Week 8 (Thursday): Characterizing NPs in the Data

All has not been idle on this front, though I did go through two very uncertain weeks, which were followed by two weeks of reorientating and conceptualizing.

I’m using this blog again to just sort out some thoughts from looking through the data I am compiling. I don’t think I will be able to exhaustively tag everything, but I need to note some general trends and describe how some of the categories are emerging.

Possessive Determiners

At least from a quick first look, possessive determiners (pd) are the most common NPs. Their properties tend to be [+def, +spec]. This preference is really quite evident. Possibly worth comparing to CoSiB corpus – actually may not be too difficult to implement a search, since pd is a closed class. If it is super common, this would be a variational feature of note, that definiteness gets marked this way preferentially, over the article.

Unusual nouns and N-Ellipsis

I haven’t been able to find that many unmarked bare common nouns which are ambiguously (in)definite. Many are mass or kind nouns, or seemingly proper nouns. A possible exception is ‘O’-level, which seems like a proper noun, but part of the case for interpreting it as a common noun being that it can be pluralized – but probably that won’t work. It usually means ‘~ results’ or ‘~ exams’, too, so it’s easier to interpret it as N-ellipsis (nominal ellipsis).


Pro-drop is very prevalent, even in mid-sentence. Comparing mid-sentence Pro-drop with the usual kinds of ellipsis in English, we see that it is usually verbs, modals, their respective phrases, dependent clauses, or entire clauses that are gapped or sluiced – but not NPs.

‘Got’ construction

Some sentences are structured, ‘Got NP?’, and it seems like pro drop applies, i.e. ‘e got NP?’ However, ‘Got NP’ can also be in the topic position, e.g. ‘Got one time they went KL.’ ‘Got’ in the latter construction functions in a way comparable to expletive-‘There’.


Abandoned this post half-way; I decided I probably should not do an exhaustive analysis of trends, since there are too many dimensions and too much data to tag.

Now it’s Week 10, essentially. I’m about 5k words in on the Overleaf document. Some ways to go.

Week 6 (Sunday): NVA

Read some of Baker 2008, and his proposal for a universal three-way distinction between nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Not hard to get behind. Interesting stuff about the unique situations you’ll find adjectives in as well. Makes it easier to talk about lexical items being flexibly recategorized, if there are categories we can assume exist. (Or to rule this out.)

Week 5 (Friday): Pro Drop

It’s been a long time since I’ve been here. It’s definitely not been a good three weeks for the thesis. Some non-thesis things got done, like getting my IPPT cleared, and Chinese New Year.

At the same time I did some peripheral things like making my Honours Thesis document template. I adapted the Carleton College comps project template to our department’s requirements. That’s some time saved somewhere down the line.

I also collected a range of interesting and potentially relevant Singlish utterances on a document sheet in gb4e (so at least I can copy the relevant ones easily to my document). I now have a modest array of data, an array which actually covers quite a nice spread of phenomena.

The elephant in my mental room however, is still in identifying and articulating their nexus of commonality. That feeling of not having made headway is accurate in at least this respect.

Today, I continued crunching through my data list, sorting it and writing some preliminary analyses. In the process I ended up reading about pro-drop, including Sato and Kim’s influential paper on radical pro drop in CSE.

Week 3, Thursday: Contact Situations, Characterizing SG

Mougeon et al. (2005) and De Garcia (2008) about contact situations and linguistic innovation. How best to demonstrate interference (intra-systemic transfer) (Mougeon et al.). What the relationship is between bilingualism and diglossia (De Garcia) (not the same thing, but related).

Bao (2004) on Lexifier Filter and Substrate Transfer, and the uniquely stable linguistic ecology here – insofar as these things are stable. Some challenges to Bao’s analysis based on the data, but the analysis can probably be extended and qualified, since LF and ST are constraints (ranked/violable). Interesting arguments about the consistency of productivity; the role of LF also would apply.

Week 3, Monday: Fire Drill

Attended semantics class again today, but spent a good part of it thinking about the overall goals and organization of the thesis – not because the lesson was uninteresting, but the content was not unfamiliar.

Attempted to continue developing these thoughts after dinner, when the fire drill happened, so I moved myself to Wah Chee to write.

Got back to look up a few more ideas in the library’s database.

Not much I feel like writing of today’s thoughts yet, I’ll work on putting them into a firmer shape tomorrow.

Week 2, Wednesday: Pensieve

So today I continued working through Sassoon’s paper. In the late afternoon I saw my supervisor and talked about how the threads are developing. I wrote yesterday about a fork in the road, but we also talked about the possibility of something common in the background. Theoretically it would be interesting to investigate the distribution of work between the morphological/syntactical/semantic systems, and it’s not been approached comprehensively before, but to attempt such an analysis is daunting. A scheme of chapters has been taking shape, and perhaps I should embark on that first. Also I need to look through the corpora again.

Week 2, Tuesday: Crossing the Streams?

Not the most roaring starts to the week, but some good quality work was done with Sassoon’s stuff this afternoon. This was the paper on rule vs. similarity categorization processes (her ‘RS hypothesis’).

