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“The Scottish novelist William Black”: Close Appositions and the Modification of Proper Names

Manon Philippe


Within the category of nouns, proper nouns have regularly been regarded as alienated from the typical, common nouns and this results in them being given an often-unjustified linguistic special treatment. One example of this isolating process is the analysis of the syntactic form [DET + (common) nominal + Proper Noun] as a case of close apposition (CA), an unnecessary label for a form that otherwise illustrates a kind of nominal modification. This paper presents three main CA types – namely titles, pseudo-titles and prototypical appositions – and then questions this classification as well as the relevance of ordering these forms along a gradient from modification to “pure” apposition (as presented by Meyer (1992)). Studying the pragmatic values of these CA types – old vs. new information, thematic vs. rhematic elements, contrastive and metalinguistic uses, descriptive identification – then paves the way for a comparison between these forms and their analysis as a single modified NP.

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1It is quite easy to forget about proper nouns when studying nouns in general, or it would be a lot easier indeed if one could do without them. After all, if “proper” nouns are usually said to belong to the noun category, along with their “common” counterparts, it is for lack of a better classification. They do mostly look like nouns and refer to first-order entities (to use Lyons’ terminology) and they can be replaced by a noun denoting the category – or nominal essence – of the proper noun’s referent. But many of their properties – including the frequent but irregular initial capitalization, the use of a zero determiner, their not so apparent lack of number contrast and categorial meaning, their “unique” referent and uneasy translation (for an introductory description of PN, see for instance Quirk et al. 1972; Gary-Prieur 1991; Wilmet 1991; Kleiber 1994; Huddleston and Pullum 2002) – set them apart from common nouns, the prototypical nouns, so much so that the way proper nouns (henceforth PN) or proper expressions (proper names) syntactically behave is almost automatically regarded as exceptional and unlike what common nouns could possibly do.

2A good illustration of that is the treatment of the combinations of two nominal elements, whether or not they include a PN and, if so, in what position:

  • 1 LfW: Lost for Words, HE: Hillbilly Elegy, E: Evicted; GoT: The Girl on the Train. G: Guardian; T: T (...)


baby brother, government office, gift shop, birthday gift, lady president


Arctic cod (LfW: 21), Tennessee accent (HE: chap. 7), Sunday morning (GoT: 96)


President Trump (USAT: N1), the Scottish novelist William Black (G: T2), consultants Ernst & Young (G: B1)

3The first series involves two common nouns which are usually analysed either in terms of compounding or “adjectival” modification. The examples in the second series are frequently described as using a proper noun as either a modifier or a complement of the head (common) noun which follows it. However, in the third series, in which the common noun precedes the PN instead of following it, the labels of “modification” or even “complementation” traditionally no longer apply, in favour of the notion of “close apposition”.

4This paper aims at showing that using the label “close apposition” is emblematic of the tendency to make common and proper nouns look more different than they are. Syntactically speaking, “close apposition” ought to be replaced by “nominal modification”, while the term may be retained to subsume the wide arrays of semantic and pragmatic values these combinations can signify.

  • 2 The idea that proper nouns and names are already internally determined (French “autodétermination”) (...)

5As a matter of fact, treating proper nouns like common nouns should start with questioning the phrasal status of proper nouns, which professedly contain their own determination and form a noun phrase under all circumstances. If indeed a (common) noun phrase can lose its determiner and be reduced to a simple nominal in order to modify another head-noun (eg. [a (government) office] and not [a [Ø government] office]), it seems fairly reasonable to posit that a proper noun should do the same in the same context ((Tennessee) accent) and vice-versa (President (Trump)), being of the same noun-like nature. That is why in the remainder of this article, proper nouns in N1-N2 context will not be treated as noun phrases but as nominals on which a determiner may or may not bear2, depending on whether the proper noun or the common noun is found more suitable to head the resulting NP. The purpose of this premise is therefore to see whether, by treating proper nouns exactly like common nouns, the result will still be as different from common modification as is currently held.

6The first part is dedicated to the description of the main close-appositional types studied in this paper and a criticism of the traditional socio-pragmatic analysis put forward to justify an apparent hierarchy between these types. The second part provides an overview of the semantic and pragmatic values these “appositions” convey, comparing them with prototypical modification when relevant. The last part focuses on the reasons why describing these forms as a special case of attributive modification (DET + nominal + PN) has now superseded the traditional “close apposition” theory.

1. Close appositions: description, classification and criticism

1.1. Defining and classifying close appositions

7The concept of “close apposition” (CA) is better understood when compared to that of “long” or “loose appositions”. Even though many structures have been said to be loose appositions over the years, so that Jespersen called them a linguistic “Jack-of-all-trades” (Acuña-Fariña 1996), the most prototypical example is the juxtaposition of two coreferential and syntactically equivalent noun phrases (NP) which are separated by a marker of punctuation, as in:


His ancestor, Krishna, had sent him Mansur.

in which the 2 NPs His ancestor and Krishna are said to be in apposition because they both refer to the same person equally but separately. The pause marked by the comma, as well as the mirrored intonational pattern before and after it, with two primary stresses, makes it easy to caution the existence of two separate units, hence two NPs. By comparison, a CA would erase the commas and the corresponding pause in prosody:


His ancestor Krishna had sent him Mansur. (LfW: 95)

wherein His ancestor Krishna forms one single tone group, without there being any pause between the common noun and the proper noun. It will be noted that the proper noun bears the primary stress while a secondary stress falls on the common noun, suggesting a single noun phrase – the resemblance with a modified NP whose head-noun carries the primary stress could even indicate that Krishna is the head, but this argument alone is far from enough to conclude on that point.

8These two examples showcase a clear difference in terms of informational weight and possible meaning. It is agreed that the second unit in LAs as found in (4) is “in apposition to” the first one, which suggests that it merely rephrases, qualifies, or adds information to the first unit, which is regarded as the basis for the reference to the individual and the main term for the predication < X – send him Mansur >. The character thanks his ancestor, and then we readers learn that he had one ancestor in mind among the whole range of elders he could pray to, the oldest of them all: Krishna. On the other hand, CAs as exemplified in (5) bring the two units closer together, and the lack of clear-cut syntactic and prosodic boundaries tend to underpin the equal status of information, to the advantage of the proper noun. The character thanks Krishna, to which unit the predication < X – send him Mansur > is bound, and we readers learn that the divinity is related to the character, being his ancestor.

  • 3 There also seems to be something at stake with the multiplicity / unicity of the referent in LAs an (...)

9The relative importance given to Krishna in (5) mainly derives from it bearing the only primary stress this time, but it could be argued that another difference between the CA and LA version regards the representation of the referent, and not just their relative informational weight / order. Indeed, in (4), Krishna appears alone, and may contain all the predications that could apply to its referent; whereas in (5), Krishna is bound to “his ancestor”, so much so that Krishna is mentioned only/mainly in his capacity as “the character’s ancestor”3.

10Close appositions are polymorphous, and may display a very long first nominal element, or even have the common noun / nominal follow the proper noun instead of preceding it, as in these examples:


The IAAF’s head of anti-doping Gabriel Dolle was banned for five years. (G: S2)


Rufus the junk collector stepped into the office. (E: chap. 13)

Keizer (2007) lists four different types of close appositions, which all involve a proper noun or uniquely-denoting element and a count noun, and are characterized by a semantic relation of modification:

Fig. 1. Keizer’s classification of close appositions (2007)


DET + N + PN: the novelist William Black


DET + N + N: the word “atmosphere”


POS + N + PN: his ancestor Krishna


POS + N + DET + N: my friend the poet (Keizer 2007)


PN + DET + N: Donald Trump the president


N + NP (capitalization): President Trump


N + NP (no capitalization): vice president-elect Mike Pence, consultants Ernst & Young

11Only types 1a, 1b, 2a, 4a and 4b will be analysed in this paper, as they all involve a proper noun in second position and therefore question the “adjectival” role of the preceding common noun. These types are also given more prominence in Meyer (1992)’s seminal analysis of close appositions, on which the criticisms in this part are based (1.2 and 1.3).

12Meyer classifies close appositions according to two main poles (see table below).

  • On the appositional end (right column), some very prototypical appositions display a visible determiner, which may be definite or indefinite, and be any kind of determinative (article, demonstrative, genitive pronouns and constructions etc.). These forms may also contain a modified or complemented nominal before the PN.

  • On the opposite end (left column), some forms do not seem at first to be preceded by a visible determiner, and the capitalization of the common noun mirrors that of the proper noun: following Quirk et al. (1972) and Meyer (1992), these forms shall be called “titles”, evoking the institutional status or role the common noun describes.

  • Finally, somewhere in between these two forms are examples of appositions which do not appear to be visibly determined (as in titles) and whose common nominal is not capitalized (as in strict appositions) and may refer to social/professional situations that are not or less institutionalized: these are “pseudo-titles”.

