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8.2.2. Noun phrases denoting a profession or social function

Predicative nouns denoting a profession or social function are unique in that we find a three-way alternation between noun phrases headed by a definite article, noun phrases headed by an indefinite article and bare noun phrases. The use of “➶” in (104a) indicates that the bare noun phrase involves a rise in the intonation contour, which, in neutral contexts, is lacking in the other two cases. That the choice of determiner is not semantically innocuous will be evident from the general survey in the following subsections; see also Haeseryn et al. (1997: §4.5.6).

Example 104
a. Hij is ➶ dokter.
bare NP
  he  is  physician
  'Heʼs a physician (by profession).'
b. Hij is de dokter.
definite article
  he  is the physician
  'Heʼs the physician.'
c. Hij is een dokter.
indefinite article
  he  is a physician
  'He behaves like/has features typical of a physician.'
[+]  I.  No article → function/profession

The interpretation of dokter'doctor' in (104a) is that of the profession/social function; it predicates the property of being a doctor by profession of the subject. The nominal predicate receives what we will call a “professional” reading and is interpreted “objectively”. This objective interpretation is clear from the fact that bare NPs cannot enter the vinden-construction in (105a), which inherently expresses a subjective evaluation by the referent of the subject of the clause. Further, it is clear from the fact illustrated in (105b) that subjective modifiers cannot be added to the bare noun phrase. Finally, the predicative noun cannot have an inherently positive or negative connotation, as is the case with schoolfrik in (105c).

Example 105
a. * Ik vind hem schoolmeester.
  consider  him  schoolmaster
b. * Jan is goede schoolmeester.
  Jan is good schoolmaster
c. * Jan is schoolfrik.
  Jan is pedant.schoolmaster

This places the bare NP apart from the predicatively used noun phrases introduced by the indefinite article een'a' in (106), which may but need not denote the profession of being a schoolmaster; cf. the discussion in Subsection III below.

Example 106
a. Ik vind hem een schoolmeester.
  consider  him  a schoolmaster
b. Jan is een goede schoolmeester.
  Jan is a good schoolmaster
c. Jan is een schoolfrik.
  Jan is a pedant.schoolmaster

Note that this semantic distinction between bare NPs and indefinite noun phrases introduced by the article een is typical for the domain of nominal predicates, and does not occur elsewhere. For instance, the examples in (107) show that the preposition zonder'without' can take either a bare noun phrase or an indefinite noun phrase as its complement, but it seems difficult to discern any describable semantic difference between the two examples. Note that evaluative modifiers can be used in both cases, and that the noun may express an inherently subjective connotation such as pillendraaier (lit.: someone who makes pills).

Example 107
a. We kunnen niet op safari zonder (goede) dokter/pillendraaier.
  we  can  not  on safari  without good physician
b. We kunnen niet op safari zonder een (goede) dokter/pillendraaier.
  we  can  not  on safari  without a good physician
  'We cannot go on a safari without a (good) physician.'

      As was already mentioned in 8.2.1, sub III, predicative bare noun phrases can also be used on their “professional” reading in phrases introduced by als, tot, and occasionally voor. On this reading, the noun phrase must be bare, that is, it cannot be introduced by the indefinite article een.

Example 108
a. Jan werkt als (*een) dokter in een ziekenhuis.
  Jan works  as     a  physician  in a hospital
  'Jan is practicing his profession as a physician in a hospital.'
b. Als (*een) dokter komt Jan vaak bij de mensen thuis.
  as     a  physician  comes  Jan often  with the people  at home
  'In his capacity of physician, Jan visits a lot of people at home.'
c. Jan is benoemd tot/als (*een) hoogleraar in de taalkunde.
  Jan is appointed  as     a  professor in the linguistics
  'Jan is appointed as professor in linguistics.'
d. Jan studeert voor (*een) leraar.
  Jan studies  for     a  teacher
  'Jan is studying to become a teacher.'

This does not mean that examples such as (109a') are ungrammatical. However, if an indefinite article is present, the noun phrase loses its “profession” reading, and the example can only be used in a metaphorical sense: example (109a') means that Jan drives very fast. This metaphorical use of als-phrases is very productive, but always involves a noun phrase introduced by an indefinite article; cf. (109b&c).

Example 109
a. Jan rijdt als autocoureur (voor Porsche).
  Jan drives  as a racing.driver for Porsche
  'Jan is employed (by Porsche) as a racing driver.'
a'. Jan rijdt als een autocoureur.
  Jan drives  like  a racing.driver
b. Jan hijgt als *(een) werkpaard.
  Jan pants  like     a  workhorse
c. Jan rookt als *(een) schoorsteen.
  Jan smokes  like     a  chimney

      All examples so far involve nouns denoting +human entities. It is therefore useful to show that inanimate noun phrases can sometimes also be used in article-less constructions, both in the copular construction and as the complement of als. This is illustrated in (110).

