BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Mouton May 13, 2020

Indefinite determiners in informal Italian: A preliminary analysis

Anna Cardinaletti and Giuliana Giusti
From the journal Linguistics

Abstract

This paper presents the results of a pilot study on the distribution of indefinite determiners in contexts with narrow scope interpretation in current informal Italian. It individuates the available forms and presents their diatopic distribution. The research is based on data collected through an online questionnaire designed to detect optionality. The results show that in narrow scope indefinite contexts, i. e., negative statements, both the zero determiner and the definite article are widespread throughout the country. The partitive determiner is only found in episodic sentences and is limited to restricted geographic areas. In all contexts and areas, a large degree of optionality is found. In some context and area, however, it is possible to identify one form more prominent than the others. This can be related to the context, which may favour some specialized meaning of one specific form, e. g., saliency and small quantity, or to diatopic variation due to language contact with the dialect, as shown by comparing present-day informal Italian with the dialectal data reported in AIS and analysed in (Cardinaletti and Giusti. 2018. Indefinite determiners: Variation and optionality in Italo-Romance. In Diego Pescarini & Roberta D’Alessandro (eds.), Advances in Italian dialectology: Sketches of Italo-Romance grammars, 135–161. Amsterdam: Brill).

1 Introduction

Italian has different forms to express indefiniteness, such as bare nouns (Delfitto and Schroten 1991; Longobardi 1994), the so-called partitive article parallel to French du, des (Chierchia 1998; Zamparelli 2008; Cardinaletti and Giusti 2016), as well as an indefinite use of the definite article that has only been acknowledged in descriptive literature (Rohlfs 1968: 119; Renzi 1997: 163).

A preliminary study by Cardinaletti and Giusti (2018) based on three AIS maps (Jaberg and Jud 1928–1940) accessed through NavigAIS (Tisato 2009) shows that these forms were present in Italo-Romance varieties at the beginning of the last century, with an interesting diatopic distribution. The definite article is the prevalent form to express narrow scope indefiniteness in the vast majority of the Italian territory, while bare nouns and partitive articles are geographically more restricted. Cardinaletti and Giusti also observe that when more than one form is attested in the same geographic area, there is one unmarked form, while the other(s) specialize(s) for either saliency or small quantity interpretation.

In this paper, we extend this analysis to present-day informal Italian; namely, the (spoken) variety of Italian used in informal situations. We address the questions of what forms are possible, whether they have a different diatopic distribution, whether they display a semantic specialization similar to the one found in the dialects, and whether they are freely interchangeable. We do this on the basis of a preliminary analysis of the results of an online questionnaire designed for this purpose. We then compare the collected data with the dialectal data provided by the AIS maps, to check whether there is a correlation between present-day informal Italian and the dialectal substratum recorded at the beginning of the last century.

This study deals with a number of issues that are at the same time relevant to formal and general linguistics. First of all, it provides an overview of the use of the definite article in indefinite contexts, a phenomenon that is not very well studied across Romance languages. Second, it collects data to detect the level of optionality among the possible forms, a methodology that is not generally adopted in data collection. It does so by searching for optionality in the informal register, which is less influenced by normative rules. Third, it allows us to depict the areal distribution of innovative forms of Italian with respect to determinerless Latin; that is the definite article in indefinite contexts and the partitive article. Finally, it compares variation detected in present-day Italian with the dialectal data documented at the beginning of the century, thereby allowing to observe possible substratal influence.

The paper is organized as follows. In the rest of Section 1, we present the possible forms of indefinite determiners in Italian, we review the main results of Cardinaletti and Giusti’s (2018) study of the AIS data and spell out the research questions arising from the dialectal study. In Section 2, we describe the questionnaire in detail and present the properties tested in the first six items, which are the focus of this paper. The six items present contexts of narrow scope, which is the core case of indefiniteness. In Section 3, we present the quantitative results. For each item, we provide the total occurrences of each determiner and whether such occurrences were given as one-choice or in competition with one or more forms. We also provide synoptic tables for the occurrence of each determiner across contexts and geographic areas. In Section 4, we discuss the data analysing the variation observed in contexts and geographic areas, also addressing the optionality issue. In Section 5, we draw the conclusions.

1.1 The expression of indefiniteness in Italian

In modern Italian, we observe at least six possibilities for plural count nouns, as listed in (1)–(2), all of which mean ‘I would like to buy an indefinite quantity of flowers’. In (1a) we find the quantifier alcuni ‘some’, in (1b) the pseudo-partitive construction un po’ di ‘a bit of’, and in (1c) the cardinal due ‘two’, which does not necessarily convey a proper cardinal meaning. In (2), we observe three indefinite determiners: the zero determiner (henceforth, zero), the definite article used for indefinite meaning (henceforth, art), and the so-called partitive determiner, which has the same morphology as the preposition di ‘of’ incorporating a definite article (henceforth, di+art):

(1)
a.
Vorrei comprare alcuni fiori.
I.would.like to.buy some flowers
b.
Vorrei comprare un po’ di fiori.
I.would.like to.buy a bit of flowers
c.
Vorrei comprare due fiori.
I.would.like to.buy two flowers

‘I would like to buy some flowers.’

(2)
a.
Vorrei comprare fiori.
I.would.like to.buy flowers
b.
Vorrei comprare i fiori.
I.would.like to.buy the flowers
c.
Vorrei comprare dei fiori.
I.would.like to.buy of.the flowers

‘I would like to buy flowers.’

Apart from the quantifier alcuni ‘some’ and the cardinal due ‘two’, the other four forms in (1)–(2) are also found with singular mass nouns, as in (3), which all mean ‘I would like to buy an indefinite quantity of wine’:

(3)
a.
Vorrei comprare un po’ di vino.
I.would.like to.buy a bit of wine
b.
Vorrei comprare vino.
I.would.like to.buy wine
c.
Vorrei comprare il vino.
I.would.like to.buy the wine
d.
Vorrei comprare del vino.
I.would.like to.buy of.the wine

‘I would like to buy (some) wine.’

Two other possibilities are reported in the literature to express indefiniteness in Italo-Romance varieties with both mass singular and count plural nouns, namely bare di ‘of’ and certo ‘certain’. In Tuscan, bare di is reported to be present only if the nominal expression is modified by a prenominal adjective, like ‘good’ in (4). In the Northwest, bare di is possible more generally (5). The adjective certo appears in (6) with the function of an indefinite determiner in some parts of southern Italy (cf. also Ledgeway 2009):

(4)
a.
di buone patate
of good potatoes

‘good potatoes’

b.
di buon vino
of good wine

‘good wine’

(Rohlfs 1968: 117)

(5)
a.
sei fyse d’aqua
if.there was of water

‘If there was water’

(Piedmontese; Berruto 1974: 57)

b.
anda sarkà d viulatte
to-go to-pick of violets

‘to go and pick violets’

(AIS 637, 153 Giaveno (Turin))

(6)
a.
s’era corcato mmiezo a ccierto fieno
self was lied in middle to certain hay

‘He was lying on hay.’