Fig. 2. Classification of three CA subtypes, adapted from Meyer (1992)



“Strict” or “prototypical” CAs

President + Trump

vice President-elect + Mike Pence

the + Scottish novelist + William Black

General + Tojo

consultants + Ernst & Young

its + capital + Taipei

Lord + Coe

Finnish web developer and hacker + Viljami Kuosmanen

a + boutique + Mephistopheles

Aunt + Rhoda

that + son of a bitch + Mondale

1.2. A gradient from modification to full apposition

13According to Meyer, their degree of institutionalisation is not the only criterion allowing one to discriminate between these three forms: they also do not share the same syntactic properties, which is easily shown by way of a few simple tests. Convinced that CAs are shorter versions of LAs, and that they thus contain two NPs (the proper noun counting as such for him), Meyer tries to have CAs undergo the same transformations as LAs. Therefore, apposed NPs being syntactically and referentially equivalent, erasing one or re-ordering them should yield a grammatical result. Yet, as the following table shows, erase the proper name and it is the end of titles and pseudo-titles, whereas the result is still grammatically correct in strict appositions. Similarly, titles do not allow the inversion of their two “NPs” (again, Meyer’s terms), while it seems barely tolerated in pseudo-titles and is syntactically acceptable in strict appositions.

Fig. 3. The syntactic gradient from modification to apposition



Prototypical CAs

Erasing the PN

*President ….

* Vice President-elect….

the Scottish novelist

Reordering the elements

*Trump, President, ….

? Mike Pence, vice President-elect, …

William Black, the Scottish novelist, …

14Meyer used these syntactic differences to posit the existence of a gradient in close appositions, some displaying features of modification (titles), others being “fully appositional” (Quirk et al., 1982: 1302-3, in Meyer, 1992), and many occurrences wandering between these two ends, ordered from their highest to lowest degree of resemblance to titles (modification end):


I said, “Excuse me,” looked up, and realized the man was New York governor George Pataki (E: 12);


Along with Rolet, and Allianz vice-chair Elizabeth Corley, […] (G: B1);


Dad-of-two Walsh played Mike Baldwin’s nephew Danny in Coronation Street for three years (M: T2).


Staff also spent thousands of dollars in visits to the high-end Werribee Mansion Hotel and Spa, and $946 at Melbourne pub Saint and Rogue. (G: E1);

15All these examples illustrate the pseudo-title type, as they all seem to be undetermined and their common element is not capitalised, while its referent varies from a rather institutional role (governor) to descriptions which are not politically institutionalised (pub).

16Appealing as Meyer’s theory might be, it is still open to criticism. Instead of concluding that titles and pseudo-titles do not make “good” CAs, why not say that CAs do not behave like LAs, for one? His reordering test, for instance, does not have the same outcome when applied to LAs and CAs: a loose apposition whose units are reordered is still a loose apposition:


His ancestor, Krishna, had sent him Mansur // Krishna, his ancestor, had sent him Mansur

17But a CA whose units are reordered must become a loose apposition in Meyer’s tests: instead of the Scottish novelist William Black becoming William Black the Scottish novelist, the CA turns into the LA William Black, the Scottish novelist. This is actually the only way for Meyer to hold on to the special, prototypical status of “strict appositions”, compared to titles and pseudo-titles. Indeed, a simply reordered strict apposition is at best syntactically correct and pragmatically uneasy (William Black the Scottish novelist … as opposed to William Black the American pianist / the man?) and at worst as ungrammatical as titles and pseudo-titles: *Mephistopheles a boutique… is as incorrect as *Trump President. But this test is therefore not “reordering elements in the apposition,” it is “turning the CA into a LA”, so that this test is not the same as the one used for loose appositions. So if the same tests cannot be used for CAs and LAs, why continue to regard them as identical and behaving in the same way?

  • 4 Huddleston and Pullum (2002) argue that in one case, President could be an NP: He was elected Presi (...)

18What is more, his tests would have been more conclusive had he compared comparable units within the CA types. Meyer does not acknowledge the presence of a determiner before titles and pseudo-titles, which is a theoretical bias having consequences on the unity of the CA class. One reason why the title President Trump cannot be turned into a loose apposition is that President, especially without a determiner, cannot stand alone, because it is not an NP4. It is therefore not surprising that visibly determined CAs (i.e. strict appositions), having the outward appearance of an NP, should then mirror loose appositions and behave like them more readily, whereas seemingly undetermined CAs (i.e. titles and pseudo-titles) – whose lack of determiner precisely prevents the common elements from being NPs – are pushed to the periphery of the CA category or even excluded from it because they do not behave like the NPs that they are not.

19The least one can do is give homogeneity to all forms and make them comparable from a theoretical point of view. In this paper, the absence of a determiner will correspond in fact to the presence of a zero determiner, which allows all these CAs to fall under the same descriptive pattern [DET + (common) nominal + PN], where the PN is also a nominal (see introduction).

  • 5 Since common nouns like President usually do not accept the zero determiner, does the zero determin (...)

20Only then can we try and explain why there is a zero determiner and not a visible determiner, what it determines, and why it does not enable the same transformations as a visible determiner5. In that respect, syntax cannot be the only criterion responsible for the gradient. In addition to their methodological flaws, the previous syntactic tests also did not account for any change in meaning and reference in the resulting strict appositions – as seen with examples (4) and (5) –, which begs the question of the legitimacy of a theory based on syntax only.

21Before moving on to these meaning-effects, there is one last criticism to make regarding Meyer’s analysis. Because of the syntactic shortcomings of titles and pseudo-titles, there seems to be a negative bias attached to his gradient: a gradient less seen in terms of equally well-formed expressions horizontally ordered from one structure to another but rather in terms of a vertical hierarchy of “pure” and “less-pure” appositions, which he ties to the socio-linguistic distribution of these forms in the press. This last section intends to prove Meyer wrong and show that pseudo-titles are neither faulty titles nor lesser, substandard CAs, in order to study what these three forms mean in a second part, and to include them in a comprehensive syntactic theory of appositions or nominal modification in a third part.

1.3. A case study: a statistical survey of the use of pseudo-titles in AE and BE press in 2017

22Because Meyer did not question the definition of CAs to include and explain the behaviour of all three forms (strict, pseudo-titles and titles), he had to rely on sociolinguistic criteria to justify the existence and use of the hybrid pseudo-title form, which was neither a “good” example of apposition nor a “good” example of modification. According to his 1992 analysis, based upon a survey of British and American newspapers:

  • Pseudo-titles are used more frequently in American English than in British English;

  • In British English, pseudo-titles are associated with informal register and low-quality press.

  • 6 This is only a subset of my dataset, to retrace Meyer’s steps and legitimate my contradicting his r (...)

23It is easy to appreciate how such a finding would confirm that pseudo-titles are de facto second-hand titles – not institutional enough to be titles, not well-formed enough to reach real appositional status. However, a short survey of articles taken from 5 newspapers6 – The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Mirror (UK), The New York Times, USA TODAY (US) – differing in variety of English, political leaning, overall quality and theme of the article, amounting to a total of 333 occurrences of the CAs under study, was enough to contradict these results. To take an example, for the two years 2016 and 2017, more pseudo-titles were found in the British press (55.68% of all studied CAs) than in the American press (only 17.51% of studied CAs). They were also the most frequent type of CAs found in the British press, before prototypical appositions and titles.

24As for the link between pseudo-titles and informal register / less qualitative press, this present study’s results are at odds with Meyer’s. If The Mirror (tabloid, less qualitative press) could boast a 78.57% proportion of pseudo-titles, The Telegraph and The Guardian (mid to highbrow press) also made use of pseudo-titles more than 35% of the time – when Meyer did not find a single pseudo-title in these two newspapers more than 25 years ago. Interestingly, in 1992, the connection with informal register was only made for British English, not American English. Still, the use of pseudo-titles in USA TODAY (mid to lowbrow quality press) – almost 30% of all CAs – is in sharp contrast with their use in The New York Times (highbrow press), in which only one pseudo-title was accounted for: vice-President elect, a pseudo-title very close to a title indeed.

25Meyer’s solution that the hybrid pseudo-title form stems from either a dialectal or a qualitative deviation from standard (British) English – from which the definitions for CA and LA are supposedly derived – does not hold. We must therefore assume that pseudo-titles are well-formed and that no levelling down of language is intended when high-quality newspapers use them. Instead, it would be more fruitful to hypothesize that The Guardian and The Telegraph, still considered to be high quality newspapers, claimed the form to mean something different than what titles and strict appositions do. In that light, pseudo-titles must be studied as part of a system of complementary meanings or pragmatic uses of close appositions.

2. The pragmatics of CAs: what CAs mean and how

26If the English language makes use of three slightly different forms (titles, pseudo-titles, “strict or prototypical” appositions), then they probably do not perform the exact same semantic/pragmatic functions, even though a common semantic basis is to be surmised. In addition to syntactic constraints, a certain type of CA will be used in some contexts and not others due to pragmatic constraints, that is, due to the intended message, the situation and the social relationships between the people involved or mentioned in discourse.

