The question focuses on how we should structure expressions with a form of address, such as Mr., Frau, etc., or a title, such as Dr., Prof., etc., and a proper name, such as Smith, Yamada, etc. In order NOT to open the door to confusing this issue with the problem of the structure of proper names, I want to restrict the discussion to a form of address and/or a title and one proper name.
Please note that German, for instance, can have all three items present, and then the order is clear: form of address+title+proper name.

 a. Guten Morgen, Herr Doktor Müller!

Titles and forms of addresses are free expressions in English, German, French, and many other languages. They can appear without proper names:

 b. The prof’s not in yet.
 c. Careful, mister!
 d. Wünschen der Herr noch etwas? 
 e. Bon jour, mademoiselle!  

I believe it is therefore safe to assume that forms of address and titles must be in a syntactic relationship with the co-occurring proper names within the greater NP. The problem concerns syntax.
The question then is: How are expressions structured? May we assume endocentric structure? If yes, what’s the head? Is it (f) or (g)? Why? Or are we dealing with exocentric NPs? If so, why?

 f. [Mr. [Smith]]
 g. [[Mr.] Smith]

On a final note, there are languages, such as Japanese, where the form of address is a suffix (h). If titles are present, one often deals with compounds (i), at least in Japanese.

 h. Yamada-san
    "Mr/Mrs/Miss Yamada"
 i. Yamada-saibankan
    "Judge Yamada"

Languages that use affixes and compounding, such as Japanese, may offer a hint concerning the internal structure of the expressions in other languages. In Japanese the head is always at the right periphery of its phrase. This property is also in effect in morphology. If true, -san in (h), and saibankan in (i) should be the heads.
But would the corresponding expressions also be heads in languages that use free expressions?

  • I'm not totally convinced that this is a matter for syntax and not morphology. I don't see any compelling evidence that, e.g. Herr Doktor Mueller is a phrase rather than say, a complex word formed via compounding or some other morphological process. For example, neither the proper name nor the honorifics can be extracted. Anyway, if these structures were phrase, i would analyse them as endocentric, headed by the proper name, since they have the same external syntax as proper names.
    – P Elliott
    Commented May 18, 2014 at 12:21
  • @PElliott Compounding is gradient. Some compounds are very close to syntax, the only difference to a syntactic phrase being that one item has relinquished its prosodic autonomy, i.e. it fails to project its own prosodic word structure. Its internal structure, however, can still be subject to phrase structure. The problem with your analysis is that the proper name (your head) can be omitted yielding Herr Doktor. Your analysis also does not correspond to the analysis of the Japanese data I've given. One would need to give reasons as to why the two languages differ so fundamentally. Commented May 18, 2014 at 13:00
  • One could posit a null element corresponding to a proper name heading the structure when honorifics appear alone. One could also make the opposite argument and claim that because proper names can appear on their own, they must head the structure. A rejoinder would be to posit a null honorific heading the structure whenever a proper name appears on its own. Syntactically speaking, i don't see any way to distinguish these two options. As for Japanese, one could simply deny that there is a head-complement relation between the proper name and the honorific.
    – P Elliott
    Commented May 18, 2014 at 14:58
  • @PElliott But every individual item of these expressions can appear on its own. Following your logic, we have to assume that every item is the head, which can't be true. Introducing null elements whenever one is short of an explanation does not strike me as constructive. And "simply denying" is not very creative either. Commented May 18, 2014 at 15:27
  • Exactly, my point was that it's hard to see how syntactic evidence could really bear on this question. One thing to observe is that when an honorific appears alone, it still denotes an individual, but we wouldn't want to say that honorifics are individual denoting expressions - rather they express a relation between the speaker and the individual denoted by the proper name - so to get the semantics right it seems necessary to posit something along the lines of a null name.
    – P Elliott
    Commented May 18, 2014 at 15:56

1 Answer 1


[Dr. [No]] is the more defensible analysis. Taking the example Mr. Smith, premodifiers are possible:

 the good Mr. Smith

In contrast, if Mr. is dropped, the premodifiers seem quite odd:

 ??the good Smith

This situation suggests that the pre-modifiers are dependents of Mr., not of Smith. Further, Smith can be dropped completely:

 the good Mr.

These facts are accommodated more easily if Mr. is head over Smith. If the opposite were the case, the good Mr. would qualify as a constituent and we would expect it to be identifiable as a constituent; but it clearly is not a constituent, as the proform substitution test reveals: *he Smith.

A second argument demonstrating that [Dr. [No]] is the better analysis is that it establishes consistency in hierarchical analysis across English and Japanese. English is more head-initial than head-final and Japanese is of course almost completely head-final.

A third insight that supports the analysis is prosody. Phrasal stress tends to fall on an element that appears lower in the phrase. The phrasal stress falls on No, not on Dr: Dr. No. This situation can be compared with compounds, which have the phrasal stress on the first element, e.g. truck tire. Such compounds are widely taken to be head-final in English, i.e. [[truck] tire].

In essence what this all means is that No is in apposition to Dr. We have the same structural analysis as with standard appositions, e.g. [my friend [Tom]].

  • That could imply that we have to assume [first name [last name]] in personal names. What do you think? Commented Jun 2, 2014 at 6:55
  • Yes, that would be my preferred analysis. Commented Jun 3, 2014 at 14:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.