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  1. Phaedrus's Avatar
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    #1

    possessive pronouns: an antecedent-interpretation issue

    Today I was reading through a beginning-level ESL short story with some learners and came upon this sentence:

    (1) His customers appreciate Nikos very much.

    In context, the intended meaning is that Nikos's customers appreciate him. My question is whether the intended meaning is possible. Consider:

    (2) Her fans love Madonna.
    (3) His students like Mr. Smith.

    Can (2) mean that Madonna's fans love her and (3) that Mr. Smith's students like him? In other words, can the direct-object names supply the antecedents?

    Thank you.

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    #2

    Re: possessive pronouns: an antecedent-interpretation issue

    Quote Originally Posted by Phaedrus View Post
    Today I was reading through a beginning-level ESL short story with some learners and came upon this sentence:

    (1) His customers appreciate Nikos very much.

    In context, the intended meaning is that Nikos's customers appreciate him. My question is whether the intended meaning is possible. Consider:

    (2) Her fans love Madonna.
    (3) His students like Mr. Smith.

    Can (2) mean that Madonna's fans love her and (3) that Mr. Smith's students like him? In other words, can the direct-object names supply the antecedents?

    Thank you.
    In Chomskyan terms, there are no Conditon C violations here, so the reference is possible.

  3. Phaedrus's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: possessive pronouns: an antecedent-interpretation issue

    Quote Originally Posted by raymondaliasapollyon View Post
    In Chomskyan terms, there are no Conditon C violations here, so the reference is possible.
    I, too, have been thinking about it in those terms. Perhaps your conclusion should be revised to read "so the reference is possible in Chomsky's binding theory." Ultimately, it is native speakers' judgments that need to be appealed to, and my judgement as a native speaker is that it is weird here to have the direct object establish the referent of the pronominal possessor subject. Also, it seems to me that there may be a Condition C violation after all.

    My understanding is that Condition C, or a significant implication of it, is that a pronoun cannot c-command its antecedent. In the tree below, although it is the DP headed by the possessive morpheme (complemented by the NP headed by "customers") that directly c-commands "Nikos," the pronoun in the Specifier of that DP is likewise a DP and might, I believe, be understood to c-command "Nikos" in an extended sense.

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    #4

    Re: possessive pronouns: an antecedent-interpretation issue

    The specifier of a subject DP does not c-command an object down in the tree, unless it is assumed that specifiers are adjuncts to XP.

    If the specifier did c-command the object, the binding relation between "her" and "herself" in "*Her son hates herself" would be incorrectly allowed.

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