Little Words: Their History, Phonology, Syntax, Semantics, Pragmatics, and Acquisition

By Ronald P. Leow; Héctor Campos et al. | Go to book overview

8
The Complementizer The

HEATHER LEE TAYLOR

University of Maryland, College Park

THIS CHAPTER CONCERNS comparative correlatives [in (1) and (2)] and the “little word” the that obligatorily begins both phrases/clauses. The syntactic structure of such expressions is far from apparent.

(1) The more a student studies, the better grades she will receive

(2) The longer the storm lasts, the worse the damage is

A comparative correlative looks like two nominals, obligatorily headed by the determiner the, with no clear indication of what the relationship between these two “nominals” is. English comparative correlatives consist of two phrases, no more and no less, as seen in (3) through (5). This characteristic is not limited to comparative correlatives in English; to the extent that comparative correlatives have been documented cross-linguistically, all languages require that exactly two phrases/clauses be present.1

(3) *The more a student studies

(4) *The better grades she will receive

(5) *? The more a student studies, the better grades she will receive, the better job she'll land

Because we do not have evidence at this point to make a distinction between the two parts of the comparative correlative or to determine their syntactic status in terms of a category, I will temporarily refer to them as phrases, and individually to the “first phrase” and the “second phrase” as it corresponds to their linear order, as in (6). This terminological issue will be resolved below.

In English, both the first phrase and the second phrase obligatorily begin with the little word the. The unacceptability of (7a) is due to the absence of the in the first

-87-

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