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date: 01 October 2022

Indefinite Articles in the Romance Languageslocked

Indefinite Articles in the Romance Languageslocked

  • Julia Pozas LoyoJulia Pozas LoyoEl Colegio de México, A.C.

Summary

A common feature of Romance languages is the existence of indefinite articles. Prototypically, indefinite articles serve to introduce new referents into discourse, which can later be taken up by means of a definite. In Romance languages, the diachronic source of indefinite articles is the unitary cardinal ‘one’ and in most cases the singular indefinite article is formally identical to the numeral: Ast., Sp., Cat., Occ., It., Srd. un/una; Pt. um/uma; Glc. un/unha; Fr. un/une; RaeR. en/ena; Ro. un/o. Despite their formal identity to the unitary cardinal, these forms are considered indefinite articles since they can be used in generic and predicative nominals, the two contexts that characterize the last stages of the grammaticalization of indefinite articles. As for plurals, there are two possible diachronic sources. On one hand, Gallo-Romance languages and some varieties of Italo-Romance (i.e., Tuscan and northern Italian dialects) have grammaticalized a plural marker of indefiniteness on the basis of the preposition de, di (< lat. de) plus the definite article (e.g., Fr. des; It. dei/delle/degli). On the other hand, Ibero-Romance and neighboring languages derive their simple indefinite plural marker from the plural forms of the Latin cardinal (i.e., acc.pl. unos, unas): Pt. uns/umas; Glc. uns/unhas; Ast. unos/unes; Sp. unos/unas; and Cat. uns/unes. Romanian also preserves a plural form derived from Lat. unos, unas: for the nom.accunii/unele, and gen.dat. unor. More commonly, however, plural indefinites are left bare or are preceded by nişte ‘some’ or câţiva ‘several.’

The use of the plural indefinite article in Romance is less extended than that of its singular counterpart. In fact, except for French where the obligatoriness of the determiner has been linked to the severe loss of morphological number, plural indefinite count nouns can, under certain circumstances, remain bare. Finally, in diachrony, the grammaticalization of plural indefinite articles is behind that of the singular. Synchronically, this is reflected in at least two facts: first, the frequency of use and the degree of obligatoriness of the plural indefinite articles are significantly lower than that of the singular indefinite article; second, plural indefinite articles are normally not accepted in generics.

Subjects

  • Historical Linguistics
  • Language Families/Areas/Contact
  • Semantics

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