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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.


This article appears IN Journal of Linguistics Vol. 45, Issue 3, which you can READ on Cambridge's site or on LINGUIST .

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