Linguistics Definiteness
by
Klaus von Heusinger
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0063

Introduction

Definiteness is a semantic-pragmatic notion that is closely associated with the use of the definite article (or determiner) in languages like English, Hungarian, Hebrew, and Lakhota. The definite article can be used in different conditions: deictic, anaphoric, unique, and certain indirect uses, often also called “bridging uses.” Accordingly, there are different semantic theories of definiteness, such as the salience theory, the familiarity or identifiability theory, and the uniqueness or inclusiveness theory. Definite expressions cover personal pronouns, proper names, demonstratives, definite noun phrases, and universally quantified expressions. Noun phrases with the definite article, known as “definite descriptions,” are a key issue in semantics and analytic philosophy with respect to the interaction of reference and description in identifying an object. The research and analysis of definiteness is of great importance not only for the linguistic structure of languages but also for our understanding of reference and referring in philosophy, cognitive science, computational linguistics, and communication science.

Foundational Works and Comprehensive Overviews

Definiteness is the central referential property of nominal expressions, in linguistics most often related to the use of the definite article in languages that have definite articles. There are many monographs on definiteness in particular languages (see Particular Languages). More general approaches are represented in Christophersen 1939 on the use and diachronic development of the English articles and in Krámsky 1972 on the history of research and an overview of article systems in various languages. Hawkins 1978 is the most influential and comprehensive study of definiteness and its grammatical contrast, while Lyons 1999 embeds the discussion into an updated view with broad descriptive material. Neale 1990 is an excellent monograph spelling out the conception of definiteness in analytic philosophy (see Definite Descriptions and Analytic Philosophy).

  • Christophersen, Paul. 1939. The articles: A study of their theory and use in English. Copenhagen: Munksgaard.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The seminal work on the different uses and the diachronic development of the definite article in English that also laid the theoretical foundation for the discussion in the 20th century within the “familiarity” theory of definiteness.

    Find this resource:

    • Hawkins, John. 1978. Definiteness and indefiniteness: A study in reference and grammaticality prediction. London: Croom Helm.

      Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Splendid overview of the grammatical effects of definiteness. Establishes the inclusiveness theory of definiteness as a development of the uniqueness theory.

      Find this resource:

      • Krámsky, Jirì. 1972. The article and the concept of definiteness in language. The Hague: Mouton.

        Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

        This monograph provides an excellent introduction into the history of the research as well as a broad overview of article systems in various languages.

        Find this resource:

        • Lyons, Christopher. 1999. Definiteness. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

          DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511605789Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          Comprehensive work on the uses of definite articles and the semantics of definiteness and its diachronic dimension under a functional and typological approach.

          Find this resource:

          • Neale, Stephen. 1990. Descriptions. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

            Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

            Accessible presentation and defense of the Russellian view on definite description and its contemporary discussion in analytic philosophy.

            Find this resource:

            Handbook Articles

            Definiteness is the most researched semantic-pragmatic category of nouns, represented in most handbooks and linguistic dictionaries by articles of various sizes, coverages, and perspectives. Abbott 2004 is an excellent, comprehensive, and accessible first choice for an informed overview. Lyons 1999 is a shorter and more descriptively oriented summary. Zwarts 1994 discusses the semantics of definite expressions in general (covering personal pronouns, proper names, demonstratives, definite noun phrases, and some quantifier phrases, such as universally quantified ones), and Heim 1991 is an excellent research article of different semantic conceptions of definite noun phrases: the Fregean account (definite descriptions as referential terms) versus the Russellian account (definite descriptions as quantifier expressions).

            • Abbott, Barbara. 2004. Definiteness and indefiniteness. In The handbook of pragmatics. Edited by Laurence R. Horn and Gregory Ward, 122–149. Oxford: Blackwell.

              Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

              Very comprehensive, clear, and accessible overview of determiner phrase (DP) types, the semantics of definiteness, and the relation to other semantic-pragmatic categories, such as specificity.

              Find this resource:

              • Heim, Irene. 1991. Artikel und Definitheit. In Semantik: Ein internationales Handbuch der zeitgenössischen Forschung. Edited by Arnim von Stechow and D. Wunderlich, 487–535. Berlin: de Gruyter.

                Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                Probably the best article ever written on definiteness. Clearly structured with very balanced arguments for Fregean versus Russellian accounts.

                Find this resource:

                • Lyons, Christopher. 1999. Definiteness. In Concise encyclopedia of grammatical categories. Edited by Keith Brown and John Miller, 125–131. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

                  Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                  Short and informative survey with a focus on descriptive issues.

                  Find this resource:

                  • Zwarts, Franz. 1994. Definite expressions. In The encyclopedia of language and linguistics. Vol. 2. Edited by R. E. Asher, 840. Oxford: Pergamon.

                    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                    One-page overview of the properties of definite expressions like proper names, demonstratives, definite noun phrases, and certain quantifiers.

                    Find this resource:

                    Classical Papers on Theories

                    The concept of “definiteness” was explicitly introduced in la Grasserie 1896, which associates it with different uses of the definite article. Raoul de la Grasserie assumes an “identifying” function of the definite article as the base for the concept of definiteness. Russell 1905 argues against Gottlob Frege’s (Frege 1980) view that definite descriptions are referential expressions. Russell shows that such a theory has problems with definite descriptions like “the (present) king of France” that do not denote anything. He rather assumes that it is a quantificational expression that expresses existence and uniqueness of the concept involved (“the F”: the unique F). Strawson 1950 contends that existence and uniqueness are not asserted but presupposed. Christophersen 1939 claims that the concept of definiteness is based on familiarity or givenness, spelled out in Heim 1983 in a dynamic semantics framework (“the F”: the given/familiar F). Lewis 1979 criticizes Bertrand Russell’s uniqueness condition and argues for salience as the underlying principle for definiteness (“the F”: the most salient F). Hawkins 1978 formulates an extension of the uniqueness condition of Russell for plural and mass terms, which John Hawkins terms “inclusiveness.” Löbner 1985 provides arguments for a relational or functional analysis of definiteness accounting for problematic cases in other theories.

                    • Christophersen, Paul. 1939. The articles: A study of their theory and use in English. Copenhagen: Munksgaard.

                      Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                      Argues against a uniqueness theory of definiteness and formulates the familiarity theory.

                      Find this resource:

                      • Frege, Gottlob. 1980. Über Sinn und Bedeutung. In Funktion, Begriff, Bedeutung: Fünf logische Studien. By Gottlob Frege, 5.40–65. Edited by Günther Patzig. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht.

                        Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                        Seminal paper on the distinction between reference and sense. Frege also discusses for the first time the notion of “background information” of definite noun phrases, which Peter Strawson later called presupposition. Originally published in 1892. English translation in Translations from the Philosophical Writings of Gottlob Frege, edited by P. Geach and M. Black (Oxford: Blackwell, 1960), pp. 56–78.

