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BY-NC-ND 3.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter November 2, 2015

Definite article use with generic reference in German: an empirical study

  • Dagmar Barton EMAIL logo , Nadine Kolb and Tanja Kupisch


This study is concerned with the distribution of the definite article in German with plural nominals that have a generic reading . In Standard German, genericity is typically expressed by bare nouns (Tiger sind gefährlich ‘Tigers are dangerous’). Many researchers have claimed that there is variation in article use in the expression of generic reference in German (e.g., Brugger 1993; Longobardi 1994; Krifka et al. 1995; Chierchia 1998; Dayal 2004; Oosterhof 2008), but very little empirical evidence has been provided to support this claim. Besides filling this research gap, we investigate which factors influence the use of articles in plural subjects with generic reference. In doing so, we include linguistic factors (kind-level vs. individual-level predicates) as well as sociolinguistic factors (age and regional background). Results show that with generic plural subjects definite articles are optional but bare subjects are preferred; definite subjects are accepted more often with kind-level predicates than with individual-level predicates.

Published Online: 2015-11-2
Published in Print: 2015-11-1

©2015 Walter de Gruyter, Berlin Boston

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License, which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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