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Folia Linguistica Historica II/l pp.

3553 Societas Linguiitica Europaea, 1981

In this paper I will discuss the seemingly universal process by
which the numeraV'pne' becomes a marker for Singular-indefinite
nouns. Such a development is attested independently in Germanic,
Romance, Mandarin, Sherpa, Hungarian, Neo-Aramaic, Persian,
Turkish and various Amerindian and Austronesian languages.
It is
also a hallmark of all Creole languages, a fact which underscores
the human-universal nature of this feature (Bickerton, 1975). I will
suggest that this development proceeds via a number of steps, and
will use mostly data from Israeli Hebrew to illustrate the early
first step of this development. The same early step is attested in
all Creoles, in Mandarin, Sherpa, Turkish, Neo-Aramaic, Persian and
others. An intermediate stage in this development may be found
in some Romance languages, such s Spanish and Italian. While
French, English and German represent the latest, perhaps the
terminal stage along this diachronic continuum.
Since this development in Israeli Hebrew isrecent and unrecogniz-
ed by traditional grammarians, who do not distinguish between
the various sublevels of the Israeli speech continuum (Biblical,
Mishnaic, Talmudic, literary, informal, etc.), one must stress that
the Hebrew data here pertain only to the least-formal native-
speakerdialect I refer to s "Street Hebrew". It is a dialect spoken
An earlier Version of this paper was written while I was a research fellow
with the Stanford-NSF Language Universals Project in 1975. Ihave initiaJly
benefited from helpful comments and suggestions frora Erica Garcia, Dwight
Bolinger, Edith Moravcsik, Joseph Greenberg, Joan Kahr, Susan Steele,
Merritt RuWen, Gad Ben-Horin and Amnon Gordon. More recently I bene-
fited from a scintillating evening with H^i Rose, perhaps in spite of himself.
For some cross-lingviistic details, see Givon (1976a).
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by native Speakers in informal contexts, among friends and inti-
mates or at casual street encounters. This dialect is in some sense
a 'Creole', having been developed by first-generation Speakers out
of variable, considerably Pidginized input of non-native speech.
Street Hebrew, like Creoles, thus represents the first, earliest stage
in the development of One' s an indefinite marker, where it is
used only to mark referentiell-indefinite nouns.
Although it has been traditionally assumed that the indefinite
nouns goes unmarked in Hebrew (s it indeed does in Biblical
Hebrew), a brief scrutiny of Street Hebrew will reveal that the
numeral One' in its masculine or feminine forms is used to intro-
duce referential-indefinite nouns into discpurse. However, even in
this least-opaque context of all, the Zo0ica%-referential subject
of a real event in the past, Street Hebrew (s well s all other
languages using One' s a referential-indefinite marker) makes a
pragmatic distinctioii s to whether the referentiality
dentity') of the subject 'really mattered', or whether it was
iincidental, and the real issue was the subject's type. Thus, contrast
(1) Referential: ba hena ish-xad etrnol ve-hitxil le-daber ve-hu . . .
came here man-owe yesterday and-started to-talk and-he
man came in yesterday and started talking and he . . .'
(2) Attributive: ba hena ish etmol, lo isha!
came here man yesterday not woman
*A man came here yesterday, not a woman!'
The presentative formula in (1), with VS syntax,
introduces a
new referential argument into the discourse in subject position,
and that argument remaiiis salient, it is 'talked about'. The subject
of (2) is logically just s referential, but pragmatically its exact
identity is incidentalio the communication. Rther its type member-
ship or generic properties is the gist of the communication. In Street
For a geiieral discussion of referentiality, see Givon (1973l) and Jacken-
doff (1972). . . . . '
For details of the.pragmatics of the VS .word-qrder in.Israeli Hebrew,
see Givon (1976b). . . . . .
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Hebrew, One* in its reduced, de-stressed form
is obligatorily
used in (1) but cannot be used in (2).
The same thing holds with the plural 'some' :
(3) Beferential: ba-u hena faima-anashim etmol ve-hityashv-u ve-hitxil-u . . .
came-PL here sowe-men yesterday and-sat-PL and -started-PL
*Some men eame over yesterday and s t down and started... *
(4) Attributive: ba-u hena anashim etmol, lo nashim !
came-PL here men yesterday not women
*Men eame here yesterday, not women!'
Again, the use of 'some' in (3) is obligatory in Street Hebrew, but
it cannot be used in (4). And the same is true with the feminine
version of One', s in:
(5) Beferential: ba-a hena isha- etmol ve-amra she-...
came-F here woman-one yesterday and-said-F that-
wbman came over yesterday and' said that. ..'