2.1. CAs and informational status

27One pragmatic function shared by all three CA types is thus the mention of old information in discourse. Information may be old because the speaker already mentioned it in previous discourse (discourse-old, textual anaphora), or because the referent is already known prior to its mention in discourse (hearer-old at least, via cultural knowledge for instance).

Studying Old English close appositions, Sielanko-Byford (2015) finds a high proportion of anaphoric references for the following appositional forms (these are her types, not occurrences): 

  •  The se cyning Ælfred type – the king Alfred, strict apposition

  • The Ælfred se cyning type – Alfred the king (post-modification, not studied here)

  • The Ælfred cyning type – Alfred king, bearing great resemblance with the title form King Alfred

28What is interesting is that these types are not anaphoric to the same extent. The first type, which corresponds to a strict apposition, very seldom allows new information in discourse (only 6% of her data), and restricts it to deictic, cultural knowledge and cataphoric references – in which the referent is not very new after all, since it is already present in the situation, in society or in the preconstructed message. On the contrary, the other two forms may convey discourse-new information more easily, up to 30% of the time for the title form. The syntactic gradient described earlier (from modification to apposition) could thus have a pragmatic counterpart: as the form grows more complex (from a zero determiner to a visible, definite article), its informational status is gradually restricted to “old” reference. Here is one of her examples:


At þis gewitnesse wæs seo kining Offa. & seo kining Egferð.
At this testimony was the king Offa and the king Everth
& seo ærcebiscop Hygeberht. & Ceolwulf biscop.
And the archbishop Hibbert and Ceolwulf bishop
& feola oþre biscopes & abbots
And many other bishops and abbots
‘King Offa, King Everth, Archbishop Hibbert, Bishop Ceolwulf, and many other bishops and abbots were witnesses to this’ (ChronE 777.11)

29In this excerpt, all participants are discourse-new, i.e. they have not been mentioned in the previous co-text. However, the anaphoric form seo (seo kining Offa, seo ærcebiscop Hygeberht) is used because the information, though discourse-new, is hearer-old. The kings and the archbishop, she says, are important figures that are supposed to be regular, official witnesses to feudal acts (here, granting lands), so it is very likely the readers have heard of them many times before. On the contrary, the bishop (Ceolwulf), being less known, is described in first mention with a non-anaphoric, non-visibly determined combination (Ceolwulf biscop), which does not link the referent to prior discourse or knowledge.

30Old information is therefore not restricted to simply textual anaphora, but also relies heavily on cultural knowledge, which makes sense as an individual is more likely to be called by their name and role if the addressee knows (of) them. The more an individual is known, the more a definite determiner will start a close apposition to mark this referent’s connection to a previous discourse unit, if not the one in which it is inserted.

31The notion of cultural, or speaker/addressee’s knowledge about the referent needs further explaining. If most addressees had heard of Kings Offa and Evert at the time, it may not have been exactly for the same reasons, i.e. their knowledge of the referent (and therefore their own representation of the referent) may not have been completely identical from one reader to another. Each speaker / addressee constructs their own mental representation of a referent and the properties they believe are associated with it: this means that, every time a PN is uttered, the addressee will make use of a cognitive space in which all the information on the alleged referent of this PN is stored that the addressee believes is true of this referent (Martin’s “univers de croyance” (1983)).

  • 7 When the additional information contradicts a previously assumed property, then the cognitive space (...)

32When reference to an individual via their PN is successful, it means that it was possible to find a common ground (logical intersection) between the speaker’s and the addressee’s “universes of beliefs” for this referent. This cognitive space changes every time the addressee/speaker updates their knowledge of a referent – after each new predication, for instance7. This is highly reminiscent of Cornish’s “context” which, combined with the “text” (the sequence of linguistic signs emitted by the speaker and addressee), leads to the making of the “discourse”. According to Cornish (2010), the context encompasses previous (socio-cultural) knowledge, previously-created discourse, illocutionary acts, the situation and the immediate co-text, and not only does it inform the discourse-in-the-making, it is also being informed as the predications unfold. In that light, any reference using a PN is already inscribed – or framed – in a (social, textual, cognitive) context, and the way this reference is made (i.e. the textual combination with this PN, the co-text) may thus reflect and/or alter this context. With CAs, it may be that one unit (the common element) reflects that frame, while the other (the PN) enriches it.

33In that respect, Lindqvist (2013) states that CAs illustrate the principle according to which the first element is more thematic, i.e. discourse-old, whereas the second element is more rhematic, or discourse-new (Functional Sentence Perspective). Examples (14) and (15) illustrate how the common element of the CA tends to reactivate the context (both textual and extratextual), while the proper noun provides either new information or an opportunity to shift the addressee’s focus towards something else.


Ed Sheeran saves street boys in Liberia out of his own pocket after hearing rape horror stories on Comic Relief
Singer decided he couldn't leave JD and his friends behind
Back in the studio, Ed revealed that it was hearing that the boys were "raped" by the older boys while they slept rough that pushed him to help.
Earlier in the night, Ed made a rare mistake as he performed his hit single What Do I Know?
The red-haired hitmaker forg[o]t his own lyrics as he sang the first verse. (M: C1)


'Precarious scheduling' at work causing chaotic home life for 4.6 million Britons placing their health at risk, study suggests
Millions of Britons are having their health and home life put at risk because bosses are not offering them regular shift patterns, a new study by Oxford and Cambridge Universities has shown. […]
Dr Alex Wood, now at Oxford University, who embedded himself as a shelf-stacker at a UK supermarket while a researcher at Cambridge's Department of Sociology, said he had experienced first-hand the toxic interactions between management and workers. […]
The research was published in the journal Work, Employment & Society. (T: H1)

  • 8 The song is the logical result of the lexico-semantic frame (Fillmore) triggered by the use of sing (...)

34In (14), the article’s title mentions one Ed Sheeran by his full (stage) name and in case the readers do not already know him (cultural knowledge, social saliency, current news), the standfirst specifies his occupation, singer. Apart from that, nothing in the rest of the article refers to his singer-status, as the main information deals with Ed’s experience in Liberia, the people he met there and what he decided to do upon his return. The singer-theme reappears at the end of the article, when Ed shares something in confidence in his studio, and when a new event – Ed Sheeran singing during Comic Relief night (in the title) – is the reason for mentioning a performance (performed), and therefore a song (hit single)8. The last line of the article in fact completely abandons the Liberia-theme to focus solely on the performance of a particular song, What Do I Know.

35It seems therefore that the mention of the song, using its name, triggered a change in the article’s interest: now that the story about Liberia has been dealt with, the journalist encourages their readers to check out something that is still related to the theme of the article, but that has not been fully developed. The song What Do I Know may be known to the readers (since it is already a hit single at the time of writing), but the anecdote about Ed Sheeran forgetting the lyrics to it is hot news – and there might even be a link to a video of the performance below the article, if the readers are interested…

36The CA in (15) does not lead to a radical shift in theme-focus, as both the common part and the proper part somehow summarize or are logically derived from the rest of the article. As in (14), it appears at the end of the article – it is in fact the very last sentence. The mention of a study, researchers and two highly-recognized universities naturally lead to the publication of the results in a research-oriented medium, i.e., a journal. The fact that the journal is entitled Work, Employment & Society seems logical, given that the study investigates interactions between management (bosses) and workers. However, there is no telling that this particular journal is known to the wide audience of The Telegraph, and therefore the PN may provide new information, as it is certainly not the only journal dealing with work issues. What is more, like the title of the song in (14), the title of the journal also gives the readers an incentive to look it up and find additional (new) information on this topic. The PN in CA (15) therefore constitutes new information or at least a gateway to new information in a thematically-related context.

