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On the history of definiteness marking in Scandinavian

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Abstract

The definite article in many European languages has its origin in a demonstrative or a pronoun. The development into a definite article is a typical case of grammaticalization. In this article I will demonstrate that this kind of grammaticalization, like all kinds of grammaticalization, can be explained as a case of reduction through reanalysis at acquisition. In addition to the prenominal definite article shared with other Germanic languages, the Scandinavian languages also have a postposed definite article. In Old Norse the postnominal definite article is a clitic merged as a head in D, while in its modern descendent Norwegian it is an inflectional suffix checking a grammatical feature in the Infl domain, expressing definiteness within the DP according to general principles of agreement. Thus, so-called ‘double definiteness’ (den gamle hesten ‘the old horse.def’) has become possible as an agreement phenomenon. In Old Norse, the clitic cannot trigger definiteness agreement. This change from a clitic to an inflectional suffix is obviously a case of grammaticalization, but it has wider implications than just the change of morphosyntactic status. ON is shown to have had two projections in the D domain (þau in stóru skip ‘those the large ships’). Later the independent definite article inn was lost and replaced by the demonstrative þann>den. As a result (or cause?) its projection was lost, and the postposed article was left without a free-word counterpart. This, combined with phonological reduction and semantic bleaching, reduced it to an inflectional suffix.
On the History of Definiteness Marking in Scandinavian
Abstract
Both Old Norse and modern Norwegian, have a postposed definite article. The ON definite
article is a clitic merged as a head in D, while in MN it is an inflectional suffix checking a
grammatical feature in the Infl domain, expressing definiteness within the DP according to
general principles of Agreement. Thus, the so-called “double definiteness” (den gamle hesten
‘the old horse-DEF’) has become possible as an agreement phenomenon. In ON, the clitic
cannot trigger definiteness agreement. This change from a clitic to an inflectional suffix is
obviously a case of grammaticalization, but it has wider implications than just the change of
morphosyntactic status. ON is shown to have two projections in the D domain (þau in stóru
skip ‘those the large ships’). Later the independent definite article inn was lost and replaced
by the demonstrative þann > den. As a result (or cause?) its projection was lost, and the
postposed article was left without a free word counterpart. This, combined with phonological
reduction and semantic bleaching, reduced it to an inflectional suffix.
2
1. Introduction1
One characteristic feature of Mediavel North Germanic, as well as its modern Scandinavian
descendents, is a postposed definite article. This paper is a study of the changes undergone by
the postposed article in Norwegian, one of the contemporary Scandinavian languages. The
material comes from the Western variety of Mediavel North Germanic, known as Old Norse
(ON), as it was written (and presumably spoken) in Norway and Iceland in the 12th and 13th
centuries, and from the nynorsk variety of Modern Norwegian (MN). I will show that in ON
the postposed definite article was a clitic, while it can be argued to be an inflectional affix in
MN.2 This kind of change is a well documented step on the familiar ‘grammaticalization
cline’ (Hopper and Traugott 2003, Heine 2003: 578-579, and many others). A representative
version of the grammaticalization cline is given in (1), from Hopper and Traugott (2003:7)
(1) content item > grammatical word > clitic > inflectional affix
This cline, and the transitions symbolized by ‘>‘ actually represent different kinds of change:
content item to grammatical word is a morphosyntactic and semantic change, while
grammatical word to clitic and clitic to affix are partly phonological changes, but primarily
changes in the degree of cohesion and independence of the element in question. The cline in
1 I want to thank Werner Abraham, Volker Gast, Elly van Gelderen, and Terje Lohndal for
comments and suggestions.
2 For convenience I will use the term ‘definite article’ for both the ON clitic and the MN
suffix, and for the preposed definite article.
3
(1) should therefore be split in two:3
(2) a. content item > grammatical word
b. word > clitic > affix
A clitic is morphologically less independent from a neighboring word than a (grammatical)
word, and it is more independent than an inflectional affix. This change in cohesion does not
necessarily affect the semantic content or the morphosyntactic function of the element.
In this article I will explain the reduction in independence and increase in cohesion in a
generative (minimalist) framework, and demonstrate what the morphosyntactic consequences
have been for the Norwegian noun phrase. In section 2 I give a brief overview of the forms of
the definite article in Old Norse and Modern Norwegian. Section 3 is a discussion of the
differences between clitics and inflectional affixes. In section 4, the structure of the DP is
introduced and motivated; and the diachronic change is described and explained in section 5.
Section 6 is a conclusion with some general remarks on grammaticalization and
morphosyntactic change.
2. The Norwegian definite article
Table 1 gives the forms of the noun with and without the postposed definite article in ON for
the four cases (Nominative, Accusative, Dative, Genitive), the two numbers, and the three
genders of three regular nouns: hestr ‘horse’, ætt ‘family’, and skip ‘ship’.
