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Cross-Linguistic Definitions of: Definiteness, Familiarity, Identifiability, Referentiality, Specificity

From:Tom Chappell <tomhchappell@...>
Date:Tuesday, October 11, 2005, 18:13
Hello, Group.

I went looking on Google for articles about
(any two of : Definiteness, Referentiality, Specificity).

I found out that many of them say there is no generally-accepted
cross-linguistic definition of "referentiality" and/or "specificity".

The terms "familiarity" and "identifiability" come up in defining definiteness and specificity.
For instance, some say that "definite" NPs are "familiar" (that is, have been
talked about before). Others disagree.
Also, some define "definite" as "identifiable to both speaker and (so speaker
assumes) addressee", while they define "specific" as "identifiable to the
speaker (who makes no commitment as to whether or not it is identifiable to the
addressee as well)". Again, others disagree.

Apparently there is supposed to be a hierarchy. Also, apparently, nearly every prominent
writer has a slightly-different hierarchy from nearly every other.

Some think "definite" NPs can be either "referential" or "non-referential"
(depending upon whether the speaker pre-supposes their existence, e.g.); while
OTOH they think "indefinite" NPs can be either "specific" or "non-specific"
(depending upon whether or not the speaker has a particular example in mind,
and thinks it matters which example is meant).

Others think "specific vs non-specific" is a logically-independent feature from
"definite vs. indefinite", and all four combinations can occur. Some of them
think "definite non-specific" is merely improbable, not impossible.


Does anyone on the list know of a good book or URL or other reference that at least
defines (and preferably discusses), cross-linguistically and
cross-theoretically (or, better yet, language-independently and
theory-neutral), the "meaning categories" of Definite, Referential, and


These ideas are used in such processes as "Object Scrambling" (of which
double-object constructions and dative-movement could be, I guess, examples?),
"Clitic Doubling", "Differential Subject Marking", "Differential Object
Marking", Incorporation, etc.

Also in Split-Case Marking.



Tom H.C. in MI

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