A similar analysis is possible with pseudo-titles:


Why I am so disappointed by gutless Sherlock big twist
[…] Traditionally, a satisfying plot twist needs to contain three things: a cliffhanger ending, plenty of foreshadowing and courage in its convictions. […] But if you remove any of these elements, you run the risk of turning your twist into a gimmick. When series regular Lisa Faulkner had her head deep-fried in the second episode of Spooks, it came completely without warning. As a result, the moment felt less like a true narrative device and more a cynical moment of get-a-load-of-this swagger. […] And when Dallas brought Bobby Ewing back to life… (G: C1)


[…] If the City did lose its ability to clear transactions denominated in euros – which was a contentious issue even before the Brexit vote – Rolet said 232,000 roles could be lost, citing research by consultants Ernst & Young for the LSE. That report has also been referred to by peers who said last month that thousands of jobs could be lost unless a transition deal could be secured for the UK. […] (G: B1)

37Once again, series regular appears in an article about TV shows and can be associated in this sentence with episode and the name of one show, Spooks. Similarly, consultants may be logically implied whenever research is mentioned since consultants are supposed to do research. The difference with the previous examples is that in these two cases, the explicit and systematic linking process, achieved by the definite determiners, has disappeared. This lesser degree of connection to the previous discourse may be explained by a lesser necessity to connect the phrase to the co-text: in both (16) and (17), the CA appears in the middle of the article, where the reference to an individual serves a purpose in the demonstration per se, and not in the summarizing conclusion. Moreover, the use of the actress’s or the consultants’ names does not shift the article’s centre of interest this time: in (16), another example follows, using another TV show and another actor, before resuming its criticism of the TV show Sherlock, the real theme of the article; in (17), only the findings of the research matter insofar as people in the City or in Parliament use them to argue in favour of or against Brexit. So the lack of visible determination before these CAs could mean that the referent of the apposition is of lesser importance (CA as a whole), or maybe because the information given by the common nominal is so obvious that there is no need to stress it. This would mean that the common nominal carries discourse-old information that is also backgrounded information.

  • 9 Notice that the CA consultants PN for the LSE mirrors the pattern modifier + Head-noun + post-modif (...)

38Using Langacker (1993)’s reference point model, Gil Vilacoba (2013) explains how in the formation of CAs, the common nominal is first used as a targeted point of reference – research by “consultants for the LSE”, something happening to a “series regular” – which is salient (or semantically prominent) in context, and which then serves as a basis for targeting one specific entity – Ernst & Young among all the possible consultants for the LSE9, Lisa Falkner among all the possible series regulars in TV history. In the formation of the CA, the common part was the first focus, before receding into the background to make room for the newly-focused information, signified by the proper noun.

39But being backgrounded does not necessarily mean that the common nominal loses logical saliency, or relevance in discourse. In strict appositions ((14) and (15)), the common nominal only echoed and summarized the previous context, letting the PN engage in a dynamic change of focus. In pseudo-titles ((16) and (17)), the common nominal is still backgrounded, but the information it carries pertains to the demonstration and therefore has a role to play in the resulting logic of the on-going discourse, so much so that adding a PN does not change the main topic. In all logic, titles should reinforce this trend and grant their common nominal even more saliency: 


President Reagan had just invaded Grenada, or at least sent some Marines to invade Grenada, and Penny had felt that she simply had to stay at her desk to help draft the Foreign Office response. (LfW: 24)

40Penny would probably not feel the same urge to work if it were not for her president. What Reagan the President says had more impact in context than what Reagan the man could say. The title, which obviously conveys culturally-old information (as it corresponds to an institutionalized role, therefore something recognized by the linguistic – and political – community), is yet so contextually relevant that it cannot really be backgrounded.

2.2. Keizer’s four pragmatic uses of CAs (2007)

41If the old/new, foregrounded/backgrounded informational status of the referent in discourse is important, it is not the only reason for using close appositions and favouring one CA type over the others. In fact, “introducing a new referent” is only one of four pragmatic functions that Keizer (2007) describes. Its main interest for this paper is that it brings all three CA types together, as they may be used to present a new referent while describing it minimally at the same time, but it also drives a wedge between definite and indefinite strict appositions, since only the latter are able to perform this function:


Bailey was the author of 22 books, including stories for children and young adults, and had produced a book When Bad Things Happen in Good Bikinis, chronicling her grief after the death of her first husband, John Sinfield, while the couple were on holiday in Barbados in 2011. (G: N1)

But as was shown in the previous section, the referent of the PN may be new in some way, even in definite strict appositions. However, what these CAs cannot do compared to the other strict appositions and the other CA types, according to Keizer, they make up for by being the only ones able to perform a metalinguistic function (or “functional identification”), as in:


The words "Mount Royal", fixed to the fake wood casing of the reception desk […] now simply struck him as garish. (LfW: 156)


Queen Victoria's physician, Sir William Gull, who catalogued anorexia and gave it the surname "Nervosa", was also suspected of being Jack the Ripper. (LfW: 191)


[…] but if ever the motto "Nothing ventured, nothing gained" had any meaning at all, it was now (LfW: 161)


She typed the word "atmosphere" in the Gold Ghost Plus search box, and then changed it to "air", which seemed to her more subtle and suggestive. (LfW: 161)

  • 10 Some might say that “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” and “atmosphere/air” are not proper names. T (...)

The character in (20) is staying in a hotel called Mount Royal. Yet, in this example, the PN Mount Royal is not used to refer to the building/institution, but to the graphic letters forming the name that can be read on a casing. The focus is placed on the linguistic nature of the unit, as the properties that are associated with it show: it is not the building which is “garish”, but the font and colour of the set of letters. In (21) this metalinguistic function helps to distinguish the referent, a psycho-eating disorder, from its taxonomic designation. As a result, two words are used: the common noun anorexia for the extralinguistic referent (and lay usage), the PN Nervosa for its metalinguistic (scientific) labelling. In (22) and (23), the linguistic status of the last unit is made plain in the rest of the sentence, with the mention of their “meaning” and connotations (“more subtle and suggestive”) and the fact that they can be “typed” in a search box. In all four examples, the use of inverted commas stresses the graphic boundaries of the linguistic expression and the linguistic nature of the referent10.

42As such, this is probably the only pragmatic function that does not easily argue in favour of close appositions being a kind of nominal modification, as there is no easy equivalent with “adjectival” modification, since in: 


[…] but if ever the proverbial “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” had any meaning at all, it was now

proverbial may mean “that comes from/is a proverb” but also “that is very famous (regardless of its linguistic label)”.

Although it could be said that the metalinguistic function performs with the PN’s signifier what the last two functions do with the PN’s signified: describing a property or a set of predications attached to the referent of a nominal unit – in which case, the link with “common” nominal modification is obvious.


Off-the-record scuttlebutt from NSA insiders – presented as composite testimony, with an actress, digitised and ghostly, reading out their lines – compares the very use of the word Stuxnet to Voldemort in Harry Potter: that which much not be named. (T: C1)

Indeed, in this example both the linguistic unit Stuxnet and the extralinguistic wizard Voldemort are described as sharing a pragmatic property: the absolute interdiction on being uttered (Stuxnet: that which (= a word) must not be named; Voldemort: He-who (= a human being)-must-not-be-named), because of a characteristic of their referent: Voldemort is a dangerous wizard, “Stuxnet” is a dangerous word.

43A third function is thus the “descriptive identification” which presents a referent and describes a property, occupation, public or private role associated with it:


the journal Work, Employment & Society (T: H1): Work, Employment &Society is a journal


consultants Ernst & Young for the LSE (G: B1): Ernst & Young is a consulting firm


Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany (NYT: W1): Angela Merkel is a frontbench politician


Dad-of-two Walsh played Mike Baldwin’s nephew Danny in Coronation Street for three years (M: T2): Walsh is the father of two children

44Identification is supposed to occur only once in discourse (first mentions), but Keizer observes that contrary to strict appositions and pseudo-titles, titles tend to be repeated, so that for them it is better to speak of recognition rather than mere identification. This solidarity between the nominal and the PN, between an individual and their foremost defining property, is reminiscent of the Homerian epithets – which are mostly adjectives – and implies that “descriptive” in “descriptive identification” probably means “modifying”. The “modifying” rather than “defining” or “identifying” function is even more relevant in (29): in the context of this sentence, Walsh is mentioned insofar as he is an actor, not the father of two children, which seems to describe a more accidental property in context, or at least a property that has nothing to do with Walsh playing Danny Baldwin in Coronation Street.

45The last pragmatic function identified by Keizer is also the most explicitly adjectival one: the “contrastive use” of CAs allows the speaker to contrast two bearers of the same PN or two perspectives / properties / stages of the same referent.


Other people settled for Office Susie, so as not to confuse her with Heroin Susie. (E: 3)

  • 11 Usually, when you know several Johns, it is still easy to make your addressees understand which Joh (...)

In (30) the narrator describes how some characters in his story solved the problem of having two different women bearing the same name in the same environment (one works in the trailer park, one lives there), so that it was uneasy to understand which Susie was referred to based on context only11. To distinguish the two women, each is given a tag that confines her to one role/environment in which she is most likely to be recognized: Office Susie works at a desk, in the trailer park’s office, while Heroin Susie is the local dealer (and user) of the trailer park. As it is highly unlikely that Office Susie should deal or use heroin, or that Heroin Susie should be well enough to hold on to a job and work in an office (not to mention the trailer park’s office), there is no risk of confusing them again.

46Contrasting two aspects of the same referent is easier done with a type of CA in which the PN comes first, as in:


Donald Trump the neo-Nazi sympathizer has achieved what Donald Trump the president has singularly failed to do: unite the nation. (G: O2)

in which the journalist considers two sides of Donald Trump that might enable him to unite the nation (and both political parties) in favour or against him: his becoming President and acting as such; his political and racial statements regarding the events in Charlottesville (i.e. his personal opinions). Now the same process of confronting two aspects of a referent is made possible in the CA types under study in this article.