(Neapolitan; Rohlfs 1968: 119)

b.
certi kundi
certain stories

‘some stories’

(Avezzano; Giammarco 1979: 141)

Bare di is not present in standard Italian, while certo conveys specialized readings such as ‘of a given type’ or ‘with specific reference’, which are most common with plural count nouns (7a), and can be found with both plural and mass nouns in emphatic contexts (7b):

(7)
a.
Mangio solo certe patate / ?Bevo solo certo vino
I.eat only certain potatoes / I.drink only certain wine

‘I only eat certain types of potatoes.’ / ‘I only drink certain types of wine.’

b.
Ci hanno servito certe patate! / Ci hanno servito certo
us they.have served certain potatoes / us they.have served certain
vino!
wine

‘They served us such potatoes!’ / ‘They served us such wine!’

Such richness of possible forms raises the question whether they are all available to all speakers of Italian and, if so, whether they are equivalent or convey different nuances of indefiniteness, as observed for certo above and as proposed for the other indefinite determiners in Italo-Romance varieties by Cardinaletti and Giusti (2018), to be reviewed in the next section.

1.2 A previous study on Italo-romance varieties

There is no literature on how indefinite determiners distribute across Italo-Romance varieties or in regional Italian. In a preliminary study, Cardinaletti and Giusti (2018) address three issues related to this general question. First, they give a provisional account of optionality and semantic specialization of the three forms present in Italian, namely zero, art, and di + art (see (2) and (3b)–(3d)). Then, they analyze a lesser studied central Italian dialect (Anconetano) that only displays two forms (art and di + art) and observe that, in this case, there is no overlap of meaning: one form (art) is the unmarked narrow scope indefinite, the other form (di + art) only has a wide scope, small quantity interpretation. Finally, they provide a detailed survey of the indefinite determiners appearing in three AIS maps (consulted online in Tisato 2009) which can be taken to represent the dialectal variation found at the beginning of the last century. Two maps have an indefinite mass noun (map 1037 [‘if there was water’] and map 1343 [‘go to the cellar to take wine’]), one has an indefinite plural noun (map 636 [‘to look for violets’]). The three maps only present narrow scope interpretation. The detailed analysis of the maps suggested the following observations.

The maps display four forms, namely zero, art, bare di, and di + art. Certo does not appear on the maps with the function of indefinite determiner. Other forms such as ‘a couple of, a bit of’ or the like are sporadic. The distribution of the four forms in the Italian territory at the beginning of the last century displays strong tendencies. Some areas have a preference for one form: the extreme North, especially the Grigioni area in Switzerland, and the extreme South, namely southern Calabria, southern Apulia and Sicily, only display zero; the extreme West, namely Val d’Aosta and western Piedmont at the border with France, only displays bare di; in Emilia–Romagna, di + art is predominant; the Centre–South from southern Tuscany – Marche – Umbria – Lazio down to northern Calabria and northern Apulia only displays art.

In other areas, there are two, sometimes three possible forms. This raises the question of whether these forms are the result of pure optionality or whether each form is associated with a different interpretation. Given that each map displays consistent preferences for one form or the other, Cardinaletti and Giusti (2018) propose that the most common form throughout the three maps in given areas is to be taken as the unmarked form for each area, the other form(s) is/are claimed to convey a specialized meaning. They propose that the item visualized in AIS map 1037 (‘if there was water’) most probably induces a core existential indefinite interpretation; the item visualized in AIS map 1343 (‘go to the cellar to take wine’) induces saliency interpretation of the object wine, as wine is the typical product to be stored in a cellar; the item visualized in AIS map 636 (‘to look for violets’) induces small quantity interpretation of the object violette, as violets are usually collected in small bunches. This is supported by the fact that AIS map 1037 presents a more consistent distribution of a given form in each area, while the other two maps display a higher degree of variation in given areas, as well as in individual points across the maps.

Where art is not the unmarked form (that is, everywhere except the central-southern regions), it conveys a salient referent interpretation. Where di + art is not the unmarked form (that is, everywhere except Emilia Romagna), it conveys a small quantity interpretation. The contexts provided by the three AIS maps are however all compatible with the unmarked meaning as well as with either specialized meaning. The variation found at given points in the AIS maps is therefore compatible with an analysis that complies with general economy principles and assumes that there is no true optionality, but different forms are specialized for different meanings.

Finally, Cardinaletti and Giusti (2018) note that even in areas where only one form is given by AIS, there may be other available forms that are found in discourse contexts not represented in the AIS maps. This is the case of Anconetano di + art, which can only appear in wide scope contexts. This is unsurprising as there are no AIS maps reporting indefinite determiners in wide scope contexts.

This state of affairs can be analyzed along the lines of Bartoli’s (1925) Lateral Areas, according to which innovations spread from the centre towards the periphery of a given area, losing their effectiveness while reaching the borders. In our case, the ancient form, perpetuating the Latin lack of article in all nominal expressions, is zero. Zero proves to be resilient in indefinite expressions at the borders of the Italo-Romance area (the extreme North, and the extreme South), while the new formation (art) has spread in the Center as the “prototypical” article even in indefinite expressions. Bare di is a Gallo-Romance innovation, only present in the extreme Northwest, at the border with France from which it has spread. Interestingly, di + art is found in an area spreading in the West–East direction, at the crossroad with the North–South direction of the spreading of art.

1.3 Research questions

Cardinaletti and Giusti’s (2018) observations are based on a limited set of data. The AIS maps only provide indefinites with narrow scope interpretation; only very rarely do they report optionality even if it was supposedly present. They represent the situation at the beginning of the last century. This situation has certainly changed considerably in contact with Italian, which is nowadays the L1 of the greatest majority of speakers (cf. ISTAT 2012). Furthermore, Cardinaletti and Giusti’s (2018) analysis of present-day informal Italian and Anconetano is based on native judgments of the authors and few other speakers, as is typical of generative grammarians, and does not represent possible regional variation, which is supposedly present.

In these respects, a number of issues arise:

  1. Has the use of indefinite determiners in Italo-Romance changed in the last century, especially considering the increasingly stronger dominance of Italian?

  2. If so, to what extent and in what directions with respect to possible forms and their possible interpretation?

  3. Is there variation among regional varieties of informal Italian in the possible forms of indefinite determiners and their interpretation?

  4. If so, does such variation reflect the original properties reported by AIS and discussed by Cardinaletti and Giusti (2018)?

To our knowledge, these issues have never been addressed up to now.

The first two questions could only be answered through a thorough search on local dialects. This will be the object of a large project of data collection, which is at its very initial stage. The form and distribution of indefinite determiners in modern Italo-Romance varieties will therefore not be touched upon in this paper.

To start answering the last two questions, an online questionnaire was designed to detect the distribution and the optional use in informal Italian of the five indefinite determiners mentioned in Section 1.1; namely, zero, art, bare di, di + art, certo. The different items of the questionnaire permit to have an overview of the distribution of indefinite determiners according to the traits individuated by Cardinaletti and Giusti (2018):

(8)
  1. mass singular vs. plural count distinction;

  2. type of sentence (different tense, aspect, polarity);

  3. specialization of meaning (saliency, small quantity);

  4. scope taking properties of the indefinite object (narrow, wide).

For space reasons, we limit our discussion here to six items of the questionnaire which only allow narrow scope interpretation. We therefore do not expect differences between singular mass and plural count nouns due to scope properties, but only related to the other traits (type of sentence and specialization of meaning).

2 The questionnaire

The questionnaire was administered online in the third week of a MOOC (massive online open course) entitled La grammatica che migliora la vita (‘The grammar that improves life’), designed and conducted by Giuliana Giusti and run in November–December 2016.