( ) Attributive: ba-a hena isha etmol, lo yalda!
came-F here woman yesterday not girl
woman came here yesterday, not a girl!'
One should note that when other referentiality-inducing modifiers
are used with the noun, one may dispense with the numeral/quanti-
fier. Thus, consider the use of possessives, adjectives and relative
modif iers s in:
(7) ba hena x&ver( -xad) sheli etmol ve- ...
came here friend ( One) mine yeterday and-...
A friend of mine came here yesterday and . . .'
*The reduction and suffixation from the quantified expression
iah exad One man' to the less-marked indefinite ish-xad'* man', is a natural
consequence of stress-loss on the quantifier, which is in turn an equally
predictable consequence of the aemantic depletion of *one' into an existential
quantifier. For a general discussion of these processes in the development
of bound morphology, see Givon (1971, 1974)* The reduction may, of course,
be partial, since it is still in the middle of developing. The same is true for
the feminine axat > -xat.
The stress Variation on this quantifier is of some interest. As the WH-
pronoun *how many?' the stress is penult ( kama) . As a quantifier it is sup-
posed to be 'more correct* s an ultimate stress ( kama) , but I suspect the
less formal street dialect would tend toward the penult stress again. This
would suggest that the ultimate reduction from 'quantifier' to 'indefinite*
is likely to go: kama > kam-.
I owe Amnon Gordon the obseryation that at least for some Speakers
the use of these referentiality-implying modifiers is in complementary dis-
tribution with the use of OneV*some'. The grammar is obviously not fully
settled at this point, since in my speech (7), (8) and (9) are acceptable with
or without -xad.
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(8) ba heim etmol ish zriken (-xad) vo-...
came here yesterday man old (one) and- ...
*An old man came here yesterday and ...'
(9) ba hena etmol ish (-xad) she-pagashti lifney harbe shanim ...
camo here yesterday man (one) that-I-met before many years .. .
man I mot many years ago came here yesterday...'
This is not altogether surprising, since the development of One' and
'some' s indefinite or existential markers stems precisely
from the fact that s quantifiers they also imply referentiality/exis-
tence. Restrictive, definite modifiers automatically presuppose
Confining the discussion for the moment to logically-referential
objects of non-modal verbs in sentences referipg to real events in
the past, one finds here the very same distinction between a
io^ica%-referential object whose specific identity matters in the
narrative, s against a logically-referential object whose specific
identity doesn't matter, but only its type matters. Let me illustrate
this with an example. Suppose I describe buying a book, using
the past tense; then proceeding to read it and commenting on its
quality. The book was introduced into the discourse for the first
time s the object of 'buy', and is thus referqntfatndefinite; But
further, its specific identity maiters. in the following discourse, it
remains a topic. In such a case Street Hebrew Would use the refer-
ential-indefinite marker One', s in:
(10) ; . .axarey she-gmarti la-avod, yaradti la-xanut '-'>.
after that-finished-I to-work descended-I to-the-shop '
'. . .After I finished working, I went down to the shop
ba-tsad ha-sheni
shel ha-rexov, ve-kaniti sefer-a?oci,
in-the-side the-other of the-street^and-bought-I book-one
across the street and I bought a book,
ve-az halaxti ha-bayta ve^karati oto ve-hu haya metsuyan ...
and-then went-I to-home and-read-I it and-it was excellent
and then I went hrne and read it and it was excellent. . .'
I will discuss here only accusative objects, since this is the major object
Position where indefinite nouns abound. For an extensive discussion of this,
see Givon (1975a). . ' . , . '
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Dispensing with One' in such a context would sound odd to the
native Speaker of Street Hebrew. On the other hand, supposed one
bought a book indiscriminantly, without paying attention to its
specific identity and the rest of the story never mentions that
book again. One then engaged in the action of 'book-buying', and
although the book is logically just s referential s in (10) above,
Street Hebrew would not use the referential-indefinite marker in
such a case. Thus consider:
(11) .. .axarey she-gamarti la-avod, yaradti la-xanut
after that-finished-I to-wprk descended-I to-the-shop
*.. .After I finished working, I went down to the shop
ba-tsad ha-sheni shel ha-rexov ve-kaniti sefer,
in-the-eide the-other of the-street and-bought-I book
across the street and I bought a book,
ve-az halaxti ha-bayta ve-axalti ve-halaxti 1-ishon ...
and-then went-I to-home and-ate-I and-went-I to-sleep
and then I weht hrne and ate and went to sleep . ..'
