LINGUIST List 5.424

Wed 13 Apr 1994

Disc: Generics

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Adam Karpinski, Re: 5.413 Generics
  2. , French generic c,a
  3. Michael Kac, Generics Redux (reduces?)

Message 1: Re: 5.413 Generics

Date: Mon, 11 Apr 94 14:55:51 CERe: 5.413 Generics
From: Adam Karpinski <KADAMPLTUMK11.BITNET>
Subject: Re: 5.413 Generics

Bert Peeters (also quoting M. Kac) and Knud Lambrecht touched on the topic of
generic pronoun *c,a* in French, as in (1):

(1) Les hommes, c,a parle tout le temps.
 The men, that talks all the time.

Polish has a similar construction, as in (2):

(2) Faceci, ci gadaja caly czas.
 Men, these talk all time.

In Polish the pronoun is the proximal one, in agreement with the noun (as opp-
osed to verb-agreement in French). Also, the genericness of the pronoun follows
from the genericness of the noun.

Now since I don't know French I may be mistaking something, but it seems to me
that such constructions are, in the first place, examples of Left-Dislocation
of topic, as in English:

(3) Men, they talk all the time.

The only difference seems to be in the choice of the pronoun (demonstrative vs
personal), its agreement (dependent on the noun vs verb dependent on it) and
the determiner of the noun (none vs definite). Although i must admit that the
presence of the definite article and plural marking on the noun in (1) doesn't
encourage the generic interpretation of the noun. On the other hand, in English
there is the usage of *the* with a noun (albeit in singular) that can be called
- I believe - "generic", as in (4):

(4) The man talks all the time.

The same goes for Polish, though the noun has no determiner:

(5) Mezczyzna duzo gada.
 Man much talks

Perhaps such usage might be ascribed to French, too (cf. (1)).

Adam Karpinski.
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Message 2: French generic c,a

Date: Tue, 12 Apr 94 10:07:28 EDFrench generic c,a
From: <>
Subject: French generic c,a


 Les hommes, c,a parle(*nt) tout le temps.

 it occurred to me to be pedantic. Since this is colloquial,
 we really need to have an example where the 3sg. and 3pl. are
 pronounced differently, e.g.,

 Les hommes, c,a boit (*boivent) tout le temps.

 Also, a question regarding the "generic pronoun". I am
 not at all clear that c,a is a pronoun in these constructions.
 For example, although my French is piss-poor, I doubt you
 could say

 Les hommes, c,a parle quand c,a veut.

 If this is correct, I wonder if this c,a has not become
reanalyzed in some way.
There are cases of pronouns in similar positions getting
reanalyzed, sometimes ending up as the copula (Chinese, Hebrew,,
sometimes perhaps as a verbal prefix (as in French, perhaps).
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Message 3: Generics Redux (reduces?)

Date: Tue, 12 Apr 1994 20:10:51 Generics Redux (reduces?)
From: Michael Kac <>
Subject: Generics Redux (reduces?)

My summary on generics produced enough post facto comment to
justify a short addendum. First, my red-faced apologies for the
agreement error in the crucial French sentence (I do *not* know
how that happened -- I know better, believe me!) So for the
record, and with sincerest apologies to Julie Auger (don't blame
her!) the example should read:

 Les hommes, c,a parle tout le temps.

(singular agreement on the verb). Knud Lambrecht pointed it out
to the list at large and a number of people, Julie included,
contacted me personally.

Several other people weighed in with further comments, citations
etc. I summarize these briefly below (alphabetically by last name
of contributor).

Hartmut Haberland has an paper on the German contracting
article in Osnabru"cker Beitra"ge zur Sprachtheorie 30, and has
contributed the following further reference to German work on
this topic:

 Helga M. DeLisle, Communicative function of contracted
 prepositional forms in German. The Modern Language Journal 72,
 iii, pp. 277-282 (1988)

John Koontz calls attention to the following articles:

 Greenberg, Joseph H. 1978. How does a language acquire gender
 markers? pp. 47-82. In: Universals of Human Language, Vol. 4,
 Ed. Jos. H. Greenberg, et al. Stanford, CA: Stanford University

 Greenberg, Joseph H. 1981. Nilo-Saharan moveable-k as a Stage
 III Article (with a Penutian typological parallel). Journal of
 African Languages and Linguistics 3:105-112.

Lars Mathiesen, a native speaker of Danish, wrote in to dispute
Kjetl Hauge's assertion that Danish uses only the first of the two
constructions from Norwegian illustrated in (5) in the original
summary; he also noted that something like the Finnish facts
described by Norbert Strade can also be found in Danish.

Finally: Almerindo Ojeda wrote to let me know of two languages,
Arabic and Breton, which, while lacking a purely generic article do
have a purely generic form for nouns. He has a paper on the
former in the SALT2 proceedings and one on the latter in the

Michael Kac
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