Article Use Across Languages: an OT Typology

  • Henriëtte de Swart
  • Joost Zwarts


Many languages use definite and indefinite articles to signal the referential status of individuals in conversational space. But articles are not necessary to set up or maintain discourse reference, as witnessed by the fact that languages can also get by with bare nominals. Similarly, we find that many, but not all languages use a morphological singular/plural contrast to distinguish reference to atoms from reference to sums. We assume that an awareness of discourse reference and atomic/sum reference is part of universal human cognition. The balance between economy considerations (favoring bare nominals) and the desire to convey (discourse) referential distinctions determines whether these cognitive operations are reflected in the form nominals take in the language. A range of possible OT grammars is discussed, and exemplified. The cross-linguistic semantics of bare nominals is related to these grammars. Bare nominals have the interpretations that are not blocked by other, more specific forms.
How to Cite
de Swart, H., & Zwarts, J. (2019). Article Use Across Languages: an OT Typology. Proceedings of Sinn Und Bedeutung, 12, 628-644.