3 Andersen (2005) reserves the term ‘grammation’ for the change in (2a), which he sees as a
type of change fundamentally different from those represented by the clines in (2b).
4
Masculine Feminine Neuter
Indefinite Definite Indefinite Definite Indefinite Definite
N hestr hestrinn ætt ættin skip skipit
A hest hestinn ætt ættina skip skipit
D hesti hestinum ætt ættinni skipi skipinu
Sg.
G hests hestsins ættar ættarinnar skips skipsins
N hestar hestarnir ættir ættirnar skip skipin
A hesta hestana ættir ættirnar skip skipin
D hestum hestunum ættum ættunum skipum skipunum
Pl.
G hesta hestanna ætta ættanna skipa skipanna
Table 1: Indefinite and definite nouns in Old Norse
As can be seen from these forms, a definite noun in ON is formed by simply adding the article
to the inflected noun. The one exception is the dative plural, to which I will return in section
3. The noun and the article both have their separate inflection (cf. Table 3 in section 3).
MN no longer has case inflection of nouns.4 Table 2 shows the indefinite and definite forms
of MN nouns of the three genders.
4 In standard bokmål and in certain varieties of spoken Norwegian there is still a genitive
ending in –s, which has become a phrasal affix (as in English). This can only be inserted at
the right edge of a DP, following any definite inflection: hestens ’the horse’s’, ættas ’the
family’s’, skipets ’the ship’s’.
5
Masculine Feminine Neuter
Indefinite Definite Indefinite Definite Indefinite Definite
Sg. hest hesten ætt ætta skip skipet
Pl. hestar hestane ætter ættene skip skipa
Table 2: Indefinite and definite nouns in Modern Norwegian
The plural forms here reveal that the definite form is not formed by simply adding an element
to the indefinite form. The plural noun itself may undergo changes under the definite
inflection. Further such changes will be demonstrated in section 3.
On the basis of these observations, I will claim that the definite forms in ON (Table 1) consist
of an inflected noun plus a clitic, while the MN nouns (Table 2) are inflected for definiteness,
in other words, that a change has taken place from clitic to affix.5 It may be, and has indeed
been, claimed, e.g. by Lahiri et al. (2005a, 2005b), that the Modern Norwegian definite article
is still a clitic.6 This of course depends on the definition, but it is a fact that the article has
different cohesion properties and different syntactic properties at the two stages of
Norwegian. They are in fact so different that I will claim that we are dealing with a clear case
of a change clitic > affix.
5 At a still earlier stage the predecessor of the definite article was a separate word which could
follow the noun, as witnessed by one 6th century runic inscription: halli hino ‘stone this’.
6 The main argument of Lahiri and her colleagues is that the definite article in MN, unlike e.g.
the plural inflection, does not affect the tone of the word. A word that becomes bisyllabic
because of the plural inflection gets accent 2, 2hestar ‘horses’, while the same word in the
definite singular keeps accent 1, 1hesten ‘the horse’.
6
3. Clitic vs. Affix
There is a vast literature on clitics, e.g. Zwicky 1977, Zwicky and Pullum 1983, Klavans
1982, 1985, Sadock 1991, Halpern 1998, Riemsdijk 1999, and, most recently, Anderson 2005,
to name a few. Discussions of clitics based on Norwegian data are Enger 2003 and Faarlund
2005. Most of those works offer sets of criteria to distinguish clitics from the “neighboring”
categories of affixes and grammatical words. I am not going to discuss all of those criteria and
definitions here. Instead I will extract a set of criteria which separate cltics from affixes, and
which characterize the postposed definite articles in ON and MN. This will demosntrate that
the former has clitic properties while the latter has affix properties. I have found no criteria or
definitions in the literature that would categorize the definite articles at the two stages in the
opposite way. The distinction between clitics and words will not be discussed here. The
relevant criteria are the following:
i. Clitics may have free word counterparts, affixes do not.
For Zwicky (1977) this is a definitorial criterion of a special clitic. Anderson (2005:12),
however, says that the possible existence of a free word counterpart is an arbitrary lexical fact
about the language, which has nothing to do with the clitic status of the item in question. This
criterion, however, falls out very differently with regard to the definite article at the two
stages of Norwegian.
In both ON and MN there is also an independent definite article, used when the noun is
preceded by an adjective. In ON this article may have the same form as the postposed article,
(or it may be preceded by an h). Compare the four case forms of ‘the old horse’ in (3) to ‘the
horse’ in the second column in Table 1:
7
(3) N. inn gamli hestr
A. inn gamla hest
D. inum gamla hesti
G. ins gamla hests
In MN, the definite article used with adjectives is etymologically unrelated and synchronically
distinct from the postposed article.