A story such s (11) is, of course, more plausible with a paper, since
one habitually buys a paper, usually the same type, whose specific
identity is thus, in terms of real-world pragmatics, less likely to
be an issue.*
Let us now turn to environments where a truly logical contrast
between 'referential' and 'non-referential' uses of nouns has been
traditionally observed (see discussion in Givon, 1973), and where in
Street Hebrew and all other languages using One' to mark the
referential-indefinite noun 'one' is again used s the marker of
Object nouns under the scope of negation may be interpreted
referentially or non-referentially. And further, s shown in Givon
(1975a), referential nouns under the scope of negation niust be
definite. Nbn-referential objects of negated verbs in Street Hebrew
Needless to add, one could always eonstruct a special pragmatio context
in which the identity or particular date of the paper mattere more, and in
that case the difference between 'paper' and 'book' disappears. Such would
be the case, for example, if one collected old editions and hae dropped into
a tore specializing in those in search of a particular issue of a particular
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are jnarked by a special morpheme a f roughly meaning 'any', and
the use of this morpheme is obligatory within certain bounds.
Thus consider:
(12) lo kaniti a f sefer etmol (non-ref)
not bought-I a ny book yesterday
*I didn't buy any book yesterday
(13) *lo kaniti sef er-xa d etmol (*ref-indef)
not bought-I book-one yesterday
(14) lo kaniti et-ha-sefer ha-hu etmol (ref, def)
not bought-I ACC-the-book the-that yesterday
I didn't buy that book yesterday'
Sentence (13) is ungrammatical due to the pragmatic restriction
barring referential-indefinite nouns from the scope of negation
(Givon, 1975a). But the naked noun, without a f or -xa d, may be
indeed used non-ref erentia lly under the scope of negation, s in:
(15) lo kaniti sef er etmol, kaniti iton!
not bought-I book yesterday bough-I paper'
*I didn't buy a book yesterday, I bought a paper!'
There are, however, two contexts in which the numeral exa d in
an unreduced form, may appear with non-referential nouns. The
first is an emphatic context, s in:
(19) lo kaniti afilu lo sefer exa d sham!
not I-bought even not book one there
*I didn't buy even a single book there!'
\ .
The reduced, unstressedsuffixal-o^wicannotbesubstituted for exa d
in such a context, again illustrating its ref erentia l Status. The
second context is pronominal, where one could indeed getan option-
al reduction in subject nouns, though seemingly not in object
nouns. Thus:
(20) ol-xa d lo ba hena
even-one not came here
*Nobody came here'
(21) af exa d lo ba hena (same gloss s (20) above)
(22) lo raiti af exa d sham
not I-saw even one there
*I didn't see anyone there'
(23) ^lo xaiti a -xa d sham
What suggests to me that perhaps the reduction of exa d > -xa d
in (20) above is spurious, is the fact that in VS syntax, when the
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subject is not sentence-initial, the reduction is not possible. Thus,
compare (20) and (21) above to:
(24) lo ba hena af exad (same gloss s (20))
(25) *lo ba hena ai-xad
It thus seems that it is still the numeral exad which functions s
the indefinite, non-referential pronoun in all these instances, rather
than the referential-indefinite marker -ocad.
So far we have dealt only with non-referential objects under the
scope of negation. Referential objects of negated verbs in most
languages tend to be definite, a fact that arises from the pragmatics
rather than the mere logic of negation. Put in simple terms, lan-
guages tend to have objects of negated verbs s either non-referen-
tial or referential
defimte, but seem to systematically exclude
referential-indefinite nouns from this eiivironment.
This is moti-
vated by the pragmatic use of negative sentences on the background
where the corresponding affirmative has already been mentioned
(or is assumed to be contemplated by the hearer), so that the refer-
ential arguments are not introduced into the discourse in the
negative sentence for the first time. Given this, it is only natural
that the reduced suffixal -xad, which markes referential indefinites
in Street Hebrew, is unacceptable under the scope of negation.
(26) *lo kaniti eefer-xad eham
not I-bought book-one there
Sentence (26) is even awkward under an external Interpretation,
where the unmarked indefinite s in (16) ispreferred. However, notice
that Hebrew, like English, allows a referential-indefinite Inter-
pretation of the object in such construction with the help of a
reference-inducing relative clause, s in:
(27) hi lo kar'a sefer-xod she-ha-more himlits alav, ve- ...
ehe not read book-one that-the-teacher recommended it, and- .. .