Example 110
a. Dit zinsdeel is (het) onderwerp van de zin.
  this constituent  is   the  subject of the clause
b. Dit zinsdeel fungeert als (het) onderwerp van de zin.
  this constituent  functions  as   the  subject of the clause
[+]  II.  Definite article → uniqueness in context

Like its article-less counterpart, the definite nominal predicate in (104b), Hij is de dokter'He is the physician', has the objective “professional” reading as a profession or social function. As usual, the semantic contribution of the definite article is that of uniqueness in the domain of discourse; example (104b) can be used in contexts in which there is an implicit institution or social unit (say, a neighborhood or a hospital) in which the referent of the subject can be uniquely identified by means of the nominal predicate: “He is the doctor in this village”. Examples like these are usable also in a play-script kind of context: “He is the actor that plays the doctor in this play”. The definite article is obligatory if the noun phrase contains a superlative or some other element that implies that the noun phrase has unique reference.

Example 111
a. Jan is de/*een/*Ø knapste dokter.
  Jan is the/a/Ø  most.handsome/skilled  physician
  'Jan is the most handsome/skilled physician.'
b. Jan was de/*een/*Ø eerste dokter
  Jan was the/a/Ø  first  physician
[+]  III.  Indefinite article een → subjective and/or characteristic

No statement about the professional occupation of the subject need be implied by the indefinite nominal predicate in (104c), Hij is een dokter “He is a physician’. In this example, the predicate can also be interpreted subjectively and express that, in the eyes of the speaker, the subject behaves like a doctor or shows features in his behavior which typify doctors (e.g., wearing a white coat all the time, or using lots of Latinate medical terms). The difference can be made clearer by considering example (112), which involves the verb lijken'to seem', and in which the modal particle wel emphasizes the fact that the addressee is not really a schoolmaster but only resembles one.

Example 112
Je lijkt wel *(een) schoolmeester als je zo praat.
  you  seem  prt     a  schoolmaster  when  you  like.that  talk
'You resemble a schoolmaster when you talk like that.'

That nominal predicates preceded by an indefinite article may be of an inherent subjective/evaluative or metaphorical nature is also supported by the fact that examples such as (113a) can be used as an insult comparable to the one in (113b). Interestingly, the primeless examples alternate with the constructions in the primed examples, which feature a bare noun phrase acting as the antecedent of relative pronoun that functions as a predicate in the relative clause.

Example 113
a. Je bent een vervelende schoolmeester!
  you  are  a tedious schoolmaster
a'. Vervelende schoolmeester, die/dat je bent!
  tedious schoolmaster  that  you  are
b. Je bent een grote klootzak!
  you are  a big scrotum
  'Youʼre a big bastard!'
b'. Grote klootzak die/dat je bent!
  big scrotum  that  you  are

The primed examples pose several questions. First, it is unclear why the bare noun phrase does not receive the objective, professional reading discussed in Subsection I. Second, it is not clear why the bare noun phrase can function as the antecedent of the relative clause given that the indefinite article in the primeless examples is obligatory. Third, it is not clear why the relative pronoun can be die, which normally cannot function as the predicate of a relative clause. Finally, the relative clause is omissible. We will not attempt to address these questions here, but leave them to future research.
      The interpretation of a nominal predicate that is part of a supplementive als-phrase also depends on the presence or absence of the indefinite article; cf. Van den Torn (1981: 50). In (114a), the bare NP must be construed under the “profession” reading, whereas (114a') instead expresses that Janʼs talking resembles the speech of a vicar; see also the discussion of example (109). Example (114b) expresses that Marie lived in lodgings when she was a student, whereas (114b') just compares Marieʼs mode of housing to that of a student.

Example 114
a. Jan spreekt als dominee.
  Jan speaks  as  vicar
  'Jan speaks in his capacity of vicar.'
a'. Jan spreekt als een dominee.
  Jan speaks  as a vicar
  'Jan talks like a vicar.'
b. Als student woonde Marie op kamers.
  as student  lived  Marie  on rooms
  'As a student Marie lived in lodgings.'
b'. Als een student woonde Marie op kamers.
  as a student  lived  Marie  on rooms
  'Like a student Marie lived in lodgings.'

