Definiteness across languages

Ana Aguilar-Guevara   Julia Pozas Loyo   Violeta Vázquez-Rojas Maldonado  


Definiteness has been a central topic in theoretical semantics since its modern foundation. However, despite its significance, there has been surprisingly scarce research on its cross-linguistic expression. With the purpose of contributing to filling this gap, the present volume gathers thirteen studies exploiting insights from formal semantics and syntax, typological and language specific studies, and, crucially, semantic fieldwork and cross-linguistic semantics, in order to address the expression and interpretation of definiteness in a diverse group of languages, most of them understudied. The papers presented in this volume aim to establish a dialogue between theory and data in order to answer the following questions: What formal strategies do natural languages employ to encode definiteness? What are the possible meanings associated to this notion across languages? Are there different types of definite reference? Which other functions (besides marking definite reference) are associated with definite descriptions? Each of the papers contained in this volume addresses at least one of these questions and, in doing so, they aim to enrich our understanding of definiteness.


  • Definiteness across languages
    An overview
    Ana Aguilar-Guevara, Julia Pozas Loyo, Violeta Vázquez-Rojas Maldonado
  • Weak vs. strong definite articles
    Meaning and form across languages
    Florian Schwarz
  • Definiteness in Cuevas Mixtec
    Carlos Cisneros
  • Strong vs. weak definites
    Evidence from Lithuanian adjectives
    Milena Šereikaitė
  • On (in)definite expressions in American Sign Language
    Ava Irani
  • A nascent definiteness marker in Yokot’an Maya
    Maurice Pico
  • Definiteness across languages and in L2 acquisition
    Bert Le Bruyn
  • Licensing D in classifier languages and “numeral blocking”
    David Hall
  • On kinds and anaphoricity in languages without definite articles
    Miloje Despić
  • Definiteness in Russian bare nominal kinds
    Olga Borik, M. Teresa Espinal
  • A morpho-semantic account of weak definites and Bare Institutional Singulars in English
    Adina Williams
  • Is the weak definite a generic?
    An experimental investigation
    Thaís Maira Machado de Sá, Greg N. Carlson, Maria Luiza Cunha Lima, Michael K. Tanenhaus
  • Most vs. the most in languages where the more means most
    Elizabeth Coppock, Linnea Strand
  • Definiteness, partitivity, and domain restriction
    A fresh look at definite reduplication
    Urtzi Etxeberria, Anastasia Giannakidou


  • Review on LinguistList by Justin Case published April 7, 2021
    [...] This volume presents a collection of high-quality articles that touch on various aspects of definiteness marking and/or interpretation without significant overlap in theoretical or methodological orientation, or the languages they study. On the one hand, the diversity of materials and analyses found in this work reflects the underlying variation found in definiteness marking across natural languages, and across the field of linguistics generally. For instance, just as Despic (Chapter 8) adopts the position that bare nouns are always NPs, and not DPs, Borik and Espinal (Chapter 9) provide ample evidence for certain bare nouns (at least in Russian) to behave like full DPs with a silent article. The fact that two competing positions are advocated in the same volume can be enlightening to scholars aiming at a holistic understanding of the approaches in the literature. In addition, taken together, the papers in this volume demonstrate the need to go beyond our preconceptions, particularly those associated with our methodological orientations, in order to address syntactic, semantic and functional subtleties regarding definiteness and to get the facts straight.[...]



Ana Aguilar-Guevara
Ana Aguilar-Guevara has a Ph.D. in Linguistics from Utrecht University. She currently works as an assistant professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Her research focuses on semantic and pragmatic phenomena in natural language, such as weak referentiality, peculiar definite and indefinite noun phrases, and meaning enrichment.
Julia Pozas Loyo
Julia Pozas Loyo obtained her PhD at Queen Mary University of London. She is currently is an Associate Professor at El Colegio de México and she also teaches at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Her work has focused on the development of determiners, particularly in Old Spanish. Her main research interests include grammaticalization, the semantics of determiners, (in)definiteness, and the history of Romance Languages.
Violeta Vázquez-Rojas Maldonado
Violeta Vázquez Rojas Maldonado has a Ph.D. in Linguistics from New York University. She is an associate professor at the Center for Literary and Linguistic Studies from El Colegio de México. Her research centers on semantic fieldwork and the semantics and morphosyntax of noun phrases in under-represented languages, particularly Mexican Spanish and Purépecha.


July 15, 2019
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Aguilar-Guevara, Ana, Pozas Loyo, Julia & Vázquez-Rojas Maldonado, Violeta (eds.). 2019. Definiteness across languages. (Studies in Diversity Linguistics 25). Berlin: Language Science Press. DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.3265959


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