(4) Masc. den gamle hesten ’the old horse’
Fem. den gamle ætta ’the old family’
Neu. det gamle skipet ’the old ship’
Pl. dei gamle hestane ’the old horses’
Note incidentally that the independent article co-occurs with the suffix. This is an important
part of the change in question, and I will return to it in section 5. It can easily be seen that this
independent article is a different item from the suffixed article. This is immediately obvious
from the forms in the feminine and the plural, but even in the masculine and neuter singular
there is no direct historical link between the two. The suffixes –en and –et derive from ON –
inn and –it, respectively, while the independent article is a weak form of the distal
demonstrative (spelt in the same way), which derives from the ON demonstrative þann / þat.
(I will return to this development below.)
ii. Clitics do not normally cause morphophonological changes in the host.
When a clitic is added to a word, the word itself, the host, remains phonologically unaffected.
8
This is different from inflection, where in many languages (especially Indo-European ones)
the stem undergoing inflection also changes. From Table 1 we see that the definite article in
ON is simply added to the inflected form of the noun: hestar – hestarnir ‘the horses’. There
is, however, one exception to this generalization in the ON paradigm, namely the dative
plural, where we find the forms hestunum etc. instead of the expected *hestuminum. This is
then a potential problem for the clitic analysis of the ON definite article. Note, however, that
this is a single instance among 17 distinct cells of definite forms.7 Nor is it absolute, since we
do find examples of the full dative plural form in early Old Norwegian texts: stæinomenom
‘the stones’, and an intermediate form: hundumnum ‘the dogs’ is also found (Noreen
1903:280). The standard form hestunum etc. may be due to a low-level phonological rule.
When we contrast the ON situation with that of MN, we find that now a change in the host is
the rule rather than the exception. Since there is no more case inflection, the relevant forms
are the plural. Table 2 shows that the final –r of the indefinite plural in the masculine and
feminine regularly disappears in the definite form:
(5) hestar + ne > hestane
ætter + ne > ættene
Another change in the noun under the MN definite inflection is the reduction of syllables
through contraction. A bisyllabic stem may be reduced to monosyllabic through the loss of the
vowel of the final unstressed syllable:
7 There are altogether 24 cells of definite forms, but various case synchretisms, and the gender
synchretisms in the dative and genitive plural reduce this to 17 distinct cells.
9
(6) soge + a > soga ‘the story’
esel + et > eslet ‘the donkey’
gyger + a > gygra ’the giantess’
This contraction is not found in ON; nouns ending in an unstressed vowel would have the
definite article added with the loss of the initial i of the article, (7a), and words corresponding
to those now ending in an unstressed –el or –er would be monosyllabic in the indefinite form,
(7b).
(7) a. saga + in > sagan ‘the story’
b. gýgr + in > gýgrin ‘the gientess’
In MN there is a class of Latin loanwords ending in –um. In the definite inflection these lose
the Latin suffix: museum ‘museum’ – muséet ‘the musem’. This type of words did not exist in
ON.
iii. No arbitrary gaps.
Among the clitics there is a certain group, first termed special clitics by Zwicky (1977), which
have their own special syntax. This means that the clitic attaches to a certain class of hosts. In
the case of the definite article, this is the noun. This means that as long as the definite article
is a clitic, we expect it potentially to attach to any noun, which also seems to be the case. An
inflectional affix, on the other hand, may fail to attach to certain items within the class. In MN
certain masculine nouns already ending in –en tend to avoid the definite form, even if other
nouns in the same environment would require it. Contrast the words eksamen ‘exam’ and
10
dagsorden ‘agenda’ to ”normal” (near) synonyms like prøve ’test’ and sakliste ‘agenda’.
(8) a. Eg greidde heile eksamen
I passed whole exam
‘I passed the whole exam’
b. Eg greidde heile *prøve/prøva
I passed whole test/test-DEF
‘I passed the whole test’
c. Kva står på dagsorden
what is on agenda
d. Kva står på *sakliste/saklista
what is on agenda.DEF
‘What’s on the agenda’
In ON no such gaps seem to exist.
iv. Clitics may have their own inflection, while affixes are inflections
Clitics are separate lexical items and as such they can have their own grammatical features
and overt inflection, as in the tense inflection of the clitic forms of ‘have’ in English: I’ve -
I’d. The ON definite article is a typical example of this state of affairs, as can be seen from
inspecting the data in Table 1. For example, a masculine noun, such as hestr ‘horse’, may
have the case and number suffixes shown in Table 3. The corresponding suffixes of the
definite article are shown in the same table. The reason that the suffixes are partly different is
that the definite article, being a determiner, has the adjectival declension, which is different
11
from the nominal declension.
Noun Determiner
Sg. PL. Sg. Pl.
N -r -ar -r -ir
A -Ø -a -n -a
D -i -um -um -um
G -s -a -s -ra
Table 3. Case and number suffixes in nouns and definite articles.
(Note that the r of of the Nom.Sg. and the Gen.Pl. is assimilated to the preceding n of the
article root.)
From Table 2 it can be seen that the definite suffixes in MN are –en, -a, -et, and –ne. These
have no identifiable common root, and can not be analyzed as a stem+suffix.