Healthy Isabel would bounce happily through work days like a pinball. […] Bouncy pinball Isabel who would get up at 5.30 am to go running or spinning […] had been replaced by a rather less motivated creature. (T: L1)

47In this example, two sides of Isabel Hardman’s mood are being contrasted – before and during clinical depression. Example (32) is concerned with describing Isabel before she became depressed: she is said to be healthy and very dynamic: bouncing through work, running, spinning, and so on. This attitude is compared with her mindset during her depression: “a rather less motivated creature”. While there is no expression like “Depressed Isabel” to refer to Isabel during her depression, there are two phrases to describe her more joyful state: Healthy Isabel and Bouncy pinball Isabel. The second phrase is a CA (pseudo-title) whose contrastive use is extremely similar to Healthy Isabel, in which the PN is modified by an adjective used contrastively. In fact, the phrases are connected: in the first sentence, the subject Healthy Isabel receives the predication of “bouncing…like a pinball” (clausal predication). Later in the article, the same predication is retrieved, summarized and packed into a smaller unit that could again be applied to the subject, from within the sub-clausal unit of an NP this time. Bouncy pinball, a nominal, occupies the same position as the adjective healthy, and means precisely “healthy + what was predicated of Healthy Isabel”: it is thus obvious how the nominal works exactly like a modifier here, and that is why there should be no reason for treating bouncy pinball and healthy differently. The only reason they are is because Isabel is not a common noun but a PN: but whether there really is a difference between PNs contrasted by either a nominal or an adjective (Bouncy pinball Isabel vs. healthy/depressed Isabel) and common nouns contrasted by a nominal or an adjective (a baby chair vs. a rocking chair; the red chair vs. the blue chair) remains a mystery.

48One last example will show that this contrastive meaning may be used in strict appositions and with more subtlety:


Damnation was the hell of his own depression, with a boutique Mephistopheles no longer offering infinite knowledge and wordly power (LfW: 9)

49In this example, a debutant writer fears that he will not find inspiration again, and that whatever he will eventually write will never be good enough. He had previously launched into a fantasy about Zeus and Hephaistos, before moving on to the Christian mythology: damnation, hell, Mephistopheles (a famous demon in Germanic folklore). Except in his mind, Mephistopheles is not a demon but a shop – which is the point of the pun since there is a boutique called Mephisto (pheles). The writer-to-be offers the PN Mephistopheles in a religious context and tricks the reader with a contrastive boutique to reveal a two-sided metaphor: a trade for inspiration gone wrong, a deal with the devil obviously turned sour.

2.3. CAs and the implicit or explicit involvement of the speaker

50One last property according to which CA types may be discriminated is the speaker’s extralinguistic relationship with the PN’s referent and how this translates into the CA being more or less explicitly related to the speaker. A strict apposition with a visible determiner will thus stress the presence and participation of the speaker to the reference process. This may be due to two main reasons: either no reduced form can be used by the speaker, or the speaker wants to show that they share a connection with the entity referred to in the apposition.


Crystal was placed in foster care at age five and had bounced between dozens of homes. She lived with her aunt Rhoda for five years. Then Aunt Rhoda returned her. (E: 12)

51This example shows the first two mentions of a minor character in the American essay Evicted (2016), Rhoda. The narrator is a sociologist who does not belong to Rhoda’s family and who therefore cannot call her Aunt Rhoda, a denomination usually restricted to relatives. If he wishes to make a family link explicit, he must select another member of the family, here Crystal, use a genitive form and choose the common noun accordingly. In this light, the visible determiner marks the process of locating the referent of the PN within a certain family circle as well as the enunciative separation from this circle, the story and its characters. On the contrary, the title Ø Aunt Rhoda in the following sentence illustrates a shift towards internal focalization, where the narrator steps aside (hence the replacement of the visible determiner by zero) to let one family member “speak” and be the referential standpoint of the CA.

52On the other hand, the narrator may also be a character in the story, as is the case in memoirs and autobiographies. Titles thus may and often will be used, as there is no reason to establish an enunciative space different from the referential space of the story. But sometimes, a longer form appears:


In 1951 they welcomed a baby boy — my uncle Jimmy — and showered him with their new material comforts. (HE: chap. 2)

53The clause refers to someone who is not the narrator, at a time when the narrator is not yet born – when therefore the narrator virtually does not exist. But as his memoirs centre on him, the narrator might want to preserve the coherence of his text by making explicit the bond he shares with the character. Hence the use of a visible, possessive determiner my in a strict close apposition, which is itself inserted in a loose apposition (delimited by the em dashes) used to mark the insertion of a narrative comment about the narrated story.

54The choice of a strict apposition (her aunt Rhoda, my uncle Jimmy) or a title (Aunt Rhoda, Uncle Jimmy) thus seems to result from – or reflect – the shift from indirect speech, when the narrator passes along someone’s else speech without endorsing it, to free indirect speech, when the narrator dives directly into a character’s mind and makes them speak from their own inner point of view. But this choice indicates more than pure stylistics: with each form comes a sociolinguistic acknowledgment of a connection to the PN’s referent or the importance of the role denoted by the common nominal. With POS + role term + PN, an effort is made to make the PN’s role relevant to the speaker or another character: her aunt Rhoda, my Lord Essex (LfW: 60). On the contrary, just saying Aunt Rhoda or Lord Essex would indicate an aunt-ship or lord-ship that could well go beyond the simple connection to the speaker or a particular individual: by using a title, the speaker acknowledges the relationship but does not make it just about them, the personal connection is implicit and a more public connection (to a broader community) is achieved. Service (1960) uses this to create a distinction between egocentric terms, i.e. related to the speaker (only/mainly), and socio-centric terms, which have the potential to apply to a larger community. The more visible the determiner, the more personally connected the PN’s referent and the speaker are made. The less visible the determiner or a property, the more universal its use and application is: her aunt Rhoda (egocentric, explicit connection to the speaker/character) → Aunt Rhoda (socio-centric, implicit connection that may be shared by others) → Rhoda (no special connection to the referent is required apart from simple acquaintance).

55All in all, the reasons for choosing one CA type over the other has little to do with the particular combination of a common noun and a proper noun, and much more with the choice of the determiner: indefinite determination for new reference, direct social relationship with the referent of the PN and most of the contrastive uses, connected to the foregrounding of the property associated with the referent of the PN; definite determination for anaphora, metalinguistic purposes and identifying descriptions for an overly backgrounded presentation of the referent’s properties. This raises the issue of the scope of the CA’s determiner – or determiners –, in other words, of the number of noun phrases in close appositions, and whether this form really ought to be called an “apposition”.

3. Close appositions: closer to attributive modification than (loose) apposition

3.1. One or two NPs in close appositions?

56Ever since Curme’s coining of the phrase in 1931, close appositions have traditionally been regarded as undetached loose appositions: they were the combination of two noun phrases – a common NP and a proper name. In this view, the determiner on the left would have scope on the common nominal element only, leaving the proper name to fend for itself, either by being internally determined or by being preceded by a zero determiner:


[the Scottish novelist] [(Ø) William Black] (G: T2)


[a boutique] [(Ø) Mephistopheles] (LfW: 9)

57This syntactic organisation was undisputed among scholars who otherwise disagreed on which element should be called the head of the apposition. Lee (1952) thought the first unit, containing the common noun, should be the head since the proper name only restricts the reference the way a modifier would. Haugen (1953), on the contrary, refused to make a modifier out of the proper name because the meaning of the phrase would not be the same without it. In the middle, Hockett (1955) suggested that it was an endocentric structure in which both units were mutually heads and modifiers.

  • 12 If these units have an equal status. In genitive constructions, there are two referential NPs, one (...)

58However, this organisation is problematic. If the presence of a determiner is what ensures the reference potential of the noun phrase, then having two NPs in a close apposition would lead to two processes of reference. Notwithstanding the fact that having two referential units within the same phrase is admittedly incorrect (Burton-Roberts, 1975; Acuña Fariña, 1996)12, it would also be neither very economical nor systematically coherent.

  • 13 Yet not entirely inconceivable: being complex is not reason enough to be dismissed as a working the (...)

