The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Special LFRG 5/14: Klaus von Heusinger

WHO: Klaus von Heusinger (U. Stuttgart)
TITLE: Specifictiy, Referentiality and Discourse Prominence
WHEN: May 14, Friday, 3PM-4:30PM
WHERE: TBA, probably 32-D461

There are various notions of specificity, ranging from Fodor & Sag’s (1982) referentiality view to Givon’s discourse prominence view. Ionin (2006) discusses the relation between these two perspectives by analyzing the English indefinite this. She represents indefinite this as a referential operator in the sense of Fodor & Sag (1982), but also adds the felicitous condition of “noteworthiness”. She notes that there is an open question how these two properties of indefinite this are linked to the discourse property of signaling high prominence in a discourse.

The talk will address this open question by analyzing the two German equivalents of the English indefinite this: the indefinite demonstrative dies and the form so’n, which is composed of do ‘such’ and the reduced and enclitic form ‘n of the indefinite article ein. Both forms are primarily used in informal registers and signal discourse prominence, i.e. that more will be said about the referent introduced by these expressions. First, I argue that these two forms are in fact two indefinite articles in German; I present some results from corpus searches that provide evidence for their discourse function, and I report on a subtle difference in their referential behavior under extensional and intensional operators. I suggest some new links between the referential properties and the discourse properties of these specific indefinite article in German and conclude with even more open questions.

  1. Peter traf gestern eine Frau.
  2. Peter traf gestern diese Frau.
  3. Peter traf gestern so’ne Frau.
    Peter met yesterday a / this / such-a woman.

Fodor, Janet & Sag, Ivan 1982. Referential and Quantificational Indefinites. Linguistics and Philosophy 5, 355-398.
Givon, Talmy 1981. On the Development of the Numeral ‘one’ as an Indefinite Marker. Folia Linguistica Historia 2, 35-53.
Ionin, Tanja 2006. This is definitely specific: specificity and definiteness in article systems. Natural Language Semantics, 14, 175-234.