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

Synchronic variation and diachronic change in the expression of indefinite reference: evidence from historical German

  • Svetlana Petrova EMAIL logo


The present article discusses the semantic and discourse-pragmatic properties of different competing types of indefinite noun phrases in Old High German, the earliest attested period of German. In particular, it investigates the behavior of indefinites marked by sum, ein and various interrogative-based determiners, with respect to properties considered constitutive of specific indefinites from a theoretic and cross-linguistic perspective. Upon analyzing newly retrieved corpus data, the paper shows that already at the beginning of the attestation, all marked types of indefinites in historical German violate basic conditions of specificity, understood in terms of any of the relevant notions distinguished in the literature. This result rejects previous scenarios according to which marked indefinites in historical German are correlates of specific reference and challenges the explanation of the diachronic development of ein from a numeral towards an indefinite determiner via an assumed separate, intermediate stage during which it assigns referential-specific interpretation to the noun phrase.

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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