The MOOC was offered as a free extension course with the aim to disseminate basic notions of linguistics to the general public in order to enhance language awareness on multilingualism, including the dialect/national language diglossia and the variety of registers (formal/informal, spoken/written). The ultimate goal of the MOOC was to encourage an inclusive and open-minded perspective on language use and language identity in speakers of L1 and L2 Italian in Italy and abroad.

The MOOC is made of four units, one per week, each including 5–7 short videos for about 60 minutes per week, a forum for general discussion, some readings, and a questionnaire. Week 1 deals with language, languages, and multilingualism. Week 2 presents the sounds of language vs. the writing system with particular reference to Italian as compared to major European languages (English, French, and German). Week 3 discusses descriptive vs. normative grammar, with special attention to some well-known normative rules of Italian related to psych-verbs. Week 4 presents Italo-Romance varieties. All videos encourage a descriptive approach to languages, including local dialects and heritage languages and enhancing an open attitude to substandard, informal, or colloquial uses. None of the videos available to the participants addresses the data collected through the questionnaires. All videos, instructions, and questionnaires are in standard Italian.

The participants were not selected, as the course was open to self-enrollment. The questionnaires were filled in on a voluntary basis at the end of each week. Participants completing at least 70% of the total activities would receive a statement of participation with no official value in terms of academic credits. There was no reward for the completion of the tasks, apart from intellectual pleasure.

The questionnaire of the first unit regards the linguistic profile of the participants, their town of origin and of residence, age, gender, the language(s) and varieties they speak as L1 and L2, the language(s) or varieties used with family, friends, and at work. This allows us to keep control of the diatopic variability as well as sociolinguistic variables. The questionnaire of the second unit regards the controversial area of psych-verbs in Italian, which are targeted by normative grammar. [1] This has trained the participants in judging grammatical sentences with an open attitude towards language variation, free from normative influence. The questionnaire of the third unit addresses different types of indefiniteness. In the fourth and last unit, the participants were asked to provide a text in their dialect or L1 different from Italian and to translate it first into Italian, then into a foreign language (English or other at preference). Notably, only at this point the dialect has been the object of collected data, while the other two questionnaires concentrated on informal Italian.

At the beginning of the second and third questionnaire, participants were informed of the goals of the activity (namely, collect judgements and data of informal Italian). Despite the written form, the formulation of the questions made it clear that the sentences to be judged were instances of spoken language. [2] At all points it was emphasized that there was no correct answer and more than one possibility could be chosen. The participants were always asked to indicate all the possible choices and not the most appropriate one, in order to detect optionality.

At the end of each questionnaire, participants were asked to give permission to use the data for future research. They were informed that at all stages of the analysis, the data would be used anonymously.

2.1 The questionnaire on the expression of indefiniteness

The questionnaire on indefiniteness is made of 25 items organized as follows:

  1. 9 multiple choice items with indefinite direct objects (singular mass vs. count plural), with different tense/aspect/polarity, in different pragmatic contexts.

  2. 2 substitution tasks, i. e., open questions asking to substitute a singular mass noun with a plural count noun.

  3. 6 open comments on possible differences in interpretation, in case more than one possible choice has been provided.

  4. 4 multiple choice items for pragmatically coherent sentences, in which the participant is asked to judge coherence of statements with a follow-up causative clause.

  5. 3 open questions on the linguistic attitude of the participant (confidence on their judgments, their normative/descriptive attitude, their personal appreciation of the experience of completing the task).

  6. 1 consent item.

The questionnaire presents the items in a fixed order and does not include fillers. This makes the questionnaire as short and accessible as possible, allowing the participants to “warm up” with the shorter/simpler sentences and avoiding the risk that they would get tired towards the end, when the tasks are more complex. At a first screening, the results do not display any priming effect, as we observe different answers in subsequent items by individual informants. However, a more precise calculation of this is needed, something which we postpone to future work.

In this paper, we analyze the following six items of the initial part of the questionnaire. Items (i)–(iv) are negative statements. This assures narrow scope interpretation of the object, which is the core interpretation of indefinites (opposed to the interpretations arising in subject position and in non-negative contexts, e. g., specific, D-linked, [3] etc.). We compare mass nouns in (i) and (iii) with plural count nouns in (ii) and (iv) in order to check whether they behave in the same fashion, as usually assumed in the literature. The items on mass nouns (i), (iii) are multiple choice questions. The items on count nouns are substitution tasks (ii), (iv): [4]

i

Nella tua varietà di italiano parlato, un vegetariano direbbe:

[In your variety of spoken Italian, a vegetarian would say:]

a. Non mangio carne.
not I.eat meat
b. Non mangio la carne.
not I.eat the meat
c. Non mangio di carne.
not I.eat of meat
d. Non mangio della carne.
not I.eat of.the meat
e. Non mangio certa carne.
not I.eat certain meat
‘I don’t eat meat.’
ii. Ora sostituisci carne con patate.
[Now replace meat with potatoes.]
iii. Nella tua varietà di italiano parlato, un astemio direbbe:
[In your variety of spoken Italian, a teetotaller would say:]
a. Non bevo vino.
not I.drink wine
b. Non bevo il vino.
not I.drink the wine
c. Non bevo di vino.
not I.drink of wine
d. Non bevo del vino.
not I.drink of.the wine
e. Non bevo certo vino.
not I.drink certain wine
‘I don’t drink wine.’
iv. Ora sostituisci vino con superalcolici.
[Now replace wine with spirits.]

Items (v) and (vi) allow us to contrast negative sentences with non-negative episodic sentences in the past. Since we are focussing on narrow scope indefinites, we are only using mass nouns here in order to isolate narrow scope interpretation from the wide scope interpretation which is more easily available with plural count nouns (cf. Cardinaletti and Giusti 2016):

v.

Nella tua varietà di italiano parlato, raccontando la cena a casa di amici fatta ieri si direbbe:

[In your spoken Italian variety, while telling about the dinner party at friends’ yesterday, one would say:]

a. Abbiamo mangiato carne.
we.have eaten meat
b. Abbiamo mangiato la carne.
we.have eaten the meat
c. Abbiamo mangiato di carne.
we.have eaten of meat
d. Abbiamo mangiato della carne.
we.have eaten of.the meat
e. Abbiamo mangiato certa carne.
we.have eaten certain meat

‘We ate meat.’

vi.

Nella tua varietà di italiano parlato, raccontando la cena a casa di amici fatta ieri si direbbe:

[In your spoken Italian variety, while telling about the dinner party at friends’ yesterday, one would say:]

a. Abbiamo bevuto vino.
we.have drunk wine
b. Abbiamo bevuto il vino.
we.have drunk the wine
c. Abbiamo bevuto di vino.
we.have drunk of wine
d. Abbiamo bevuto del vino.
we.have drunk of.the wine
e. Abbiamo bevuto certo vino.
we.have drunk certain wine

‘We drank wine.’

2.2 Participants

The questionnaire was taken by 92 participants out of the 540 enrolled in the MOOC. Ten of them were not L1 Italian and have been discarded for the purposes of the present research. The remaining 82 participants all declared to have native competence of Italian. Slightly more than half (47) declared Italian as their dominant language; another large group (30) declared to have Italian as L1 but to be competent in the dialect of the town of origin or in other dialects; only few (5) declared to use the dialect of the town of origin as L1, still having full competence of Italian. This variable appears to be evenly distributed in the whole sample. [5] The age groups are also rather balanced: 18–30 (20 participants); 30–40 (15 participants); 40–50 (26 participants); 50–60 (19 participants); >60 (2 participants).

