Inferrable and partitive indefinites in topic position
[Abstract] Indefinite noun phrases can appear in topic position only when they are strong, specific, or discourse linked (Portner and Yabushita 2001). We argue that the type of discourse linking itself also influences the acceptability of an indefinite in topic position. An acceptability rating task demonstrated that partitive indefinites are accepted in topic position, while unlinked indefinites and inferrable indefinites are not. Surprisingly, when the partitive relation was also coupled by an inference, the indefinite behaves like an inferrable indefinite, rather than a partitive, i.e. it was not accepted in topic position. We account for this observation by proposing that the conceptual relation that licenses the inference overrides the contextually given part-whole relation expressed by a partitive. The reason why conceptual relation was found to be weaker than the contextual one needs further research, which is currently in progress.
Dr. von Heusinger received his Ph.D. on the semantics of noun phrases and his Habilitation on intonation and information structure from the University of Konstanz. He was Professor for Linguistics in Stuttgart and since 2012 he is Professor for Linguistics in Cologne. Since 2017 he is also the director of the Collaborative Research Center “Prominence in Language”. His main research interests are in theoretical and comparative linguistics with a focus on the semantic and pragmatic categories of nominal expressions and their syntactic, morphological and phonological encodings (definiteness, specificity, information status, focus and topic structure, discourse management). His current research projects include the discourse properties of definite and indefinite noun phrases, indefinite demonstratives, Differential Object Marking in Romance from the perspective of language contact, and partitivity in Altaic languages.