Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 1–51 | Cite as

Noun incorporation and phrasal movement



While we agree with Baker (2009) that noun incorporation (NI) is not a unified phenomenon cross-linguistically, we argue against his claim that head movement is still needed for NI in a number of languages (including Mohawk and Mapudungun). Our proposal is that NI involves phrasal movement. The motivation behind our proposal is that incorporated nominals can be much larger than bare roots with a structure incompatible with head movement. The empirical foundation for the phrasal movement claim comes primarily from Onondaga (qua Northern Iroquoian) and Ojibwe (qua Algonquian). In these languages, incorporated nouns appear with nominalizers and inflectional morphemes violating Baker’s (1996, 2003) Proper Head Movement Generalization. Our proposal about NI has important theoretical ramifications: while it has been popular to build words in polysynthetic languages in the syntax via head movement, we view “wordhood” and the polysynthetic properties of such languages as a phonological phenomenon (Déchaine 1999; Branigan et al. 2005; Compton and Pittman 2010).


Noun incorporation XP movement Head movement Proper head movement Nominalizers Roots Denominalization Polysynthesis Word formation Phases 



We are grateful to Philomene Chegahno, Berdina Johnston, Donald Keeshig, Joanne Keeshig, Isabel Millette, Juanita Pheasant, Ernestine Proulx, and Ella Waukey for teaching us Ojibwe, and to Pauline Decontie, Joan Tenasco, Annette Smith, Mariette Buckshot, and Suzanne Odjick for teaching us Algonquin. Without them, the kind of research that we do would not be possible. Miigwech! We are also thankful to Alfred Keye, Barb Garlow, and Ruby Williams for teaching us Cayuga, and to Gloria Williams and Nora Carrier for teaching us Onondaga. Again, without their help, this research would not be possible. Our work on noun incorporation was presented at the University of York, the University of Minnesota, Cornell University, the University of Ottawa, the University of New Brunswick, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Mie University, McGill and Memorial University. We thank the audiences for their questions and comments. We also thank, with usual disclaimers, Gabriela Alboiu, Phil Branigan, Richard Compton, Rose-Marie Déchaine, Brandon J. Fry, Alana Johns, Bethany Lochbihler, Diane Massam, Glyne Piggott, Lisa Travis and Martina Wiltschko. Finally, we are indebted to the reviewers as well as the editor Marcel den Dikken for very useful comments and suggestions. This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council 410-2011-2417 awarded to Eric Mathieu, and a Sogang University Research Grant of 2012 (201210040.01) awarded to Michael Barrie.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EnglishSogang UniversitySeoulRepublic of Korea
  2. 2.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada

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