                        Find this resource:

                        • Hawkins, John. 1978. Definiteness and indefiniteness: A study in reference and grammaticality prediction. London: Croom Helm.

                          Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                          Establishes the inclusiveness theory of definiteness as a combination of uniqueness and familiarity theories.

                          Find this resource:

                          • Heim, Irene. 1983. File change semantics and the familiarity theory of definiteness. In Meaning, use, and the interpretation of language. Edited by Rainer Bäuerle, C. Schwarze, and Arnim von Stechow, 164–189. Berlin: de Gruyter.

                            Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                            Provides a comprehensive and lucid argument in defense of the familiarity theory for definiteness and anaphora.

                            Find this resource:

                            • Lewis, David. 1979. Scorekeeping in a language game. In Semantics from different points of view. Edited by Rainer Bäuerle, Urs Egli, and Aarnim von Stechow, 172–187. Berlin: Springer.

                              Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                              Criticizes Russell’s uniqueness condition and replaces it with a principle of salience. A definite noun phrase refers to the most salient or prominent object of the kind described by the descriptive content.

                              Find this resource:

                              • la Grasserie, Raoul de. 1896. De l’article. Mémoires de la Société Linguistique de Paris 9.4: 285–322, 381–394.

                                Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                This article introduces the concept “definiteness” for the first time and formulates different conditions on the uses of the definite article.

                                Find this resource:

                                • Löbner, Sebastian. 1985. Definites. Journal of Semantics 4:279–326.

                                  DOI: 10.1093/jos/4.4.279Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                  A distinction is made between semantic and pragmatic definite noun phrases based on lexical information and pragmatic enrichment.

                                  Find this resource:

                                  • Russell, Bertrand. 1905. On denoting. Mind 14:479–493.

                                    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                    Formulates the classical theory for definite descriptions as quantificational expressions that assert existence and uniqueness, one of the main semantic analyses for definiteness.

                                    Find this resource:

                                    • Strawson, Peter. 1950. On referring. Mind 59:320–344.

                                      Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                      Criticizes Russell’s assumption that uniqueness is part of the assertion. Rather, assumes that it is a presupposition.

                                      Find this resource:

                                      Morphological Marking

                                      The semantic-pragmatic category “definiteness” is closely related to the definite article in languages with article systems. Languages differ in respect to their article systems and the range of function a particular article covers. This diversity in functions can be explained by the observation that definite articles develop from other linguistic items, very often from demonstratives, and only incrementally acquire different functions. Languages do have other means to express definiteness, from word order and information structure to interaction with other nominal and verbal categories, including aspect, as illustrated in Lyons 1999. However, it is much more difficult to assign clear-cut functions to such means, as they often express definiteness only in certain contexts or in the absence of other, stronger preferences. De Hoop 1992 and van der Does and de Hoop 1998 show the interaction of word order and definiteness, while Büring 2001 focuses on the contrast between definites and indefinites with respect to word order. Chafe 1976 provides evidence that “definite” is not the same as “given.” The interaction between aspect and definiteness is discussed in Leiss 2000, and Baker and Travis 1997 gives an example from Mohawk, where a mood marker can be best analyzed as definite.

                                      • Baker, Mark, and Lisa Travis. 1997. Mood as verbal definiteness in a “tenseless” language. Natural Language Semantics 5:213–269.

                                        DOI: 10.1023/A:1008262802401Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                        This article argues that the mood morphemes found on punctual verbs in Mohawk are to be analyzed semantically as markers of verbal definiteness/specificity.

                                        Find this resource:

                                        • Büring, Daniel. 2001. What do definites do that indefinites don’t? In Audiatur vox sapientiae: A Festschrift for Arnim von Stechow. Edited by C. Féry and W. Sternefeld, 70–100. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag.

                                          Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                          This contribution shows the interplay of definiteness and word order in German and, more specifically, how definiteness influences the ordering of objects in the Mittelfeld of German double-object constructions.

                                          Find this resource:

                                          • Chafe, Wallace. 1976. Givenness, contrastiveness, definiteness, subjects, topics, and point of view. In Subject and topic. Edited by Charles N. Li, 25–55. New York: Academic Press.

                                            Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                            The article discusses the difference between definiteness and givenness, providing evidence that both notions are independent and cross-categorize.

                                            Find this resource:

                                            • de Hoop, Helen. 1992. Case configuration and noun phrase interpretation. PhD diss., Rijksuniversiteit Groningen.

                                              Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                              Broad and very carefully argued monograph on the interaction of word order and semantic-pragmatic categories, such as definiteness.

                                              Find this resource:

                                              • Leiss, Elisabeth. 2000. Artikel und Aspekt: Die grammatischen Muster von Definitheit. Berlin: de Gruyter.

                                                Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                Comprehensive and very informed study of the development of the articles in Germanic languages. Leiss argues that one of the driving forces is the loss of aspectual information in the verbal domain.

                                                Find this resource:

                                                • Lyons, Christopher. 1999. Definiteness. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

                                                  DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511605789Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                  Comprehensive and up-to-date monograph on the grammatical means to express definiteness in the languages of the world.

                                                  Find this resource:

                                                  • van der Does, Jaap, and Helen de Hoop. 1998. Type-shifting and scrambled definites. Journal of Semantics 15:393–416.

                                                    DOI: 10.1093/jos/15.4.393Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                    Short version of the monograph de Hoop 1992 but with additional semantic analysis in terms of type shifting.

                                                    Find this resource:

                                                    Typology of Article Systems

                                                    The main means to express (or, more correctly, to detect) definiteness is the use of articles. Probably fewer than half of the world’s languages do have definite articles, and in those languages the article systems show a broad variety, from systems with only a definite article to systems with more than one definite and/or indefinite article. Rich article systems may make finer distinctions than just definite versus indefinite, while systems without articles have to employ other means for the different functions generally associated with the definite article (see Uses of the Definite Article). Himmelmann 2001 provides a very informative survey on article systems and their functions. Krámsky 1972 discusses several article systems in a variety of languages. On a sample of about 550 languages, Dryer 2005 shows the quantitative distribution of the different systems and forms. Schroeder 2006 presents an in-depth study of article systems in European languages. Plank 2003 is a study of constructions with more than one article.

                                                    • Dryer, Matthews. 2005. Definite articles. In The world atlas of language structures. Edited by Martin Haspelmath, Matthew S. Dryer, and David Gil. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

                                                      Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                      The article presents qualitative and quantitative results from a sample of about 550 languages.

                                                      Find this resource:

                                                      • Himmelmann, Nikolaus. 2001. Articles. In Language typology and language universals: An international handbook. Vol. 1. Edited by M. Haspelmath, E. König, W. Oesterreicher, and W. Raible, 831–841. Berlin: de Gruyter.

