9 Conclusions

This chapter summarizes the main results of this work and looks briefly at possible further typological connections.


9.1. Summary of the Results of This Work

In this study I have looked at indefinite pronouns in the world's languages with the goal of discovering cross-linguistic generalizations in this area of grammar and thereby adding to our knowledge of human language in general. Although indefinite pronouns are not a very conspicuous part of the grammars of human languages, their study has wide ramifications in semantics, pragmatics, syntax, and morphology; and by putting special emphasis on the diachronic origin and development of indefinites, I enlarged the scope of this work further. Since this study is topic-oriented and encyclopedic in character, it is not easy to summarize. Nevertheless, in the following sections I will outline the main findings and their proposed explanations.


9.1.1. Typological generalizations about indefinite pronouns

9.1.1.1. Formal generalizations . Once indefinite pronouns are suitably defined (§ 2.2), the search for them in different languages shows that most languages have indefinite pronouns of some kind, and that their shapes are fairly uniform across languages. In particular, they are almost always of one of two types (§ 3.1): either derived from interrogative pronouns by means of an indefiniteness marker (or identical to interrogatives) or based on generic nouns like 'person', 'thing'. Non- derived indefinites like Dutch iets 'something' are very rare. Whenever indefinites are formally related to another class of words and one of these classes is formally more complex, the indefinites are formally more complex.

The indefiniteness marker is usually an uninflected particle (or a sequence of particles), prefixed or suffixed. Usually an indefiniteness marker characterizes a whole series of indefinite pronouns. Its position is often outside case inflections. Very often indefinite pronouns are formed by reduplication (§ 7.4), and often the bare interrogatives may also be used as indefinites (§ 7.3). The origin of the indefiniteness marker is often still transparent, although the meaning of the indefinite pronoun can never be determined purely compositionally. The transparency of the markers is due to the generally recent grammaticalization: indefinite pronouns have a relatively short lifespan and are diachronically quite unstable. Closely related languages often show very different indefinite pronouns and indefinite systems.

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