Scalar semantics in the foreground
Explaining the syntactic behaviour of a non-canonical noun phrase
This paper offers a corpus-based study of the noun phrase pattern exemplified in This is anticipated to be more common a scenario than fleas spreading bubonic plague, referred to as the Optional Postposed Indefinite Article Noun Phrase (OPIANP). The central question is whether there is semantic motivation for this postposition of the indefinite article. The results suggest that there is such motivation, namely that the OPIANP could be an extension of a more frequent construction identified as the Postposed Indefinite Article Noun Phrase (PIANP). It is shown that the pattern’s semantics is unpredictable from its component parts and that its primary function is to position already given arguments on an adjectival scale, thus foregrounding scalar qualities and backgrounding the nominal meaning. These findings are then discussed in light of current grammatical theory, and some suggestions are made for future research.
Keywords: noun phrase, semantic motivation, scalarity, scalar reference point, indefinite article, construction grammar, degree modification, OPIANP, PIANP, unification
Published online: 10 February 2012