AUTHOR: Chesterman, Andrew TITLE: On Definiteness SUBTITLE: A Study with Special Reference to English and Finnish SERIES: Cambridge Studies in Linguistics, 56 PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press YEAR: 2005 ISBN: 0521022878 ANNOUNCED IN: http://linguistlist.org/issues/16/16-3651.html
Reviewed by Svetlana Kurtes, University of Cambridge, UK
The volume originally started as the author's Ph.D. thesis presented at the University of Reading. The current version, a digitally printed paperback edition of the volume first published in 1991, comprises nine chapters: 1) Introduction; 2) English articles: the research tradition; 3) English article usage; 4) A unified description of the English articles; 5) Finnish: no articles; 6) Finnish species; 7) The status of definiteness in Finnish; 8) English and Finnish contrasted; 9) Wider perspective. References. Subject Index. Author Index.
Chapters 2-4 deal with the situation in English. More specifically, Chapter 2 brings together a range of the research traditions, pointing out their strengths, but also the issues they left unresolved, such as: Is definiteness a binary opposition? What do definite and indefinite mean? How many articles are there? What does 'no article' mean? What is the individual meaning of each article?
Broadly speaking, modern research into the English articles falls into two major categories – one approach, mainly philosophical, starting with Russell (1905), focuses on the meaning of definiteness and the ways it is grammatically encoded, while the other approach is largely in the generative tradition, looking into the rules that will generate the correct article in a given context. The author, however, proposes the third approach that ''will start with the articles themselves, their distribution and meaning, and also with the question of which forms should actually count as articles'' (p. 10).
The author gives a succinct overview of a number of classic studies on definiteness, such as Hjelmslev (1928), Christophersen (1939) and Jespersen (1949), and a few more modern contributions, such as Yotsukura (1970), Chafe (1970), Dahl (1975), Lyons (1975), Carlson (1977), Hawkins (1978), etc. He asserts that main research traditions make it clear ''that no unified theory of the English article is yet available'' (p. 39). Most of the mentioned theories observe definiteness from the point of view of reference, which is inadequate to cover all uses of the articles, leaving out their non-referential usage. Definiteness is also mainly seen as a binary opposition, +/- definite or +/- determined, with very few exceptions where the concept was analysed as a scalar phenomenon (de la Grasserie 1896).
Chapter 3 gives a possible answer to the following questions: (a) which kind of nouns may in principle take which article(s) and (b) under what circumstances may – or must – a given noun type take a given article? The author goes on to establish the exact number of articles, pointing out that 'the' and 'a' do not complete the paradigm, possible candidates being 'some', 'any', as well as 'zero article'. What follows is a comprehensive review of the major usage types of the five items and their most significant exceptions.
An overview of points emerged in the previous discussion opens Chapter 4. In order to distinguish the article paradigm in a systematic way, the author proposes that the traditional opposition of definite vs. indefinite is analysed ''as a composite of three more primitive semantic oppositions'' (p.88). They are locability (the relation of the NP to its context of use), quantity (all vs not-all) and extensitivity (limited vs unlimited). The three oppositions are linked within a single informal set-theoretical framework, which is fuzzy in nature, showing that the set of articles ''overlap with other quantifiers and determiners'' (p. 89).
Chapters 5-7 deal with the situation in Finnish, a highly agglutinative language with a complex nominal morphology. However, Finnish has no articles, ''and thus no equivalent way of expressing definiteness. Rather, definiteness in Finish is often left to be inferred, in a variety of ways'' (p. 90).
The most relevant nominal cases that are used to denote definiteness are nominative, accusative and partitive. Further, the author introduces the concept of divisibility, stating that all Finnish NPs can be either divisible or non-divisible. A non-divisible noun can be multiplied, but not divided, whereas a divisible NP has a conceptually divisible referent. Finally, having a relatively free word order, the language uses it as a device to express theme-rheme relations and emphasis.