      To conclude this subsection, it might be interesting to point out that the interpretation of the definite genitival nominal predicate in (115a) comes relatively close to examples with an indefinite noun phrase in that it denotes a set of typical properties of a certain real-world entity. It is different, however, in that it need not denote a profession and requires that the subject be a noun phrase denoting certain behavior (or a pronoun that takes such a noun phrase as its antecedent). By far the most conspicuous feature is the “mock archaic” use of genitive case: the genitive determiner des, which was originally the masculine or neuter article, is now also used with feminine/plural noun phrases, as in (115b&c), and with proper nouns like Ajax, as in (115d). For more discussion and representative examples, see onzetaal.nl/taaladvies/advies/des-vrouws and, especially, Hoeksema (1998) .

Example 115
a. Dat is des kinds.
  that  is the childgen
  'Thatʼs how children are.'
b. Ontrouw is des vrouw/des mensen(s).
  infidelity  is  themasc,gen  womangen/person
  'Infidelity is a typical female trait.'
c. IJdelheid is des vrouws/des mensen(s).
  vanity  is  themasc,gen  womangen/person
  'Vanity is a typical human trait.'
d. Verdedigen is niet des Ajax.
  to defend  is not  themasc,gen  Ajax
  'A defensive attitude is not typical for Ajax.'
[+]  IV.  Differences between the three types of nominal predicates

There are a number of ways in which the three types of nominal predicates discussed in the previous subsections exhibit different syntactic behaviors, which are related to their semantic properties. Here we will discuss some without claiming that we are discussing the differences exhaustively.

[+]  A.  Modification of the predicate by means of the PP van beroep'by profession'

To bare dokter in (104a) can readily be added van beroep'by profession', as seen in (116a), whereas it is impossible to add van beroep to the nominal predicates in (104b&c). This suggests that only (104a) inherently expresses an occupation.

Example 116
a. Jan is dokter van beroep.
  Jan is physician  by profession
b. * Jan is de dokter van beroep.
  Jan is the physician  by profession
c. * Jan is een dokter van beroep.
  Jan is a physician  by profession
[+]  B.  The nominal predicate as subject of a nominal predicate headed by beroep

The (a)-examples in (117) show that a bare nominal predicate can also be used as the logical subjectof a second-order predicate headed by beroep'profession'. It is impossible, however, to use nominal predicates preceded by a definite or indefinite article as the subject of such a predicate; cf. examples (117b&c). Again, this suggests that only bare nouns inherently express an occupation.

Example 117
a. Dokter is een mooi beroep.
  physician  is a nice profession
a'. Ik vind dokter een mooi beroep.
  consider  physician  a nice profession
b. * De dokter is een mooi beroep.
  the physician  is a nice profession
c. * Een dokter is een mooi beroep.
  a physician  is a nice profession
[+]  C.  Pluralization

The examples in (86) have shown that nominal predicates and the noun phrases they are predicated of normally agree in number. The examples in (118b&c) show that this also holds for the indefinite and definite predicative noun phrases in (104b&c). Example (118a), however, shows that the bare noun phrase in (104a) does not exhibit plural morphology when its subject is plural.

Example 118
a. Zij zijn ➶ dokter.
bare NP
  they  are  physicians
  'They are physicians (by profession).'
b. Zij zijn de doktoren.
definite article
  they  are  the physicians
  'They are the physicians.'
c. Zij zijn ∅ doktoren.
indefinite article
  they  are  physicians
  'They behave like/have features typical of real physicians.'

One problem, however, is that we cannot be absolutely sure whether number agreement is impossible with bare nominal predicates. This is due to the fact that the plural indefinite article is phonetically empty, so that the only difference between (118a) and (118c) is the rising intonation contour in the former. Fortunately, the earlier findings in (116) and (117) can be used as additional support for the conclusion that the bare noun phrase cannot be plural. As we have seen in (116), the bare noun phrase dokter, but not the indefinite noun phrase een dokter, can be modified by the PP van beroep. As is shown in (119a), the plural noun phrase doktoren cannot be modified by this PP either, so we may conclude that the plural noun phrase contains the indefinite zero article ∅. Similarly, we have seen that the bare noun phrase dokter, but not the indefinite noun phrase een dokter, can be used as the subjectof anominalpredicate headed by beroep'profession'. Since the plural noun phrase doktoren cannot be used in (119b), we again conclude that the plural noun phrase contains the article ∅. From, this we can safely conclude that the bare noun phrase dokter does not have a plural counterpart.

