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14 April 2004 @ 22:07
Demonic possession  

Mark Liberman, discussing the headline "Tribe Homer Barrage Salvages Split," finds that he would like to be able to call it *Geoff Nunberg's Peter Trudgill's headline, and wonders why he can't.

An explanation along the lines of Abney (1987; pdf file here), I think, would be that possessive 's is a determiner that takes an NP complement and a DP specifier. Peter Trudgill's headline is a DP, with 's as its head, headline as its complement, and Peter Trudgill as its specifier. This DP can then be the specifier of another 's DP, as in Peter Trudgill's headline's verb (awkward but grammatical), but it cannot be the complement to 's or to any other determiner. In other words, you can't say *Geoff Nunberg's Peter Trudgill's headline for the same reason that you can't say *the Peter Trudgill's headline or *Peter Trudgill's the headline or, for that matter, *the the headline.

Mark does give an apparent counterexample:

It won't make me happy to tell me that the normal parsing is "(X's Y)'s Z". In the first place, that just restates my question. In the second place, it ain't necessarily so. In "Marcel Gagne's User's Guide for Linux", for instance, it's the guide and not the user that is construed to be Marcel's.

Here I would say that user's guide is a lexicalized compound noun referring to a particular type of guide, rather than a syntactically constructed DP; I think the stress assignment (úser's guide as opposed to ùser's gúide) supports this analysis. And if there are several such guides, belonging to different users, then they can be described, grammatically and non-redundantly, as several users' user's guides.


Update: David Beaver offers essentially the same explanation, only with greater clarity and concision.

 
 
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