arise if the descriptive content of N1 is weak: it is hard to determine what the denotation set of nouns like boel'a lot', aantal'number', kilo'kilo' and liter'liter' is. If N1 does have a clear descriptive content, like the collective and container nouns in (14), agreement with this noun is strongly preferred.

a. Een kudde olifanten gaat/*?gaan voorbij.
  a herd [of] elephants  passes/pass  prt.
b. Er ligt/*liggen een zakje snoepjes op tafel.
  there  lies/lie  a bag [of] sweets  on the.table

Part nouns like reep'bar' in (15) also seem to have descriptive content, and we therefore expect them to trigger agreement on the verb. This is indeed the case although we cannot show this solely by appealing to the agreement facts because part nouns are always used in combination with a substance noun, which triggers singular agreement on the verb: the fact that the verb in (15a) is singular therefore does not tell us much. The plural agreement in (15b), of course, conclusively shows that N1 can act as the syntactic head of the construction, but, since we have seen in (13a) that the verb must agree with plural N1s, this still does not suffice to exclude the possibility that N2 may function as the syntactic head in (15a). However, the fact that the part noun counterpart of (13b), given in (15c), is unacceptable seems sufficient to conclude that the part nouns must function as the syntactic head of a QC: if N2 can act as the syntactic head of the construction, this example should be grammatical.

a. Er ligt een reep chocola op tafel.
  there  lies  a bar [of] chocolate  on the.table
  'There is a bar of chocolate on the table.'
b. Er liggen/*ligt twee repen chocola op tafel.
  there  lie/lies  two bars [of] chocolate  on the.table
  'There are two bars of chocolate on the table.'
c. * Er ligt/liggen twee reep chocola op tafel.
  there  lies/lie  two bar [of] chocolate  on the.table

      The examples in (10) to (15) have shown that the number features that trigger number agreement on the finite verb can be either situated on N2 or on N1. The actual choice seems related to whether N1 is referential or purely quantificational. A purely quantificational noun like boel'lot' in (10) apparently does not have the necessary features to trigger agreement on the verb, whereas referential nouns like the collective noun kudde'herd' in (14a) or the part noun reep'bar' in (15) do have these features. Other nouns, like the measure noun liter, seem to have some intermediate status, and the question as to whether they trigger agreement on the verb or not depends on whether they have a purely quantificational or a more referential function.

[+]  B.  Demonstrative pronouns (gender/number agreement)

That both N1 and N2 may act as the syntactic head of the construction can also be shown on the basis of demonstrative pronouns. Demonstratives agree with the head noun in gender and number: if the head noun is +neuter, singular, the proximate and distal demonstrative are, respectively, dit'this' and dat'that', whereas in all other cases they are respectively deze'this/these' and die'that/those'; cf. Section The examples in (16), which contain a neuter, singular N1, show that the proximate demonstrative can indeed agree with both nouns. In the primeless examples the proximate demonstrative agrees with the neuter N1, whereas in the primed examples it is the plural/non-neuter N2 that triggers agreement. Some people object to the primed examples, but the pattern is very common, especially with the noun paar: a Google search (12/1/2015) on the string [die paar] resulted in 407 hits, and the first 50 cases all instantiated the construction. Examples such as (16b') are less numerous but they do occur: a search on the string [die pond] resulted in 3000 hits, and 6 out of the first 50 cases instantiated the construction.

a. dat paar eenden
  that  couple [of]  ducks
a'. die paar eenden
  those  couple [of]  ducks
b. dat pond kaas
  that  pound [of]  cheese
b'. die pond kaas
  that  pound [of]  cheese

The same thing can be shown for the proximate demonstratives, although the numbers are not as impressive as in the case of the distal ones: our search on the string [deze paar] resulted in 551 hits, and 46 out of the first 50 instantiated the construction; our search on the string [deze pond] resulted in just a single instance of the desired construction.