*She neglected to read a book whieh the teacher recommended, and . . .'
However, in both English and Hebrew, at the text-count level,
there is an overwhelming tendency to prefer an alternative strategy
For an extensive discussion of the pragmatics of negation in language,
eee Givon (1975a).
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to (27), and present the reierential-indefinite first in an affirmative
sentence, such s an existential, and then negate it s a definite-pro-
noun. Thus:
(28) haya eefer-atftd she-hamore himlits alav, aval hi lo kar'a , ve- . . .
was book-one that-the-teacher recommended it, but ehe not read it, and...
'There was a book the teacher recommended, but ehe didn't read it and...*
One way or another, the reduced suffixal -xad distributes only
where a referential Interpretation of the indefinite is possible.
Non-referential indefinite nouns in this context may be marked
by a compound pronominal form, s in:
(29) a. raita miahehu shm ?
you-saw someone there
Did you see anyone there?'
b. raita mashehu sham?
you-saw something there
'Did you see anything there?'
c. hi halxa le-an-shehu etmol?
she weht to-somewhere yesterday
'Did she go anywhere yesterday?' .
An alternative marker, used in the presence of a head noun,
involves the WH pronoun eyze Vhich?', s in:
% .
(30) ba hena eyze ish etmol?
came here which man yesterday ?
'Did some man come here yesterday?'
These compound pronominal forms are etymolgically analyzable s,
roughly: mi-she-hu
what-that-he ^(be)', ma-ahe-hu 'what-that-it (be)',
le-an-she-hu *to-where-that-it (be)', respectively.
Here a compound pronominal form is also possible and may be substi-
tuted for the simplex eyze 'which' in (30), such s eyze-she-hu 'which-that-
he/it (be)'. Further, eyze by itself may be used s a suppletive substitute
. . yesterday
Much. like the English gloss with 'some', in (ii) carries with it some sense of
de-emphasis of the referentiality of 'man', although strictly speaking it is
obviously referential. This reinforces the view that 'referentiality' is not
always a binary distinction, but may Stretch on a pragmatic scale, whereby
in Hebrew -xad is the most referential, eyze occupies a middle position and
mishehu is the least referential.
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The feeling imparted by this form is somehow of 'semi-referentiality'.
That is, in (30) the Speaker is somehow more committed to believing
in the possibility that some specif ic individual was indeed involved,
while in (29) he is much less committed.
The contrast between
some- and any- in English is roughly of the same type, s in:
(31) a. Did you see someone there? (more referential)
b. Did you see anyone there? (less referential)
The reduced, suffixed -xad may mark indefinite nouns in this
context, but then they are iriterpreted referentially, and in this case
a restrictive relative modifier seems preferable, to reinforce the
referential reading. Thus consider:
(32) raita ish-xad she-amad bapina ha-zot lifney xamesh dakot ve- .. . ?
you-saw man-onetf>hat-stood at-corner the-this before five minutes and-
'Did you (by any chance) see a man who was standing at this corner
five minutes ago and . . . ?'
Again, it is possible to substitute here eyze for -xad,
* but this will
once more resirit in a seeming decrease in the 'expectations of
referentiality' by the Speaker. Thus:
33) raita eyze ish she-amad sham ve . . . ?
you-feaw which man tht-stood there ahd- ... '
'Did you see some man who was. Standing there and . . . ?*
This is another environment in which nouns do not have to be
interpreted referentially. When a non-referential reading of indef-
inite nouns is used in this environment, the same set of compound
WH-based pronouns s in yes-no questions, above, are used.
(34) a. im tire sham mishehu, az. . .
if you-see there anyone, then,
'If you see anyone there, . . .'
It is probably unwise to say that in the 'non-referential* Interpretation
s in (29) the Speaker has zero expectations s to a specif ic, referential indi-
vidual being involved. It is perhaps best .to say that his/her expectations
there are the lowest.
I owe this observation to Gad Ben-Horin (in personal communication).
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. b. im tire sham maahehu, az. . .
if you-see there anything, then
'If you ee anything there,. . .'
c. im hi telex leunehehu, az. . .
if ehe goes anywhere, then
*If ehe goes anywhere,. . /
Similarly, eyze plus a heacl noun may be used here s in yes-no
questions, presumably with the same increase in expected referen-
tiality s discussed above. Again, marking nouns with -xad will
impart a referential Interpretation in this context, and will most
appropriately require a relative modifier to reinforce this Inter-
pretation. Thus:
(35) im tire sham teh-xad im searot adumot umishkafayim . . .
