Functional Shifts and the Development of English Determiners

Tine Breban

in Information Structure and Syntactic Change in the History of English

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780199860210
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199949601 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Studies in the History of English

Functional Shifts and the Development of English Determiners

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In Present-Day English, the main determiners, the articles the and a(n), are primarily defined as markers of identifiability. Their development is usually described as a process of semantic and contextual generalization moving towards this current meaning. This chapter proposes that the contextual changes can be interpreted as reflections of underlying functional shifts. The development of the and a(n) into specialized markers for identifiability happened at the expense of other, often discourse-related, functions they also conveyed in earlier stages of the language. The chapter studies which functions were lost, and if and how these losses were compensated for, that is, in which other ways these functions came to be expressed. It discusses two compensation strategies: the development of a determiner paradigm consisting of pure identifiers (the articles) and other semantically more contentful determiners; and the use of complex determiners such as the same and a certain to express a combination of functions. This approach offers an integrated perspective on the development of the two articles and other simple and complex determiners in English.

Keywords: determiners; the; a(n); identifiability; identifiers; articles

Chapter.  16490 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics

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