In the determiner phrases below, the determiners are in boldface:
In linguistics, a determiner phrase (DP) is a phrase headed by a determiner. In traditional analyses, the DP is specifier of the noun phrase. In generative analyses, the constituent containing a determiner and a noun, along with other complements, can be analyzed as a noun phrase or a determiner phrase. This type of constituent was traditionally analyzed as a noun phrase, but with the determiner hypothesis, it is instead analyzed as a determiner phrase where NP is a complement of the determiner.
The DP analysis of noun phrases is the majority view in generative grammar today, but is a minority stance in the study of theoretical syntax in general. The DP hypothesis is strongly defended by Bernstein, by saying that "DP represents the extended, and maximal, projection of the lexical head, noun". Prior to the determiner phrase hypothesis (DP hypothesis), the nominal phrase theory (NP hypothesis) denoted that nouns are the head of its phrase while determiners, possessive pronouns, and possessor phrases occupied the determiner position. Under this theory, the determiner position is represented as a functional element as opposed to a categorical element. The NP theory structure arises as follows:
[NP Det [N N]]
Each determiner position is represented as follows:
Determiner in specifier position of NP:
[NP the [N’[dog]N]]
Possessive in specifier position of NP:
[NP her [N’[dog]N]}
Possessor phrase in specifier position of NP:
[NP the boy’s [N’[dog]N]
The emergence of X-bar theory argued that the traditional theory of nominal phrase theory overlooks a central notion; heads project to phrases. The determiner in a noun phrase does not project to its own phrase in the NP analysis, and instead attaches as a specifier of NP. This realization introduced the possibility that articles are heads of their own projection.
This gave rise to the theory of the determiner phrase (DP), which, as argued by Abney, states that determiners are analyzed as occupying the head of a functional category D. Notions that support the DP theory emerge under X-bar theory, which denotes that constituents of the same phrasal status occupy specifier positions. The NP analysis overlooked these conditions of X-bar theory as it was found that a position, SpecNP (specifier of NP) could be occupied by both heads and phrases.
Motivation for this comes from parallelism between nominal and verbal constituents. The idea that verbs project verbal functional structure such as an inflectional phrase ('IP') or a complementizer phrase ('CP'), as explored by Chomsky, led to the study of nominal constituents. It was discovered that nouns display clausal properties and, like verbs, they project functional structure.
This equivalent structure of IP can be represented as follows:
[DP Poss [Det]D [NP[rabbit]N]] [IP Subj [Aux] I [VP[hop]V]]
It is therefore that the DP analysis D is the nominal counterpart of I (inflection).
We can see evidence of DPs in American Sign Language (ASL). There are some similarities between the DPs in ASL and spoken English. Both make the distinction between definite and indefinite DPs; in ASL, determiners and agreement features are argued to occupy the same syntactic position; and there is also movement of the possessor DP in the possessive form 
In the DP analysis of noun phrases, determiners govern the referential or quantificational properties of the noun phrases they embed. The idea that noun phrases preceded by determiners are determiner phrases is known as the DP hypothesis, which is supported by languages such as French and Italian. The DP hypothesis is compatible with the theory of generalized quantifiers, which is the prevailing theory of the semantics of determiners.
Two major semantic differences among determiners are definiteness and indefiniteness. The main representative determiners of each are the and a/an respectively, for singular NPs. Plural NP’s, however, are not as black and white. the can easily claim the role for specifying plural definiteness. The difference between the null determiner ∅ and some, is very subtle yet ∅ is not universally viewed as the plural form of a/an, while some seems to assume this role. 
A determiner phrase contains a minimum of an NP. There are sometimes determiners to the left of the noun itself, but this varies for semantic reasons. The singular NP book can be a constituent of a DP headed by the following determiners: the, a, my, this, which, etc. The plural version of the above NP books can be headed by the same determiners in certain cases, but others must undergo allophonic changes: the, some, ∅, my, those, which. Despite the variations that DP’s undergo because of the NP they dominate, DP’s still satisfy rules of basic constituency tests. For example the conjunction test:
In x-bar theory trees, a determiner phrase has a determiner as its head. The determiner projects from its starting point at D to its bar level (D'). It is from this level that a noun phrase attaches, which puts the noun phrase in the complement position to the determiner phrase. The D' level then projects to the phrasal level as a DP (determiner phrase). Therefore, a determiner phrase will contain a noun phrase at the least, and can contain other phrases that attach to NPs, such as an adjective phrase.
For more information and illustrations, see Noun phrase: Noun phrases with and without determiners.
There is extensive cross-linguistic support for DP, and it is often proposed that DP exists both in languages with overt determiners such as English, and also in languages without determiners such as Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese. A cross-linguistic study on "Bare Classifiers and Definiteness" (Simpson, Soh & Nomoto, 2011), found general patterns of bare classifiers in languages such as Cantonese and Vietnamese, which are able to express a definite reference, compared with languages such as Mandarin, which have a bare noun pattern for definite reference instead.
Notes and references
- Szabolcsi, A. (1983). The possessor that ran away from home. The Linguistic Review 3.
- Horrocks, Geoffrey and Melita Stavrou. 1987. The Linguistic Review.
- Abney, S. P. (1987). The English Noun Phrase in its Sentential Aspect. Ph. D. thesis, MIT, Cambridge MA.
- Poole, Geoffrey. Syntactic Theory. Basingstoke: Palgrave
- Most frameworks outside of the Minimalist Program continue to assume the traditional NP analysis of noun phrases. For instance, some representational phrase structure grammars assume NP (e.g. Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar) and most dependency grammars (Word Grammar being the one exception) also assume the traditional NP analysis of noun phrases (e.g. Meaning-Text Theory, Functional Generative Description, Lexicase Grammar). Construction grammars are also likely to assume NP over DP.
- Bernstein: The DP Hypothesis: Identifying Clausal Properties in the Nominal Domain
- MacLaughlin, D. (1997). The structure of determiner phrases: Evidence from american sign language. ProQuest, UMI Dissertations Publishing).
- Bernstein, Judy B: 2008. Reformulating the Determiner Phrase Analysis
- Montague, Richard: 1974, 'The proper treatment of quantification in English', in R. Montague, Formal Philosophy, ed. by R. Thomason (New Haven).
- Barwise, Jon and Robin Cooper. 1981. Generalized quantifiers and natural language. Linguistics and Philosophy 4: 159-219.
- Chomsky, Noam. Approaching UG from Below. Interfaces + Syntax = Language? Chomsky's Minimalism and the View from Syntax-Semantics. ed. Uli Sauerland and Hans-Martin Gärtner, 1-29. Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
- Carlson, Greg. N. "A unified analysis of the English bare plural" 1977
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