If you-see there man-one with hairs red and-glasses . . .
you see a man there with red hair and wearing glasses, . . .'
For some Speakers, such s myself, the unmarked use of indefinites
in this context, even under a non-referential Interpretation, is
(3.6) *im tire sham ish, az . . .
if you-see there man, then . . .
For others such usage is acceptable in contrasting the type 'man'
with, say, Vornan'.
One way or another, again -xad marks only
the referential indefinite.
Object nouns under the scope of verbs such s Vant',
look for',
etc. may be in the past or present progressive tense and with
no other modalities involved interpreted non-referentially. In
street Hebrew, much like in English, no special morphology is
available to mark the non-referential indefinites in this environ-
ment, s was available under negation, yes-no questions and the
hypothetical conditional, above. Under such circumstances marking
the .contrast rests entirely on the use of the suffixal -xad with
i:eferentially interpreted nouii. This device is not available in
I owe this observation to Gad Ben-Horin (in personal communication).
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English, where a(n) (*'one') has already spread to all indefinites,
referential s well s non-referential. Thus, consider:
(37) hu mexapes isha,-(a)xat (referential)
he looking-for woman-one
is looking for a (specific) woman'
(38) hu mexapes (lo) isha (non-referential)
he looking (for-him) woman
is looking for a woman' (a member of the type)
(39) ani rotse liknot eeier-xad sham (referential)
I want to-buy book-one there
want to buy a certain (specific) book there'
(40) ani rotse liknot (li) sefer sham (non-referential)
I want to-buy (me) book there
want to buy a book there' (a member of the type)
The optional use of the dative pronoun coreferential with the
subject of 'look for' and 'want' is a curious development. If my
intuition does not^mislead me, these pronouns are inappropriate
in (37) and (39), i.e. when the object is interpreted referentially.
The cluing System may be becoming more elaborate here, though
the ultimate result is far from being .clear.
The use of -xadj-ocat to mark the referentially interpreted object
here is further illustrated by certain facts of pronominalization.
Thus, consider:
(41) hu mexapes lo isha, ve-kshe-hu yimtsa fota az . . . (non-ref)
he looking-for him woman, and-when-he finds fher l then
'He's looking for a woman, and when he finds Ther . . .'
jpne J
The use of these dative pronouns s 'echo' within neutral patterns is
not confined to this syntactic environment, though a certain correlation
of their use with 'less-referential* intent seems to persist. Thus, the verb
'find' is implicative, but one nevertheless gets the contrast between:
(i) hu matsa (lo) isha lifney shana
he found (him) woman before year
* found him a woman a year ago*
(ii) hu matsa (?lo) isha,-(a)xat lifney shana, ve- . . .
he found (?him) woman-one before year, and ...
found a woman a year ago, and . .,'
In (i) it seems that the informational import centers around the fact that he
found himself a woman. And while she obviously must have unique deno-
tation if he found her, that uniqueness of reference seems to be sornewhat
incidental to the communication. On the other band, in (ii) it seems that the
first sentence is somehow an incomplete communication, and that 'woinan'
is introduced s a specific individual so that more will be said about her in
subsequent discourse. Again, if my Intuition does not rnislead me, it is
harder to accept the dative pronoun in the 'more referential' (ii) above.
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In Hebrew s in EngJish it seems that the anaphoric 'definite'
object pronoun can be used here non-referentially. Consider now
the referentially interpreted equivalent:
(42) hu mexapeeish-fa^icoi, wer-kshe-hu yimtsa Jota az (referential)
he looking-for woman-one, and when-he finde /her " j then
'looking for a certain woman, and when he finds /her 1 . . .
Thus, the presence of -xadj-xat rules out the use of the indefinite,
non-referential pronoun.
The future tense is one modality under the scope of which nouns
may be interpreted non-referentially. In Hebrew again the numeral
'one' is involved in signalling the referentiality contrast here. Con-
sider first the Situation of subject nouns:
(43) tavo elexa isha rnaxar ve- . . . (ambiguous)
w l-come to-you woman tomorrow and- . . .
A woman will come to you tomorrow and . . .'
(44) tavo elexa isha,-(a)xat maxar ve- . . . ('more referential')
will-come to-you woman-one tomorrow and
certain woman will come to you tomorrow and . . .'
