The Syntax of Numeral Noun Constructions

A view from Polish

by Jacek Witkoś (Author) Dominika Dziubała-Szrejbrowska (Author) Piotr Cegłowski (Author) Paulina Łęska (Author)
Monographs 200 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: Introducing Cardinal Numeral Constructions
  • Chapter Two: The Genitive of Quantification: a history of solutions
  • 2.1. Introduction
  • 2.2. Noun as the head in phrases with higher numerals
  • 2.3. The numeral as the key element in Numeral Noun Constructions
  • 2.4. Some other approaches to the structure and case conundrum in GoQ
  • 2.5. Conclusions
  • Chapter Three: Core claims on the morpho-syntax of the Polish NNC
  • 3.1. Introduction
  • 3.2. The four-way hybrid structure of the Polish NNC
  • 3.3. Component parts of the analysis
  • 3.3.1. Internal morphosyntax of Numeral Phrases
  • 3.3.2. The structural relation between the Numeral and NP
  • 3.3.3. Diachronic change as the source of derivational complexity
  • 3.4. The Genitive of Quantification and Case Projections (Kseq)
  • 3.4.1. Case projections within Polish nominals: preliminary assumptions
  • 3.4.2. The derivation of the Genitive of Quantification
  • 3.5. The hybrid agreement as a manifestation of equidistance
  • 3.6. Alternative accounts and open questions
  • 3.6.1. Genitive (partitive) as an unmarked domain-specific case (Norris 2014)
  • 3.6.2. The Nominative-Genitive hypothesis (Klockmann 2015)
  • 3.6.3. Lethal ambiguity and feature (non)valuation (Willim 2015)
  • 3.6.4. Genitive of Quantification as case attraction (Caha 2013)
  • 3.6.5. The structure of the NNC as conjunction (Przepiórkowski and Patejuk 2012)
  • 3.7. Conclusions
  • Chapter Four: Ramifications of the key concept: Accusative Numeral Subjects and Complex Numeral Noun Constructions
  • 4.1. Introduction
  • 4.2. The Accusative Numeral Subject in Polish
  • 4.2.1. The ANS and tests for subjecthood
  • 4.2.2. Tfin and the ANS: Agree-copy and Maximize Matching
  • 4.2.3. Partial conclusions
  • 4.3. Complex Numeral Noun Constructions
  • 4.3.1. Complex numerals and the cardinal-as-the head structure
  • 4.3.2. The correlation between the case-independence pattern in NNCs and nominal interpretation
  • 4.3.3. Conclusions
  • 4.4. Case and φ-feature concord
  • 4.4.1. Concord as FF raising in covert syntax (Carstens 2000)
  • 4.4.2. Agree as feature sharing (Danon 2011)
  • 4.4.3. Concord differs from Agree (Norris 2014)
  • 4.4.4. Morphological realization of case features in NNCs
  • 4.5. Some other idiosyncrasies of Polish numerals
  • Chapter Five: The NNC in the context of phase-based syntax
  • 5.1. Introduction
  • 5.2. NPs as phases – the interfaces
  • 5.3. NPs in Narrow Syntax
  • 5.4. The syntax of extractions and the DP vs. NP split
  • 5.5. An experimental approach to the LBE in the NNC
  • 5.5.1. The experimental study
  • 5.5.2. Results and discussion
  • 5.6. Conclusions
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Series index

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Numeral Noun Constructions (henceforth NNCs) in Slavic languages have attracted considerable attention due to the fact that both their morphological and syntactic properties show a number of features quite unexpected in the more widely researched Germanic languages. Each of the previous approaches has lost its initial appeal in some respect, with the flow of time and the changing context of more general frameworks (GB, checking theory, phase-based theory, etc.). New data also come to the fore (like the hybrid agreement pattern in 1c below). Hence, the debate is still very much in progress and this monograph, devoted mainly to Polish NNCs, constitutes a modest contribution to this discussion. As we have formulated a concrete and precise opinion on the structure and derivation of Polish NNCs in the course of our research it is of necessity formulated in relatively advanced and technical terms. Each and every discipline of the scholarly enterprise uses its own metalanguage and seems to be shrouded in the mystery of impenetrable double-talk to the outsider. Our reaserch results are no different in this respect, so we expect the reader to be a fellow (generative) linguist or an advanced student in the field. The theory of syntax applied in this monograph is minimalist in spirit, though it is also enriched with novel assumptions, such as the notion of case realization, related to the nano-syntactic concept of a spell-out driven movement, and the idea that Tfin optionally licenses accusative case.

Polish NNCs show a number of peculiarities, some of which transpire in the examples below:1 ← 9 | 10 →

(1) a. Trzy tancerki wyszły na scenę.
ThreeNOM.F dancersNOM.F.PL appearedNON-VIR on stage
‘Three dancers appeared on stage.’
b. Siedem tancerek wyszło na scenę.
SevenACC. NON-VIR dancersGEN.F.PL appeared3SG.N on stage
‘Seven dancers appeared on stage.’
c. Te pięć dziewczyn było [PrtP wybran-e/-ych do konkursu].
theseACC. NON-VIR fiveACC.NON-VIR girlsGEN.F.PL was3SG.NselectedACC.3PL/GEN.3PL to contest
‘These five girls were selected for the contest.’