All participants were asked to describe their linguistic profile (see above the introduction to this section) resulting in the following distribution across the regions of Italy. In two cases, the towns of origin and residence did not coincide; these two participants are counted here according to the variety of informal Italian they declared to speak, which corresponds to the town of origin:

  1. Northwest (11): Piedmont (4), Lombardy (6), Liguria (1)

  2. Northeast (21): Veneto (19), Friuli Venezia Giulia (2)

  3. Emilia Romagna (6)

  4. Centre (10): Toscana (2), Marche (2), Lazio (6)

  5. South (20): Abruzzo (4), Campania (4), Puglia (8), Calabria (4)

  6. Sardinia (5)

  7. Sicily (9)

The sample is admittedly not optimally balanced as regards the areal distribution of the participants. This is due to the fact that enrolment to the MOOC and completion of each questionnaire was voluntary. It does however provide a perspective on the whole country.

In order to have groups with some quantitative relevance, we aggregated the participants in geographical macro-areas, which roughly correspond to Cardinaletti and Giusti’s (2018) findings on the AIS maps. The results we obtained confirm the separation of Emilia Romagna from the rest of northern Italian and of the two islands from the other areas of the South. The Centre is heterogeneous with respect to the traditional classification of Italo-Romance varieties, as pointed out by a reviewer. This is because it includes Tuscany, which is usually considered as separate from the “area mediana”, and the Marches, [6] part of which are in the “area perimediana” (cf. Loporcaro and Paciaroni 2016). However, the data we obtained characterize it as the buffer area between Emilia-Romagna and the South, thereby contributing to obtain a coherent representation of the diatopic distribution of indefinite determiners.

2.3 Types of answers

As the questionnaire allowed multiple selections, we first coded the results for the number of choices (1–5) of each participant.

Out of 490 answers, we find 209 one-choice answers (42%), 219 two-choice answers (45%), 54 three-choice answers (11%), 8 four-choice answers (2%). (Multiple choice answers are thus 281 [57%] in total). [7] No item in the questionnaire received a five-choice answer.

The one-choice and the two-choice answers are basically restricted to zero and art, and few occurrences of di + art in items (v)–(vi). Certo occurs most of the time in three/four-choice answers. Three/four-choice answers are almost absent in items (i)–(iv) and are found more often in items (v)–(vi).

If we consider the rate of selection of each of the five forms irrespectively of whether they appear as one or multiple choice answers, zero and art are the most frequent forms. Their overall occurrence is 410 and 307, respectively. Bare di appears in one isolated case, as 1 out of 4 possibilities, and was used in a sentence provided in the Sicilian dialect; this occurrence was not counted (see Note 9). Di + art occurs 92 times and certo 28 times. Note that the fact that zero and art are chosen in the highest percentages is not to be attributed to them being the first and the second possible choices in the list. In fact, di + art and certo, the fourth and fifth possible choices in the list, were selected much more frequently than bare di, the third in the list, which was never chosen.

In Section 3, we present the different distribution of the participants’ choices in the six items of the questionnaire analyzed here.

3 The collected data

The data collected in items (i)–(vi) presented in Section 2.2 above involve two types of singular mass nouns and two types of plural count nouns in the scope of negation in sentences in the present tense and the same singular mass nouns in episodic sentences in the past tense. First, we present each item giving the overall occurrence of the determiners (this calculates all the preferences for each item, irrespective of whether the informant has indicated it as the only option or a possible alternative between two or among more options). Then, we specify how the determiners distribute across the typology of answers (from one-choice to three/four-choice answers). For each issue, we present the diatopic distribution as well as the general picture across the country.

Note that in the tables below, the percentage of occurrence of each determiner is calculated out of the number of participants in each areal group. This is crucial for comparison in a situation, like ours, in which we could not hire the same number of informants for each area.

3.1 Mass nouns in negative contexts

3.1.1 ‘I don’t eat meat’

In the answers to this item, two forms are dominant: zero (84%) and art (69%). Di + art and certo only occur twice each. [8] As regards the diatopic distribution, zero and art both reach 100% in Emilia Romagna. Zero is preferred over art in the Northeast (95% vs. 66%), Sardinia (80% vs. 40%), and Sicily (88% vs. 44%). As for the rest of the country, the two forms occur at roughly the same rate. The data are presented in Table 1.

Table 1:

Overall occurrences of the four determiners in item (i).

Regional areas Number of participants Total zero Total art Total di + art Total certo
Northwest 11 9

(81%)
8

(72%)
0 0
Northeast 21 19

(90%)
14

(66%)
0 1

(4%)
Emilia Romagna 6 6

(100%)
6

(100%)
1

(16%)
0
Centre 10 9

(90%)
8

(80%)
0 0
South 20 14

(70%)
15

(75%)
1

(5%)
0
Sardinia 5 4

(80%)
2

(40%)
0 0
Sicily 9 8

(88%)
4

(44%)
0 1

(11%)
Total 82 69

(84%)
57

(69%)
2

(2%)
2

(2%)

Table 2 presents how the forms distribute across the different typology of answers. In one-choice answers, zero is more frequent than art (30% vs. 14%). This is most evident in Sardinia (60% vs. 20%), Sicily (55% vs. 11%), and the Northeast (33% vs. 4%). It is interesting to observe that Emilia-Romagna does not display any one-choice answer.

Half of the informants (50%) give zero or art as the only possible alternatives in two-choice answers. One informant in the Northeast gives the two-choice alternative “zero or certo”. There are only three three-choice answers: one in Emilia-Romagna and one in the South (Calabria) with zero, art, or di + art, and one in Sicily with zero, art, or certo.

Table 2:

Occurrences of the four determiners in different types of answers in item (i).

Regional areas Number of participants 1-choice

zero
1-choice

art
2-choice

zero or art
2/3/4-choices
Northwest 11 3 2 6 0
(27%) (18%) (54%)
Northeast 21 7 1 12 1 art/certo
(33%) (4%) (57%) (4%)
Emilia Romagna 6 0 0 5 1 zero/art/di + art
(83%) (16%)
Centre 10 2 1 7 0
(20%) (10%) (70%)
South 20 5 6 8 1 zero/art/di + art
(25%) (30%) (40%) (5%)
Sardinia 5 3 1 1 0
(60%) (20%) (20%)
Sicily 9 5 1 2 1 zero/art/certo
(55%) (11%) (22%) (11%)
Total 82 25 12 41 4
(30%) (14%) (50%) (4%)

Tables 1 and 2 show that zero is present all over the country. In most areas, it is fairly equivalent to art, with the exception of Sardinia and Sicily, where zero is chosen most often in one-choice answers. In this item, art is less present than zero in one-choice answers all over the country, except in the South.

3.1.2 ‘I don’t drink wine’

As above, the two most widely attested forms are zero (93%) and art (59%). Di + art and certo are again residual (3 and 1 occurrences, respectively).

