5

I don’t have access to CGEL, but I am reading Huddleston & Pullum (Yes, the 2005 ed.). They categorize this in “This is infuriating” as a fused determiner-head. I think I understand their reasoning and I accept it. But on the very next page (p. 99) they categorize what in “What do you want?” as a pronoun functioning as a head. I think I understand that too. But I don’t understand why they treat this and what differently in the respective sentences.

My understanding of their view on this is that there’s a fusion that could be split up into this thing or something like it. But the same splitting could be done to their what example: What thing do you want?

So I checked their test(s) for pronounhood, but unfortunately all they address is distinguishing pronouns from other nouns.

In their discussion of what they mention that as a pronoun it’s non-personal and as a determinative it’s “neutral with respect to the personal vs non-personal distinction.” I’d say that here too this acts the same: *This just invited me to dinner doesn’t work, but This professor explains things clearly does.

So, am I missing something? Besides the determiner this, what’s wrong with saying there’s also a pronoun this? In their this example they describe it as belonging to the flavor of fused determiner-head that they label as “special,” but I don’t see anywhere where they explain that label. Could that be a clue?

(Of course, the same thing would go for that.)

6
  • I agree that their explanation is inadequate, particularly as "what" can in fact be a fused determiner-head in, for example, "I don't like what she wrote", where "what" is simultaneously determiner and head.
    – BillJ
    Commented Sep 2, 2023 at 7:56
  • @BillJ It gets mind-bogglingly confusing, but the what in I didn't like what she wrote is not a fused determiner-head, it's a fused head-prenucleus. Commented Sep 2, 2023 at 8:54
  • @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. Yes, it's important to distinguish fused relatives and fused determiner-head NPs. But I still think H&P's explanation in SIEG is inadequate.
    – BillJ
    Commented Sep 2, 2023 at 9:04
  • @BillJ I agree. It's not wrong, but it needs unpacking a whole lot to be a) convincing and b) coherent. Have they change it for the 2nd ed? Commented Sep 2, 2023 at 9:06
  • 1
    @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. I haven't got a copy of SIEG2 But I'm aware of a few inconsistencies with SIEG1 / CGEL, which I've discussed at length with GKP. He agrees, and says he'll get them corrected in the first reprint. It's apparent from the little I've heard/read that RDH has made little input in SIEG2, but then you and I know why.
    – BillJ
    Commented Sep 2, 2023 at 9:20

1 Answer 1

3

In their discussion of what they mention that as a pronoun it’s non-personal and as a determinative it’s “neutral with respect to the personal vs non-personal distinction.” I’d say that here too this acts the same

No it does not. Compare:

  1. This guy appears to be in charge.
  2. This appears to be the guy in charge.
  3. What guy appears to be in charge?
  4. * What appears to be the guy in charge?

(1) and (2) are both correct. This is usually non-personal when used without a following noun, since we would typically use he, she, or they instead. But it can be used to refer to a person, as (2) shows.

On the other hand, while (3) is correct, (4) is not. When what is used on its own, it is always non-personal, making (4) incorrect (with the relevant interpretation). So (4) can't be seen as a fused determiner-head, since what has a different meaning here than it does as a determiner.

Edit: There is a further complication here, as Huddleston & Pullum note on p. 904. What can occur as a predicative complement with the ascriptive be, as in Araucaria's "If Mitch is the ringleader, what is Alphabet?" example. Here the expected answer is not a referential noun phrase denoting a person, so this does not violate the general rule.

8
  • If Mitch is the ringleader, what is Alphabet? (Devil's advocating for a sec). Commented Sep 2, 2023 at 7:43
  • 1
    Your examples there aren't really parallel there. For (4) to parallel (1), you'd need "What is the guy buying groceries". Can you come up with some parallel examples? Commented Sep 2, 2023 at 9:02
  • @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. Your counterexamples have successfully confused me.
    – alphabet
    Commented Sep 2, 2023 at 13:25
  • @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. OK, I was able to answer the "ringleader" issue.
    – alphabet
    Commented Sep 2, 2023 at 13:47
  • 1
    @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. I was also able to come up with some parallel examples that I believe work; the new version of (4) uses a raising verb, which avoids the predicative complement interpretation because you can't raise a predicative complement into a subject.
    – alphabet
    Commented Sep 2, 2023 at 14:12

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.