Theory and typology of proper names

Theory and typology of proper names. By Willy Van Langendonck. (Trends in linguistics. Studies and monographs 168.) Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2007. Pp. 378. ISBN 9783110190861. $152 (Hb).

Reviewed by Katrin Hiietam, Manchester, UK

A consideration of all types of names, not only first, sur-, or place names, this volume by Willy Van Langendock is a fascinating and extremely detailed interdisciplinary account of proper names. Although primarily a synchronic study, L provides a descriptive and theoretical account of the neuro-, psycho-, and dialinguistics of proper names.

Following Ronald Langacker and William Croft, L works within the framework of radical construction grammar to distinguish between proper names, personal pronouns, and common nouns, and to propose a typology of proper names based on semantic, syntactic, and pragmatic criteria. L’s argumentation is relatively easy to follow, and he provides examples from Dutch, English, German, and French.

Ch. 1 defines proper names and examines their semantics. In Ch. 2, L provides the formal characteristics of proper names. He illustrates that proper names can show the same grammatical features that characterize personal pronouns, such as referentiality, definiteness, number, countability, recursiveness, gender, person, and even partitiveness. Furthermore, like personal pronouns, proper names are inherently referential and definite. In addition to the lack of basic level meaning in pronouns, then, the main difference between personal pronouns and proper names are their different modes of reference.

Ch. 3 investigates the subclasses of proper names and provides a synchronic typology of names (which is a significant contribution to onomastics). Finally, Ch. 4 deals with aspects of name giving and naming systems that are of a dialinguistic nature. L touches upon the name-giving of the nineteenth century foundlings and the use and structure of chat names on the Internet.

In sum, this detailed monograph will be of interest to linguists who work on the semantics, syntax, and origin of names.