The definite article in non-specific object noun phrases: Comparing French and Italian

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Italian allows for the use of the definite article in non-specific direct object NPs ( <i>mettersi la giacca </i>‘put on a jacket’, <i>avere il gatto </i>‘have a cat’). However, in French, the corresponding constructions typically take only the indefinite article ( <i>se mettre un blouson, avoir un chat </i>). We present a corpus analysis and a questionnaire study which both establish a striking contrast between French and Italian on this point. We argue that the more widespread use of the Italian definite article in this non-specific function shows that it is further grammaticalized than its French counterpart. This conclusion calls for a reconsideration of the widespread view of French as the language with the more grammaticalized article system.


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