Gender, number, and indefinite articles: About the 'typological inconsistency' of Italian

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This paper discusses some typologically signifi cant correlations in nominal determination systems found in the family of Romance languages, specifi cally French, Italian, and Spanish. It proposes to reinterpret the complex system of indefi nite nominal determination in French and Italian, which both feature an indefi nite article and a partitive article, as devices of nominal classifi cation in a broad sense, marking the conceptually important distinction between a single, delimited referent and a non-delimited substance. It is argued that this classifi cation system arose when nominal declension in Latin, which differentiated these two referentially highly relevant cognitive concepts via overt gender and number affi xes, got partially or completely lost. In contrast to modern central Romance languages, like French, which require rather obligatory (indefi nite) determination in almost every argument position and have developed indefi nite articles coding countability on the level of noun phrase, modern peripheral Romance languages like Spanish allow bare arguments to a larger extent and do not possess an explicit marker of non-countability. How to position Italian in this broad typology inside the family of Romance languages will be discussed in some detail and diachronically explained by its complex evolution of its nominal paradigms.


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