59It has indeed been established that pragmatically, both the common and the proper elements are essential to understanding why this or that referent is mentioned. Which also means that alone, even in a well-formed complete NP, neither the common noun nor the proper noun is enough. Contrary to LAs, in which the first NP at least could stand alone, most CAs cannot afford to lose one element: titles and pseudo-titles become syntactically incorrect if the proper noun is erased, all three types are semantically incomplete if the common description is missing. That is why standing by the two-NP CA structure is difficult to maintain: the speaker/addressee would have to first form a full “common” NP, which by definition is supposed to be complete, then admit to having difficulties finding the right referent, then again initiate yet another full-NP reference – with a proper noun this time –, and make sure that this full NP, which is supposed to stand alone and be understandable alone, is however linked to the previously well-formed yet incomplete common NP. And do so without any syntactic / prosodic / typographic prop to indicate the equivalence of NPs (such as the commas and mirrored intonational patterns in LAs), resting solely on working memory and linearity as the main means of discourse cohesion (and coherence). This theory seems very complicated13, especially when there are other simpler means such as modification and complementation whose hierarchical structure in head-dependents does not prevent the dependent from being as pragmatically important as the head at all – modifiers in contrastive use, restrictive relative clauses, sentential appositive clauses and of course noun complements (to name but a few) are syntactically dependent, yet the NP or the whole discourse could not do without them.

  • 14 If one is to believe that an identity of form leads to an identity of meaning, in a motivated persp (...)

60The single-NP theory is all the more relevant when one considers that if CAs are made of two equivalent NPs, then what is to distinguish them from LAs? If they have the same meaning (which they do not, see 1.1), why bother to add a comma sometimes? If they do not have the same meaning, then it is not logical that they should have the same inner structure14. Since LAs are the juxtaposition of two NPs, CAs are best conceived as a single NP containing two semantically dependent elements, one of which will syntactically head the NP (Burton-Roberts 1975; Acuña Fariña 1996; Keizer 2007; Acuña Fariña 2016; Gil Vilacoba 2013). But for this new single-NP theory to be accepted, the determiner must be thought of bearing not just on the common noun, but on the whole nominal, whether it is headed by the common or the proper noun.

3.2. Linking the determiner to the PN

61For this to be acceptable, the natural tendency to make the common noun solely responsible for the use of any determiner must be challenged.

For titles and pseudo-titles, this is easily shown:


General Tojo (HE: chap. 4)


Finnish web developer and hacker Viljami Kuosmanen (G: T1)


[…] research by consultants Ernst & Young for the LSE (G: B1)

Keizer (2007)’s definition of close appositions involves the use of count nouns, which are usually associated with a selection of visible (in)definite determiners: a general, a developer, a hacker, a consultant / Ø consultants; *Ø general/hacker/developer/consultant.

They also do not accept the zero determiner or lack thereof in the singular, except in very specific contexts such as the predicative function (he was general) and after a preposition (as general, …). However, these exceptions seem to work better for titles than pseudo-titles (he is a developer / as a developer: the indefinite article a would be used), and there is ground for saying that these nouns are not preceded by any determiner in CAs and / or / for they are not used referentially.


Then Scott’s mother found Cam, a cowboy, and they had three more children. […] Scott never got on with Cowboy Cam. (E: 7)

62When a singular common noun appears as the only possible head of its NP, as in the loose apposition Cam, a cowboy found in (41), it must be preceded by a determiner. This syntactic constraint on the common noun disappears when the common noun is combined with a PN, as in Cowboy Cam. Whether the determiner was simply erased (lack of determination) or replaced by a zero determiner, it seems that the reason for it lies more with the proper noun than with the common noun: the PN is the only new element in the NP, common count nouns in the singular usually do not accept a zero determiner / no determiner whereas proper nouns do, and even though proper nouns usually do not command a visible determiner, they sometimes do when modified (Lucretiathe fair Lucretia (LfW: 62)). If close appositions are a case of semantic modification as Keizer (2007) suggests (see infra, 1.1), then it is less surprising to posit that the proper noun, should it be modified by a common noun, could command a (visible or invisible) determiner. This is even more resonant for cases in which the intermediary position is filled by something which could be either an adjective or a common noun: 


[…] the semi-colon had just arrived obscurely from Italy and was being disseminated into English literature by the erudite Ben Jonson (LfW: 101)

In this example, is Ben Jonson an erudite, or is he very learned, or erudite? If erudite is understood as an adjective, then it modifies the PN Ben Jonson and the article the determines the modified PN. Why should the analysis be entirely different if erudite is a common noun?

63Admittedly, the current theories about proper nouns do not grant them much power over the choice of any determiner – which the previous comments endeavoured to question, at the very least. However, even if they do not choose the determiner themselves, perhaps proper nouns influence the values, or semantic/pragmatic functions of these determiners in discourse.


[…] If the City did lose its ability to clear transactions denominated in euros – which was a contentious issue even before the Brexit vote – Rolet said 232,000 roles could be lost, citing research by consultants Ernst & Young for the LSE. That report has also been referred to by peers who said last month that thousands of jobs could be lost unless a transition deal could be secured for the UK. […] (G: B1)

64The reasons why both the common noun and the proper noun appear in (43) have already been established (see infra 2.1): the common noun reflects the contextual, semantic frame in which reference to a new, particular individual is made through the proper noun. Because the PN is given, the consultants’ identity is known, therefore the zero determiner before consultants cannot mean “qualitative indeterminacy”, which would be the case if the PN were erased, as in:


[…] If the City did lose its ability to clear transactions denominated in euros – which was a contentious issue even before the Brexit vote – Rolet said 232,000 roles could be lost, citing research by consultants for the LSE. That report has also been referred to by peers who said last month that thousands of jobs could be lost unless a transition deal could be secured for the UK. […] (G: B1)

in which the identity of the consulting firm does not seem to matter, as long as “consultants for the LSE”, whoever they be, did the research. In (44), the zero determiner used with the plural count noun consultants therefore indicates both quantitative and qualitative indeterminacy, so its values change whether or not there is a PN accompanying the common noun.

65So far, only titles and pseudo-titles have been dealt with. The same logic may be applied to strict appositions, in which there is a visible (usually but not always definite) determiner. Since count nouns can be determined by definite determiners (e.g. the general, the physicist, the hacker), it will be more difficult to show that the definite determiner is used because of the PN. Nonetheless, the presence of a PN might change the values of this determiner (Acuña-Fariña 1996) and therefore the overall meaning of the expression (Haugen 1953): 


With the islands of Bearasay and Seann Chnoc in the background, we arrived on the sandy beach at Bostadh on Great Bernera. The island, under the name of Borva, was the setting for the 1873 novel A Princess of Thule by the Scottish novelist William Black. (G: T2)

Example (45) appears in an article recounting the journalist/photographer’s four-day trip to the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. It is therefore aimed at readers who are assumed to be interested in Scottish islands but who do not exactly know them well – or at all. In addition to photographs of the places he has been, the journalist thus provides a description of surrounding lakes and parks, mentions local folklore (who killed whom, where and why) as well as related artwork (the Gaelic song Balaich an Iasgaich; the 1873 novel A Princess of Thule). In that respect, having the PN William Black alone would defeat the journalist’s purposes of educating the readers while recounting a 100% Scottish journey.


The island, under the name of Borva, was the setting for the 1873 novel A Princess of Thule by William Black.

66With the PN alone, it is up to the reader to understand who William Black is – they can only infer that he is a novelist, for having written a novel, but his personal connection to Scotland is lost in the process –, something which may prove tricky to the average reader who is very likely to confuse William Black with his English counterpart William Blake, an artist and poet who lived and died not so long before him. In order to avoid this regrettable mistake, the common nominal is needed. But having the common property alone, with a definite determiner, is also difficult to sustain:


The island, under the name of Borva, was the setting for the 1873 novel A Princess of Thule by the Scottish novelist.

Even though this NP is grammatically correct, the article the suggests that, somehow, the novelist is known to the readers – via unicity, knowledge or second mention. Yet, the unicity and cultural-knowledge interpretations are not acceptable because in this context it would suggest that there is only one famous Scottish novelist, or one that dwarfs all the others so much so that this novelist is the Scottish novelist par excellence. One can see how this interpretation is difficult to defend in general, given how many Scottish novelists became famous to the general public, and therefore how it cannot hold for William Black in particular, whose fame considerably dwindled during the twentieth century. The use of the might thus be the signalling a second mention. But (45) corresponds to the only mention of the novelist in the article and merely serves as an anecdote. As there is no possible antecedent for the Scottish novelist in the whole article, the common element cannot rely on textual anaphora to be understood.

  • 15 There are cases in which the same referent is described several times using close appositions, foll (...)

67So when the apposition the Scottish novelist William Black is formed, using two essential pieces of information, the article the is still unable to refer to a previous referent. This time, the readers are able to single out one unique referent for the property “Scottish novelist” thanks to the PN William Black and in turn, the readers also know why the newly-mentioned William Black is highly relevant in context, thanks to him being a Scot, and writing about Scotland: the appears as the result of a construction anaphora, presenting the referent as known, even in first mention, because of relevant information to come in the rest of the NP15. The right interpretation of the article the thus derives from the combination of the common noun and the proper noun, and not just the use of a common noun alone.