Properties i.-iv. indicate that clitics are elements of the syntax, and I will assume that they are
merged in the syntax in the same way as independent words are, and then brought into contact
with their hosts by means of the syntactic operations of the language. We do therefore not (at
least not in the case of the ON definite article) establish a separate category of ‘phrasal
affixes’ with their fixed position within the phrase, e.g. second position, as does Anderson
(2005:83ff.). This may be a well motivated analysis for some kinds of clitics, e.g. the second
position clitics of South Slavic, but for other clitics, such as the Old Norse definite article, the
situation is different. They always attach to the same host, the noun, regardless of the position
12
of this noun within the DP.
The phonological combination of the clitic and its host will be considered adjunction
following movement of the host. Affixes, on the other hand, are interpreted or uninterpreted
features. The uninterpreted ones receive their features through agreement.
There has thus been a reanalysis in the history of Norwegian, changing definiteness clitics
into definiteness inflection.8 The major change is the change in morphological type of the
definite article, its cohesion and dependence have increased. This is a change subsumed under
the more general concept of grammaticalization, (cf. 2b).
4. Structure of the Old Norse DP
A theoretically and empirically well motivated structure of Scandinavian nominal phrases has
been presented by Marit Julien (2005). The analysis below is a simplified and slightly
modified version of hers, with the omission of details and complications that are irrelevant in
this context. Instead of Julien’s NumP and nP, I will assume one Inflectional projection, IP,
and head movement of N to I, where the noun then checks its features for number and other
categories, as we will see. Adjectives are phrases merged in the specifier position of an α
projection above IP.
Old Norse DPs contain one functional projection in addition to the ones assumed for
Scandianvian by Julien and others, as witnessed by examples such as the following:
8 For an equivalent analysis (but in a different framework) for Swedish, see Börjars 1998.
13
(9) a. þau in stóru skip
those the large ships (Hkr I.437.13)
b. þeir hinir íslenzku menn
those the Icelandic men (Hkr II.281.6)
c. sá hinn helgi líkamr
that the sacred body (Hóm 126.28)
In (9a-c) there is a preposed definite article (h)in- preceded by a demonstrative9. The
demonstrative and the definite article are separate heads in their respective projections. It has
been suggested (e.g. by Abraham 2007b and Elly van Gelderen p.c.) that the demonstrative is
in the specifier position of D, with the article as the head. There are, however, both theoretical
and empirical arguments in support of the headedness of the demonstrative. The
demonstrative is as likely a head as the definite article, it never has phrasal structure, and
according the Head Preference Principle (Gelderen 2004:11), it should be analyzed as a head
if at all possible.
The Head Preference Principle
Be a head rather than a phrase.
9 The complete paradigm of the demonstrative ‘that’ is shown below. Note that there are two
roots, the one starting with s- ocurs only in the masculine and femninine nominative singular,
and was later lost. All modern forms descend from the root in þ-.
Singular Plural
Masculine Feminine Neuter Masculine Feminine Neuter
N sá þat þeir þær þau
A þann þá þat þá þær þau
D þeim þeiri því þeim þeim þeim
G þess þeirar þess þeira þeira þeira
14
An empirical motivation for the D-head status of the demonstrative is the fact that it can be
preceded by other material, which then has been moved to Spec-DP from lower positions
within the DP. In (10c-d) there are examples of DPs with both a demonstrative and an article,
preceded by material in Spec-DP.
(10) a. n†kkurr sá maðr
some that man
some (such) man (Hkr II.304.14)
b. ambátt sinni þeirri þrœnsku
concubine.D his that Throndish
‘his concubine from Throndheim’ (Hóm 115.12)
c. kvistr sá inn fagri
twig that the beautiful
‘that beautiful twig’ (Bárð 3.8)
d. fé þat it mikla ok it góða
money that the big and the good
‘that great sum of money’ (Nj 97.25)
I will refer to the projection headed by the definite article as the Reference Phrase (RP), since
this is where the referential properties of the DP are determined (Dyvik 1979:63, Faarlund
2004:56f.), such as specificity. The higher D projection is then headed by the demonstrative,
which may have deictic properties and uniqueness interpretation. This difference in referential
properties and semantic function of the two determiners is also seen by the fact that when two
adjectives are used to modify the same noun, the article is repeated, but not the demonstrative,
as in (10d) and (11), where the singular hverr and the verb show that the question is about one
15
single person.
(11) Hverr er sá inn mikli ok inn feiknligi?
who is that the big and the threatening
‘Who is that big and threatening (man)?’ (Nj 277.27)
The definite article in R has two forms in ON, it may be an independent word, as in (9) and
(10c-d), or it may be an enclitic on the noun: féit ‘the money’, kvistrinn ‘the twig’. The
structure of a simple definite noun such as hestrinn ‘the horse’ (nom.), is as in (12).