In the context of, say, a prediction from a fortune teuer, the
unmarked subject in (43) seems to be ambiguous s to whether the
Speaker intends it referentially or not, while the One'-marked
subject in (44) tends toward a more referential Interpretation,
though it is not clear whether this tendency is complete. It thus
seems that in this context the contrast has not yet taken firm
A somewhat different Situation obtains for object nouns under
the scope of future, though again the Situation seems to be in
somewhat of a flux. Consider the following set:
(45) -ata tir'e seret maxar (non-referential)
you will-see movie tomorrow
'You'll go to the movies tomorrow'
(46) ata tir'e seret maxar, ve-. . . (ambiguous)
you will-see movie tomorrow, and ...
*You'll go to see a movie tomorrow, and . . .
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(47) ata tir'e seret-ccod maxar, ve ...(mostly referential)
you wl-see movie-one tomorrow, and . . .
*You'll see a certain movie tomorrow, and .. .'
In (45), the fact that the message is complete suggests that the
main Import involves the fact of seeing a movie any movie.
The object in (46) is equally unmarked, but here the continuation
introduces the possibility that the communicative import of the
message involves the specific identity of the movie which you will
see. Thus, if (46) was completed with, say: ". . .and this particular
movie is going to change your life completely", then a referential
Interpretation of the unmarked indefinite noun will result. However,
if instead the continuation will make it clear that the specific
identity of the movie is not central to the communication, s in
say: ". . .afterwards you'll meet with friends and go to dinner
together", then tlie tendency will be to Interpret the unmarked
indefinite noun non-referentially. Finally, in (47), where the noun
is marked with One', there is a stronger tendency to Interpret the
object referentially, and thus to assume that the continuation is
likely to hinge upon the specific identity of the movie.
If the numeral One' has indeed developed s a marker of referen-
tial indefinites only, then one would expect that both generic
predicates and generic subjects in Hebrew will not allow its use.
Which is indeed evident from:
(48) ha-arye hu melex ha-xayot
the-lion is king-of the-animals
'The lion is the king of the animals'
(49) arye zo xaya torefet ehe- . ..
lion is animal predator that- ...
lion is a carnivorous animal that.. .'
(50) *arye-a%wi hu melex ha-xayot
lion-one is king-of the-animals
(51) *Bxy&-xad zo xaya torefet ehe- . ..
lion-one is animal predator that-. . .
Here with the help of a restrictive modifier one could of course force
out a referential Interpretation of the subject, s in e.g.:
arye-xad she-raiti etmol bayaar hu melex ha-xayot
lion-one that-I-saw yesterday in-the-forest is king-of the-animals
*A lion I eaw yesterday in the forest is the king of the animals
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(62) ha-iah ha-ze hu more
the-man the-this is teacher
"Thie man i a teacher'
(63) ?ha-ish ha-ze hu more-xad
The-man the-this is teacher-one
(64) ha-ish ha-ze hu more-xad she-pagashti etmol (referential predicate)
the-man the-this is teacher-one that-I-met yesterday
*This man is a teacher I met yesterday ...'
As shown above, at the earliest stage of the rise of One' s an
indefinite marker for singular nouns, it marks only referential-
indefinite nouns. At the other band of the scale of diachronic
development, one finds languages such s English, German and
French, where 'one' (or its reduced de-stressed reflexes) marks
both referential and non-referential nouns. Thus consider:
(65) John is a teacher (non-ref)
(56) John is a teacher I met last year (ref)
(67) I am looking for a book on math, do you have any? (non-ref)
(58) I am looking for a book on math, but I can't find it (ref)
(59) A horse is a four-legged animal.. . (non-ref)
(60) A horse I was riding yesterday feil and ...(ref)
(61) We're going to see a movie tomorrow, we're not yet sure which (non-ref)
62) We're going to see a movie tomorrow, we got the tickets in advance (ref)
63) If a man shows up, let him in, but if a woman, don't (non-ref)
64) If a man shows up wearing a f unny hat and he gives you the password . . .
(65) I didn't read a book, I read a magazine (non-ref)
Diachronie development is normally gradual. Since there are
many grammatical environments in language where non-referential
nouns may appear, one would like to know whicb ones and in
what Order pioneered the movement from the early (Hebrew,
Creole) stage where 'one' marks only referential-indefinite nouns,
to the later (perhaps terminal) stage represented by English, where
One' marks non-referential nouns in all environments. A number
of Romance languages, such s Italian and Spanish, may indeed
represent an intermediate stage. In predicate-noun environments,
only referential nouns are marked by One', thus recapitulating the
Hebrew/Creole Situation. Thus, contrast the Spanish data below
with* the English (55) and (56) above:
(66) Juan es profesor de idiomas (non-ref)
John is professor; of languages
'John is a language professor'
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(67) Juan es un profeasor que encontre el ano pasado .. . (ref)
John is one professor that met-I the year past
*John is a professor I met last year . . .'