The author goes on to examine the situation in Finnish by using translation as a source of data. The main question to be answered during the process is: what cues are there in Finnish as the source language that tell the English translator which article to use? Both oral translations from informants and published written ones are used. Methodologically, the author relied on the concept of translation equivalence (Krzeszowski 1971), originally stating that ''a translation is counted as equivalent if judged to be so by a competent bilingual, or by several such'' (p. 97). The author adopts a further refinement of the concept, termed by Krzeszowski (1984: 304) semanto-syntactic equivalence and defined as ''the closest approximations to grammatical word-for-word translation [or] their synonymous paraphrases'' (p. 97).
Chapter 6 looks more closely into the phenomenon of the general category of definiteness that first appeared in Finnish grammar under the term 'species' (Noreen 1904). As originally proposed, nouns whose referents were known or previously mentioned were said to have definite species, while nouns with referents which were unknown or not previously mentioned had indefinite species. More modern accounts of the concept include two semantically distinct types of species, i.e. notive (whether the noun has a known or unknown referent, expressed by stress) and quantitative (whether the noun denotes a partial or total amount). The author introduces the concept of a species hierarchy (p. 125; 1977), and distinguishes three main ways in which notive species is expressed in Finnish: word order, function words and context alone.
The status of definiteness in Finnish is examined in Chapter 7, where the author reconsiders the basic notions of divisibility and quantity in the language and a number of grammatical devices to express them: cases, stress, word order, function words. The chapter concludes with the author's assertion that the concept of definiteness is not a simple category, but also comprises aspects of quantity. The notion of a default reading is also introduced, indicating that ''a given type of NP will be read as referentially definite or indefinite unless circumstances indicate the contrary'' (p. 159).
Chapter 8 deals with the results of the contrastive analysis of the phenomenon of definiteness in English and Finnish. The author starts with the definition of the tertium comparationis, ''a shared common denominator in terms of which the comparison can be carried out'' (p. 162). Following James (1980) and Krzeszowski (1984), Chesterman points out that tertium comparationis is a background of sameness, and the sine qua non for any justifiable, systematic study of contrasts (p. 163). He finally adopts the kind of tertium comparationis based on Krzeszowski's concept of semanto-syntactic equivalence and establishes the main contrastive relations based on the analysis he performed. Finally, some most striking diachronic parallels are pointed out too.
Chapter 9 (Wider perspectives) concludes the volume. The author explores a number of more general theoretical implications arising from the study.
The present volume stands out as a very valuable and insightful contribution to our understanding of the rather intricate concept of definiteness and the way it is grammatically encoded in English and Finnish. Even though it first appeared some fifteen years ago, it did not lose any originality or persuasiveness, and the academic rigour of the theoretical argumentation and analysis is simply admirable. Furthermore, the author shows real mastery in understanding the principles of contrastive analysis and its methodological apparatus and deploys them in such a way as to explore their boundaries. As a contrastivist, Chesterman sets the standards, as a grammarian, he is ground-breaking and authoritative, as a writer, he is clear, coherent and precise.
There is absolutely no doubt that ''On definiteness'' will continue to be an indispensable reference tool to a range of specialists, who should find this volume both eye-opening and thought-provoking. It will appeal not only to contrastivists, grammarians and typologists interested in the phenomenon of definiteness across languages, but also to specialists in discourse analysis, translatology and semantics of grammar who might feel inspired to re-examine some of the author's findings from a different angle or another study field. Either way, the volume is wholeheartedly recommended to its intended readership.
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Hawkins, J 1978. Definiteness and indefiniteness: a study in reference and grammaticality prediction. London: Croom Helm.
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Lyons, J 1975. ''Deixis and the source of reference''. In E L Keenan (ed), Formal semantics of natural languages, 61-83. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Noreen, A 1904. Vart Sprak. Lund: Gleerups.
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ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Svetlana Kurtes holds a B.A. in English Philology, masters degrees in Sociolinguistics and Applied Linguistics and a Ph.D. in Contrastive Linguistics. She worked as a Lecturer in English at Belgrade University and her affiliation with Cambridge University started in the University's Language Centre, where she was involved in language advising and analysis and documentation of language learning materials. She is currently based in the University's English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Department, where she coordinates a research project in English as a foreign or additional language. Her research interests involve contrastive linguistics, sociolinguistics, language education and intercultural pragmatics.