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Academic Paper


Title: On the history of definiteness marking in Scandinavian
Author: Jan Terje Faarlund
Institution: University of Oslo
Linguistic Field: Morphology; Phonology; Semantics; Syntax
Abstract: The definite article in many European languages has its origin in a demonstrative or a pronoun. The development into a definite article is a typical case of grammaticalization. In this article I will demonstrate that this kind of grammaticalization, like all kinds of grammaticalization, can be explained as a case of reduction through reanalysis at acquisition. In addition to the prenominal definite article shared with other Germanic languages, the Scandinavian languages also have a postposed definite article. In Old Norse the postnominal definite article is a clitic merged as a head in D, while in its modern descendent Norwegian it is an inflectional suffix checking a grammatical feature in the Infl domain, expressing definiteness within the DP according to general principles of agreement. Thus, so-called ‘double definiteness’ (den gamle hesten ‘the old horse.’) has become possible as an agreement phenomenon. In Old Norse, the clitic cannot trigger definiteness agreement. This change from a clitic to an inflectional suffix is obviously a case of grammaticalization, but it has wider implications than just the change of morphosyntactic status. ON is shown to have had two projections in the D domain (þau in stóru skip ‘those the large ships’). Later the independent definite article inn was lost and replaced by the demonstrative þann>den. As a result (or cause?) its projection was lost, and the postposed article was left without a free-word counterpart. This, combined with phonological reduction and semantic bleaching, reduced it to an inflectional suffix.

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This article appears IN Journal of Linguistics Vol. 45, Issue 3.

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