Similarly, under the scope of the FUTURE modality, the use of
One' is restricted to referential objects, other means such s the
plural are used to mark non-referential objects. Thus, contrast
the following pair with the English (61) and (62) above:
(68) Manana nos vanios para visitar un amigo (ref)
tomorrow us we-got for visiting one friend
'Tomorrow we're going to visit a (specific) friend'
(69) Manana nos vamost para visitar amigos (non-ref)
tomorrow us we-got for visiting friends
'Tomorrow we're going to visit friends/a friend'
The expression of generic subjects prefers the definite article in some
cases, s in specie^ names etc., but already allow the indefinite
One' for less-unique nouns/types. Thus consider:
(70) El cabaUo es un animal muy grande que . . . (non-ref; DEF article)
the horse is one animal very big that *
'The Jiorse is a very big animal that. . .'
(71) ?E7n caballo es un" animal muy grande que . . .
(72) Un amigo es alguien que te quiere (non-ref; One')
one friend is someone that you loves .
friend is someone who loves you'
Finally, in many environments Spanish already approximates the
'terminal' stage of English, where One' marks non-referential indef-
inites s well. Thus consider:
(73) Estamos buscando a una criada que nos esta esperando aqui (ref)
we-are looking-for one maid that us is waiting here
We are looking for a (specific) maid that's"waiting for us here'
(74) Estamost buscando a una criada que sea buena (non-ref)
we-are looking-fpr one maid that be good
'We are looking for good maid (be ehe any)'
(75) no vi a un hombre, vi a une mujer (non-ref plus pragmatically non-ref)
no saw-I DAT one man saw-I DAT one woman
*I didn't see man, I saw woman'
(76) luego compre un libro y despues volvi a la casa (pragmatically non-ref)
then bought-I one book and later returned-I to the house
'Then I bought a book and afterwards I went back hrne*
At the very least, one obtains here a hierarchy with three scale-
(77) predicate nouns > generic subject > object in modal scope
object in future object in NEG scope
scope indefinite object
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The points at the top of the scale are the last to admit One' s
a marker of non-referential indefinites, wJbile the bottom of the
scale admits One' into the non-referential indefinite paradigm more
readily. While mueh more cross-language and language specific
work needs to be done in Order to firm up this hierarchic scale,
one can make two general predictions about its ultimate properties:
(i) It is likely to be an implicational hierarchy in the normal
Greenbergian predictive sense, whereby if a language shows
One' marking non-referential npuns belonging to environment
(x) on the scale, it will also show in marking them in all environ-
ments lower than (x) on the scale;
(ii) The scale is in some sense one of 'degree of referentiality with
the environments higher on the scale (to the left) in spite of
all environments being non-referential being somehow less
refereniial than those lower on the scale (to the right).
Logicians are likely to cringe at sc ling referentiality by degree,
but natur^l language tends to exhibit gradations and scales, and
diachronic change tends to spread lpng such scales.
, . , . . . , '
' . ' . " . . . ^ - . .
11.1. Why a quantifier
There arev.of course> other waysinv human language of marking
referential indefinite nouns aside from,the numeral One'. In^other
words, languages may introduce a referential argument into dis-
cour e for the ?8.' by'other means, such s wbrd
order (Classi-
cal Chinese,
Ute) or other markers which do not < etymologically
derive from
one'. But the high incidence of unr lated languages
independently developing One',. :'ones'~ and'some' s refereiitial-
indefinite markers is striking and requires rexplariation. The gradual
scale aside, what one sees here is a progression that may be sum-
riiarized s: :
; . . " ' .
(7 8) quantification > referentiality/ ^ geriericity/
denotation connotation
For some detail on Mandarin, see Givon (197 5b), with the data curtesy
of Charles Li. -~
Price (197 1) traces these three stages in French, from the Latin quanti-
fier unus One', through the Old French uns which marked only referential-
indefinite nouns, to the present day un/une which are unrestricted indefinite
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One may Interpret such a progression s another instance of
semantic bleaching along a markedness/implicational space:
(i) Having quantity implies existence/reference.
