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LINGUIST List 24.2382

Tue Jun 11 2013

Qs: Search for Article on Adjectives that Disambiguate Indefiniteness in English

Editor for this issue: Brent Miller <brentlinguistlist.org>

Date: 11-Jun-2013
From: John Winward <winwardtu.ac.th>
Subject: Search for Article on Adjectives that Disambiguate Indefiniteness in English
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I'm working on L2 acquisition of English articles by Thai L1 learners.
In particular, I'm interested in the (possible) confusion between
determiners and adjectives.

Background: in a range of 'opaque' contexts - for example the
scope of intensional verbs - English indefinites allow both a specific
and non-specific reading: (1a) +Specific, (1b) -Specific.

1a. Mary wants to marry a millionaire; his name is John.
1b. Mary wants to marry a millionaire, but doesn't know any.

English has a couple of adjectives that can force a specific reading.
'A certain X' is the most widely quoted example in the literature.

Thai has no article system, but there is an adjective(?) that seems
to play the opposite role - forcing an indefinite reading, even in
environments that would normally be specific.

I remember reading a journal article a few years back in which the
author claims - in passing - that English has an adjective of this
sort. I can't for the life of me remember the article, the author or -
most importantly - the adjective in question. I can think of a few
candidates - 'An unspecified X', for example, but none of them
sound natural, and none of them clearly disambiguate the specificity
/ non-specificity across a wide range of tokens. I've tried using a
thesaurus, but to no avail.

Can anyone suggest a likely candidate, or remember the article I'm
thinking of?


Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition

Subject Language(s): English (eng)

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