                                                        DOI: 10.1515/9783110171549.2Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                        This article summarizes research results with respect to semantic, functional, syntactic, morphological, and etymological parameters.

                                                        Find this resource:

                                                        • Krámsky, Jirì. 1972. The article and the concept of definiteness in language. The Hague: Mouton.

                                                          Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                          Very informative contribution on article systems of various languages, on which it is often difficult to get more information.

                                                          Find this resource:

                                                          • Plank, Frans. 2003. Double articulation. In Noun phrase structure in the languages of Europe. Edited by Frans Plank, 337–395. Berlin: de Gruyter.

                                                            Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                            Very interesting study of the distribution of more than one definite or indefinite article within noun phrases.

                                                            Find this resource:

                                                            • Schroeder, Christoph. 2006. Articles and article systems in some areas of Europe. In Pragmatic organization of discourse in the languages of Europe. Edited by Giuliano Bernini and Marcia L. Schwartz, 545–611. Berlin: de Gruyter.

                                                              Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                              Very carefully worked out overview of article systems in northern, southeastern, and eastern Europe. Discusses different sources for the development of definite articles.

                                                              Find this resource:

                                                              Particular Languages

                                                              Definiteness is a central semantic-pragmatic category and is therefore treated in nearly every descriptive grammar, even if the language does not display definite articles. In other words, we will find basic information about definiteness and the definite article in most languages for which we have appropriate grammars. The studies in this section, however, focus on definiteness or on the definite article in particular languages and analyze their different uses according to a theoretical framework. Christophersen 1939 explains the use of the definite article by Paul Christophersen’s familiarity theory. Chesterman 1991 compares the use of articles in English and Finnish and develops a five-category system for English. Leonetti 1999 is an excellent study that combines detailed empirical observation with most recent theoretical frameworks. Ebert 1971 is a comprehensive analysis of a language with two definite articles and provides a theoretical account for their distribution. Chen 2004 argues for a theory of identifiability accounting for the data in Chinese, and Danon 2001 embeds definiteness in the syntactic structure of Hebrew. Birkenmaier 1979 is an outstanding analysis of nominal determination without articles in Russian.

                                                              • Birkenmaier, Willy. 1979. Artikelfunktionen in einer artikellosen Sprache: Studien zur nominalen Determination im Russischen. Munich: Fink.

                                                                Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                Classical work on an articleless language and on the strategies to express definiteness by other means.

                                                                Find this resource:

                                                                • Chen, Ping. 2004. Identifiability and definiteness in Chinese. Linguistics 42:1129–1184.

                                                                  DOI: 10.1515/ling.2004.42.6.1129Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                  Very clever article that shows that definiteness in Chinese is best accounted for by an identifiability theory.

                                                                  Find this resource:

                                                                  • Chesterman, Andrew. 1991. On definiteness: A study with special reference to English and Finnish. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

                                                                    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511519710Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                    A comprehensive analysis of the English and Finnish article systems that shows that a close comparison of two systems yields new and unexpected insights.

                                                                    Find this resource:

                                                                    • Christophersen, Paul. 1939. The articles: A study of their theory and use in English. Copenhagen: Munksgaard.

                                                                      Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                      This monograph is still the best study of the distribution and the diachronic development of the articles in English.

                                                                      Find this resource:

                                                                      • Danon, Gabi. 2001. Syntactic definiteness in the grammar of Modern Hebrew. Linguistics 39.6: 1071–1116.

                                                                        DOI: 10.1515/ling.2001.042Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                        Excellent contribution to the relation between the semantic-pragmatic notion of definiteness and its syntactic encoding in Hebrew.

                                                                        Find this resource:

                                                                        • Ebert, Karen. 1971. Referenz, Sprechsituation und die bestimmten Artikel in einem nordfriesischen Dialekt. PhD diss., Univ. of Kiel.

                                                                          Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                          In-depth investigation on the Low German dialect Föring with two definite articles. It discusses interesting theoretical implications.

                                                                          Find this resource:

                                                                          • Leonetti, Manuel. 1999. El artículo. In Gramática descriptiva de la lengua española. Edited by I. Bosque and V. Demonte, 787–890. Madrid: Espasa Calpe, Colección Nebrija y Bello.

                                                                            Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                            Excellent study that contains a detailed analysis of the use of the definite article in Spanish.

                                                                            Find this resource:

                                                                            Grammaticalization of the Definite Article

                                                                            Definite articles often grammaticalize from demonstratives or possessive markers. Thus the range of functions of the definite article in one particular language also depends on its stage on a grammaticalization path. Greenberg 1978 formulates the famous article cycle as consisting of three stages: (i) marking definite nouns, (ii) marking generic nouns, and (iii) being a general noun marker, which allows restarting the cycle with a new lexical item. Himmelmann 1997 investigates the grammaticalization from demonstratives to definite articles according to descriptive data and various functions. Lyons 1999 goes even a step further, assuming that the (often diverse) semantics of the definite article can be understood only as an instance of diachronic change. Harris 1980 provides a more general picture of the diachronic development, Selig 1992 gives a comprehensive overview of the forming of article systems in Romance languages, Wespel 2008 analyzes the use of articles in French-based Creoles, and Laury 1997 is a focused study of the use of a neutral demonstrative as definite article in Finnish.

                                                                            • Greenberg, Joseph. 1978. How does a language acquire gender markers? In Universals of human language. Vol. 3, Word structure. Edited by Joseph H. Greenberg, Charles A. Ferguson, and Edith A. Moravcsik, 47–82. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

                                                                              Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                              Greenberg formulates the article cycle (from marking definite reference to generic reference and then to indicating the categorical status of a noun), which is illustrated with data primarily from African languages.

                                                                              Find this resource:

                                                                              • Harris, Martin B. 1980. The marking of definiteness: A diachronic perspective. In Papers from the 4th International Conference on Historical Linguistics. Edited by Elizabeth Closs Traugott, 75–86. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

                                                                                Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                Very clear and informed overview on the diachronic development of the definite article.

                                                                                Find this resource:

                                                                                • Himmelmann, Nikolaus. 1997. Deiktikon, Artikel, Nominalphrase: Zur Emergenz syntaktischer Struktur. Tübingen, Germany: Niemeyer.

                                                                                  Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                  A very accessible theoretically informed survey on different functions of deictic elements and definite articles and their grammaticalization paths, pages 322–340.

                                                                                  Find this resource:

                                                                                  • Laury, Ritva. 1997. Demonstratives in interaction: The emergence of a definite article in Finnish. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

                                                                                    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                    This book concerns one of the paradigmatic examples of grammaticalization, the development of a definite article from a demonstrative determiner.

