the spread of adjective-licensed "of"

James Harbeck jharbeck at SYMPATICO.CA
Wed Jan 23 01:08:14 UTC 2008

I've just come upon a brief analysis of this structure in English and
other Germanic languages at . It makes for
interesting reading, if a bit dense in spots -- it's really an
abstract for a presentation at The 16th Workshop on Comparative
Germanic Syntax, held in Montreal in 2001. The author is Jason Lilley
(University of Delaware). I see with a quick Google that's he a PhD
student, still there.

The short of it is that he's viewing "so big" as what Norbert Corver
(Corver, Norbert. 1997. Much-support as a last resort. Linguistic
Inquiry 28:119-64) calls a "Degree head", and "so much" as what
Corver callsa "Q-head". "Degree heads" block theta-binding and force
the determiner to move right up against the noun. So "a so big house"
has to become "so big a house"; on the other hand (here I'm
extrapolating), "so much" treats the N as a mass and so needs
partitive "of" (and since it's partitive, the "a" just doesn't belong
at the start; it's "so much" that's the thing and the "of" phrase
specifies the substance the thing is taken from).

I like that: it's the determiner that moves. Rather tidy, that. It
saves us from explaining why we would have "so big of a house"
underneath it -- it lets that be a subsequent development presumably
on analogy with the Q-head structure.

James Harbeck.

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list