Example 119
a. Zij zijn dokter/??doktoren van beroep.
  they  are  physician(s) by profession
b. * Doktoren is/zijn een mooi beroep.
  physicians  is/are  a nice profession
[+]  D.  Modifiers

The examples in (120a) show that the bare noun phrase dokter cannot be modified by the adjective echt'real/true', whereas this is possible in the other two examples. In (120b), echte is used to distinguish the genuine doctor from the quacks surrounding him. The semantic import of echte in (120c) depends on whether accent is assigned to the adjective or to the noun. In the first case, the semantic contribution of echt is similar to echt in (120b): Jan is not a quack. In the latter case, it enhances the “subjective” interpretation of the predicative noun phrase: Jan truly behaves like a doctor.

Example 120
a. * Jan is echte dokter.
  Jan is real physician
b. Jan is de echte dokter.
  Jan is the real physician
  'Jan is the real physician (and not one of the quacks).'
c. Jan is een echte dokter.
  Jan is a real physician
  'Jan really is a true doctor/behaves like a true physician.'

      The ungrammaticality of (120a) seems to confirm our earlier conclusion drawn from the examples in (105) that bare nominal predicates have an “objective” interpretation. In order to maintain this conclusion, we have to show, however, that the ungrammaticality of (120a) is not the result of some general restriction on modification of bare nominal predicates, but results from the fact that the bare noun phrase resists only modification of a certain type. That there is a selective restriction on modification is clear from the difference in grammaticality between (121) and (122). The difference lies in the semantic contribution made by the modifiers in question; modification of the type denoted by the predicate nominal is possible, whereas modification of specific tokens who have this function is not. It should be noted, however, that the collocations in (122) border on compounding.

Example 121
a. Jan is dokter (*met grote vakkennis).
  Jan is physician  with great professional knowledge
b. Jan is dokter (*die goed voor zijn patiënten zorgt).
  Jan is physician  who well for his patients cares
Example 122
a. Jan is gediplomeerd dokter.
  Jan is diploma.bearing  physician
b. Jan is doctor in de medische wetenschappen.
  Jan is doctor in the medical sciences
[+]  E.  Placement

Complementives are normally placed left-adjacent to the verbs in clause-final position, and cannot be scrambled to the left of clausal adverbs like waarschijnlijk'probably' or natuurlijk'of course'. This also holds for the predicative noun phrases in (123a&c), which cannot occur in any other position in the middle field of the clause than the one indicated.

Example 123
a. dat hij <*leraar> waarschijnlijk <leraar> wordt.
  that  he     teacher  probably  become
  'that heʼll probably become a teacher.'
b. dat hij <*de leraar> waarschijnlijk <de leraar> is.
  that  he      the teacher  probably  is
  'that he probably is the teacher.'
c. dat hij <*een schoolfrik> natuurlijk <een schoolfrik> is.
  that  he  a pedant.schoolmaster  of course  is
  'that he of course behaves like a pedant schoolmaster.'

It seems, however, that the definite noun phrases behave differently with respect to the negative adverb niet: whereas, e.g., adjectival complementives must follow this adverb, as shown in (124a), the (b)-examples in (124) show that definite predicative noun phrases may occur on either side of it. The interpretation is similar to that with direct objects: if the noun phrase follows niet, we are dealing with constituent negation; if the noun phrase precedes niet, we are dealing with sentential negation.

Example 124
a. dat Jan <*aardig> niet <aardig> is.
  that  Jan     nice  not  is
b. dat Jan niet de directeur is (maar de eigenaar).
  that  Jan not  the director  is   but  the owner
b'. dat Jan de directeur niet is.
  that  Jan the director  not  is
  'that Jan isnʼt the manager.'

It is less clear whether the placement of definite predicative noun phrases is also more free with other adverbs that normally follow the clausal adverbs: placement of the definite predicative noun phrase in (125b) in front of al'already' gives rise to a much better result than movement of the nominal predicate in (125a&c), but it still seems marked compared to its placement left-adjacent to the verb cluster.

Example 125
a. Jan heeft altijd <*directeur> al <directeur> willen zijn.
  Jan has  always      director already     want be
b. Jan heeft altijd <?de directeur> al <de directeur> willen zijn.
  Jan has  always      the director  already  want be
c. Jan heeft altijd <*een directeur> al <een directeur> willen zijn.
  Jan has  always      a director  already  want be
  • Haeseryn, Walter, Romijn, Kirsten, Geerts, Guido, Rooij, Jaap de & Toorn, Maarten C. van den1997Algemene Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenNijhoff
  • Hoeksema, Jack1998Een ondode kategorie: de genitiefTabu28162-167
  • Toorn, M.C. van den1981Nederlandse grammaticaGroningenWolters-Noordhoff: 7th, revised edition
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