a. dit paar eenden
  this  couple [of]  ducks
a'. deze paar eenden
  these  couple [of]  ducks
b. dit/dat pond uien
  this/that  pound [of]  onions
b'. deze pond kaas
  this  pound [of]  cheese

      As expected, the two options in (16) and (17) differ in interpretation. This is clearest in the (a)-examples with the noun paar: in the primeless examples, the QC refers to two ducks that belong together and form a couple; in the primed examples, on the other hand, the noun paar has a purely quantificational meaning: it merely refers to a small number of ducks. Something similar holds for the (b)-examples: in the primeless examples, the QC refers to a single piece of cheese, whereas no such implication holds for the primed examples. This suggests again that agreement with N1 is only possible if it is referential: if it is purely quantificational, it is N2 that enters the agreement relation. This conclusion seems to be supported by the fact, illustrated in (18), that diminutive formation is blocked if N2 agrees with the demonstrative: this suggests that N1 has lost its referential status in this case. We will return to this in Section, sub I.

a. dit/dat paartje eenden
  this  coupledim. [of]  ducks
a'. * deze/die paartje eenden
b. dit/dat pondje kaas
  this/that  pounddim. [of]  cheese
  'this piece of cheese that weighs nearly a pound'
b'. * deze/die pondje kaas

      Again, the ambiguity only arises with nouns with little descriptive content. It does not occur with container, collective and part nouns. In (19a&b), the container noun fles and the collective noun kudde are non-neuter, whereas the non-count nouns bier and vee are neuter, and only the non-neuter demonstratives can be used. In (19c), the part noun stuk is neuter, whereas the N2kaas is non-neuter, and only the neuter demonstrative gives rise to a grammatical result.

a. deze/die fles bier
  this/that  bottle [of]  beer
a'. * dit/dat fles bier
  this/that  bottle [of]  beer
b. deze/die kudde vee
  this/that  herd [of]  cattle
b'. * dit/dat kudde vee
  this/that  herd [of]  cattle
c. dit/dat stuk kaas
  this/that  piece [of]  cheese
c'. * deze/die stuk kaas
  this/that  piece [of]  cheese
[+]  C.  Conclusion

The two subsections above have shown that subject-verb agreement as well as gender marking on demonstrative pronouns can be determined by either N1 or N2, depending on the type of noun we are dealing with: if we are dealing with a purely quantificational N1, it is always N2 that triggers agreement; if N1 has descriptive content, that is, if N1 is a container, collective or part noun, it is N1 that triggers agreement. The measure nouns seem special in allowing both patterns. Some nouns are ambiguous, and can be used either as a quantifier noun or as a noun of some other type.

[+]  II.  N1 and N2 as the semantic head of the construction

This subsection discusses the question of what the semantic head of the construction is. We will show that QCs are ambiguous in the sense that both N1 and N2 may function as the semantic head. For this we will provide evidence involving semantic restrictions imposed by the verb on its arguments, modification by attributive adjectives, and binding relations between the QC and reciprocal pronouns.

[+]  A.  Semantic selection restrictions of the verb

Verbs may impose several semantic selection restrictions on their arguments. Verbs like zich verspreiden'to disperse' and omsingelen'to surround', for example, generally require a plural noun phrase as their subject: in (20a'), for example, use of the singular noun phrase de student'the student' gives rise to a semantically anomalous result. That the restriction is semantic in nature and not syntactic is clear from the fact that the use of singular noun phrases referring to collections of entities, like politie'police', results in an acceptable construction. The symbol “$” is used to indicate semantic incompatibility.

a. De studenten verspreiden zich.
  the students  disperse  refl
a'. De politie/$student verspreidt zich.
  the police/student  disperses  refl
b. De studenten omsingelen het gebouw.
  the students  surround  the building
b'. De politie/$student omsingelt het gebouw.
  the police/student  surrounds  the building

That the semantic restriction is not related to syntax is made even clearer by the QC constructions in (21): in (21a) the semantic restriction is satisfied by the syntactic head of the construction, but in (21b) the noun that triggers agreement and the noun that satisfies the semantic restriction are different.

a. Er omsingelen een aantal studenten het gebouw.
  there  surround  a number [of] students  the building
  'There are a number of students surrounding the building.'
b. Een aantal studenten omsingelt het gebouw.
  a number [of] students  surround  the building
  'A number of students are surrounding the building.'

