Semantic and Typological Perspectives on Definites


Workshop title: "Semantic and typological perspectives on definites"

Workshop date: June 01 – 02, 2012

Location: Heinrich-Heine University Düsseldorf

The Collaborative Research Centre CRC 991 "The Structure of Representation in Language, Cognition and Science" of the University of Düsseldorf is pleased to announce a workshop on "Semantic and typological perspectives on definites", to be held on 01 - 02 June 2012 at the Heinrich-Heine University Düsseldorf.

The workshop will focus on the following topics:

Definiteness and concept types: The view that definiteness is a means of marking a noun’s use as a functional concept entails essential semantic aspects such as a classification of nouns into concept types, and shifts among these types. The idea that determination mirrors concept types calls for statistical and psycholinguistic evidence – e.g., can the cognitive effort for accomplishing a type shift be attested?

Article splits: It is common for languages with definite articles to exhibit marking asymmetries according to the conceptual noun type. The opposition of pragmatic uniqueness (most notably anaphorically used sortal nouns) and semantic uniqueness (most notably functional concepts such as size/mother/head of …, and individual concepts such as proper names) has proven to be significant, in that the latter types tend to be marked only if the former are.Likewise, pragmatic and semantic uniqueness are morphosyntactically distinguished by different article forms (typically, phonologically strong vs. weak). Case studies especially cover varieties of German and Frisian. The conditions for fusion of prepositions and definite articles in Standard German have been analysed as one instance. 

Grammaticalisation of definiteness marking: Besides the familiar grammaticalisation path (demonstratives ‘weaken’ their function and develop into definite articles), in, e.g., some Uralic languages the function of possessor agreement suffixes is extended so as to mark uniqueness in non-possessive contexts. 

Special uses of (non-) definite descriptions: definite descriptions without unique reference (e.g., German die meisten / die Hälfte von … ‘most/half of …’), including configurational uses (take the lift / the bus), and ‘bare definitess’ such as to school, in jail/hospital. 

The workshop is organised by the member projects C01 and C02 of the Cooperative Research Centre CRC 991 "The Structure of Representation in Language, Cognition and Science" (, sponsored by the German Research Foundation (DFG).