This is definitely specific: Specificity and definiteness in article systems

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This paper argues for the reality of specificity as noteworthiness, a concept built upon Fodor and Sag's (1982) view of referentiality. Support for this view of specificity comes from the behavior of indefinite this in spoken English, as well as from specificity markers in Samoan, Hebrew, and Sissala. It is shown that the conditions on the use of this-indefinites cannot be accounted for by previous analyses of specificity. The relationship between definiteness and specificity in article systems crosslinguistically is examined, and a distinction between presuppositions and felicity conditions is argued for. Additional evidence for the reality of specificity comes from a study of article choice in the English of adult second language learners (whose L1s, Russian and Korean, lack articles). It is shown that the learners' errors are tied to specificity: they consist largely of overuse of the in specific indefinite contexts, and overuse of a in non-specific definite contexts. It is concluded that specificity is a universal semantic distinction, which receives morphological expression crosslinguistically and is available to second language learners.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-234
Number of pages60
JournalNatural Language Semantics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Linguistics and Language


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