      Example (21b) conclusively shows that there is no a priori reason for assuming that N2 can only act as the semantic head of the QC if N1 hasa purely quantificational meaning. And the examples in (22) show that there is, indeed, no such restriction. Example (22a) shows that a verb like verzamelen'collect' requires the direct object to refer to a set of separable entities like stamps or pieces of furniture. The unacceptability of (22b) shows that a noun phrase headed by a container noun like doos'box' does not satisfy this selection restriction. The acceptably of (22c) therefore shows that in QCs with a container noun, it is N2 that satisfies the semantic restrictions.

a. Jan verzamelde postzegels/porselein.
  Jan collected  stamps/china
b. $ Jan verzamelde een doos.
  Jan collected  a box
c. Jan verzamelde een doos postzegels/porselein.
  Jan collected  a box [of]  stamps/china

The same thing can be shown by appealing to other types of semantic restrictions. A verb like roken'to smoke', for example, selects a direct object that refers to either some substance like tobacco that can be smoked, or an entity that is made out of this substance, like a cigar; cf. in (23a). Example (23b) is infelicitous given that a noun phrase like een doos'a box' does not satisfy this selection restriction. Consequently, the fact that (23c) is acceptable shows that the selection restrictions of the verb can be satisfied by N2 despite the fact, discussed in Section, sub I, that N1 is always the syntactic head of the construction.

a. Jan rookt tabak/een sigaar.
  Jan smokes  tobacco/a cigar
b. $ Jan rookt een doos.
  Jan smokes  a box
c. Jan rookt een doos sigaren.
  Jan smokes  a box [of]  cigars

In passing, note we have put aside that example (23b) is acceptable under a generic/habitual interpretation: Hij rookt een doos per dag'He smokes a box per day'. In cases like these, we are dealing with an elliptic QC construction: Jan does not smoke the box, but its contents. Such constructions are only acceptable if information about the contents of the box is available to the addressee.
      It is important to note that the descriptive content of the container noun in the QC een doos sigaren in (23c) has been backgrounded in favor of the package unit reading: the QC does not refer to a box with certain contents but to a certain number of cigars. This does not mean, however, that this happens in all cases. Consider the examples in (24), where the verb sluiten'to close' is substituted for the verb roken'to smoke' in (23). The examples in (24a&b) show that the noun phrase sigaren cannot satisfy the semantic selection restrictions of this verb, whereas the noun phrase een doos can. From the fact that (24c) is acceptable, we conclude that N1 functions as the semantic head of the QC, which implies that it has retained its descriptive content: we are still referring to a box with certain contents, not to a number of cigars. The contrast between (23) and (24) therefore shows that QCs headed by a container noun are ambiguous.

a. $ Jan sloot sigaren.
  Jan closed  cigars
b. Jan sloot een doos.
  Jan closed  a box
c. Jan sloot een doos sigaren.
  Jan closed  a box [of]  cigars
  'Jan closed a box of cigars.'

      It seems that the measure, collective and part nouns behave just like the container nouns. We will therefore restrict our discussion of these types by showing in (25) that in QCs headed by these nouns, N2 may also satisfy the semantic selection restrictions imposed by the verb.

a. Jan at een kilo paddenstoelen.
  Jan ate  a kilo [of] mushrooms
b. Hij is gestoken door een zwerm wespen.
  he  has.been  stung  by a swarm [of] wasps
c. Hij heeft een stuk taart opgegeten.
  he  has  a piece [of] cake  prt.-eaten

      This subsection has shown that most QCs are ambiguous depending on whether N1 receives a more referential or a more quantification interpretation: in the former case it is N1 that functions as the semantic head of the construction and in the latter case it is N2 that has this function. The question which head functions as the semantic head is independent of the question which head functions as the syntactic head: the two functions may but need not be performed by the same noun. The quantifier nouns are different from the other nouns in that they never function as the semantic head of the construction, which is related to the fact that they do not have much descriptive content to begin with.