As regards the diatopic distribution, zero and art both reach 100% in Emilia Romagna as above. Zero is more clearly preferred than art in the same areas as above: the Northeast (100% vs. 38%), Sardinia (100% vs. 60%), and Sicily (100% vs. 33%), as well as in the Northwest (90% vs. 63%). As for the rest of the country, the two forms occur at roughly the same rate, also as above. The data are provided in Table 3.

Table 3:

Overall occurrences of the four determiners in item (iii).

Regional areas Number of participants Total zero Total

art
Total di + art Total certo
Northwest 11 10 7 1 0
(90%) (63%) (9%)
Northeast 21 21 8 0 0
(100%) (38%)
Emilia Romagna 6 6 6 1 0
(100%) (100%) (16%)
Centre 10 10 9 0 0
(100%) (90%)
South 20 16 13 1 0
(80%) (65%) (5%)
Sardinia 5 5 3 0 1
(100%) (60%) (20%)
Sicily 9 9 3 0 0
(100%) (33%)
Total 82 77 49 3 1
(93%) (59%) (3%) (1%)

Table 4 presents how the forms distribute across the different typology of answers. As in Table 2 above, in one-choice answers, zero is much more frequent than art (40% vs. 3%). This holds all over the country except in the South, where art persists as one-choice (15%).

Two-choice answers with the “zero or art” alternative are selected by half of the informants (51%), as above. Two informants, one in the Northwest and one in the South, give the two-choice alternative “art or di + art”, reported in the 2/3/4-choices column. There are only two three-choice answers: one in Emilia-Romagna with zero, art, or di + art, and one in Sardinia with zero, art, or certo.

Table 4:

Occurrences of the four determiners in different types of answers in item (iii).

Regional areas Number of participants 1-choice

Zero
1-choice

art
2-choice

zero or art
2/3/4-choices
Northwest 11 4 0 6 1 art/di + art
(36%) (54%) (9%)
Northeast 21 13 0 8 0
(61%) (38%)
Emilia Romagna 6 0 0 5 1 zero/art/di + art
(83%) (16%)
Centre 10 1 0 9 0
(10%) (90%)
South 20 7 3 9 1 art/di + art
(35%) (15%) (45%) (5%)
Sardinia 5 2 0 2 1 zero/art/certo
(40%) (40%) (20%)
Sicily 9 6 0 3 0
(66%) (33%)
Total 82 33 3 42 4
(40%) (3%) (51%) (4%)

3.1.3 Interim summary

The two mass nouns meat and wine in the object position of a predicate in a negative sentence in the present tense display the following properties.

  1. In both cases, half of the informants allow two forms: zero and art.

  2. In both cases, zero is predominant over art in one-choice answers.

  3. With wine, art is almost residual in one-choice answers (3%).

  4. The South confirms a higher occurrence of art with respect to the other areas.

  5. In both items, di + art and certo only appear sporadically.

3.2 Plural count nouns in negative contexts

These two items are the result of open question tasks. Participants were asked to provide new sentences substituting potatoes for meat (cf. item [ii]) and spirits for wine (cf. item [iv]). As said in Note 7 above, one participant from the South missed to fill in these two items.

3.2.1 ‘I don’t eat potatoes’

Table 5 shows that as above, the two most frequent forms are zero (81%) and art (92%). But their rate is reversed, with art slightly predominant over zero. Di + art appears 3 times, as with mass nouns above, while certo is slightly more frequent in that it appears 10 times. [9]

As regards how these forms distribute across the different typology of answers, Table 6 shows that one-choice answers are much less frequent than with mass nouns (24% vs. carne 37% and vino 43%). Furthermore, differently from mass nouns, art is more often selected than zero (art 17% vs. zero 7%), as opposed to carne (art 12% vs. zero 25%) and vino (art 3% vs. zero 40%). This holds all over the country, except Sardinia, where the situation looks apparently reversed (but this may be due to the rather limited number of informants). Two-choice answers with the zero/art alternative are selected by 60% of the informants. There are no other two-choice answers with different alternatives. The percentage of three/four-choice answers is much higher than with mass nouns (14% vs. carne 3% and vino 2%). It is also notable that four-choice answers appear in this item for the first time. [10]

Table 5:

Overall occurrences of the four determiners in item (ii).

Regional areas Number of participants Total

zero
Total

art
Total

di + art
Total

certo
Northwest 11 9 11 0 2
(81%) (100%) (18%)
Northeast 21 19 20 1 3
(90%) (95%) (4%) (14%)
Emilia Romagna 6 6 6 1 0
(100%) (100%) (16%)
Centre 10 6 10 0 0
(60%) (100%)
South 19 15 17 1 1
(78%) (89%) (5%) (5%)
Sardinia 5 4 3 0 2
(80%) (60%) (40%)
Sicily 9 7 8 0 2
(77%) (88%) (22%)
Total 81 66 75 3 10
(81%) (92%) (3%) (12%)
Table 6:

Occurrences of the four determiners in different types of answers in item (ii).

Regional areas Number of participants 1-choice

zero
1-choice

art
2-choice

zero or art
2/3/4-choices
Northwest 11 0 2 7 2 zero/art/certo
(18%) (63%) (18%)
Northeast 21 1 1 15 4 zero/art/di + art/certo
(4%) (4%) (71%) (19%)
Emilia Romagna 6 0 0 5 1 zero/art/di + art
(83%) (16%)
Centre 10 0 4 6 0
(40%) (60%)
South 19 2 4 12 1 zero/art/di + art/certo
(10%) (21%) (63%) (5%)
Sardinia 5 2 1 0 2 zero/art/certo
(40%) (20%) (40%)
Sicily 9 1 2 4 2 zero/art/di/certo
(11%) (22%) (44%) (22%)
Total 81 6 14 49 12
(7%) (17%) (60%) (14%)
Table 7:

Overall occurrences of the four determiners in item (iv).

Regional areas Number of participants Total zero Total art Total di + art Total certo
Northwest 11 11 5 0 2
(100%) (45%) (18%)
Northeast 21 21 13 1 3
(100%) (61%) (4%) (14%)
Emilia Romagna 6 6 4 1 0
(100%) (66%) (16%)
Centre 10 9 8 0 0
(90%) (80%)
South 19 18 9 0 0
(94%) (47%)
Sardinia 5 5 3 0 2
(100%) (60%) (40%)
Sicily 9 8 4 1 0
(88%) (44%) (11%)
Total 81 78 46 3 7
(96%) (56%) (3%) (8%)
Table 8:

Occurrences of the four determiners in different types of answers in item (iv).

Regional areas Number of participants 1-choice

zero
1-choice

art
2-choice

zero or art
2/3/4-choices
Northwest 11 5 0 4 2 zero/art/certo
(45%) (36%) (18%)
Northeast 21 8

(38%)
0 9

(42%)
4 zero/art/di + art/certo

(19%)
Emilia Romagna 6 2

(33%)
0 3

(50%)
1 zero/art/di + art

(16%)
Centre 10 2 1 7 0
(20%) (10%) (70%)
South 19 10 1 8 0
(52%) (5%) (42%)
Sardinia 5 2 0 1 2 zero/art/certo
(40%) (20%) (40%)
Sicily 9 5 1 2 1 zero/art/di + art
(55%) (11%) (22%) (11%)
Total 81 34 3 34 10
(41%) (3%) (41%) (12%)
Table 9:

Overall occurrences of the four determiners in item (v).

