Research Project: DiFuPaRo

Full Title: "Distribution and Function of 'Partitive Articles' in Romance (DiFuPaRo): a microvariation analysis"


1. Description


The project

  • SNSF /DFG research project (SNSF ID: 100012L_172751 and DFG ID: PO1642/8-1). 
  • Project leaders: Elisabeth Stark (University of Zurich) in collaboration with Cecilia Poletto (Frankfurt am Main).
  • Dates: 2018-2021.


Background The project investigates the way similar languages all belonging to the Romance family (i.e. languages derived from Latin) can display variable properties. The linguistic research of the last fifty years has proved that not all logical possibilities are always realized across languages, but the existence of some grammatical properties implies the existence of others in the same language so that linguistic properties can group together in clusters. This is true if we compare languages that are genetically unrelated, like for instance French and Chinese, but even more so across languages that are closely related, like French and Italian. Our investigations will not only target standard Italian and French, but also their vernacular varieties spoken in the geographic area comprising France, Northern Italy and part of Switzerland; they will also include minority Romance languages without a standard like Franco-provençal and Ladin. Our project intends to make use of the data already contained in data bases to compare the morphosyntactic properties and track down how characters of the linguistic system cluster together.

In order to do this, we have selected a typical grammatical property that singles out exactly these languages with respect to Spanish, Portuguese etc. in the bigger domain of Romance. This property concerns the existence of so called “partitive articles”, i.e. forms like du/del, ‘of the’, which can as to their etymology be decomposed into the preposition de/di followed by the definite article, to mark an indefinite element. The reason why we selected precisely this phenomenon is that it is actually rather bizarre that a form containing historically a definite article is used to mark an indefinite nominal expression. Furthermore, partitive articles are typologically highly marked, i.e. rather rare in the languages of the world. However, they are yet quite neglected elements in the research literature and there is up to now no systematic study (besides some work concentrating only either on Standard French or on standard Italian), which relates these elements to the respective Romance systems of nominal determination.


Objectives The aim of the project is to (i) compare the morphosyntactic properties of these languages and track down how characters of the linguistic system cluster together, and (ii) determine how and why partitive articles have evolved and spread through a precise geographical domain (France-Northern Italy-part of Switzerland), but not across all Romance. To do so, we will make use of already existing data bases (OFROM: colloquial Swiss French; ALAVAL: Francoprovençal; ASIt: Northern Italian) and gather data of our own, adopting well-established techniques of field work. The pool of data obtained will enable us to find out how variation can be modelled, in particular how morpho-syntactic means encode semantic properties, and the distribution and function of partitive articles in all vernacular varieties under scrutiny.


Context By studying the evolution and the distribution of this phenomenon across languages, we aim at learning more about the way in which the internal mechanisms of languages operate, in particular how morpho-syntactic means encode semantic properties and how much they can vary.  Besides the gain in linguistic description and analysis, the overall importance of this project lies also in unravelling and documenting unknown features of partially endangered Romance varieties used in informal contexts only, which are highly relevant to understand issues of language contact in the explanation of the distribution of grammatical features in space (Bickel 2007).


2. Subprojects


Subproject A: Gallo-Romance

  • Leader: Elisabeth Stark (University of Zurich)
  • Languages: French and Francoprovençal
  • Corpora: OFROM (Corpus Oral de français en Suisse romande - Oral Corpus of French in the French speaking area of Switzerland) and ALAVAL (Atlas linguistique audiovisuel du francoprovençal valaisan - Audiovisual linguistic atlas of Francoprovençal in Wallis (Switzerland))

Subproject B: Italo-Romance

  • Leader: Cecilia Poletto (Frankfurt am Main)
  • Languages: Italian and Northern Italian Dialects (NIDs)
  • Corpus: ASIt (Atlante sintattico d'Italia - Syntactic Atlas of Italy)


3. Team


Subproject A: Gallo-Romance

  • Elisabeth Stark (University of Zurich): project leader
  • Tabea Ihsane (University of Geneva and University of Zurich): scientific collaborator/coordinator (post-doc)
  • Jan Davatz (University of Zurich): doctoral student
  • Jordan Irrera (University of Neuchâtel): student assistant


Subproject B: Italo-Romance


External partners

  • Federica Diémoz (University of Neuchâtel)
  • Carmen Dobrovie-Sorin (CNRS/University Paris Diderot-Paris 7)
  • Claudine Fréchet (Catholic University of Lyon)
  • Leonardo Savoia (University of Florence)



4. Conference presentations

2018. Elisabeth Stark (invited by Anne Carlier). "Pourquoi des 'articles partitifs' dans les langues romanes ? Approche morphologique comparative". Colloque de recherche en linguistique. University of Lille, France. 26 October.

2018. Tabea Ihsane & Elisabeth Stark. "Presenting DiFuPaRo: Distribution and Function of ‘Partitive articles’ in Romance: A microvariation analysis”. Days of Swiss Linguistics 2018. University of Bern, Switzerland. 12 October.

2018. Tabea Ihsane. "Preverbal subjects with a partitive article: The case of Francoprovençal in the Aosta Valley". Societas Linguistica Europaea (SLE 2018), Workshop Preverbal Indefinite Subjects. University of Tallin, Estonia. 29 August.