(12) DP[RP[Rhestr-inn [IP[Ihestr [NP[N hest]]]]]]
The noun moves via I to R, where it adjoins to the article. This article is a lexical item, but it
lacks independent word status (for phonological reasons), and becomes a clitic on the noun.
Without the I to R movement, the derivation would crash, since the determiner needs a host to
lean on.
When a modifying AP is present, as in (9), the situation is different. In a definite DP the
adjective is preceded by the independent definite article, most commonly without a preceding
demonstrative. As we have seen, this article may have the same (segmental) form as the clitic,
or it may be preceded by an h-.
(13) a. hinum kærsta sýni
the dearest son.D (Hóm 1.2)
16
b. it fyrra sumar
the former summer
‘last summer / the summer before’ (Hkr II.281.11)
c. inum sárum mnnum
the wounded men.D (Hkr II.503.13)
The structure of (13a) can now be represented as (14a), and that of (9a) as in (14b).
(14) a. DP[RP[Rhinum [αPkærsta [IP[Isýni [NP[N sýni]]]]]]]
b.
DP[Dþau RP[Rin [αPstóru [IP[Iskip [NP[N skip]]]]]]]
The question is of course why the independent inn is possible only with adjectives, and not
with single unmodified nouns, why is *inn hestr (with the intended reading ‘the horse)
impossible in ON?10 The only explanation I can offer at this point, is that there is a selectional
restriction in the independent word inn requiring it to merge with αP. On the other hand,
unlike MN and the other contemporary Scandinavian languages, there is no absolute blocking
of N movement past an adjective if there is a clitic present in R:
(15) a. Orminum langa
serpent.D-the long
‘The Long Serpent (a ship’s name)’ (Hkr I.414.10)
b. andans helga
spirit.G-the holy
‘of the Holy Spirit’ (Hóm 31.23)
10 An unintended reading is ’the other horse’, where hinn is an adjective ‘the other’.
17
5. The change
The subsequent development of the definiteness marking in Norwegian involves reductions
both of the definite article inn and the demonstrative . I have already shown how the
cliticized definite article has changed from clitic to affix, thereby reducing its status as an
independent morphemic unit. The cliticized definite article has also undergone a phonological
reduction; the root vowel of the article, -i- has been reduced to a schwa, or been lost
altogether, and the final –t of the neuter form of the article has been lost (but kept in the
standard orthography). The neuter form is therefore reduced from /it/ to /ə/. The independent
definite article inn has undergone an even more drastic reduction: it is totally lost from the
language, there is no more an independent counterpart to the postposed article. As argued in
section 3, clitics may have free word counterparts, inflectional affixes do not. Now we see
that the free word counterpart disappeared in connection with the transition from clitic to
affix. The demonstrative was also phonologically reduced; its contemporary descendent is
the word den11. The change from a demonstrative determiner to a definite article also involves
semantic bleaching; the features DEMONSTRATIVE and DISTAL are lost as well.
Like the ON independent inn, the new independent definite article den /dən/ can only be used
in front of adjectives, never followed directly by a noun.
(16) a. dən lange ormen
the long serpent
11 The masculine/feminine den /dən/ is a continuation of the ON accusative masculine þann.
The MN neuter form is det /də/, and the plural for all genders is dei /dəĭ/, with a short
diphthong (there are other varieties of this vowel, but it is always short and unstressed).
18
b. *dən ormen
The ON demonstrative also has another descendent in MN, namely the modern
demonstrative, which is spelt the same way as the definite article, but the pronunciation is
different, it has a full vowel and may be stressed. Note the contrast (17a-b) in MN and (18a-b)
in ON:
(17) a. *də skipet
the ship
b. det skipet
that ship
(18) a. *it skip
the ship
b. þat skip
that ship
The combination of a demonstrative and an article is impossible in MN, (19a), as opposed to
the ON situation, (19b).
(19) a. *dei dəi store skipa
those the large ships
b. þau in stóru skip (=9a)
The R-projection, which was headed by the definite article inn in ON, is no longer active in
19
MN, since its head is lost.12 As a result (or as a cause?!),13 the demonstrative took over the
role of the independent definite article. We can see this in Norwegian manuscripts from the
early 13th century. The examples in (20) and (21) are all from the same early Norwegian
manuscript. In (20), the old definite article hinn is used, while in (21) we see how the old
demonstrative is used alone before the adjective. The examples in (22) are modern
Norwegian equivalents of the ones in (21), using the same definite article historically derived
from the demonstrative.
(20) a. hit þriðja sinni
the third time.A (Hóm 120.31)
b. hinn helga Ólaf konung
the holy King Olaf.A (Hóm 113.20)
c. hinn illi þræll
the bad slave.N (Hóm 150.4)
(21) a. þeim helga manni
the holy man.D (Hóm 119.2)
b. þann háleita sigr
the superior victory.A (Hóm 113.27)
c. þess illa manns
the bad man.G (Hóm 115.15)
12 It is an inportant theoretical question whether this should be taken to mean that the
projection is still there but inert, or whether it means that is is no longer acquired by speakers.