Regional areas Number of participants Total

zero
Total

art
Total di + art Total certo
Northwest 11 9 7 7 0
(81%) (63%) (63%)
Northeast 21 19 6 15 2
(90%) (38%) (71%) (9%)
Emilia Romagna 6 5 4 4 0
(83%) (66%) (66%)
Centre 10 8 8 6 0
(80%) (80%) (60%)
South 20 13 10 3 0
(65%) (50%) (15%)
Sardinia 5 4 4 0 0
(80%) (80%)
Sicily 9 8 4 2 0
(88%) (44%) (22%)
Total 82 66 43 37 2
(80%) (53%) (45%) (2%)
Table 10:

Occurrences of the four determiners in different types of answers in item (v).

Regional areas Num.ofpart. 1-choice zero 1-choice art 1-choice di + art 2-choice zero or art 2-choice zero or di + art 2-choice

art or di + art
3/4-choices
Northwest 11 2 1 1 1 1 0 5 zero/art/di + art
(18%) (9%) (9%) (9%) (9%) (45%)
Northeast 21 4 0 1 2 9 1 4 zero/art/
(19%) (4%) (9%) (42%) (4%) di + art/certo (19%)
Emilia Romagna 6 1 0 1 1 0 0 3 zero/art/di + art
(16%) (16%) (16%) (50%)
Centre 10 1 0 0 3 1 2 3 zero/art/di + art
(10%) (30%) (10%) (20%) (30%)
South 20 9 5 1 3 0 1 1 zero/art/ di + art (5%)
(45%) (25%) (5%) (15%) (5%)
Sardinia 5 1 1 0 3 0 0 0
(20%) (20%) (60%)
Sicily 9 5 1 0 1 0 0 2 zero/art/di + art
(55%) (11%) (11%) (22%)
Total 82 23 8 4 14 11 4 18
(28%) (9%) (4%) (17%) (13%) (6%) (21%)
Table 11:

Overall occurrences of the four determiners in item (vi).

Regional areas Number of participants Total

zero
Total

art
Total di + art Total certo
Northwest 11 7 6 9 1
(63%) (54%) (81%) (9%)
Northeast 21 14 7 14 1
(66%) (33%) (66%) (4%)
Emilia Romagna 6 6 3 4 1
(100%) (50%) (66%) (16%)
Centre 10 8 8 6 2
(80%) (80%) (60%) (20%)
South 20 11 9 7 1
(55%) (45%) (35%) (5%)
Sardinia 5 3 2 2 0
(60%) (40%) (40%)
Sicily 9 7 2 2 0
(77%) (22%) (22%)
Total 82 56 37 44 6
(68%) (45%) (53%) (7%)
Table 12:

Occurrences of the four determiners in different types of answers in item (vi).

Regional areas Num. of part. 1-choice

zero
1-choice

art
1-choice di + art 2-choice zero or art 2-choice zero or di + art 2-choice

art or di + art
3/4-choices
Northwest 11 1 1 3 0 0 0 6 zero/art/
(9%) (9%) (27%) di + art/certo (54%)
Northeast 21 4 1 6 2 4 0 4 zero/art/
(19%) (4%) (28%) (9%) (19%) di + art/certo (19%)
Emilia Romagna 6 1 0 0 1 2 0 2 zero/art/
(16%) (16%) (33%) di + art/certo (33%)
Centre 10 1 1 0 2 1 1 4 zero/art/
(10%) (10%) (20%) (10%) (10%) di + art/certo (40%)
South 20 6 4 4 3 1 1 1 zero/art/ di + art (5%)
(30%) (20%) (20%) (15%) (5%) (5%)
Sardinia 5 1 1 1 1 1 0 0
(20%) (20%) (20%) (20%) (20%)
Sicily 9 6

(66%)
1

(11%)
1

(11%)
0 0 0 1 zero/art/di +  art

(11%)
Total 82 20 9 15 9 9 2 18
(24%) (10%) (18%) (10%) (10%) (2%) (21%)

3.2.2 ‘I don’t drink spirits’

Table 7 shows that, as with mass nouns and potatoes above, the two most frequent forms are zero and art. However, differently from potatoes and more similarly to mass nouns, zero prevails (96%) over art (56%). Di + art appears 3 times, as with mass nouns above. Certo appears 7 times, less than with potatoes, but more than with mass nouns.

Table 8 shows that the distribution of one-choice answers is similar to the mass noun wine and different from the count noun potatoes: zero is much more frequent than art (41% vs. 3%) and is preferred all over the country, where art only appears sporadically as one-choice answer in the Centre, in the South, and in Sicily (1 occurrence each). Two-choice answers are given by 41% of informants with zero and art as alternatives. Furthermore, 12% of the informants provide three/four-choice answers, all including zero, art, di + art, or certo.

3.2.3 Interim summary

The two plural nouns potatoes and spirits differ from one another with respect to the distribution of art, which is much higher with the former than with the latter (92% vs. 56%). They, however, share a rather high number of multiple choice alternatives (14% and 12%, respectively), including some occurrences of certo, which makes them different from mass nouns (4%)

3.3 Mass nouns in episodic sentences in the past

3.3.1 ‘We ate meat’

In this item, as Table 9 shows, three forms reach rather high percentages: zero (80%), art (53%), and di + art (45%). Certo is chosen only twice in the Northwest. As for the diatopic distribution, note that di + art is much more present in the North and the Centre. Zero is clearly predominant in the Northeast and in Sicily, likewise what we have observed with meat in the negative context (cf. Section 3.1.1).

Parallel to meat in negative contexts, zero is the preferred form (28%) in one-choice answers, while art is chosen fewer times (9%), except in the South where it reaches 25%. zero is more strongly preferred in Sicily as one-choice answer (55%). art is mostly chosen in alternative with other forms, except in the South. Unlike negative contexts, di + art appears in one-choice answers in the North and in Emilia Romagna. In two-choice answers, there are many more alternatives than above: in addition to the combination “zero or art” seen earlier, we find 13% of “zero or di + art”, and 6% of “art or di + art”. 21% of the informants choose “zero, art or di + art” as multiple alternative forms. The data are provided in Table 10.

3.3.2 ‘We drank wine’

In this item, the three more frequent forms zero (68%), art (45%), and di + art (53%) distribute more evenly than in the other items, with art less frequent than di + art. Certo has the usual few occurrences dispersed throughout the Peninsula and not in the islands. As for the diatopic distribution, note that di + art is more present than in other contexts in the North and Centre. Zero is predominant in the Northeast and Sicily, similarly to what we have observed with negative sentences in the present in Section 3.2 and with meat in the episodic sentence in the past in Section 3.3.1. The data are provided in Table 11.

As shown in Table 12, as a single choice, zero is still the favourite form (24%), while art is less preferred (10%). Di + art appears as a single choice more abundantly than in the previous items (18%). There are many combinations of alternative forms (43%). In addition to the common two-choice answer “zero or art” (10%), we also find “zero or di + art” (10%), and “art or di + art” (2%), which together with three/four-choice answers (21%) make this context the one with the highest degree of variation and optionality.

3.3.3 Interim summary

In episodic sentences in the past, we find many more occurrences of di + art and slightly fewer occurrences of zero and art than in negative sentences in the present tense (3.1.3). Notably, di + art appears in one-choice and two-choice answers, unlike what we found in negative sentences. However, as in negative sentences, zero is predominant over both art and di + art in one-choice answers and in overall occurrences. With ‘wine’, di + art is more frequent than with ‘meat’ both in overall occurrences and in one-choice answers.

