Plural determiners and the occasional construction in English and Italian
1. In English certain adjectives modifying event nominals are ambiguous between an
attributive reading (1a) and an ‘external’/adverbial reading (1b), (Bolinger 1967, Stump 1981,
Larson 1999, Zimmermann 2003, Schäfer 2007):
(1) [DP The / An occasional sailor] strolled by.
a. Someone who sails occasionally strolled by. = attributive reading
b. Occasionally, a sailor strolled by. = external (adverbial) reading
The external reading is found with other adjectives of ‘infrequency’, e.g. sporadic, infrequent,
rare, and odd. This construction has been labeled the occasional construction, henceforth OC.
2. In this paper, we investigate the properties that enable the availability of OCs across
languages on the basis of English and Italian data. We show that like English, Italian has OCs
but only with a single determiner, which, however, is not the indefinite article, but qualche
'some'. Focusing on the properties of the determiners in OCs, we propose that the adverbial
reading is linked to a particular position in a split DP structure and languages differ as to
which determiners will realize this position. Specifically, the adverbial reading will be present
in a language, if weak NPs in this language involve determiners/quantifiers that can be
merged at a low level in a split DP structure (Heycock & Zamparelli (H&Z) 2005; cf. Borer
2005). We identify this with the level of PlP, the projection that generates a plural denotation
in H&Z's system, and we extend their analysis to capture the syntax/semantics of OCs.
3. English OCs are possible only with a limited group of determiners (Larson 1999).
Specifically, OCs involve weak DPs headed by i) a definite article (2a); ii) a (singular)
indefinite article (2a) ; iii) the (semantically bleached) 2nd singular possessive pronoun (2b)
and not by: i) cardinal quantifiers (3a), ii) strong quantifiers (3b) and iii) demonstratives (3c):
(2) a. [The/An occasional customer] entered the shop.
‘Occasionally, a customer entered the shop.’
b. Well, [your occasional sailor] would also show up.
‘Occasionally, a sailor would show up.’
(3) a. [Two occasional customers] entered the shop.
NOT: ‘Occasionally, two customers entered the shop.’
b. [Every occasional customer] entered the shop.
NOT: ‘Occasionally, every customer entered the shop.’
c. [This occasional customer] entered the shop.
NOT: ‘Occasionally, this customer entered the shop.’
In OCs, infrequency adjectives must be adjacent to the determiner; intervening adjectives
block the external reading (cf. 4b). The infrequency adjective cannot be coordinated with
another adjective while preserving the external reading ((5) Stump 1981):
(4) a. [The / An occasional elegant visitor] passed by.
‘Occasionally, an elegant visitor passed by.’
b. [The / An elegant occasional visitor] passed by.
NOT: ‘Occasionally, an elegant visitor passed by.’
(5) [The / An occasional and elegant visitor] passed by.
NOT: ‘Occasionally, an elegant visitor passed by.’
4. In the external reading, the adjective is interpreted like its adverbial counterpart. As the
adjective has clausal scope, a mismatch arises between the overt syntactic structure and the
semantic structure. An influential line of analysis of English OCs (cf. Stump 1981, Larson
1999 and Zimmermann 2003, though details differ) suggests that the adverbial reading
involves complex quantifier (CQ) formation: the article and the adjective combine to form a
complex quantifier, which i) is pluractional and ii) undergoes QR, giving the external reading.
5. Turning to Italian, as is well known in this language adjectives can appear both in pre- and
post-nominal position: prenominal placement of ambiguous adjectives correlates with a
strictly unambiguous interpretation (adverbial), and post-nominal placement correlates with
ambiguity (adverbial and intersective, from Cinque 2007):
(6) Un buon attaccante non farebbe mai una cosa del genere (unambiguous)
i. ‘A forward good at playing forward would never do such a thing’ (nonintersective)
ii. ‘#A good-hearted forward would never do such a thing’ (intersective)
(7) Un attaccante buono non farebbe mai una cosa del genere (ambiguous; both i & ii)
The adverbial reading of infrequency adjectives is available, but only when two structural
conditions are met: i) the adjective is in prenominal position and adjacent to N (the string
NAdj has no external reading) and (ii) the determiner is qualche 'some', which is not specified
for gender and selects a singular NP, but can be plural in meaning (Zamparelli 2008).
(8)a. Solo qualche occasionale cliente entrava nel suo negozio.
Only the/a/some occasional customer entered the shop.
Occasionally, a customer entered the shop. (attributive reading also available)
b. Sara in genere non ama agghindarsi, ma a volte indossa qualche raro gioiello.
Sara doesn’t usually doll up, but sometimes she wears the/a/some rare jewel.
Sara rarely wears a jewel / some jewels. (attributive reading also available)
(8a-b) lose the adverbial reading, when definite articles (singular and plural), indefinite
articles and the singular meaning of qualche are used. Qualche can be preceded by the
indefinite article in (9), un- qualche, but again its interpretation changes. It shifts to a singular
meaning and the adjective loses the adverbial reading. Zamparelli (2008) argued that qualche
+ N sequences are weak DPs; for instance, they can occur in existential sentences (9), which
are known to be in with weak DPs but out with strong DPs:
(9) a. C’è un grosso problema. b. C’è qualche grosso problema
There is a big problem. There are (gramm: is) some big problem(s).
6. We are concerned with the following questions: (i) Why is the adverbial interpretation
limited to certain determiners? (ii) Why do English and Italian differ with respect to the
determiner that is used to license these readings? We argue that the answer to these questions
lies in the (complex) determiner/quantifier structure of the languages under investigation.
Building on H&Z (2005), cf. Borer (2005) and others, we assume that different
determiners/quantifiers are introduced in different positions in a split DP, (10):
(10) [DP definite articles/demonstratives/universal quantifiers [NumP numerals [Adj[PlP [NP]]]]
We propose that a language will allow adverbial readings, if its determiners can be first
merged at the level of PlP. PlP is an operator projection that allows a plural denotation to be
constructed. Zamparelli (2008) argued in detail, independently of OCs, that qualche is
introduced in PlP and then raises to D ° via Num°. But its English counterpart 'some' is
introduced in D. Cardinal numerals in English as well as the indefinite article in Italian are
introduced in NumP (Berstein 1993, Borer 2005). Following H&Z (2005), the English
indefinite article can spell out Pl°, and so can the definite article and the bleached 2nd person
pronoun, which are feature neutral. Demonstratives are generally merged in DP (cf.
Alexiadou Haegeman & Stavrou 2007). This explains the restrictions on the determiners. The
determiners realizing Pl° in these two languages are underspecified for phi-features, show no
agreement with the noun they modify, and are plural in meaning. Plural denotation, we argue,
is possible only in the absence of overt agreement: underspecified elements allow a plural
denotation to be constructed, since they do not eliminate plurality from their denotation
(Heycok & Zamparelli's 2005: 231 NumP Parameter). Finally, low merging of determiners
enables the CQ formation, which then feeds QR, as non-restrictive/adverbial modifiers are
introduced between NumP and PlP (Zamparelli 2008;10). The quantifier in Pl° combines with
the adjective, occupying a head position (Abney 1987, Bernstein 1993, Larson 1999), and
they both move to D. The pluractionality of OCs is thus the result of combining a 'plural'
determiner with an infrequency adjective in the syntax.