                                                                                    Find this resource:

                                                                                    • Lyons, Christopher. 1999. Definiteness. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

                                                                                      DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511605789Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                      Chapter 9, “Diachronic Aspects,” defends the view that the function of definite articles can be understood only as the result of complex grammaticalization processes.

                                                                                      Find this resource:

                                                                                      • Selig, Maria. 1992. Die Entwicklung der Nominaldeterminanten im Spätlatein: Romanischer Sprachwandel und lateinische Schriftlichkeit. Tübingen, Germany: Narr.

                                                                                        Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                        The foundational work on the development of article systems in Romance languages from Latin.

                                                                                        Find this resource:

                                                                                        • Wespel, Johannes. 2008. Descriptions and their domains: The patterns of definiteness marking in French-related Creole. In SinSpec 2: Working Papers of the Sonderforschungsbereich (SFB) 732. Stuttgart: Universität Stuttgart.

                                                                                          Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                          An exemplarily detailed discussion of the grammaticalization and different functions of articles in French-based Creoles.

                                                                                          Find this resource:

                                                                                          Semantic Theories

                                                                                          In a pretheoretical definition, an expression is definite if it unambiguously denotes or refers to one object—that is, if the object can be identified as the only one that is denoted by the expression. The fixed reference of a definite expression depends on different grounds: it can be determined by lexical material, by semantic rules, or by pragmatic strategies. Traditionally, proper names, definite noun phrases, demonstratives, personal pronouns, and possessive constructions are regarded as definite. Barwise and Cooper 1981 provides a definition in terms of semantic properties of quantifier phrases. Zwarts 1994 summarizes the discussion about the adequacy of such definitions. Partee 1986 argues that definite noun phrases can shift between different semantic types. Birner and Ward 1995 and Abbott 2010 (chapter 9) provide lists of different semantic tests for definiteness. The constraint that a definite expression cannot be inserted in existential contexts (“There is . . .”) has been known as the “definiteness effect” since Safir 1985, and since then it has been a subject of extensive controversy, as documented in various contributions in Reuland and ter Meulen 1987. More detailed semantic theories of definiteness generally focus on definite noun phrases (or definite description) (see Uniqueness Theories, Familiarity, and Salience).

                                                                                          • Abbott, Barbara. 2010. Reference. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

                                                                                            Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                            Comprehensive textbook on reference with a particular focus on definite noun phrases in chapter 9, “Definiteness, Strength, Partitives, and Referentiality.”

                                                                                            Find this resource:

                                                                                            • Barwise, Jon, and Robin Cooper. 1981. Generalized quantifiers and natural language. Linguistics and Philosophy 4:159–219.

                                                                                              DOI: 10.1007/BF00350139Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                              Describes the semantic properties of definite expression in the framework of generalized quantifier theory.

                                                                                              Find this resource:

                                                                                              • Birner, Betty, and Gregory Ward. 1995. Definiteness and the English existential. Language 71:722–742.

                                                                                                DOI: 10.2307/415742Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                Critique of a semantically oriented analysis of definiteness and definite effects.

                                                                                                Find this resource:

                                                                                                • Partee, Barbara. 1986. Noun phrase interpretation and type-shifting principles. In Studies in discourse representation theory and the theory of generalized quantifiers. Edited by J. Groenendijk, D. de Jongh, and M. Stokhof, 115–143. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Foris.

                                                                                                  Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                  Foundational work on the possibility of shifting the semantic type of noun phrases, including definite descriptions.

                                                                                                  Find this resource:

                                                                                                  • Reuland, Eric, and Alice ter Meulen, eds. 1987. The representation of (in)definiteness. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

                                                                                                    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                    Thorough discussion on different semantic properties of definite and indefinite noun phrases with a focus on existential contexts and definiteness effects.

                                                                                                    Find this resource:

                                                                                                    • Safir, Kenneth. 1985. Syntactic chains. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

                                                                                                      Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                      Fundamental source and most ample discussion of the definiteness effect. Originally presented as “Syntactic Chains and the Definiteness Effect,” a PhD dissertation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1982.

                                                                                                      Find this resource:

                                                                                                      • Zwarts, Franz. 1994. Definite expressions. In The encyclopedia of language and linguistics. Vol. 2. Edited by R. E. Asher, 840. Oxford: Pergamon.

                                                                                                        Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                        Overview of the properties of definite expressions like proper names, demonstratives, definite noun phrases, and certain quantifiers.

                                                                                                        Find this resource:

                                                                                                        Uses of the Definite Article

                                                                                                        Christophersen 1939 (cited under Foundational Works and Comprehensive Overviews) distinguishes among the “explicit contextual,” the “implicit contextual,” and the “situational basis” uses for noun phrases with the definite article. According to the contemporary terminology, we will call these three main groups “anaphoric,” “relational” or “indirect,” and “situational” uses, respectively. The relational use also covers the unique use of Bertrand Russell. Theories of definiteness focus on one of these uses and try to derive the analysis for the other uses: the uniqueness theory, the familiarity theory, and the salience theory. Besides these three main domains, we can observe further uses of the definite article: Schwarz 2000 discusses different types of indirect definite noun phrases and their contextual restrictions. Clark 1975 introduces the term “bridging” for one type of indirect definite description (“type . . . a book. The author . . .”), while Löbner 2003 calls this kind “associative definite description.” Wilson and Matsui 1998 provides a comprehensive analysis in terms of relevance theory. Fraurud 1990 and Poesio and Vieira 1998 observe that we find many definite noun phrases being used to introduce new discourse items rather than given ones. These “first-mentioned” definites pose some problems for the familiarity approach. On the other side, so-called weak definites are problematic for uniqueness and salience theories (Carlson, et al. 2006). Weak definite articles in German can merge with some prepositions (“Ich gehe zum (< zu+dem) Arzt”) and thus represent an interesting indicator for weak readings (Schwarz 2009). Definite articles can also be used for denoting generic objects (“The lion has a bushy tail”); see de Swart and Farkas 2005.

                                                                                                        • Carlson, G., R. Sussman, N. Klein, and M. Tanenhaus. 2006. Weak definite NP’s. In Proceedings of the North East Linguistic Society 36. Edited by Christopher Davis, Amy Rose Deal, and Youri Zabbal, 179–196. Amherst: Graduate Linguistic Student Association, Univ. of Massachusetts.

                                                                                                          Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                          In-depth treatment of weak definites and their appropriateness, with some experiments.

                                                                                                          Find this resource:

                                                                                                          • Clark, Herbert H. 1975. Bridging. In Theoretical issues in natural language processing. Edited by R. C. Schank and B. L. Nash-Webber, 169–174. New York: Association for Computing Machinery.

                                                                                                            Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                            First and very comprehensive discussion of the “bridging” use of the definite article.