3.4 Summary of the data

To better grasp the distribution of each form throughout contexts and areas, we summarize the overall occurrences of the four determiners in Tables 1316, each giving a synopsis of the behaviour of each determiner. In Tables 13 and 14, it is evident that zero and art are present everywhere. Table 15 shows that di + art is basically limited to episodic sentences in the past and appears mostly in the North and the Centre, while Table 16 shows that certo is limited to few occurrences, which mostly appear in the North and in Sardinia.

Table 13:

Occurrences of zero across contexts and geographic areas.

zero Non mangio carne Non bevo vino Non mangio patate Non bevo superalcolici Abbiamo mangiato carne Abbiamo bevuto vino Total
Northwest 81% 90% 81% 100% 81% 63% 83%
Northeast 90% 100% 90% 100% 90% 66% 89%
Em. Rom. 100% 100% 100% 100% 83% 100% 97%
Centre 90% 100% 60% 90% 80% 80% 83%
South 70% 80% 78% 94% 65% 55% 74%
Sardinia 80% 100% 80% 100% 80% 60% 83%
Sicily 88% 100% 77% 88% 88% 77% 86%
Total 84% 93% 81% 96% 80% 68% 84%
Table 14:

Occurrences of art across contexts and geographic areas.

art Non mangio la carne Non bevo il vino Non mangio le patate Non bevo i superalcolici Abbiamo mangiato la carne Abbiamo bevuto il vino Total
Northwest 72% 63% 100% 45% 63% 54% 66%
Northeast 66% 38% 95% 61% 38% 33% 55%
Em. Rom. 100% 100% 100% 66% 66% 50% 80%
Centre 80% 90% 100% 80% 80% 80% 85%
South 75% 65% 89% 47% 50% 45% 62%
Sardinia 40% 60% 60% 60% 80% 40% 57%
Sicily 44% 33% 88% 44% 44% 22% 46%
Total 69% 59% 92% 56% 53% 45% 62%
Table 15:

Occurrences of di + art across contexts and geographic areas.

di + art Non mangio dellacarne Non bevo del vino Non mangiodelle patate Nonbevo dei superalcolici Abbiamo mangiato della carne Abbiamo bevuto del vino Total
Northwest 0% 9% 0% 0% 63% 81% 26%
Northeast 0% 0% 4% 4% 71% 66% 24%
Em. Rom. 16% 16% 16% 16% 66% 66% 33%
Centre 0% 0% 0% 0% 60% 60% 20%
South 5% 5% 5% 0% 15% 35% 11%
Sardinia 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 40% 7%
Sicily 0% 0% 0% 11% 22% 22% 9%
Total 2% 3% 3% 3% 45% 53% 18%
Table 16:

Occurrences of certo across contexts and geographic areas.

Certo Non mangio certa carne Non bevo certo vino Non mangio certe patate Non bevo certi superalcolici Abbiamo mangiato certa carne Abbiamo bevuto certo vino Total
Northwest 0% 0% 18% 18% 0% 9% 8%
Northeast 4% 0% 14% 14% 9% 4% 8%
Em. Rom. 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 16% 3%
Centre 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 20% 3%
South 0% 0% 5% 0% 0% 5% 2%
Sardinia 0% 20% 40% 40% 0% 0% 13%
Sicily 11% 0% 22% 0% 0% 0% 5%
Total 2% 1% 12% 8% 2% 7% 5%

4 Discussion

In this section, we analyse the overall occurrences of the four forms presented in Section 3, comparing the six different contexts and highlighting how the features listed in (8a-c) above interact with the occurrence of the determiners across contexts, in given geographical areas, and with respect to the optionality issue. Since we have a limited number of informants, especially as regards some areas, we can only formulate tentative hypotheses, which need to find confirmation in a larger survey planned for future work.

4.1 The distribution of indefinite forms across contexts

The mass singular vs. plural count distinction, which in the items discussed here can only be checked in negative sentences in the present, does not have great impact on the choice among the different determiner forms.

  1. Zero is prevalent with both mass singular and plural count nouns.

  2. Art is also very common with both. This is clear comparing wine and spirits in negative sentences. Meat and potatoes apparently behave differently from one another, but this may be due to reasons related to saliency. [11]

  3. Di + art has the same occurrence with mass singular and plural count nouns.

  4. Certo is more frequent with plural count nouns. This is expected if the type of meaning conveyed by certo arises more easily with plural count nouns, as noted in (7) above.

The comparison between negative sentences in the present tense vs. episodic sentences in the past displays some differences:

  1. We find a much larger occurrence of di + art in episodic sentences as opposed to its quasi total lack in negative sentences. This can be reduced to the small quantity interpretation that is more readily available in episodic sentences, especially with ‘wine’ (which is drunk in small quantity).

  2. zero and art are possible in both contexts with the higher occurrence of zero, as is generally the case in all contexts.

  3. Certo is very rare in both contexts. It appears to be slightly preferred in episodic sentences in the past, but only with ‘wine’. This can be reduced to the specialization of certo as referring to types, as mentioned in (7) above, and to the fact that types of wine are contextually more relevant to cultural discourse than types of meat.

4.2 The diatopic distribution of indefinite forms compared to AIS

While the AIS maps only present zero, art, bare di, and di + art and do not attest certo, our data of present-day informal Italian present some occurrences of certo and do not display any bare di (although two informants come from the province of Turin, where the three AIS maps reported a consistent use of bare di). As for the lack of bare di in our data, two hypotheses can be formulated: either this form has never entered informal Italian, or the low number of speakers from the Northwest has not allowed this form to emerge in our questionnaire.

If we compare the diatopic distribution of the determiner forms in present-day informal Italian and the AIS maps, we observe a different picture.

  1. As shown in Table 13, zero is the unmarked form in all indefinite contexts and all over the country. Its distribution is thus much wider in present-day informal Italian than what is represented in the Italo-Romance varieties depicted in the three AIS maps. It should however be observed that in our contemporary Italian data, zero appears in higher percentages in those areas where it appears to be the unmarked form in the last-century dialects, namely the Northeast and Sicily.

  2. As shown in Table 14, art has gained ground with respect to the situation attested in AIS; in present-day informal Italian, it is widespread all over the country, although it is chosen less frequently than zero. Interestingly, art is still a prominent form in the (Centre-) South, where it was reported to be the only form in AIS.

  3. As shown in Table 15, di + art does not have an unmarked indefinite meaning in present-day informal Italian, not even in Emilia Romagna, where it is reported to be the unmarked form in the AIS maps. According to our data, in the informal Italian variety of Emilia Romagna, zero and art are the most frequent forms, in apparent free variation; di + art is however attested more than in other areas in all contexts. This singles out Emilia Romagna from the rest of Italy, where di + art is present in considerable percentages only in episodic sentences, especially in the North and the Centre, less so in the South and the islands.

  4. Table 16 cannot be directly compared to AIS data, since certo does not appear in the three relevant maps. However, the fact that it appears to be evenly distributed across the country, only as one of more choices, lets us infer that neither in the dialects, nor in present-day informal Italian, certo can be used as the unmarked indefinite determiner.

