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In the episode, we brought up an idea, the DP Hypothesis, that’s pretty counterintuitive: all noun phrases (NPs) are wrapped up inside determiner phrases (DPs), instead of the other way around. So, the structure of a phrase like “an accident” would look like the tree on the left, not the more traditional one on the right.

We’ve arranged things so that the heads of these sorts of phrases — the words that get to decide the overall syntactic category — are determiners instead of nouns. But the phrase “an accident” feels more noun-y than determiner-y, so how can we be so sure we’ve gotten things right?

Well, one way to check is to see if independent lines of evidence all point to the same result. And as we’ll see, the DP Hypothesis actually has quite a lot going for it!

Take the expressions “all the members” or “those two employees.” We already suggested that it’s a lot easier explaining these kinds of phrases under the DP Hypothesis than with the old way of doing things. Without it, we’d need to stuff all those determiners inside each NP, which is awkward at best, and breaking the standard X’ mould at worst.

With DPs, everything comes out much prettier!

But more important than looks, this new take on the relationship between nouns and their entourage clarifies a phenomenon that we couldn’t yet entirely account for: floating quantifiers. If you remember back to our episode on the VP-Internal Subject Hypothesis, we said that the difference between the two sentences in (1) is just that in (1a), “all” comes along with the rest of the phrase when it moves, and in (1b), it stays behind.

     (1a)    All the members of fsociety are working together

     (1b)    The members of fsociety are all working together

That “all” in (1b) is a floating quantifier — a determiner that’s somehow become disconnected from the rest of the NP it was linked to in (1a). Without the DP Hypothesis, it seems kind of arbitrary that a subject should leave only certain bits of itself behind when it moves; after all, why can’t “the” float away too?

      (2)    *Members of fsociety are all the working together

Under the DP Hypotheses, though, If we just say that whatever moves always has to be a DP, without making any commitment as to which DP has to do the work, it’s easy to see why quantifiers like “all” and “both” sometimes stay loafing around down inside the VP. Either the whole subject DP moves, or else only the innermost one does, like below.

And on top of the nice result we get with shifty subjects and straggling quantifiers, we have an easier time explaining otherwise random patterns seen in English pronouns. To see how, let’s first consider what category pronouns are.

Conventionally, pronouns are thought of as standing in for NPs; in fact, a standard test for NP-hood is whether or not it can be replaced with a pronoun. So it looks like pronouns are a kind of noun.

     (3a)    The hacker in the hoodie is back on the streets

     (3b)    He is back on the streets

But this actually ignores the fact that we get sentences like (4), which involve pronouns followed by the NPs they might otherwise replace.

     (4a)    You politicians are all alike

     (4b)    We citizens have to stick up for our rights

In these sentences, pronouns behave an awful lot like determiners. We even see this in children’s utterances, albeit with pronouns that don’t normally act this way in adult speech.

     (5)    Get it ladder!

Now, bearing in mind that pronouns are probably more reasonably thought of as determiners, replacing DPs instead of NPs when they show up on their own as in (3b), we’ve got a simpler time saying why it is that we don’t see the expressions in (6).

     (6a)    *She Darlene

     (6b)    *He Gideon

In particular, it comes down to whether or not certain pronouns are transitive. Just like how some verbs require an object (“destroy”), while others completely forbid it (“sleep”), and still others can go both ways (“eat”), pronouns are much the same. But this explanation only really works if pronouns take nouns as objects in the same way verbs do. In other words, if the DP Hypothesis is true.

If these pronouns were just specifiers in noun phrases, like they would have been in the old system, it wouldn’t have been as obvious why some fit and some don’t. So the DP Hypothesis brings together all kinds of noun-related anomalies under one roof!

Now, there’s definitely more to be said about the structures DPs. For one, it probably makes sense to separate out different kinds, since we can stack them on top of one another, but only in limited ways.

     (7)    *those the members

So we should probably think of the trees for “all the members” and “those two employees” as looking more like this, and not just undifferentiated layers like we had before.

We probably need to add even more structure than that, given that we have sentences like “Darlene considers Angela Elliot’s best friend,” which still don’t quite fit into the story we’ve told so far.

Still, the DP Hypothesis has managed to single-handedly launch a whole new branch of research into the structure of language, and continues to be a major turning point today!



So how about it? What do you all think? Let us know below, and we’ll be happy to talk with you about how determiner phrases work, and where to go from here. There’s a lot of interesting stuff to say, and we want to hear what interests you!

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