The answer to this has no direct consequences for the argument in this paper, but see Lohndal
2007 for a discussion in a similar context.
13 What is a cause and what is an effect in this case – and in numerous other cases of language
change – is really a chicken-or-egg question. Obviously, reanalyses may take place in either
order and/or direction in invidual speakers.
20
(22) a. den heilage mannen
the holy man
b. den framifrå sigeren
the superior victory
c. den dårlege mannen
the bad man
To sum up so far: Both the definite article and the demonstrative underwent various processes
of phonological reduction, reduction of morpheme boundary, and semantic bleaching. The
result is that the postposed definite article is no more a clitic, but a suffix; the independent
definite article has disappeared and been replaced by a semantically and phonologically
reduced form of the old demonstrative; this new independent article can no longer co-occur
with a demonstrative, and the R-projection is no longer active in the Norwegian DP.
Before going on to discuss the morphosyntactic implications of this change, a few words
about the semantic bleaching of the postposed definite article may be in order. One striking
difference between the use of the definite article at the two historical stages, is that in ON it
seems to be missing in many instances where it does have definite reference and where it
would be required in MN. Leiss (2000) shows convincingly that the definite article is
primarily used in contexts where an indefinite interpretation otherwise would be the natural
one: ‘Der postponierte bestimmte Artikel signalisiert Definitheit in syntaktischen
Indefinitheitsumgebungen [The postposed definite article signals definiteness in syntactic
indefiniteness environments]’ (Leiss 2000:42). This principle can be illustrated by means of
the following examples:
21
(23) a. sat konungr ok dróttning í hásæti
sat king.N and queen.N in high-seat
‘The King and the Queen were sitting in the high seat’ (Hkr I.338.13)
b. þeir sjá nú skipin fyrir sér
they see now ships.A-the before themselves
‘They now see the ships in front of them’ (Nj 66.6)
In (23a), konungr ok dróttning is an animate subject, and therefore expected to be definite. A
definite article would therefore be redundant. In (23b), the definite article is necessary to
avoid an indefinite reading of the inanimate object skip ‘ship’. The defintie article is thus the
marked option. When used, it also seems always to have the same referential function, that of
expressing unique and specific reference, uniquely picking out one particuar referent among
several possible ones (Dyvik 1979). In MN the definite article is much more frequent, and the
referential function is often less obvious, as in the following expressions:
(24) a. Eg tok bussen til byen
I took the bus to town (‘some bus’)
b. Når det blir kvelden
when it becomes the evening (‘when evening comes’)
c. Hesten er eit nyttig dyr
the horse is a useful animal (generic)
There are also semantically unmotivated alternations:
(25) a. i jula
22
in the-Christmas ‘at/during Christmas’
b. før jul
before Christmas
In some cases speakers are in doubt whether to use the definite form or not. This happens
when the two forms are homonymous, as in the case of neuter nouns ending in –e, since the
final –t of the article is not pronounced. Thus we find both (26a) and (26b) in writing. The
reason is that in speech there is no difference, and speakers have no clear intuition about
whether or not to use the definite form in such cases..
(26) a. Det er tilfellet
b. Det er tilfelle
that is (the) case
The consequence of these changes is a change in the marking of the category DEFINITE. In ON
this was represented by a clitic or its free word counterpart merged in R. It was not an
inflectional category, and there was no definiteness agreement in the noun.14 In MN,
definiteness is a grammatical feature in I. The definite article has thus been reanalyzed (and
further grammaticalized if you like) from being a lexical item merged in R, to a grammatical
feature in I. This is ‘grammaticalization downward’, in contrast to the general principle of
grammaticalization proposed by Roberts and Roussou (2003). The problem with their
principle, however, is that since grammaticalization involves a change from clitic to affix, it
14 Atrtributive adjectives had a special inflection for case, number and gender when occurring
in definite NPs, called the “weak inflection”, as opposed to the “strong” inflection used in
indefinite NPs. Whether or not the alternation between a weak and a strong inflection should
be considered “definiteness agreement” is a question I will leave for now.
23
must also involve diachronic movement ‘downwards’ in those cases where a clitic in the D-
domain is reanalized as an inflectional affix, which is typically merged in the I-domain. This
should not be a theoretical problem, however, since there is no reason to assume that
reanalysis, as a diachronic process, is subject to synchronic principles of UG, such as c-
command, etc.
Synchronically, the noun now moves to I to check its features for number and definiteness,
and thus it receives definite inflection. The noun stays in I, since there is no longer a clitic in
R to cause it to move further up. The definiteness inflection of MN nouns is shown in Table 2
in Section 2. The structure of a simple definite noun in MN, such as hesten ‘the horse’, is
shown in (27), which should be contrasted to the structure of the ON counterpart in (12). Now
the combination hest{+DEF} in I is spelt out as the definite form hesten (pronounced /hestn/,
with a reduced article). The definiteness feature in I is valued by a corresponding feature in D,
which does not have to be phonologically expressed.