                                                                                                            Find this resource:

                                                                                                            • de Swart, Henriëtte, and Donka Farkas. 2005. Généricité et (in)définitude: Une analyse dans la théorie de l’optimalité. In Noms nus et généricité. Edited by Carmen Dobrovie-Sorin, 97–126. Saint-Denis, France: Presses Universitaires de Vincennes.

                                                                                                              Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                              Comprehensive discussion of the generic use of the definite article.

                                                                                                              Find this resource:

                                                                                                              • Fraurud, Kari. 1990. Definiteness and the processing of noun phrases in natural discourse. Journal of Semantics 7:395–433.

                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1093/jos/7.4.395Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                First and very detailed article on the “first-mentioned” definites based on an extensive corpus study.

                                                                                                                Find this resource:

                                                                                                                • Löbner, Sebastian. 2003. Definite associative anaphora.

                                                                                                                  Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                  Comprehensive study on indirect definite noun phrases in associative anaphoric usages in the framework of functional definites.

                                                                                                                  Find this resource:

                                                                                                                  • Poesio, Massimo, and Renata Vieira. 1998. A corpus-based investigation of definite description use. Computational Linguistics 24:183–216.

                                                                                                                    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                    Analysis of the quantitative distribution of different types of definite noun phrases in larger corpora.

                                                                                                                    Find this resource:

                                                                                                                    • Schwarz, Florian. 2009. Two types of definites in natural language. PhD diss., Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst.

                                                                                                                      Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                      Exhaustive study of the weak and strong definite article in German cast into situation semantics.

                                                                                                                      Find this resource:

                                                                                                                      • Schwarz, Monika. 2000. Indirekte Anaphern in Texten: Studien zur domänengebundenen Referenz und Kohärenz im Deutschen. Tübingen, Germany: Niemeyer.

                                                                                                                        Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                        Covers the full range of kinds of indirect anaphoric definite description.

                                                                                                                        Find this resource:

                                                                                                                        • Wilson, Deirdre, and Tomoko Matsui. 1998. Recent approaches to bridging: Truth, coherence, relevance. UCL Working Papers in Linguistics 10:173–200.

                                                                                                                          Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                          Excellent discussion of three recent approaches to bridging reference in terms of relevance theory.

                                                                                                                          Find this resource:

                                                                                                                          Uniqueness Theories

                                                                                                                          Russell 1905 formulates the uniqueness theory of definite descriptions within a quantificational framework. Strawson 1950 objects to Bertrand Russell’s assumption that the uniqueness is part of the assertion and introduces the concept of presupposition. Neale 1990 is the best and most detailed defense of Russell, also integrating important material from the linguistic discussion. Ostertag 1998 is a collection of the most relevant classical articles in this debate, and Reimer and Bezuidenhout 2004 continues the discussion with contemporary contributions. Kadmon 1990 and Roberts 2003 discuss the semantic status of uniqueness, and Hawkins 1978 formulates the theory as an inclusiveness condition, also accounting for plural and mass definites. Löbner 1985 modifies the Russellian account into the more linguistically oriented theory of definiteness as functional dependency.

                                                                                                                          Familiarity

                                                                                                                          Christophersen 1939 formulates the familiarity theory, a linguistically motivated alternative to the Russellian uniqueness theory. Karttunen 1968 and Karttunen 1976 argue for an additional semantic-pragmatic level of discourse representation at which definiteness can be appropriately represented. Heim 1982 combines these two ideas and develops a dynamic semantic theory. Kamp 1981 and Kamp and Reyle 1993 assume the familiarity concept for anaphoric definite expressions but use the uniqueness condition for first-mentioned definites and functional definites.

                                                                                                                          • Christophersen, Paul. 1939. The articles: A study of their theory and use in English. Copenhagen: Munksgaard.

                                                                                                                            Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                            The foundational work on the familiarity theory of definiteness based on a broad synchronic and diachronic description of the articles in English.

                                                                                                                            Find this resource:

                                                                                                                            • Heim, Irene. 1982. The semantics of definite and indefinite noun phrases. PhD diss., Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst.

                                                                                                                              Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                              Develops the dynamic file change semantics and provides a formal representation of definiteness in terms of familiarity.

                                                                                                                              Find this resource:

                                                                                                                              • Kamp, Hans. 1981. A theory of truth and semantic interpretation. In Formal methods in the study of language. Edited by J. A. G. Groenendijk, T. M. V. Janssen, and M. J. B. Stokhof, 277–322. Amsterdam: Amsterdam Center.

                                                                                                                                Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                Introduces discourse representation theory, in which definiteness of anaphoric expressions is represented in terms of links between discourse referents.

                                                                                                                                Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                • Kamp, Hans, and Uwe Reyle. 1993. From discourse to logic: Introduction to model-theoretic semantics of natural language, formal logic, and discourse representation theory. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer.

                                                                                                                                  Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                  Comprehensive textbook on discourse representation theory analyzing anaphoricity in terms of familiarity or givenness at the level of discourse representation.

                                                                                                                                  Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                  • Karttunen, Lauri. 1968. What makes definite noun phrases definite? RAND P-3871. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.

                                                                                                                                    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                    First discussion of familiarity theory with respect to definiteness in a formal setting.

                                                                                                                                    Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                    • Karttunen, Lauri. 1976. Discourse referents. In Syntax and semantics. Vol. 7, Notes from the linguistic underground. Edited by James McCawley, 363–385. New York: Academic Press.

                                                                                                                                      Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                      Classic paper on the idea that noun phrases introduce discourse referents rather than denoting “real” objects in the world.

                                                                                                                                      Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                      Salience

                                                                                                                                      The salience theory of definiteness has three historical sources. Lewis 1979 criticizes Bertrand Russell’s theory of descriptions and sketches an alternative theory using salience; Sgall, et al. 1986 describes the information structure of a sentence with a hierarchy of “activated” referents; and Grosz, et al. 1983 argues on the basis of the authors’ analysis of a discourse model in artificial intelligence that we need a salience structure. Egli and Heusinger 1995 and Heusinger 1997 give a formal account of salience in terms of choice functions, and Peregrin and Heusinger 2004 embeds this into a dynamic semantics. Schlenker 2004 uses this semantics for definite noun phrases and conditionals.

                                                                                                                                      • Egli, Urs, and Klaus von Heusinger. 1995. The epsilon operator and E-type pronouns. In Lexical knowledge in the organization of language. Edited by Urs Egli, 121–141. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

                                                                                                                                        Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                        First semantic formulation of salience in terms of choice functions.

                                                                                                                                        Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                        • Grosz, Barbara J., Aravind K. Joshi, and Scott Weinstein. 1983. Providing a unified account of definite noun phrases in discourse. In Proceedings of the 21st Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics. Edited by Association for Computational Linguistics, 44–50. Cambridge, MA: Association for Computational Linguistics.

