Definiteness

Definiteness

Definiteness

Definiteness

Synopsis

Definiteness is the concept expressed by definite articles such as "the", and also by other expressions such as demonstratives ("this", "that") and personal pronouns. This textbook surveys such expressions in the many languages of the world, and also examines the theoretical literature on this aspect of grammar, to establish what definiteness is and how languages can express it.

Excerpt

This book is primarily a survey, but, unlike some other topic-based books in this series, it surveys two areas. First, it ocers an account of the range of variation displayed by languages in relation to definiteness and related grammatical concepts. Most languages do not have “articles”, and in those that do they vary strikingly in both their form and their range of use. All languages have demonstratives, personal pronouns, possessives, and other expressions which either seem to be inherently definite or to interact in interesting ways with definiteness; but again, there is considerable variation in the ways in which these expressions relate to definiteness. Second, the book gives a (very selective) outline of the theoretical literature on definiteness. This literature is vast, consisting both of direct accounts of definiteness and of work mainly concerned with other phenomena on which definiteness impinges. Both the cross-linguistic survey and the theoretical survey are introductory and far from complete, and many of the choices I have made in reducing the material to manageable proportions are no doubt arbitrary. This is true particularly as regards the literature, where I have had to omit much which I see as important, and it is essential that the reader follow up further references given in the works I do refer to.

This is not just a survey, however. I am much too interested in the topic not to want to present my own view of what definiteness is, and I believe the work gains in coherence from the aim of reaching and defending (if in outline) a preferred account. Chapters 7 to 9, in particular, contain much discussion of the approach I believe to be the most promising. But in the earlier chapters too, I have not hesitated to advance far-reaching claims anticipating this approach. the view of definiteness I propose may be wrong, of course, but it will have achieved its purpose if a student reading my proposals is spurred to investigate further and show their inadequacy. My aim in this book is not to present a set of facts and analyses to be learned, but to ocer a body of ideas to be thought about and improved upon.

The investigation of definiteness necessarily takes the reader into several domains of inquiry, some of which (like semantics and syntax) are highly technical. While I assume some familiarity on the part of the reader with the principles and . . .

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