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NG45. Noun phrases (2)

RodinNG44 showed how noun phrases must be fully analysed to find the head that forms a junction with a word elsewhere in the sentence.  This time we look at NPs that remain ambiguous until following material is processed.

Two sentences

Consider the following:

(167) Lucy and Mike’s daughter was kissed by John

(168) Lucy and Mike’s daughter were kissed by John

In (167), Lucy and Mike’s qualifies daughter; there is one kissing.  In (168), Mike’s qualifies daughter to form a noun phrase that is coordinated with Lucy; there are two kissings.

In both cases, analysis of the sentence subject cannot be completed until the following auxiliary is encountered.

The aim

The propositions delivered to cognition from either one of these sentences are:




plus one or other of:



plus any bits and pieces from verb tense etc.

If this is not clear, the reader should take a look at LS15 (on passives) and LS33 (on before-the-verb coordination).  The possessive Mike’s before daughter is treated the same as of Mike after the noun.


Two competing COORD / LUCY propositions are set up and part-activated.  Then the auxiliary verb enables the appropriate one to be chosen: was will give MIKE / COORD / LUCY and were will give DAUGHTER / COORD / LUCY.  The winner gets full activation and is delivered.

The two propositions are created at Mike. At that point daughter has yet to be encountered so the second proposition is initially X / COORD / LUCY.  That one gets two units of activation while MIKE / COORD / LUCY gets four units.  Again the asymmetric activation is used to allow one of the choices to be made by default.

Setting up two propositions in this way was not shown in LS33 because it was unnecessary for the one-word NPs in the examples there.  However, LS44 has since shown that options must be kept open until the end of the phrase has been reached.

But what is X?  Any noun can have this property.  It signifies ‘singular form taking plural verb’.  The purpose of this should become clear shortly.

The main idea is that, if DAUGHTER is sufficiently activated as a result of daughter__were, X / COORD / LUCY (with X instantiated as DAUGHTER) becomes fully activated and is delivered; MIKE / COORD / LUCY never becomes fully activated and dies at sentence-end.  If instead the junction is daughter__was, the stronger proposition, MIKE / COORD / LUCY, simply inherits the activation of the weaker and is delivered, while the weaker dies.

A problem and its solution

Wouldn’t DAUGHTER also be ‘sufficiently activated’ as a result of daughter__was?  If so, MIKE / COORD / LUCY would never be delivered.

The proposal here is to assume that the word for phonological daughter is cloned such that the additional word has C′ instead of C and M′ instead of M, the two Ms being separate but semantically identical.  Crucially the clone word is also distinguished by having the property X.

This means that X / COORD / LUCY can only be activated via the clone.  And it is the clone that is in the junction with were.  The original daughter word is in the junction with was.

…daughter were kissed…

Diagrams should help understanding.  At first glance they look complicated but essentially there are two P / M / C / R / C / M / P groups (see LS7) sharing the same leading phonological word, daughter.  The M in the lower group HAS PROPERTY of M in the upper one, and it also HAS PROPERTY / X.  The X is shared with one of the COORD propositions.

In the daughter__were case, activation reaches that proposition which is duly delivered.

An obvious question is:  Since X must be instantiated by every noun, how is it that in this case DAUGHTER applies to COORD / LUCY?  The answer has to be that DAUGHTER is currently much more activated than any of the Ms for those other nouns.

…daughter was kissed…

The other case needs no further explanation.

A final point

The above diagrams follow LanguidSlog’s convention that lexical material is shaded.  The clone M′ and its HAS PROPERTY links are permanent.  And every noun will have the same arrangement.  This may seem like a lot of complication but it’s only one additional network node and a couple of links for each word.  Remember, a huge number of nodes are traversed for a sentence in order to get from sound to cognitive effect.  And we’ll talk about plural nouns some other time.

Mr Nice-Guy


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