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Covert patterns of definiteness/indefiniteness and aspectuality in Old Icelandic, Gothic, and Old High German

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Abstract

It is assumed that the rise of the defi nite article is due to changes in the aspectual system of a language. Defi niteness and perfective aspect are shown to be just two instantiations of the same grammatical function. So are indefi niteness and imperfective aspect. Defi nite nouns and perfective verbs share identical mereological features, the same being true for indefinite nouns and imperfective verbs. Thus, defi niteness/indefi niteness and perfectivity/imperfectivity can be viewed as equivalent techniques of nominal and verbal quantifi cation. The central claim is that the definiteness effects of verbal aspect upon their ‘nouny syntactic neighbourhoods’ suffice to create complex patterns of nominal determination. The complexity is the result of combining aspect with a paradigmatic case system. One further main claim is that paradigmatic or differential case systems are characteristic of aspect languages. Complex patterns of nominal determination which involve the ‘support’ of verbal aspect and of paradigmatic case systems are characteristic of Slavic languages. The same holds for older stages of the Germanic languages. No sooner than the verbal part of the pattern, aspect, was subject to erosion, the first occurrences of definite articles can be observed. There is converging evidence from linguistic typology that aspect languages tend to avoid article systems, and article languages tend to avoid aspect. The different stages of article development will be sketched, and it will finally be explained why demonstrative pronouns are the universal source of the overt marking of definiteness. This will be done in the light of Centering Theory as presented in Abraham (this volume).

References

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