Definiteness in a language without articles : a case-study of Russian

Abstract : Russian is a language without articles ; therefore it does not express definiteness through determiners. Nevertheless, several grammatical phenomena have been mentioned in literature as possible strategies of (in)-definiteness marking. The aim of this article is to examine all these phenomena in order to establish their relation to (in)definiteness. Word order and prosody, as well as case marking in interaction with aspect and verb agreement, are discussed. Our study shows that it is indefinite NPs that receive special marking, while definite NPs stay unmarked. However, of all the available properties which correlate with indefiniteness, the genitive-case option appears as the only systematic strategy for indefiniteness marking. The genitive case on a verb argument always triggers an indefinite interpretation, contrasting with the nominative and accusative cases, which yield a definite reading. The use of this indefinite genitive is however only possible with mass nouns, plural indefinite NPs, and NPs in negative contexts. Hence, the indefiniteness expressed by the genitive is not the one expressed by indefinite articles such as English a, but crucially correlates with the expression of an indefinite quantity or with the negation of the existence of the referent.
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Submitted on : Sunday, June 4, 2017 - 10:09:46 AM
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Katia Paykin, Marleen Van Peteghem. Definiteness in a language without articles : a case-study of Russian. Recherches linguistiques de Vincennes, Presses Universitaires de Vincennes, 2002, Syntaxe de la définitude, pp.97-112. 〈hal-01532916〉

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