(27) [D{+DEF} [IP[Ihest{αDEF}[NP[N hest]]]]
The D head may also be occupied by a demonstrative, where {+DEFINITE} is an inherent
feature value. The demonstrative then acts as a probe finding its goal in the noun.
(28) a. den hesten
that horse
b.
DP[Dden{+DEF}[IP[Ihest{αDEF}[NP[N hest]]]]]
Another way of lexicalizing {+DEFINITE} in D, is by means of the preposed definite article,
24
which is a phonologically and semantically reduced form of the demonstrative den. As we
have seen, this can only be followed by an adjective, and it is required before an adjective and
a definite noun. Its function thus corresponds to the ON independent definite article inn, cf.
(3) and (4) above. The structure of (29a), a definite DP with an attributive adjective, is as in
(29b).
(29) a. den gamle hesten
the old horse
b.
DP[Dden{+DEF} [αPgamle{αDEF} [IP[Ihest{αDEF}[NP[N hest]]]]]
In much previous work on Scandinavian DPs it has been assumed that N moves to D to adjoin
to the definite article also in the modern languages, not only in ON. In ON, a definite noun
can precede the adjective, as we have seen in (15). An analysis whereby a definite noun
moves to D in MN requires an explanation of why this is blocked by the presence of an
adjective. This question has received much attention by Scandinavian syntacticians (Delsing
1993, Sandström and Holmberg 1994, Vangsnes 1999, to name a few). Most attempts to
explain it have failed on empirical and/or theoretical grounds. It is clear that the attributive
adjective is a phrase, and not a head, and therefore the blocking can not be due to an
intervening filled head position. If we assume that N never moves beyond IP, however, this is
no problem, since the adjective is merged in a projection above IP. Another possible
approach is that of Julien (2005:30), who instead of head movement of N assumes phrasal
movement of nP to spec-DP. In the presence of an AP in the αP, this movement is blocked,
and the noun therefore has to remain behind the adjective.
We have so far seen three clear syntactic consequences of the changes in the definite article,
25
the loss of RP, as illustrated in (19), the introduction of the so-called “double definiteness”,
whereby definiteness is expressed both in the noun and in D, as witnessed in several of the
above examples, cf. (4), (16a), (17b), (22), (28a), (29a), and the loss of postnominal
adjectives, (15) and (30. It has been pointed out by several linguists working on Scandinavian
DPs that the two definite articles have different referential and semantic functions: “n [the
postposed definite article] encodes specificity while D [the preposed article] encode
inclusiveness” (Julien 2005:38). “[W]hile the suffixal article seems to bring about specificity
interpretations (…), the pre-nominal determiner is responsible for uniqueness and a deictic
reading” (Roehrs 2006:73). “while the postposed article affix in Modern Norwegian appears
to mark definiteness, in the wide sense, the preposed article seems to be a set-choice marker”
(Abraham 2007a:xx). Taken together, these statements seem to convey the insight that the
present-day preposed article is not only phonologically and etymologically a continuation of
the ON demonstrative, but also semantically and referentially, while the suffixed article
continues the ON clitic, of which it is also a phonological and etymological continuation.
Another syntactic difference between the ON and MN DP is the loss of postnominal
adjectives. In ON we find, besides structures with the adjective preceding the noun, as in most
of the relevant examples so far, also adjectives following the noun. This is in fact the most
frequent pattern in ON (Faarlund 2004:68ff.). In (15) there are examples of an adjective
following a noun with the cliticized definite article. Indefinite nouns may also precede the
adjective:
(30) a. rn mikinn
eagle big
‘a big eagle’ (Gunnl 4.8)
26
b. h†f stór
seas big
‘the ocean’ (Hkr I.9.2)
Even if these nouns are indefinite, they can be argued to move to the lower R, and thus
precede the adjective. These patterns are now disallowed in MN. It would be natural to see
this as a consequence of the inactivation of R, which used to host the now missing definite
article -inn.
6. Concluding remarks on grammaticalization
The diachronic process of grammaticalization is often depicted as a cline, as in (1) above. The
change under discussion here corresponds to the last step on this cline. Grammaticalization
theorists claim that changes like this are predicted by the theory, which also predicts
unidirectionality (Heine 1992, 2003, Heine et al. 1991, Haspelmath 1999, 2004, Hopper and
Traugott 2003). For a critical assessment of these claims, see Faarlund 2007.
The problem with regarding linguistic change as subject to certain principles of change, such
as grammaticalization, is that it then has to be assumed that language has its own inherent
principles independently of the speakers, their minds, and their experiences. This creates a
logical problem, since the infant acquiring language can have no access to the previous
history of the language, and therefore will have no way of knowing “which way to reanalyze”.