[+]  B.  Attributive modification

That N2 can be the semantic head of the construction is also clear from the fact that the QC as a whole can be modified by attributive modifiers that belong to N2 rather than to N1. Some examples are given in (26). The primeless and primed examples are more or less synonymous, which suggests that the attributive adjective modifies N2 in both cases.

a. een koud glas bier
  cold  glass [of]  beer
a'. een glas koud bier
  glass [of]  cold  beer
b. een lekker glas bier
  tasty  glass [of]  beer
b'. een glas lekker bier
  glass [of]  tasty  beer

That it is not N1 that is modified is particularly clear from the examples in (27a&b): in these examples the adjectives canonlymodify the noun glas, as a result of which the primeless and primed examples are no longer synonymous. Furthermore, example (27b) receives an anomalous interpretation (which seems to be marginally accepted by some speakers).

a. # een koud glas met bier
  cold  glass  with beer
a'. een glas met koud bier
  a glass  with  cold beer
b. $ een lekker glas met bier
  tasty  glass  with beer
b'. een glas met lekker bier
  a glass  with  tasty beer

The unacceptability of (28) points in the same direction: given the fact that vies'unsavory' and lekker'tasty' are antonyms, the structure results in a contradiction (it should be noted, however, that examples like these are sometimes used as puns).

# een lekkere kop vieze koffie
  nice  cup [of]  bad coffee

      The fact that the adjective is allowed to modify N2 does not imply that it also agrees with this noun in number/gender. This is illustrated in (29): example (29a) shows that the non-neuter substance noun wijn requires that the inflected form of the adjective be used; in (29b), on the other hand, the -e ending is absent because the adjective agrees with the singular neuter noun glas.

a. een lekkere/*lekker wijn
  tasty  wine
b. een lekker/*lekkere glas wijn
  tasty  glass [of] wine

      There seem to be certain restrictions on the availability of the intended reading, which are not entirely clear.. For example, although the QC in (30a) can be found on the internet (2 hits), we have the impression that the order in (30a') is much preferred. Example (30b), furthermore, shows that if the adjective and N2 form a fixed collocation, like witte wijn'white wine', the adjective must immediately precede N1: the primeless example can only refer to a white bottle.

a. ? een zure fles melk
  sour  bottle [of]  milk
a'. een fles zure melk
  bottle [of]  sour milk
b. # een witte fles wijn
  white  bottle [of]  wine
b'. een fles witte wijn
  bottle [of]  white wine

Finally, if the attributive adjective can also be used to modify N1, the reading in which the adjective preceding N1 modifies N2 is excluded: the two (a)-examples in (31) are not synonymous, and example (31b) does not lead to a contradiction.

a. een kleine doos knikkers
  small  box [of]  marbles
a'. een doos kleine knikkers
  box [of]  small marbles
b. een grote doos kleine knikkers
  big box [of]  small marbles

      So far we have only used container nouns, but the (a)- and (b)-examples in (32) show that similar facts can be found with, respectively, collective and part nouns. That we are dealing here with a modifier of N2 and not with a modifier of N1 is supported by the fact that N1 can only be modified by a very small class of attributively used adjectives; see Section, sub IIE, for discussion and examples.

a. een gezellige groep studenten
  sociable  group [of]  students
a'. een luidruchtige groep studenten
  noisy  group [of]  students
b. een geel stuk krijt
  yellow  piece [of]  chalk
b'. een dodelijk brok radioactief afval
  deadly  piece [of]  radioactive waste

This does not mean, however, that the modifier can always precede N1: the examples in (33) show that quantifier and measure nouns do not license this kind of modification; the modifier of N2 must follow N1.

a. een aantal luidruchtige studenten
  number [of]  noisy  students
a'. *? een luidruchtig aantal studenten
b. een