On the placement of adnominal adjectives with complements:
Evidence from Old English

Agnieszka Pysz (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań)

It has been repeatedly observed in the literature that languages with canonically prenominal adjectives exhibit some variation as to whether or not they allow adjectives with complements to surface before the noun. On the one hand, there is a group of languages
(e.g. Polish, German) in which adjectives with complements are not excluded from the prenominal domain. On the other hand, there are languages which apparently disallow adjectives with complements to be placed before the noun. The latter restriction is commonly illustrated on the basis of Present Day English (PDE), as in ungrammatical examples (1a) and (1b):

(1a) *a proud of his son man

(1b) *a different from this one problem

For such constructions to be well-formed, it is necessary either to place both the adjective and its complement after the noun, as in (2a), or to separate the adjective from the complement,
as in (2b):

(2a) a man proud of his son

(2b) a different problem from this one

The current paper seeks to determine whether the restrictions illustrated in (1-2) can also be observed in the earlier stages of English, specifically in Old English (OE). Given that
the scholarship offers rather imprecise statements regarding this issue (e.g. Fischer 2001, Traugott 1972), their verification is needed. To this end, the paper investigates the empirical data retrieved from the York - Toronto - Helsinki Parsed Corpus of Old English Prose (Taylor - Warner - Pintzuk - Beths 2003). The underlying aim of the scrutiny is to confront the OE data with the theoretical approaches towards the structural location of adnominal adjectives which have been proposed in the generative literature. Four specific approaches are taken into consideration, namely the adjunct analysis (e.g. Siloni 1997, Svenonius 1992), the head analysis (e.g. Abney 1987), the specifier analysis (e.g. Cinque 1994, 1995) and the reduced relative clause analysis (e.g. Kayne 1994). Although none of these approaches is entirely unproblematic it will be seen how successful they are in handling the relevant facts concerning OE. Of special interest for the current paper is the question how the four analyses relate to the surface placement of adnominal adjectives with complements, i.e. whether such adjectives are placed before or after the noun. It is hoped that the discussion will make a step towards working out the optimal analysis of adnominal adjectives in OE.


Abney, Steven Paul

1987 The English noun phrase in its sentential aspect. Doctoral dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Cinque, Guglielmo

1994 "On the evidence for partial N-movement in the Romance DP", in: Cinque, Guglielmo - Jan Koster - Jean-Yves Pollock - Luigi Rizzi - Raffaella Zanuttini (eds.), 85-110.

1995 Italian syntax and Universal Grammar. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cinque, Guglielmo - Jan Koster - Jean-Yves Pollock - Luigi Rizzi - Raffaella Zanuttini (eds)

1994 Paths toward Universal Grammar: Studies in Honor of Richard S. Kayne . Washington DC: Georgetown University Press.

Fischer, Olga

2001 "The position of the adjective in (Old) English from an iconic perspective", in: Fischer, Olga - Max Nänny (eds.), 249-276.

Fischer, Olga - Max Nänny (eds.)

2001 The motivated sign: Iconicity in language and literature 2. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Haegeman, Liliane (ed.)

1997 The new comparative syntax. London: Longman.

Kayne, Richard

1994 The antisymmetry of syntax. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.

Siloni, Tal

1997 "Event nominal and the construct state", in: Haegeman, Liliane (ed.), 165-188.

Svenonius, Peter

1992 "The structural location of the attributive adjective", MS. University of California at Santa Crux.

Traugott, Elizabeth Closs

1972 A history of English syntax: A transformational approach to the history of English sentence structure. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.