                                                                                                                                          Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                          Accurate description of the salience structure in discourse in artificial intelligence.

                                                                                                                                          Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                          • von Heusinger, Klaus. 1997. Salience and definiteness. Prague Bulletin of Mathematical Linguistics 67:5–23.

                                                                                                                                            Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                            Comprehensive comparison of different theories of definiteness with a focus on salience theory.

                                                                                                                                            Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                            • Lewis, David. 1979. Scorekeeping in a language game. In Semantics from different points of view. Edited by Rainer Bäuerle, Urs Egli, and Arnim von Stechow, 172–187. Berlin: Springer.

                                                                                                                                              Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                              Argues against uniqueness on the basis of situations with two descriptively identical objects and introduces the concept of salience instead.

                                                                                                                                              Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                              • Peregrin, Jaroslav, and Klaus von Heusinger. 2004. Dynamic semantics with choice functions. In Context dependence in the analysis of linguistic meaning. Edited by Hans Kamp and Barbara Partee, 255–274. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

                                                                                                                                                Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                Develops a dynamic semantics with salience structure. First published in 1997.

                                                                                                                                                Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                • Schlenker, Philippe. 2004. Conditionals as definite descriptions (a referential analysis). Research on Language and Computation 2:417–462.

                                                                                                                                                  Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                  Schlenker uses the salience theory for definite noun phrases and conditionals.

                                                                                                                                                  Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                  • Sgall, Petr, Eva Hajicová, and Jarmila Panevová. 1986. The meaning of the sentence in its semantic and pragmatic aspects. Edited by Jacob Mey. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Reidel.

                                                                                                                                                    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                    This impressive monograph summarizes the most important research results of the Prague school of linguistics on information structure and sentence interpretation. It provides challenging observations, many of which are still unaccounted for.

                                                                                                                                                    Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                    Reference

                                                                                                                                                    Definiteness is the most prominent linguistic category in the discussion of reference in linguistics as well as in analytic philosophy. Definite noun phrases are the central issue in philosophical discussions of the foundation of reference. Definiteness is also the main semantic-pragmatic category of nominal phrases that can be contrasted with other categories or further subdivided.

                                                                                                                                                    Definite Descriptions and Analytic Philosophy

                                                                                                                                                    Since 1892 (Frege 1980), definite descriptions have been one of the main issues of investigation in analytic philosophy, as they show a challenging interaction of descriptive content and referential force in order to identify their referents. Russell 1905 argues that the unambiguous reference is licensed by the existential and uniqueness condition of the quantificational expression. Neale 1990 is the most profound analysis of the original Russellian ideas. Stephen Neale unfolds the very condensed discussion and enriches it with linguistic observations. Ludlow 2007 provides a compact and updated summary of this, while Wettstein 1981 points out some flaws in the Russellian picture. Ostertag 1998 and Reimer and Bezuidenhout 2004 are impressive collections of papers figuring prominently in this discussion and demonstrate its importance for analytic philosophy and semantics.

                                                                                                                                                    • Frege, Gottlob. 1980. Über Sinn und Bedeutung. In Funktion, Begriff, Bedeutung: Fünf logische Studien. By Gottlob Frege, 5.40–65. Edited by Günther Patzig. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht.

                                                                                                                                                      Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                      Founding paper of analytic philosophy. Among other issues, it discusses the semantics of definite description. Originally published in 1892. English translation in Translations from the Philosophical Writings of Gottlob Frege, edited by P. Geach and M. Black (Oxford: Blackwell, 1960), pp. 56–78.

                                                                                                                                                      Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                      • Ludlow, Peter. 2007. Descriptions. In The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Edited by E. N. Zalta.

                                                                                                                                                        Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                        Excellent and very accessible overview of the discussion on definiteness in analytic philosophy.

                                                                                                                                                        Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                        • Neale, Stephen. 1990. Descriptions. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

                                                                                                                                                          Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                          Comprehensive and intelligible defense of the Russellian theory of definite descriptions and their linguistic arguments.

                                                                                                                                                          Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                          • Ostertag, Gary, ed. 1998. Definite descriptions: A reader. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

                                                                                                                                                            Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                            Collection of classic articles in the analytic philosophy tradition from Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell to Grice, Saul Kripke, and Schiffer.

                                                                                                                                                            Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                            • Reimer, Marga, and Anne Bezuidenhout, eds. 2004. Descriptions and beyond: An interdisciplinary collection of essays on definite and indefinite description. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

                                                                                                                                                              Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                              Wonderful documentation of the ongoing discussion on definite descriptions by up-to-date research articles.

                                                                                                                                                              Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                              • Russell, Bertrand. 1905. On denoting. Mind 14:479–493.

                                                                                                                                                                Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                Classic paper on definite description and second founding paper of analytic philosophy.

                                                                                                                                                                Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                • Wettstein, Howard K. 1981. Demonstrative reference and definite descriptions. Philosophical Studies 40:241–257.

                                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1007/BF00353794Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                  Very prominent study that argues for a direct reference view of definite descriptions based on the semantics of demonstratives.

                                                                                                                                                                  Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                  Indefiniteness

                                                                                                                                                                  There is a clear focus on the analysis of definiteness, while indefiniteness is often taken as the complement distribution of definite expression. Thus few studies try to develop an independent theory of indefiniteness. Corblin 1987 provides a broad discussion of different referential aspects of noun phrases. Keenan 1987 provides a semantic definition, and Reuland and ter Meulen 1987 collects various competing approaches to indefiniteness. Haspelmath 1997 gives a broad typological overview of indefinite pronouns; Vogeleer and Tasmowski 2006 is an excellent collection of contributions to nondefinite expression; Zimmermann 1993 analyzes indefinite noun phrases in opaque contexts; Heusinger 2000 and Chierchia 2005 propose a unified semantics of definite and indefinite noun phrases based on choice functions.

                                                                                                                                                                  • Chierchia, Gennaro. 2005. Definites, locality, and intentional identity. In Reference and quantification: The Partee effect. Edited by G. N. Carlson and F. J. Pelletier, 143–177. Stanford, CA: Center for the Study of Language and Information.

                                                                                                                                                                    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                    Presents convincing arguments for a common semantics of definite and indefinite noun phrases as choice function terms.

                                                                                                                                                                    Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                    • Corblin, Francis. 1987. Indéfini, défini et démonstratif: Constructions linguistiques de la reference. Geneva, Switzerland: Droz.

                                                                                                                                                                      Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                      This monograph provides a very accessible, theoretically informed overview on different types of noun phrases.

                                                                                                                                                                      Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                      • Haspelmath, Martin. 1997. Indefinite pronouns. Oxford: Clarendon.

                                                                                                                                                                        Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                        Best source for indefinite pronouns, their function examined comparatively in several unrelated languages.