Monday I attended Mitcho’s semantics class again, and between the problem set from before class and the class time, I felt it actually helped a lot with understanding where Sassoon is coming from, because basically the assumption is that the reader has a fair amount of experience working with formal semantics.

While I really enjoyed working through Sassoon’s stuff, it does raise the puzzle of whether definiteness will be the way to go, or if the semantics of, say, nouns vs. adjectives in a contact language based on very different types of languages will be the way to go. The fleeting thought crossed my mind, that if these could be synthesized the thesis would be all but written – a delusion, of course, given the nature of the task of writing. I shall sleep on this idea, however.

Week 2, Sunday: (In)definite

So, Week 1’s progress got derailed after Wednesday.

On Wednesday I met my supervisor, and from there it seems that definiteness in the contact language I am studying would indeed be a good phenomenon to investigate.

In terms of implications and themes of discussion and significance of the overall project, however, things have not quite resolved into view. Only the empirical work appears in focus.

W1 Tuesday: Interfaces and Typologies

I missed writing yesterday’s post, and spent some of today out doing some admin (transporting items from home, getting shorn, etc.).

Two main texts I reviewed in detail, the first being Reuland and Meulen’s introductory chapter (pp.1-20) to The Representation of (In)definiteness.

My interest in the book was simply that I’d not seen noun phrases examined at this level before (basically at the level where the syntax and semantics interface, where the close examination could tell us more about the semantics than the historical discussion, valuable and irreplaceable as that is). Potentially, a direction for my research will be to look at at noun gradeability, and understanding an aspect of noun phrases even for something not directly related to gradeability seemed like a useful exercise when I picked up this book some time ago.

The prior reference point I had for the idea of (in)definiteness was Russell’s theory of definite descriptions, that referring expressions he would call ‘definite descriptions’ rather than indefinite ones are only evaluable if they refer to a real entity, i.e. the reason why saying ‘the King of France’ is strange, since there is currently no such King…

In English, at least, the distinction between definite expressions and indefinite ones is captured by the alternation of ‘a’ and ‘the’, for a broad class of nouns. On a more rigorous analysis, however, the main observation is that there are clear situations where either the definite or indefinite is strongly preferred, for instance in a sentence like, ‘There ensued a/the* riot on Massachusetts Ave.’ They refer to such situations as exhibiting a definiteness effect (DE).

Interestingly, even across languages, R&M note that where DEs are observed, some semantic conditions are observed quite consistently. Likewise, some syntactic conditions also seem to be observable, e.g. the correlation between an expletive subject and an indefinite argument elsewhere in the clause.

R&M proceed to discuss three approaches to analyzing definiteness (Milsark 1977; Barwise and Cooper 1981; and finally Heim 1982). Heim’s analysis I found particularly interesting. R&M characterize Heim’s as a ‘dynamic’ approach (in contrast to Milsark’s and B&C’s static ones) in that the interpretation of an NP is analyzed as a process.

The second text from this book I dug into was David Gil’s chapter (pp.254-269), titled ‘Definiteness, Noun Phrase Configurationality, and the Count-Mass Distinction’.

Gil’s interesting result is that there are at least two clearly distinct and definable NP typologies. His thesis is that ‘NP typology is a joint product of the two covarying parameters of configurationality and the count-mass distinction.’ He notes seven typological correlates, each of which either a Type A language has while the Type B language doesn’t, or vice-versa. His examples contrasted mainly English and Japanese.

To illustrate the count-mass example, he observes that in Type A languages usually a large class of nouns e.g. ‘count nouns’ are obligatorily marked for number, whereas in Type B languages there is either no marking (Japanese, Chinese), it is optional, or it has a special interpretation or occurs in specifically constrained contexts (Turkish, Indonesian). He shows how the parameters that determine this also influence other issues like whether (in)definiteness is obligatorily marked.

The other key term in his thesis, ‘configurationality’, refers to whether noun phrases have a hierarchical structure internally. Whereas Japanese does not, English does. Correspondingly, in English it is the determiner system within which NPs are integrated, whereas Japanese cannot truly be said to have determiners. An example that illustrates this difference is how the English phrase ‘Sam’s three books that Cyril read’ can only occur in this configuration as a noun phrase, whereas in Japanese each nominal or admonimal in the phrase can grammatically appear in any order.

Another interesting piece of data Gil introduces is of adnominal distributive numerals in Japanese (sansatsuzutsu meaning potentially ‘three each’ or ‘three at a time’ or ‘in threes’ – all actually subtly different in English). Gil argues that in the phrase sansatsuzutsu no hon the adnominal distributes over the nominal head, but basically Type A languages cannot have adnominal distributive numerals because numerals are determiners and not really adjectival or nominal modifiers.

I’ve not had much experience with language typology either, but I found Gil’s analysis illuminating. It raises the question of how  or whether I might do a similar analysis for Singlish in my project. I’m interested to find out my supervisor’s opinion about this analysis as well.