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131108Re: Articles and the Givenness Hierarchy

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  • wayne chevrier
    May 2, 2005
      "David J. Peterson" nevesht:
      >In my languages, I've traditionally avoided things like definite
      >and indefinite articles because: (a) I don't like them, and (b) I
      >can't seem to avoid making them work like English (or Spanish).
      >The result is that definiteness/indefiniteness isn't marked with
      >articles in any of my languages. Nevertheless, something like
      >definiteness (i.e., how salient the information presented should
      >be to the hearer) is marked in every language, though differently
      >for each. By trying to avoid the problem, I know doubt unwittingly
      >reproduced English-like constructions.
      >To that end, we recently read a paper in my pragmatics class
      >which presented a theory about what the authors call givenness.
      >The reference is:
      >Gundel, J., N. Hedberg, R. Zacharski (1993). Cognitive Status and
      > the Form of Referring Expressions in Discourse. Language,
      > Vol. 69, 2:274-307.
      >(It's available from jstor.org.)
      >Anyway, I thought the *idea* presented was neat, and might be
      >useful to conlangers, so I thought I'd give you the gist of it.
      >[Note: I'm presenting this as an "if-this-were-true-it-might-be-
      >cool" theory. The paper and theory have *many* problems. In
      >fact, my pragmatics professor is writing a response to the article,
      >since apparently no one else has critically reviewed it since it's
      >original publication.]
      >Okay, the givenness hierarchy. Essentially, the givenness
      >hierarchy is a hierarchy of how "in focus" a given NP is. (How
      >is "in focus" defined? You'd be hard-pressed to find an answer
      >to that in the article. Think of it as "most relevant", but with a
      >red flag attached.) This hierarchy has six members, arranged
      >in a particular order. For any given member n, it is assumed
      >that a hierarchical position that is < n will be entailed by n.
      >Additionally, for any hierarchical position that is > n, it will be
      >assumed that n will conversationally implicate *not* n+1, n+2,
      >etc. That's a vague description, but just keep it in mind as
      >we go along.
      >The givenness hierarchy is as follows (going from least to
      >1. Type Identifiable
      >2. Referential
      >3. Uniquely Identifiable
      >4. Familiar
      >5. Activated
      >6. In Focus
      In the Salishan Languages on the Pacific Northwest of North America, there
      are two articles (not counting gender, number, etc.): referential and
      nonreferential. Referential covers 2-6, nonreferential 1 (heavily used in
      negative and hypothetical contexts).
      In many creoles, there are three forms: definite, indefinite, and
      definite: uniquely identifiable to speaker and hearer
      indefinite: uniquely identifiable to speaker
      indeterminate: not uniquely identifiable

      -Wayne Chevrier
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