Form-function mismatches in (formally) definite English noun phrases
Towards a diachronic account
School of Oriental and African Studies
This article discusses two classes of so-called ‘weak definites’, arguing that their (definite) form is misleading as to their (non-definite) semantics, and outlining a diachronic explanation for why each of these classes (observable in sentences such as Let’s go to the pub and He came to the bank of a river) should exhibit this particular form-function mismatch. For examples such as the pub the loss of an obligatorily definite interpretation is argued to be the result of a semantic reanalysis such that reference is no longer to a specific entity but to the activity conventionally associated with that entity. For examples such as the bank of a river the mismatch is argued to be a consequence of an incompatibility between the semantics of indefiniteness marking and the semantics of relational nouns, which arises when definiteness marking becomes obligatory in a language.
In: Sleeman, Petra and Harry Perridon (eds.), The Noun Phrase in Romance and Germanic. 2011 vii, 283 pp. (pp. 159–174)