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UFSP Sprache und Raum

Partitives in Ibero-Romance: diachrony and language contact

The aim of the PhD project is to thoroughly trace the grammaticalization and degrammaticalization of partitive articles and partitive pronouns/pronominal adverbs in (Old) Spanish, (Old) Catalan, and (Old) Galician/Portuguese. In particular – but not exclusively – due to shared discourse traditions, all of these languages have been in constant contact with the Gallo-Romance varieties of southern France (particularly Occitan). Nevertheless, the present-day varieties differ as to the existence and characteristics of a specific ‘mass’ marker (such as French/Italian du/del) and markers of partitivity (such as French/Italian en/ne).

Modern Spanish, Portuguese, and Galician do not possess either partitive articles or partitive pronominal adverbs, while modern Catalan has a pronominal adverb en and – in some restricted contexts – an uninflected de with mass DPs.

Until the 17th century, however, some sources of Old Spanish and Old Portuguese do show a partitive article comparable to the one known in Modern French, but which has been lost in the course of the development of the modern varieties. In Old Catalan the diachronic evolution of partitive constructions is largely unexplored.

The Romance and typological literature on partitive articles as obligatory mass-makers in argument position beyond the focus of negation (and the like), discusses two different explanations of the phenomenon. Both bring forward intra-linguistic correlations: on the one hand, Körner (1987) analyzes the partitive article as a means of marking the ‘non-subjecthood’ of verbal arguments. According to him, partitive articles show a complementary distribution with DOM (differential object marking), which, in turn, marks the ‘possible subjecthood’ of direct object arguments. Alternatively, the partitive article is considered a marker of ‘non-countability’ or a classifier (Herslund 2008) that becomes necessary in those Romance varieties that, due to inflectional nominal plural morphology, are no longer able to unambiguously mark countability and non-countability (cf. Delfitto/Schroten 1991, Chierchia 1997 and 1998, Stark 2008a and b). This, however, is not the case, for example, in Old Spanish, which nevertheless possessed a partitive article at least for some time and therefore, and because of well-established DOM even in earlier stages of Spanish (cf. von Heusinger/Kaiser 2005, Laca 2006), poses a challenge for internal explanatory approaches. Finally, a language-external explanation attempt elaborates on the idea of a non-autochthonous genesis of the marker via ‘morphosyntactic borrowing’, i.e. the transfer of a construction from a variety A into another variety B, that is neighbouring to A, either geographically or in the sense of discourse traditions.

Due to their tight geographic distribution, the Ibero-Romance languages to be investigated in the PhD project are particularly suited for an empirical evaluation of the soundness of those three, mutually non-exclusive hypotheses. However, the historical approach of the project is challenging inasmuch as compiling a text corpus that is as homogeneous as possible, both quantitatively and with regard to discourse traditions, is indispensable. Moreover, the corpus needs to contain a sufficient number of examples of del/en and their respective equivalents so that it is possible

a) to describe their distribution and semantics (as much as this is possible in texts) according to clear, previously established parameters (syntactic function, definiteness/indefiniteness/specificity/genericity, scope, etc.) and

b) to correlate their appearance with that of other phenomena (DOM, plural marking) in order to trace the history of partitive articles/pronouns in Ibero-Romance but also with the aim of providing explanations for the situation observable in Old Ibero-Romance as opposed to the status quo of the present-day varieties.

The PhD project is designed for completion within three years. The approximate time schedule is as follows:

1st year: overview of the available data, methodological reflections, compilation of the corpus – simultaneously reading of the relevant literature on the distribution and semantics of present-day partitive articles/pronouns. On the basis of the latter, formulation of adequate hypotheses, identification of the categories investigated (e.g. specificity contexts according to Haspelmath 1997, compatibility with genericity – probably very low –, distribution in the clause etc., cf. Stark 2006).

2nd year: in-depth empirical work on the texts contained in the corpus, evaluation, statistical examinations and quantitative analyses (as far as possible).

3rd year: explanations of the data, correlations, aspects of language contact (e.g. via discourse traditions and translation scenarios).

Thus, the PhD project is dedicated to the diachrony of a linguistic phenomenon intensively discussed within the group Sprachräume of the UFSP Sprache und Raum: the morpho-syntax and semantics of partitive articles and partitive pronominal adverbs. By empirically testing existing hypotheses, the project seeks to investigate the role of language contact in the formation and (possible) disappearance of grammatical constructions.

PhD candidate

David Paul Gerards


Johannes Kabatek, Elisabeth Stark


URPP Language and Space


Chierchia, Gennaro (1997): “Partitives, reference to kinds and semantic variation”, in: Matthews, Tanya / Strolovitch, Devon (edd.): Proceedings of SALT 9, 55-72.

Chierchia, Gennaro (1998): “Reference to kinds across languages”, Natural Language Semantics 6 (4), 339-405.

Delfitto, Denis / Schroten, Jan (1991): “Bare plurals and the number affix in DP”, Probus 3 (2), 155-185.

Eberenz, Rolf (2008): “Ninguno quiere del agua turbia beber: sobre construcciones partitivas y su representación en algunos géneros textuales del español preclásico”, in: Kabatek, Johannes (ed.): Sintaxis histórica del español y cambio lingüístico. Nuevas perspectivas desde las Tradiciones Discursivas. Madrid/Frankfurt a. M.: Iberoamericana/Vervuert, 151-172.

Haspelmath, Martin (1997): Indefinite Pronouns. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Herslund, Michael (2008): Articles, definite and indefinite, in: Høeg Müller, Henrik / Klinge, Alex (edd.): Essays on Nominal Determination: From morphology to discourse management (= Studies in Language Companion Series 99). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 27-43.

Heusinger, Klaus von / Kaiser, Georg A. (2005): “The evolution of differential object marking in Spanish”, in: Heusinger, Klaus von / Kaiser, Georg A. / Stark, Elisabeth (edd.): Proceedings of the workshop ‘Specificity and the evolution/emergence of nominal determination systems in Romance’. Arbeitspapier 119. Fachbereich Sprachwissenschaft. Konstanz: Universität Konstanz, 33–69.

Körner, Karl-Hermann (1987): “‘Teilungsartikel’ im Französischen und ‘präpositionaler Akkusativ’ im Spanischen. Komplementäre Lösungen des gleichen syntaktischen Problems”, in: Körner, Karl-Hermann (ed.): Korrelative Sprachtypologie. Die zwei Typen romanischer Syntax. Stuttgart: Franz-Steiner-Verlag, 7–21.

Laca, Brenda (2006): “El objeto directo. La marcación preposicional”, in: Company, Concepción (ed.): Sintaxis histórica de la lengua española. Primera parte: La frase verbal. México D.F.: Universidad Nacional de México, 423–475.

Silva Dias, Augusto Epiphanio da (41959 [1918]): Syntaxe Historica Portuguesa. Lisboa: Livraria Clássica Editora.

Stark, Elisabeth (2006): Indefinitheit und Textkohärenz. Entstehung und semantische Strukturierung indefiniter Nominaldetermination im Altitalienischen (= Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie 336). Tübingen: Niemeyer.

Stark, Elisabeth (2008a): “Typological correlations in nominal determination in Romance”, in: Høeg Müller, Henrik / Klinge, Alex (edd.): Essays on Nominal Determination. From morphology to discourse management (= Studies in Language Companion Series 99). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 45-61.

Stark, Elisabeth (2008b): “The role of the plural system in Romance”, in: Detges, Ulrich / Waltereit, Richard (eds.): The Paradox of Grammatical Change. Perspectives from Romance (= Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 293), Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 57-84.