(ii) Having existence/reference implies having connotation/gener-
The two transitions in (78) above may be viewed s each removing
one more marked semantic feature of One', the first step bleaching
out quantification, the second bleaching out existencejreferejice.
In order for the semantic bleaching process ('generalization')
outlined above to take place realistically in human language, one
must obtain a relatively high text frequency of the use of One' to
introduce referential arguments for the first time into discourse.
But what is so natral about that ? The answer to this may be sought
' , . =
(i) Other reference-inducirig modifiers, such s definites/deictic,
possessives and other restriktive modiffers do not only induce
referentiality, but also definiteness, i.e. the pointing toward
an argument that the Speaker assumes
the hearier can identify
: ,,
: :
. -,, .....
(ii) Quantifying expressions, on the other hand, imply referentiality
but do not imply pnor-acquitintance/familiarity. They are thus
the nly/jniajoi class of iioun-modifiers in the NP that fulfils
the requiremtent for the development of a referential-indefinite
marker/ -:!.\ s ^ ? -;
- ' . - '
11.2. Why referentiality
.;., : ? ' 5 . " ' - t .
Existence, at least'in the universe of discourse, is a precondition
for participatiOn, aition, etc. If an argument is to be introduced
into discourse for the first tim'e, its referentiality/existence must
first be established, either by definite recourse to prior knowUdge,
or by other means. In many languages,
new referential arguments
are introduced into discourse via existential-presentative construc-
tions using most commonly the verbs 'be' or 'exist' s their pre-
dicates. This is'an explicit way of establishing existence ?referen-
tiality. The se of the numeral is an implicii way, due to the impli-
cation given in (78) above.
For a cross-linguistic discussion of exietentiai-preaentativc caostruc-
tions, see Hetzron (1971).
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11.3. Why One'
When a new referential argument is introduced for the first time
into discourse, the Speaker obviously does not expect the hearer
to identify it by its unique reference. Rather the Speaker first
identifies it to the hearer by its generic/connotative properties, s
one member out of the many within the type. This is a peculiar Situa-
tion, where the Speaker wishes to perform two seemingly conflicting
(i) Introduce a new argument s referential/existing; but
(ii) Identify it by its generic/type properties.
The numeral 'one' rather than other numerals is uniquely
fitting to perform such a complex, contradictory task. First, like
all quantifiers it implies existence/referentiality. But further, in
contrastive use it implies also 'one out of many', 'one out of the group'
or One out of the type'. It thus introduces the new argument into
discourse s both existing/having refereniiality, and s 'member of
type (x)'. And those ai;e precisely the two requirements for the
introduction of a referential-indefinite argument into discourse.
Department of Linguistics
Uniyersity of Oregon
EUGENE, Oregon 97403
a n d ,
Ute Language Program
Southern Ute Tribe
IGNACIO, Colorado 81137
BICKEBTON, D, (1975). "Creolization, Linguistic Universals, Natural Seman-
tax and the Brain", Dept. of Linguistics, University of Hawaii, Honolulu
GIVON, T. (1971). "Historical Syntax and Synchronic Morphology: An
Arhaeologist's Field Trip", Papers from the Seventh Regional Meeting,
An Inquiry into the
, , , _ ^ and Semantics II, New
York: Academic Press. :
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(1974) "Serial Verbs and Syntactic Change: Niger-Congo", in C. Li
(ed.) Word Order and Word Order Change, Austin: University of Texas
(1975a) "Negation in Language: Pragmatics, Function, Ontology",
Working Papers on Language Universals, * 18, Stanford University.
- (1975b) "Universal Grmmar, Lexical Structure and Translatability"
in M. Guenthner-Reutter and F. Guenthner (eds), Meaning and Transla-
tion: Philosophical and Linguistic Approaches, London: Duckworth.
- (1976a) "Definiteness and Referentiality", in J. Greenberg, C. Fergu-
son and E. Moravcsik (eds), Universals of Human Language, vol. 4: Syn-
tax, Stanford: Stanford University Press.
(1976b) "The Pragmatics of the VS Word Order in Israeli Hebrew",
in P. Cole (ed.), Papers in Hebrew Syntax, New York: North Holland.
HBTZRON, R. (1971). "Presentative Function and Presentative Movement",
Studies in African Linguistics, Supplement # 2.
JACKENDOFF, R. (1972). "Modal Structure in Semantic Representation",
Linguistic Inquiry, 3.
PBICE, G. (1971). The French Language: Present and Post. London: Arnold.
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