1-4 of 4 Results

  • Keywords: generics x
Clear all

Article

Bert Le Bruyn, Henriëtte de Swart, and Joost Zwarts

Bare nominals (also called “bare nouns”) are nominal structures without an overt article or other determiner. The distinction between a bare noun and a noun that is part of a larger nominal structure must be made in context: Milk is a bare nominal in I bought milk, but not in I bought the milk. Bare nouns have a limited distribution: In subject or object position, English allows bare mass nouns and bare plurals, but not bare singular count nouns (*I bought table). Bare singular count nouns only appear in special configurations, such as coordination (I bought table and chairs for £182). From a semantic perspective, it is noteworthy that bare nouns achieve reference without the support of a determiner. A full noun phrase like the cookies refers to the maximal sum of cookies in the context, because of the definite article the. English bare plurals have two main interpretations: In generic sentences they refer to the kind (Cookies are sweet), in episodic sentences they refer to some exemplars of the kind (Cookies are in the cabinet). Bare nouns typically take narrow scope with respect to other scope-bearing operators like negation. The typology of bare nouns reveals substantial variation, and bare nouns in languages other than English may have different distributions and meanings. But genericity and narrow scope are recurring features in the cross-linguistic study of bare nominals.

Article

Ariel Cohen

Generics are sentences such as Birds fly, which express generalizations. They are prevalent in speech, and as far as is known, no human language lacks generics. Yet, it is very far from clear what they mean. After all, not all birds fly—penguins don’t! There are two general views about the meaning of generics in the literature, and each view encompasses many specific theories. According to the inductivist view, a generic states that a sufficient number of individuals satisfy a certain property—in the example above, it says that sufficiently many birds fly. This view faces the complicated problem of spelling out exactly how many is “sufficiently many” in a way that correctly captures the intuitive truth conditions of generics. An alternative, the rules and regulations view, despairs from this project and proposes instead that generics directly express rules in the world. Rules are taken to be abstract objects, which are not related to the properties of specific individuals. This view faces the difficult problem of explaining how people come to know of such rules when judging the truth of falsity of generics, and accounting for the strong intuition that a sentence such as Birds fly talks about birds, not abstract objects. What seems to be beyond dispute is that generics, even if they do not express rules, are lawlike: they state non-accidental generalizations. Many scholars have taken this fact to indicate that generics are parametric on possible worlds: they refer to worlds other than the actual world. This, again, raises the problem of how people come to know about what happens in these other worlds. However, a rigorous application of standard tests for intensionality shows that generics are not, in fact, parametric on possible worlds, but only on time. This unusual property may explain much of the mystery surrounding generics. Another mysterious property of generics is that although there is no language without them, there is no linguistic construction that is devoted to the expression of genericity. Rather, generics can be expressed in a variety of ways, each of which can also express nongenerics. Yet, each manifestation of generics differs subtly (or sometimes not so subtly) in its meaning from the others. Even when these and other puzzles of genericity are solved, one mystery would remain: Why are generics, which are so easy to produce and understand in conversation, so difficult to analyze?

Article

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.acc unii/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.

Article

Olaf Koeneman and Hedde Zeijlstra

Many, and according to some estimates most, of the world’s languages allow the subject of the sentence to be unexpressed, a phenomenon known as ‘pro(noun) drop’. In a language like Italian, Gianni parla ‘Gianni speaks’ and Parla ‘(S)he speaks’ are both grammatical sentences. This is in contrast to a language like English, in which not expressing the subject leads to an ungrammatical sentence: *Speaks. The difference between being and not being able to leave the subject unexpressed (or, to put it differently, to have a ‘null subject’) has been related to the richness of the verbal paradigm of a language. Whereas Italian has six different agreement endings in the present tense, English only marks the third-person singular differently (with an -s affix, as in John speak-s). Although this correlation with rich agreement is pervasive, it does not successfully capture all the cross-linguistic variation that is attested. Languages like Japanese and Chinese, for instance, allow unexpressed arguments (including subjects) in the absence of any agreement. For these languages, it has been observed that their pronominal paradigms tend to have transparent, agglutinative nominal morphology, expressing case or number features. Trickier perhaps are languages that allow pro drop under certain conditions only. Some languages, such as Finnish or colloquial variants of German, allow it in certain but not all person/number contexts. Other languages, such as Icelandic, allow the subject to be unexpressed only if it is an expletive, the counterpart of English it (cf. It is raining) or there (There is a man in the garden). For these so-called partial pro drop languages, it is still unclear if one can relate their more restricted absence of overt subjects to other observable properties that they possess.