                                                                                                                                                                        Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                        • Heusinger, Klaus von. 2000. The reference of indefinites. In Reference and anaphoric relations. Edited by Klaus von Heusinger and Urs Egli, 247–265. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer.

                                                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1007/978-94-011-3947-2_13Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                          Comprehensive study of choice function terms representing definite and indefinite noun phrases.

                                                                                                                                                                          Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                          • Keenan, Edward L. 1987. A semantic definition of indefinite NP. In The representation of (in)definiteness. Edited by Eric J. Reuland and Alice ter Meulen, 286–317. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

                                                                                                                                                                            Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                            Canonical contribution to the semantic definition of definite and indefinite noun phrases.

                                                                                                                                                                            Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                            • Reuland, Eric, and Alice ter Meulen, eds. 1987. The representation of (in)definiteness. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

                                                                                                                                                                              Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                              Splendid collection of the best articles on the semantics of indefinites and definites.

                                                                                                                                                                              Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                              • Vogeleer, Svetlana, and Liliane Tasmowski, eds. 2006. Non-definiteness and plurality. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

                                                                                                                                                                                Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                This collection of studies by leading scholars in the field focuses on the semantics of nondefinite (bare and indefinite) plural noun phrases.

                                                                                                                                                                                Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                • Zimmermann, Thomes Ede. 1993. On the proper treatment of opacity in certain verbs. Natural Language Semantics 1:149–179.

                                                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1007/BF00372561Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                  Best study on indefinite noun phrases in opaque contexts with a detailed semantic analysis.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                  Referentiality and the Referential versus Attributive Contrast

                                                                                                                                                                                  Givón 1978 distinguishes between the semantic concept “referentiality” and the discourse-pragmatic concept “definiteness.” Donnellan 1966 starts one of the most ardent discussions on the nature of definite noun phrases. Keith Donnellan distinguishes two semantic types, a referential and an attributive (or Russellian) meaning. Kripke 1977 argues that the contrast is pragmatic in nature and an inference from the contrast between sentence meaning and speaker’s meaning. Dekker 1998 argues that the contrast expresses information about the “referential intention” of the speaker but is not truth conditional. Keenan and Ebert 1973 provides data from two languages that encode the contrast in different definite articles.

                                                                                                                                                                                  • Dekker, Paul. 1998. Speaker’s reference, descriptions, and information structure. Journal of Semantics 15:305–334.

                                                                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1093/jos/15.4.305Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                    An ample overview of the discussion of the status of “referential intentions” and its embedding into a dynamic semantics.

                                                                                                                                                                                    Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                    • Donnellan, Keith. 1966. Reference and definite descriptions. Philosophical Review 75:281–304.

                                                                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.2307/2183143Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                      Classic paper that introduces the contrast between the referential and the attributive readings of definite descriptions.

                                                                                                                                                                                      Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                      • Givón, Talmy. 1978. Definiteness and referentiality. In Universals of human language. Vol. 4. Edited by Joseph Greenberg, Charles Ferguson, and Edith Moravcsik, 291–330. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

                                                                                                                                                                                        Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                        Givón argues that referentiality is a semantic property while definiteness is a discourse-pragmatic one.

                                                                                                                                                                                        Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                        • Keenan, Edward, and Karen Ebert. 1973. A note in marking transparency and opacity. Linguistic Inquiry 4:421–424.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                          Excellent study focused on the referential versus attributive contrast in two languages with two definite article forms.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                          • Kripke, Saul. 1977. Speaker’s reference and semantic reference. In Midwest studies in philosophy II: Studies in the philosophy of language. Edited by P. French, T. Uehling, and H. Wettstein, 255–276. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

                                                                                                                                                                                            Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                            Contradicts Donnellan 1966 and argues that the contrast originates from the pragmatic distinction between semantic meaning and speaker’s meaning.

                                                                                                                                                                                            Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                            Specific versus Nonspecific Contrast

                                                                                                                                                                                            Definiteness effects are also often triggered by specificity, a semantic-pragmatic category that expresses “speaker’s intention” (Fodor and Sag 1982), discourse linking (Enç 1991), or, more generally, referentially anchored indefinites (Heusinger 2002, Heusinger 2011). Prince 1981 shows that there is a use of the indefinite “this” that is specific, and Ionin 2006 elaborates this claim and provides a typology of different article systems, which contrast either between specific and nonspecific or between definite and indefinite.

                                                                                                                                                                                            • Enç, Mürvet. 1991. The semantics of specificity. Linguistic Inquiry 22:1–25.

                                                                                                                                                                                              Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                              This article discusses specificity as discourse anchoring and illustrates the use on differential object marking in Turkish.

                                                                                                                                                                                              Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                              • Fodor, Janet, and Ivan Sag. 1982. Referential and quantificational indefinites. Linguistics and Philosophy 5:355–398.

                                                                                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1007/BF00351459Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                The seminal paper on the linguistic contrast between specific and nonspecific readings and relevant triggering parameters.

                                                                                                                                                                                                Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                • Heusinger, Klaus von. 2002. Specificity and definiteness in sentence and discourse structure. Journal of Semantics 19:245–274.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1093/jos/19.3.245Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                  The article discusses the similarities and dissimilarities of definite and specific readings of noun phrases.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Heusinger, Klaus von. 2011. Specificity. In Semantics: An international handbook of natural language meaning. Vol. 2. Edited by Claudia Maienborn, Klaus von Heusinger, and Paul Portner. Berlin: de Gruyter.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                    The article provides a comprehensive overview of specificity and proposes seven subtypes thereof.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Ionin, Tanja. 2006. This is definitely specific: Specificity and definiteness in article systems. Natural Language Semantics 14:175–234.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1007/s11050-005-5255-9Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Formalizes Ellen Prince’s (Prince 1981) observation that the indefinite “this” must be used specifically.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Prince, Ellen. 1981. On the inferencing of indefinite-this NPs. In Elements of discourse understanding. Edited by Aravind Joshi, Bonnie L. Webber, and Ivan Sag, 231–250. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Prince extensively discusses the discourse properties and the referential behavior of indefinite “this” in English.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Discourse