These arguments illustrate that the PN has indeed a role to play in the use of the initial determiner in close appositions, so that depending on the theory, the determiner must bear on the combination of common and proper nouns (Keizer 2007) or only on the PN (Burton-Roberts 1975). In both cases, a single NP corresponds to a single determiner, which contradicts the main reason for calling these forms (close) appositions.

3.3. No coreference and a nominal head-modifier hierarchy

68The fact remains that, in loose appositions, the two nominal elements are supposed to be coreferential, when in fact it is doubtful that in CAs both the common noun and the PN should be referential, or even that one of them should. Indeed, following Curme, some linguists will say that one element must have a referential function while the other has an ascriptive function (Curme 1931; Strawson 1950; Gil Vilacoba 2013). For instance, the PN is considered by some to be the head of the phrase, because it is used to select one individual in the extralinguistic world and has therefore a referential function, whereas the common noun indicates to which category of entities the referent belongs – (in)animate, human/non-human, profession, title, function, personality, marital status, kinship, etc. – which is then predicated of the PN’s referent. Burton-Roberts (1975) therefore analyses the common noun as a modifier of the PN resulting from a pre-constructed predication, relativization, reduction and fronting in attributive position.

(det) William Black. (det) William Black. BE Scottish novelist (predication)
(det) William Black. WH BE Scottish novelist (relativization)
The William Black who is a Scottish novelist
The William Black Scottish novelist (reduction)
The Scottish novelist William Black (attributive position)

Fig. 4. Burton-Roberts’s transformational hypothesis (1975)

69In Burton-Robert’s view, the common noun/nominal is therefore seen as a set of predications that are contextually (or structurally for titles) attributed to the referent of the PN the same way an adjective would predicate a property of the referent of a common noun.

  • 16 Lee (1952) argues in favour of two NPs, not the single-NP theory.

On the other hand, it might be construed that the PN’s function is only to restrict the reference started with the common noun (Lee 1952): a novelista Scottish novelistWilliam Black, in which case, both the common noun and the PN are referential, but they are not co-referential – since William Black is an instance of a (Scottish) novelist, it is seen as hyponymic compared to novelist16.

Finally, Keizer (2007) argues that the determiner bears neither on the common noun nor on the proper noun alone, but on the combination of both that forms a greater nominal. In this view, no element has more referential power than the other.


[the + (Scottish novelist + William Black)]

70Some may contend that this syntactic representation is not easy to defend, seeing as a common count noun such as novelist very seldom appears in the singular without a visible determiner (a/the), especially when it is qualitatively modified (Scottish). Yet, it is not impossible for a common count noun to do so (see infra 3.2.), even when combining qualitative information on occupation and nationality as the following similar example shows:


Formally called Cloud Gate and created by British artist Anish Kapoor, it is indeed shaped like a bean and made up of 168 plates welded together with no visible seams. (M: T1)

71This pseudo-title appears in The Mirror, a low-brow newspaper. But as 1.3 established (see supra), this form is by no means to be analysed as ill-formed or sub-standard. More than that, this objection shows a misreading of Keizer’s objective in representations such as (48). In the end, there will be a definite determiner in the NP the Scottish novelist William Black, so Scottish novelist does not really stand “alone” in discourse. What Keizer explains is merely an extension of the theory that a determiner does not bear on just the head but on the whole nominal which the head-noun heads: in the red car, the determiner the makes the nominal red car – a complex lexical unit – referential, not just the common noun car. In close appositions, the determiner would thus make the whole nominal [common noun/nominal + PN] referential, and not just one element that might be felt as “more closely linked” to the determiner.

72The non-referentiality of each individual unit and the fact that the determiner bears on the whole nominal do not prevent one unit – namely, the common noun according to Keizer – from heading the nominal: just as car remains the head of the nominal red car and of the NP the red car, Keizer states that, within the nominal of a CA, the head is still the common element. Therefore, according to Keizer, the Scottish novelist William Black would have its determiner the bear on the whole nominal Scottish novelist William Black, whose head is the common nominal Scottish novelist, whose ultimate head is the common noun novelist.

  • 17 The theory of a double-headed structure has not been widely defended (Hockett 1955; Lekakou and Sze (...)

73The arguments in favour of either unit being the head are too numerous, contradictory at times, and mostly not entirely convincing, to be studied in this paper. In addition to that, it is not often that all CA subtypes are given the same analysis, some being usually associated with a head-common noun (CAs with a genitive determiner) and others with a head-PN (CAs gradually looking more like conventional titles). Suffice it to say that, no matter which unit is chosen to function as head, it is obvious that close appositions are now treated as a modified noun phrase with a syntactic head-modifier hierarchy which mirrors the referential dissymmetry between the common and proper nouns17.

74All of which brings CAs closer to modified or complemented NPs, as well as compounds, rather than traditional, loose appositions. This makes sense and would explain why there are so many occurrences that look like CAs but are analysed as modified NPs and vice versa. For instance, Keizer’s definition (see above) of CAs includes the combination of a common noun + a PN, but not that of a PN + a common noun, which leads to treating Lake Michigan as a CA (title) but Burleigh Street or Buckingham Palace as modified NPs or complex PNs made of a proper noun and a descriptor (Quirk et al. 1972).

75Similarly, Keizer’s definition makes allowances for the combination of two common nouns, provided one denotes a “unique” object, but ignores the combination of two proper nouns, such as the combination of a first and a last name (William Black). The parallel is however obvious: two units which can be used separately to refer to the same individual, but which can also be described as restricting each other’s potential referents – only one member of a family, only one bearer of a certain first name. Complex personal names are to be interpreted as illustrating modification, although they are “appositive-like combinations” (Langendonck 2008: 198).


76This paper has endeavoured to show that even though close appositions may resemble loose appositions, characterized by the juxtaposition of two coreferential NPs, it is best to analyse them as single modified NPs. Even the champions of CA as a special nominal relation cannot really separate it from modification: syntactic gradient from CA to modification, hierarchical gradient from an ambiguous head to a typical head-common noun (descriptions, prototypical appositions), lack of coreference in favour of reference and predication, reference and restriction of reference, or even lack of referential properties for each unit and reference of the whole. The contextual meanings of the three main CA subtypes under study – titles, pseudo-titles and prototypical appositions – have a lot in common with what modifiers can achieve with common nouns and even PNs. The formal, semantic and syntactic similarities with forms otherwise classified within modifying structures confirm that CAs cannot be studied – and conceived – in isolation from the rest of the hierarchized NPs (modification, complementation, compounding). If it is true that they have specific pragmatic values or syntactic properties that do not always resonate with other head-modifier structures, or not in the same way, it is not enough to set them apart. Using proper nouns in combination with common nouns instead of adjectives or other nouns does induce changes in meaning and syntax, as it should, but this does not call for a complete separation from the rest of the nominal class. Calling these forms “close appositions” is therefore problematic, as it creates another kind of relation or function that is both unnecessary and ill-defined. However, the term may not be completely discarded: even though close and loose appositions cannot be described in the same syntactic terms, their common double-sided packaging of information on the referent justifies that the parallel should be kept for semantic and pragmatic purposes only.

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Sources of the examples cited

Desmond, Matthew. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. EPub, Penguin Books, 2016.

Davey, Melissa, and agencies. ‘Parks Victoria Staff Used Work Credit Cards for KFC to Lure Feral Cats’. 10 Jan. 2017. The Guardian. Last access 29/05/2018.

Erlanger, Steven. ‘As Trump Era Arrives, a Sense of Uncertainty Grips the World’. 16 Jan. 2017. The New York Times, Last access 28/05/2018.

Gibb, Jessica. ‘Ed Sheeran Saves Street Boys out of His Own Pocket on Comic Relief’. 24 Mar. 2017. Mirror Online, Last access 29/05/2018.

Gibbs, Samuel. ‘Browser Autofill Used to Steal Personal Details in New Phishing Attack’. 10 Jan. 2017. The Guardian, Last access 28/05/2018.

Hardman, Isabel. ‘Isabel Hardman: When My Mind Stopped Working, I Realised Just How Badly We Treat Mental Health’. 9 Jan. 2017. The Telegraph, Last access 28/05/2018.

Hawkins, Paula. The Girl on the Train. Black Swan, 2016.

Heritage, Stuart. ‘Why I’m so Disappointed by Gutless Sherlock’s Big Twist’. 10 Jan. 2017. The Guardian, Last access 29/05/18.

Ingle, Sean. ‘Sebastian Coe Defies Select Committee over Russia Corruption Scandal’. 10 Jan. 2017. The Guardian, Last access 29/05/2018.

Knapton, Sarah. ‘“Precarious Scheduling” at Work Causing Chaotic Home Life for 4.6 Million Britons Placing Their Health at Risk, Study Suggests’. 16 Aug. 2017. The Telegraph,, Last access 29/05/2018.

Korbe, Gregory. ‘Less than Meets the Eye: Trump’s Orders Aren’t Always What They Seem’. 9 Feb. 2017. USA Today, Last access 29/05/2018.

