The main goal of the project is to compare the structure as well as the interpretation of the noun phrase in languages with articles and languages without articles. With a few exceptions, it is standardly assumed that languages without articles have a phonologically null (i.e. unpronounced) article, so that the difference between English "The stone broke the window" and Russian "Kamen' razbil okno" is essentially phonological, the article being null in Russian. The project hypothesizes that there are more substantive differences in both the syntax and the semantics of noun phrases in languages with and without articles. In particular, an important piece of structure that is present in the noun phrase of languages with articles and is missing in languages without articles. The project will explore a number of cross-linguistic generalizations where articles seem to play a crucial role and attempt to explain how they follow from the hypothesized structural difference. Some of the phenomena involved in the generalizations include question formation, relative clause formation, adjectival placement, negation interpretation, free word order, number morphology, null pronominal subjects, superlatives, tense, and nominal complementation.

A goal of this research is to show how one salient property of a language--the presence or absence of articles--accounts for a wide range of seemingly unrelated phenomena in that language. This research will thus contribute to a view of language as a complex system in which small changes in one area have significant ramifications throughout the grammar. The project will involve several subdisciplines of formal linguistics (syntax, morphology, semantics, typology) and, given the nature of the generalizations under investigation, will have important consequences for several fundamental domains in linguistic theory. The research will also inform work in language acquisition and neurolinguistics, as articles are typically absent in early child speech and in the speech of some aphasics. Independent of the theoretical contributions, the project will contribute data on numerous understudied languages, for example American Sign Language, Native American languages, as well as languages of Asia and Africa.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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William J. Badecker
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University of Connecticut
United States
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