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Definiteness, understood as a discourse-pragmatic category, is central for the understanding of text coherence. On the other hand, discourse structure is constitutive for definite expressions. Du Bois 1980 and Grosz, et al. 1983 lay the foundations for a discourse-pragmatic understanding of definiteness, which is further developed in Pinkal 1986. Chafe 1976 and Prince 1992 relate definiteness to information structure, and Clark and Marshall 1981 relates it to mutual knowledge.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Chafe, Wallace. 1976. Givenness, contrastiveness, definiteness, subjects, topics, and point of view. In Subject and topic. Edited by Charles N. Li, 25–55. New York: Academic Press.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Very clear contribution to the different notions of givenness and definiteness with respect to information structure.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Clark, Herbert, and Catherine Marshall. 1981. Definite reference and mutual knowledge. In Elements of discourse understanding. Edited by Aravind Joshi, Bonnie L. Webber, and Ivan Sag, 10–63. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                            This seminal article discusses the dialogical function of the definite article. The speaker signals that speaker and hearer can use common knowledge.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Du Bois, John. 1980. Beyond definiteness: The trace of identity in discourse. In The pear stories: Cognitive, cultural, and linguistic aspects of narrative production. Edited by Wallace Chafe, 203–274. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                              This article convincingly argues that definiteness is systematically related to the structure of discourse.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                              • Grosz, Barbara J., Aravind K. Joshi, and Scott Weinstein. 1983. Providing a unified account of definite noun phrases in discourse. In Proceedings of the 21st Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics. Edited by Association for Computational Linguistics, 44–50. Cambridge, MA: Association for Computational Linguistics.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Excellent paper on the function of definite expressions in discourse.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Pinkal, Manfred. 1986. Definite noun phrases and the semantics of discourse. In Proceedings of COLING 86, Bonn. Edited by Makoto Nagao, 368–373. Morristown, NJ: Association for Computational Linguistics.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  This study elaborates on the function of definite expressions in discourse and describes their semantics.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Prince, Ellen F. 1992. The ZPG letter: Subjects, definiteness, and information status. In Discourse description: Diverse analyses of a fund raising text. Edited by Sandra A. Thompson and William C. Mann, 295–325. Philadelphia: Benjamins.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Seminal paper on the discourse notion of definiteness illustrated by an impressively broad corpus.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Anaphoricity and E-Type Pronouns

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Anaphoric expressions are definite, and some theories represent a subclass of anaphoric pronouns, so-called E-type pronouns, as definite descriptions, which raises interesting questions about the semantics of both the anaphoric pronoun and the corresponding definite descriptions. Chastain 1975 provides original and very clear observations with respect to the function of definite noun phrases in discourse. Bosch 1983 represents an extensive study of the analysis of definite expression in discourse. Evans 1980 introduces the concept of E-type pronouns, which is extensively defended in Elbourne 2001, while Heim 1990 gives a more balanced view of this analysis.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Bosch, Peter. 1983. Agreement and anaphora. New York: Academic Press.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Very competent and informed overview of the different approaches to anaphoric expressions.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Chastain, Charles. 1975. Reference and context. In Language, mind, and knowledge. Edited by K. Gunderson, 194–269. Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 7. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        This article discusses for the first time the dependency of definite expressions from other expressions in a text and thus introduces the concepts of “referential chain” and “referentially linked.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Elbourne, Paul. 2001. E-type anaphora as NP-deletion. Natural Language Semantics 9:241–288.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1023/A:1014290323028Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Elaborates on the concept of E-type pronouns, which are understood and represented as shortened definite descriptions.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Evans, Gareth. 1980. Pronouns. Linguistic Inquiry 11:337–362.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Foundational paper that introduces and defends the concept of E-type pronouns.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Heim, Irene. 1990. E-type pronouns and donkey anaphora. Linguistics and Philosophy 13:137–177.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1007/BF00630732Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Seminal paper that compares theories of anaphoric pronouns: a dynamic binding approach versus an E-type pronoun approach.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Hierarchies

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Personal pronouns, proper names, demonstratives, definite noun phrases, and indefinite noun phrases are often aligned in various types of hierarchies based on different underlying concepts of (discourse) accessibility. Bolinger 1977 provides a first scale based on the behavior of expression in “there” contexts. Prince 1981 merges different contrasts in one taxonomy of given-new information; Ariel 1988 proposes the accessibility marking scale; and Gundel, et al. 1993 presents the givenness hierarchy based on the cognitive status of the expression. Other types of definiteness or referentiality hierarchies are based on the grammatical behavior in constructions, such as differential object marking (Aissen 2003).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • Aissen, Judith. 2003. Differential object marking: Iconicity vs. economy. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 21:435–483.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1023/A:1024109008573Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Argues that differential object marking depends on a definiteness hierarchy based on the DP-type and the descriptive content of definite expressions.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Ariel, Mira. 1988. Referring and accessibility. Journal of Linguistics 24:65–87.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1017/S0022226700011567Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Introduces the accessibility marking scale based on the accessibility properties of noun phrases.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Bolinger, Dwight. 1977. There. In Meaning and form. By Dwight Bolinger, 90–123. London: Longman.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Provides a first scale of different noun phrases based on their acceptability in different “there” constructions.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Gundel, Jeannette, Nancy Hedberg, and Ron Zacharski. 1993. Cognitive status and the form of referring expressions in discourse. Language 69:274–307.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.2307/416535Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Seminal paper on the cognitively justified scale, including indefinite expressions.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Prince, Ellen. 1981. Toward a taxonomy of given-new information. In Radical pragmatics. Edited by Peter Cole, 223–225. New York: Academic Press.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        This groundbreaking paper merges three different contrasts into one taxonomy of different definite and indefinite expressions, which forms the base of many other hierarchies.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Language Acquisition

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Definiteness is one of the core notions of semantics, and pragmatics is also one of the most researched notions in language acquisition from different points of view. Maratsos 1976 is a groundbreaking work on the use of definite and indefinite reference, followed by Karmiloff-Smith 1981, which investigates language acquisition primarily in regard to the acquisition of determiners, including definite and indefinite articles. Ionin, et al. 2004 provides an in-depth study of article semantics. Dasinger 1995 focuses on Finnish and Küntay 2002 on Turkish, both languages without a definite article.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Dasinger, Lisa Kay. 1995. The development of discourse competence in native Finnish speaking children: A study of the expression of definiteness. PhD diss., Univ. of California, Berkeley.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          This in-depth study of Finnish discourse structure provides many challenging results in connection with definiteness and discourse structure in a language without a definite article.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Ionin, Tania, Heejeong Ko, and Ken Wexler. 2004. Article semantics in L2 acquisition: The role of specificity. Language and Acquisition 12:3–69.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1207/s15327817la1201_2Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            This article is an exemplary detailed discussion of the semantics of the articles and the question of whether children first acquire definiteness or specificity.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Karmiloff-Smith, Annette. 1981. A functional approach to child language: A study of determiners and reference. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              This seminal work introduces the research on articles in child language and lays the foundation for most of the subsequent work.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • Küntay, Aylin. 2002. Development of the expression of indefiniteness: Presenting new referents in Turkish picture-series stories. Discourse Processes 33:77–101.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1207/S15326950DP3301_04Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                This excellent study of the different ways to express indefiniteness in Turkish combines empirical material with theoretical assumptions.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Maratsos, Michael. 1976. The use of definite and indefinite reference in young children. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  This groundbreaking monograph presents crucial insights into the acquisition of the definite and indefinite articles.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  back to top

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Article

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Up

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Down