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“Discontinuous” APs in English

José Luis González Escribano1


Correspondence address: Universidad de Oviedo, Facultad de Filologia, Campus de Humanidades, 33011 Oviedo, Spain. E-mail: .

Citation Information: Linguistics. Volume 43, Issue 3, Pages 563–610, ISSN (Online) 1613-396X, ISSN (Print) 0024-3949, DOI: 10.1515/ling.2005.43.3.563, July 2005

Publication History

4 March 2003
23 September 2003
Published Online:


“Discontinuous” APs are problematic. Under P&P/minimalist assumptions, they cannot be initial structures and must result via MOVE, but MOVE should be motivated, and what the triggering feature might be is unclear, for “AP-splitting” is optional in some cases and impossible in most. This article examines why it occurs in English. Section 1 discusses the facts and what grammarians have said about them. Section 2 reviews current wisdom on adjectival modfication and considers possible approaches to discontinuity via A(P)-raising and extraposition, but shows that neither is wellmotivated nor can explain why “AP-splitting” is not generally available, which suggests still unidentified constraints. Section 3 adopts a theory of modification that bans prenominal right-branching APs, eliminates the extraposition option, and derives genuine cases of AP-splitting through A-raising from postnominal APs. A-raising is assumed to occur to prevent the adjective from inheriting focus narrowly associated with its complement, but is allowed only within unaccusative APs. Most AP “discontinuities,” therefore, cannot involve A-raising, but the theory allows them to be basegenerated when the postnominal PP/CP is a modifier and the adjective is allowed prenominally. Adjectives denoting individual-level properties are, and are predicted to occur in “discontinuous” APs, but those denoting stage-level properties are not. These predictions are confirmed on the whole, but the evidence is murky due to divided usage. Section 4 sorts out dubious cases and claims that they arise from the fuzziness of the complement/modifier and the individual-level/stage-level distinctions, and from alternative construals of the postnominal XP as a modifier of the noun or higher categories. Finally, Section 5 briefly summarizes the results and the advantages of the present approach.

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