4.3 The optionality issue

The AIS maps only sporadically report more than one form at given points of the map but can be taken to witness optionality in given areas, in the sense that variation is found in neighbouring points. When variation regards the same area in the three AIS maps, Cardinaletti and Giusti (2018) reduce it to different nuances of indefinite meaning, claiming that at least in the Italo-Romance varieties of last century, no true optionality was attested.

Note that the objective of AIS was not to search for optionality in the expression of syntactic forms such as the indefinite determiners, while our questionnaire of informal Italian is especially designed for this, always reminding the participants to tick all of the acceptable choices.

The large occurrence of zero and art in the same contexts and in the same areas suggests optionality between the two forms, with a preference for zero, especially in the Northeast and in Sicily (cf. Tables 13 and 14). A second piece of evidence supporting the hypothesis of optionality between zero and art is the fact that in more than half of the answers (281, 57%), participants chose more than one form. This holds of all areas, except Sicily, where the one-choice answers outnumber the two- or three/four-choice answers in most items.

In some cases, however, specialization of meaning can be said to be at work in the choice between more than one possible forms, which is more apparent in episodic sentences in the past. As observed in Section 4.1, our Italian data confirm the tendencies observed in the AIS maps by Cardinaletti and Giusti (2018); namely, zero is associated with the core indefinite meaning, art with saliency, and di + art with small quantity. This is also confirmed by a first analysis of speakers’ comments on their judgements about item (v), the episodic sentence in the past “Yesterday, for dinner we ate meat”. Among the speakers who have provided more than one choice (47), 10 (spread over the country) claim to find no difference in interpretation, the other 37 observe that while zero expresses “general” indefiniteness, the definite article expresses saliency of the meat with respect to the dinner context (its expected presence in the menu, or a particular type of meat, etc.), di + art implies that the meat is not the only food served for dinner, while certo emphasizes the quality of the meat.

5 Conclusions

In this paper, we have provided a preliminary analysis of the occurrences of the different indefinite determiners available in present-day informal Italian by inspecting their occurrences in two different indefinite contexts (negative sentences in the present tense and episodic sentences in the past tense) and their diatopic distribution across geographical areas. The data have been collected through a pilot online questionnaire, which had the property of asking the participants to indicate all the forms they considered possible in given contexts, in order to detect optionality. Despite the limited number of participants from some geographical areas, some tendencies can be clearly identified.

Both zero and art are widespread in indefinite contexts throughout the country and a high rate of optionality must be recognised. This is confirmed by the fact that participants provided two-choice answers in more than half of the cases.

In some contexts and some areas, however, one form is more prominent than the other. This can either be due to the semantics of the context, which may favour some specialized meaning (art can be associated with a saliency meaning, di + art conveys a small quantity meaning), or to diatopic variation due to language contact with the dialects.

The comparison with the dialectal data provided by AIS maps 1037, 1343, and 636 and analysed by Cardinaletti and Giusti (2018) shows that the modern informal variety of Italian displays diatopic tendencies that are related to the dialectal substratum.

Future work will be aimed to extend the analysis to the other items of the questionnaire, which present telic and atelic episodic contexts, as well as wide vs narrow scope interpretation, to check whether the optionality detected in the first six items is confirmed.

Furthermore, an on-going research aimed at including a larger number of participants in the collection of data is expected to provide a more balanced sample of speakers across geographical areas, a finer grained representation of the diatopic distribution, and a clearer picture of the specialization of meaning vs true optionality.

Acknowledgements

We wish to thank two anonymous reviewers for constructive criticism and the participants in the PARTE project (https://www.nwo.nl/en/research-and-results/research-projects/i/68/29468.html), in particular Tabea Ihsane, Silvia Luraghi, Petra Sleeman, and Elisabeth Stark. All remaining errors are obviously ours.

References

AIS = Jaberg, Karl & Jakob Jud. 1928–1940. Sach- und Sprachatlas Italiens und der Südschweiz [Language and subject atlas of Italy and southern Switzerland]. Zofingen: Ringier. Search in Google Scholar

Bartoli, Matteo. 1925. Introduzione alla neolinguistica: Principi – scopi – metodi. Geneva: Olschki. Search in Google Scholar

Berruto, Gaetano. 1974. Piemonte e Valle D’Aosta. Pisa: Pacini. Search in Google Scholar

Cardinaletti, Anna & Giuliana Giusti. 2016. The syntax of the Italian indefinite determiner dei. Lingua 181. 58–80. Search in Google Scholar

Cardinaletti, Anna & Giuliana Giusti. 2018. Indefinite determiners: Variation and optionality in Italo-Romance. In Diego Pescarini & Roberta D’Alessandro (eds.), Advances in Italian dialectology: Sketches of Italo-Romance grammars, 135–161. Amsterdam: Brill. Search in Google Scholar

Chierchia, Gennaro. 1998. Partitives, reference to kinds and semantic variation. In Aaron Lawson (ed.), Proceedings of semantics and linguistic theory, Vol. VII, 73–98. Ithaca, NY: CLC Publications. Search in Google Scholar

Delfitto, Denis & Jan Schroten. 1991. Bare plurals and the number affix in DP. Probus 3(2). 155–185. Search in Google Scholar

Giammarco, Ernesto. 1979. Abruzzo. Pisa: Pacini. Search in Google Scholar

ISTAT. 2012. L’uso della lingua italiana, dei dialetti e di altre lingue in Italia. Anno 2012. Roma: ISTAT, 27. novembre 2014. https://www.istat.it/it/files//2014/10/Lingua-italiana-e-dialetti_PC.pdf. Search in Google Scholar

Ledgeway, Adam. 2009. Grammatica diacronica del napoletano [Diachronic grammar of Neapolitan]. Tübingen: Niemeyer. Search in Google Scholar

Longobardi, Giuseppe. 1994. Reference and proper names: A theory of N-movement in syntax and logical form. Linguistic Inquiry 25(4). 609–665. Search in Google Scholar

Loporcaro, Michele & Tania Paciaroni. 2016. The dialects of central Italy. In Adam Ledgeway & Martin Maiden (eds.), The Oxford guide to the Romance languages, 228–245. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Search in Google Scholar

Pesetsky, David. 1987. Wh-in-situ: Movement and unselective binding. In Eric J. Reuland & Alice G. B. ter Meulen (eds.), The representation of (in)definiteness, 98–129. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. Search in Google Scholar

Pesetsky, David. 2000. Phrasal movement and its kin. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. Search in Google Scholar

Renzi, Lorenzo. 1997. The structure of the noun phrase. In Martin Maiden & Mair Parry (eds.), The dialects of Italy, 162–170. London: Routledge. Search in Google Scholar

Rohlfs, Gerhard. 1968. Grammatica storica della lingua italiana e dei suoi dialetti; Morfologia [Historical grammar of the Italian language and dialects: Morphology]. Einaudi: Torino. Search in Google Scholar

Tisato, Graziano. 2009. AIS Digital atlas and navigation software. http://www3.pd.istc.cnr.it/navigais/. Search in Google Scholar

Zamparelli, Roberto. 2008. Dei ex-machina: A note on plural/mass indefinite determiners. Studia Linguistica 63(3). 301–327. Search in Google Scholar

Published Online: 2020-05-13
Published in Print: 2020-05-26

© 2020 Anna Cardinaletti and Giuliana Giusti, published by De Gruyter, Berlin/Boston

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.