The following basic assumptions help to capture key properties of these construction:

(2) Polish higher numerals in the NNC lack the nominative form.
(3) there seems to be a profound difference between the structural representation of regular [NP N [NP N]] combinations and NNCs in the structural case context, although the surface case realization may often look identical.

We submit that the difference between (1a) and (1b) stems from the way in which case is realized within these constructions. Following Caha (2009, 2010), we assume that NPs are dominated by a set of case projections, corresponding to their inflectional paradigm (Case sequence, Kseq), within which case is realized first in syntax and next in morphology (details below). While the run-of-the mill nominal combination contains two Kseqs, one for each NP, see (4a), the NNC can be dominated by only one Kseq, see (4b):

(4) a. [Kseq K [NP N [Kseq K [NP N]]]]
b. [Kseq K [QP NumP FQ [NP N]]]

The structure in (4b) primarily functions with the NNC in a case-matching pattern in oblique cases. In these constructions NumP looks like a regular modifier case-matching and φ-feature matching the head of NP. But in the structural case context, where both the Num and N bear independent φ-features and require separate cases, the single Kseq imposes very strict conditions on the realization ← 10 | 11 → of these cases within a limited derivational space. This, in turn, leads to a hybrid representation and idiosyncratic agreement options.

The assumption of a single Kseq for the entire NNC in (4b) is the most pronounced difference between our proposal and Caha’s (2009, 2010, 2013) but we believe that it helps to capture the idiosyncratic agreement properties of the NNC in (1c). Apparently, Polish numerals did not always function like (4b) and they had structure similar to (4a), which is reflected in diachronic analyses of Babby (1987) for Russian and Rutkowski (2007) for Polish.

The residue of the older form in (4a) still transpires in Polish, for instance in the Cardinal Nominal Construction. The numeral construction still seems to be evolving, as a combination of (4a) and (4b) can be detected with complex numerals and collective numerals:

(5) [Kseq K [QP NumP FQ [Kseq K [NP N]]]]

This representation leads us to expect that on the one hand the numeral can be modified independently of the NP because it is placed in a specifier position but on the other hand the NP consistently appears in the adnominal case (genitive) throughout the paradigm.

We submit that case realization is contingent upon the movement of a nominal to the specifier position of a designated case phrase, e.g. Accusative Phrase, within the Case Projection domain (Kseq). Our proposal assumes one set of Case Projections for a nominal core and its modifiers. Merging this Kseq with the external probe activates a relevant case projection within it and forces the noun phrase to move to it together with all the NP adjuncts. This movement is driven by the need for a spell-out of the relevant case suffix on the nominal, which is in line with Caha (2009, 2010). However, our claim regarding one set of Case Projections per nominal differs crucially from the nano-syntactic account which assumes a separate Kseq for every inflected element.

In our account, we offer an explanation for the default subject/verb agreement pattern observed in sentences with Accusative Numeral Subjects, which is determined by their Kseq make-up, as well as the feature composition of Tfin probe. Crucially, higher numerals in Polish are topped with a defective case sequence in which the Nominative Phrase is inactive. Additionally, we also assume Tfin to be endowed with a dual probe which searches for φ-features and for case feature which is interpretable but unvalued. The Economy principle Maximize Matching modelled on Maximize in (Chomsky 2000, 2001) ensures that full exposition of φ-features on Tfin occurs only when its case feature is valued as [case: structural>nom]. Consequently, when Tfin probe matches the case feature of ANS which bears the less specified Accusative case [case: structural], Maximize ← 11 | 12 → Matching is violated. However, since the copied case features are compatible, the derivation does not crash, but results in default φ-features on Tfin. This scenario is not available for all nominals with [case: structural] feature, though. Tfin accepts as its goal an NP marked for structural case different from Nominative only if the NP has a defective paradigm (inactive Nominative Phrase in the sequence of case projections). Otherwise, the copying of Nominative case feature is forced by Maximize Matching.


Numeral constructions in Polish are known for their complex morpho-syntax: in particular, depending on the type, case and syntactic context, the numeral may show properties of the adjective or the noun. This volume presents a comprehensive analysis of these constructions set in the current generative-minimalist model of grammar, with elements of nano-syntax. The authors pay particular attention to a feature-based derivation of the numeral construction in its different versions, including complex multiplicative numerals, as well as its distribution in the clause. Numerals in the subject position, with their peculiar case and agreement features become a focal point of attention. Their properties receive a principled account through the use of the case projection sequence and disciplined movements within it.

Biographical notes

Jacek Witkoś (Author) Dominika Dziubała-Szrejbrowska (Author) Piotr Cegłowski (Author) Paulina Łęska (Author)

Jacek Witkoś is Professor of Linguistics at Poznań University (AMU). His interests focus on generative syntax, specifically English-Polish comparative studies. He has authored and edited over seventy publications on such topics as the structure and derivation of infinitives, the distribution of pronominals and the derivation and interpretation of interrogatives. Piotr Cegłowski, Dominika Dziubała-Szrejbrowska and Paulina Łęska focus their research on many aspects of the formal comparative analysis of the syntax and morphology of Polish, including the internal structure of nominal expressions, the coding of topic/focus - related information, double object constructions, as well as syntax processing.


Title: The Syntax of Numeral Noun Constructions