Therefore in principle anything can happen through reanalysis, within the limits of UG and
inter-generational communication.
27
However, since certain kinds of change are more common and more frequent than others,
leading for example to the apparent unidirectionality of grammaticalization, some other
factors than just blind grammar building on the basis of input must be involved. In the child’s
analysis of the linguistic input, it is much more likely for an element to be ignored and
therefore omitted from the new grammar, than for something to be added at random. This
does not exclude the possible addition of new (semantic or phonological) material, but such
addition will require specific circumstances, for example a previous loss of other material.
The loss of material, on the other hand, may happen any time unconditionally.
One type of loss at acquisition is the loss of semantic content, as in the transition from
demonstrative to definite article. Another type also demonstrated in this paper is the loss of
morpheme boundaries. The three types of elements, words, clitics, affixes, correspond to three
degrees of boundary, which can be symbolized with slashes: / for affix boundary; // for clitic
boundary; and /// for word boundary. Morphosyntactic reduction then consists in the loss of one
or more slashes. In terms of acquisition and reanalysis, this means that the child misses some of
the boundary cues, and interprets the input string as having a weaker boundary (fewer slashes,
stronger cohesion) at a certain point. In this symbolism the change from the cliticized article to
the inflectional affix can be described as a reduction of the number of slashes symbolizing the
morpheme boundary. Thus grammaticalization and its apparent unidirectionality can be seen as a
result of omission at acquisition.
Old Norse Sources
Bárð (1350): Vigfússon, Guðbrandur (ed) Barðarsaga Snæfellsass [Nordiske Oldskrifter 27].
Copenhagen 1860.
Gunnl (1300): Jónsson, Finnur (ed) Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu. Copenhagen 1916.
28
Hkr (1300-1700): Jónsson, Finnur (ed) Heimskringla: Noregs konunga sögur af Snorri
Sturluson I-IV. Copenhagen 1893-1901.
Hóm (1200): Indrebø, Gustav (ed) Gamal norsk homiliebok. Oslo 1931.
Nj (1300): Jónsson, Finnur (ed) Brennu-Njálssaga (Njála). Halle 1908.
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Thesis
Master's dissertation focusing on the diachronic development of Övdalian and its position within the Scandinavian dialectal landscape. This first italian-written research on Övdalian offers an overview of the phonological, morphological and syntactical features of the dalecarlian vernacular in an historical and typological perspective. Degree evaluation: 110/110 cum laude
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This chapter deals with the diachronic development of the post-nominal definite article in Icelandic and relates the change inside the nominal structure to other changes in the information structure of the clause. It therefore addresses two crucial aspects related to the nature of functional heads: how functional heads in the nominal expression are related to functional heads in the clause, and how grammaticalization in one domain can influence other domains.
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The suffixed definite article in Modern Norwegian developed from a clitic in Old Norse. Such a change creates interesting theoretical questions as to how we can account for this difference in phrase structural terms, and how such a change manifests itself. This paper discusses exactly this question and argues that this change can be viewed as grammaticalization "down the tree" from a high D head to a low n head. Furthermore, it argues that functional categories, like the definiteness category, are non-universal. That is, they are not part of Universal Grammar, but only arise when the child discovers them in the input. The paper also addresses some movement puzzles emerging in Old Norse and Modern Icelandic which have remained a theoretical puzzle. I will propose an analysis of this where I argue that we need to separate Modern Icelandic and Old Norse and thus give two separate analyses.
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This book is about the grammar of clitics. It considers all points of view, including their phonology and syntax and relation to morphology. In the process, it deals with the relation of second position clitics to verb-second phenomena in Germanic and other languages, the grammar of contracted auxiliary verbs in English, noun incorporation constructions, and several other much discussed topics in grammar. The book includes analyses of a number of particular languages, and some of these - such as Kwakw'ala (nullKwakiutlnull) and Surmiran Rumantsch - are based on the author's own field research. The study of clitics has broad implications for a general understanding of sentence structure in natural language.
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Grammaticalization refers to the change whereby lexical terms and constructions serve grammatical functions in certain linguistic contexts and, once grammaticalized, continue to develop new grammatical functions. Paul Hopper and Elizabeth Traugott synthesize research from several areas of linguistics in this revised introduction to the subject. The book includes substantial updates on theoretical and methodological issues that have arisen in the decade since the first edition, as well as a significantly expanded bibliography. Particular attention is paid to recent debates over directionality in change and the role of grammaticalization in creolization. First Edition Hb (1993): 0-521-36655-0 First Edition Pb (1993): 0-521-36684-4.
Chapter
While the distinction between independent words or phrases on the one hand and affixes on the other is often fairly clear, many languages have various formatives which are hard to classify as one or the other. Such formatives are often called clitics. As we shall see, the various elements which are called clitics form a heterogeneous bunch, at least superficially, and exactly what is meant by “clitic” varies from study to study, though there are two predominant senses.