MacLeod, Murdo. “Rowing in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland – in Pictures”. 16 Aug. 2018. The Guardian, Last access 22/09/2019.

Oakley, Nicola, and Kyle O’Sullivan. “Strictly Come Dancing 2017 Full Line-up Revealed: Confirmed List of Celebrities Including Alexandra Burke, Debbie McGee and Jonnie Peacock”. 22 Aug. 2017. Mirror Online, Last access 28/05/2018.

Parsons, Jeff. “NASA Has Made It a Lot Easier for Aliens to Attack Earth, Extra-Terrestrial Expert Warns”. 22 August 2017. Mirror Online, Last access 16/08/2017.

Robey, Tim. ‘Zero Days Review: How the Pandora’s Box of Hacking Broke Open’. 5 Jan. 2017. The Telegraph, Last access 29/05/2018.

Saunders, Tristram Fane. “Who Are Eurus and Sherrinford? Everything You Need to Know about Sherlock” 16 Jan. 2017. The Telegraph, Last access 28/05/2018.

St Aubyn, Edward. Lost for Words. Picador, 2015.

Thompson, Nigel. “Why you'll be blown away by the Windy City”. 6 Feb. 2017. Mirror Online, Last access 22/01/2019.

Topping, Alexandra. Children’s Author Killed and Dumped in Cesspit by Partner, Court Told. 10 Jan. 2017. The Guardian, Last access 29/05/2018.

Treanor, Jill. ‘Hard Brexit Threatens Global Financial System, City Chiefs Tell MPs’. 10 Jan. 2017. The Guardian, Last access 29/05/2018.

Vance, J. D. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. EPub, Harper Collins, 2016.

Wolffe, Richard. “The President of the United States Is Now a Neo-Nazi Sympathiser.” 16 Aug. 2017. The Guardian, Last access 29/05/2018.

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1 LfW: Lost for Words, HE: Hillbilly Elegy, E: Evicted; GoT: The Girl on the Train. G: Guardian; T: Telegraph; M: Mirror; USAT: USA Today; NYT: New York Times. See examples cited in the references. These are the sources used for my research on proper names.

2 The idea that proper nouns and names are already internally determined (French “autodétermination”) is therefore rejected, or at least questioned.

3 There also seems to be something at stake with the multiplicity / unicity of the referent in LAs and CAs. While LAs may accept that the referent be either unique or one of several to have a certain predication – in (4) we understand that the character, who lives in the 21st century, must have had many ancestors separating him from the original deity –, in CAs it seems that the referent of the PN must always (or very often) be one of several to whom the predication of the common noun can be applied. This holds true in (5): His ancestor Krishna = Krishna is one of his ancestors. This observation is confirmed in the rest of my dataset.

First, the CA form accepts plural referents:

(A) When Usha and I graduated, the crew that watched me walk across the stage numbered eighteen, including my cousins Denise and Gail, the daughters, respectively, of Mamaw’s brothers David and Pet. (HE: 14)

Second, when the form POS + common noun/kin term + PN is used, the referent is (almost) always only one instance of people to whom the kin term can apply:

My cousin Gail is one of my all-time favorite people (HE: 14): we know from the previous example that the narrator has more than one cousin.
(C) Arleen found herself in the neighborhood where her brother Martin lived. (E: 12): we know from the whole story that Arleen has three brothers.

The question is not whether the kin term in question should be unique in theory, but whether it is unique in practice. Indeed, if a decade ago POS +
dad/mom + PN would have felt odd, as most children had only one father/mother, same-sex parenting has changed that and it is logical to assume that a child wishing to refer to one of their fathers/mothers could potentially say my dad/mom X.

I have found one example in my dataset that would contradict this tendency:

(D) Mycroft would hardly be telling foreboding stories about the East Wind if their little sister Eurus was still hanging about. (T: C2)

The Holmes brothers were not supposed to have any sister. But it so happens that they have one, called Eurus. There is no mention of a second sister, and yet a strict CA form is used. I believe this is due to the argumentative quality of this sentence: Eurus could have been erased, but then there would have been a risk that people did not understand that talking about the “East Wind” meant talking about her (since her name, Eurus, means “East Wind” in Greek). Also, contrary to all the previous examples, the kinship is not established by the kin themselves but by an external speaker, which explains the P3 form (their) and the CA form while there is only one possible referent (see 2.3).

4 Huddleston and Pullum (2002) argue that in one case, President could be an NP: He was elected President (bare role NPs).

5 Since common nouns like President usually do not accept the zero determiner, does the zero determiner in Ø President Trump bear on the proper noun or on the common noun, and why so? At the very least, can the proper/common noun be accountable for its presence? In turn, if the zero determiner bears on the PN, what does it say about visible determiners in “strict” appositions?

6 This is only a subset of my dataset, to retrace Meyer’s steps and legitimate my contradicting his results.

7 When the additional information contradicts a previously assumed property, then the cognitive space is not just enriched, it is completely reshaped in order to reflect the referent’s actual properties. See Martin (1983)’s discussion of “Gödel” on that matter. See also how the repetition of a full name at the end of an article may be used to reinterpret a referent after having included all the other predications presented in the article (eg. Cornish 1999).

8 The song is the logical result of the lexico-semantic frame (Fillmore) triggered by the use of singer and performed.

9 Notice that the CA consultants PN for the LSE mirrors the pattern modifier + Head-noun + post-modifying SP.

10 Some might say that “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” and “atmosphere/air” are not proper names. The author would argue otherwise when offering a different definition of proper names. However, this does not alter the validity of the argument made here, as Keizer herself defines the second unit is CAs as either a proper name or a uniquely-denoting expression (see infra, 1.1), which these are in their metalinguistic function.

11 Usually, when you know several Johns, it is still easy to make your addressees understand which John you are talking about based on who you are talking to, where, when and about what: the John my colleagues and I know need not be the same John my grandma and I know, so that there is only one John referred to / in mind when I talk to either my grandma or my colleagues.

12 If these units have an equal status. In genitive constructions, there are two referential NPs, one of which is used to determine the head-noun of the other: [[my friend]’s car]. But there is no doubting that the first NP is a dependent and is included in the second NP.

13 Yet not entirely inconceivable: being complex is not reason enough to be dismissed as a working theory.

14 If one is to believe that an identity of form leads to an identity of meaning, in a motivated perspective on grammar.

15 There are cases in which the same referent is described several times using close appositions, following the same pattern: the first mention starts with a (pseudo)-title, which may or may not be repeated afterwards, and a definite common NP repeats the property mentioned in one of the close appositions. For example:

(E) Physicist Stephen Hawking has repeatedly warned of the dangers of making contact with intelligent aliens. "If aliens visit us, the outcome could be much like when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans," Professor Hawking told El País. "Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach," he said. The physicist, who has suffered from motor neurone disease since his twenties, explained that the existence of aliens is beyond doubt. "To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational. The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like." He also explained that the best chances for the survival of the human race is to find a new home on another planet. There's an increasing risk that a disaster will destroy Earth," Prof Hawking explains. "I therefore want to raise public awareness about the importance of space flight. I have learnt not to look too far ahead, but to concentrate on the present. "I have so much more I want to do." (M: T2)

Physicist Stephen Hawking (pseudo-title), which corresponds to the first mention of Stephen Hawking (rather known, even to the non-scientific audience), is thus redefined as Professor Hawking (title), and afterwards referred to as the physicist, going back to the first definition, before resuming with the previously-mentioned title Prof Hawking. The second-to-last mentions to the referent should be anaphoric: when the common noun is alone, the appears; when it isn’t alone the does not (*the Prof Hawking explains). So there must be something about the PN that precludes the from appearing, even when, anaphorically speaking, it would have every reason to be there.

Another illustration of this is the description of Danniella Westbrook in another article from the Mirror (M: C1) (I exclude pronominal reference form the chain, for the sake of clarity): ‘Alone’ Daniella Westbrook (in the article’s title, pseudo-title) Former EastEnder Danniella (in the standfirst, pseudo-title) Distraught Danniella Westbrook (first sentence, modified PN) the 43-year-old (no CA here) the mum-of-two (no CA here) Former cocaine addict Danniella (pseudo-title, old referent, new side of the referent) Danniella x2 (PN) the former EastEnder (no CA, but property from the second CA of the article) the mum-of-two (no CA here) the 43-year-old (no CA here).

16 Lee (1952) argues in favour of two NPs, not the single-NP theory.

17 The theory of a double-headed structure has not been widely defended (Hockett 1955; Lekakou and Szendroi 2007).

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Electronic reference

Manon Philippe, ““The Scottish novelist William Black”: Close Appositions and the Modification of Proper Names”Anglophonia [Online], 26 | 2018, Online since 01 November 2018, connection on 01 December 2021. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Manon Philippe

Sorbonne Université, CeLiSo

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Anglophonia – French Journal of English Linguistics est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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