Non-Maximal Definites in Romance


  • David Paul Gerards University of Leipzig
  • Elisabeth Stark


Mainly based on data from Old Spanish and Modern Francoprovençal, this paper discusses a hitherto underresearched use of the Romance definite article that cannot straightforwardly be explained by recurring to any of the standard analyses of semantic definiteness, i.e., maximality and/or familiarity. We show that such weakly referential definites are definites with representative object interpretations licensed by the kind-oriented mode of talk and not short weak definites. They denote inherently non-specific, semantically number neutral regular objects whose only co(n)textual relevance is their being typical instantiations of their corresponding kind. Representative object definites are shown to be favored by ‘habitual’ readings of the predicate (and text genres like recipes, treatises, narratives about what people used to do in former times, etc.). In Francoprovençal, this is the case especially in the scope of non-perfective verb tenses in prepositional or presentational complements and sometimes in direct objects. In Old Spanish, non-maximal definites often occur in the scope of non-assertive mood (imperative/subjunctive, due to the genre of recipes), while, at the same time, introducing important discourse referents. In addition, in the latter language such definites are demonstrated to be positively susceptible to priming by preceding non-maximal definites.


non-maximal definite articles, representative object interpretations, kind-oriented mode of talk, weak referentiality, weak definites, Old Spanish, Old Portuguese, Francoprovençal


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