Partitivity in Romance and Beyond

Zurich, 11-13 December 2014


1. Introduction

The category of articles seems to be cross-linguistically rather uncommon, when compared to the frequency of its occurrence in European languages. In fact, in Dryer (2013)'s sample, roughly one third of languages possess articles, and only a few show both definite and indefinite ones. So-called 'partitive articles' are an even more marked nominal feature in the languages of the world, being typical of Romance languages. They are fully grammaticalized, i.e. obligatory with an indefinite nominal in the singular with an intended mass-reading in argument position only in French, but exist in many other Gallo- and Italo-Romance varieties, e.g., Northern Italian varieties (cf. Berruto 1974, Rohlfs 1968), Franco-Provençal ones (cf. Kristol forthcoming) as well as in Occitan (see e.g. Barthélemy-Vigouroux and Guy 2000 on Provençal), many of them in direct contact with French. In singular indefinite nominals, they unambiguously encode a mass interpretation, i.e. the denotation of the respective nominal as sets of sets of portions, unbounded and unspecified quantities of a substance (cf. Krifka 2013), like in (1a). The partitive article is in opposition to the indefinite article singular, denoting individuals:

(1) a. Je bois                 du                 vin.

          I drink.PRS.1SG  DET.PART  wine

         ‘I drink wine’.

      b. Je bois                 un                 vin.

          I drink.PRS.1SG DET.INDEF  wine

          ‘I drink a (glass of /special) wine.’

This interpretation of singular nominals with partitive articles is comparable to the one of bare singular nouns in argument position in other Romance languages (e.g., Spanish or Romanian, but not necessarily in Brazilian Portuguese, see Kabatek/Wall eds. 2013), Standard German or English, as well as to specific partitive cases in other languages. A typical example is the mass reading of the partitive case as opposed to the accusative in Finnish, denoting the whole set of sets of portions of a substance. This is one of the functions of the partitive/accusative alternation in Finnic languages, which is also employed to encode differences in verbal aspect/actionality, polarity, and quantification (Huumo 2010 inter alia). However, the mass interpretation described above in (1) has to be kept apart, semantically and syntactically, from genuine partitive and so-called pseudo-partitive nominal constructions (Milner 1978, Koptjevskaja-Tamm 2001, Ihsane 2013), which indicate an (un)specified subpart of a definite (partitive) or indefinite (pseudo-partitive) substance, exemplified by (2) for genuine partitive constructions. Here, Romance partitive articles, unlike genuine partitive cases (Koptjevskaja-Tamm 2001) and the ancestor of the Romance partitive article, the Latin preposition de, are excluded (Luraghi and Kittilä forthcoming, Carlier and Lamiroy forthcoming):

(2) Je bois un verre de ce   / du       / (*de du)         vin.

      I drink one glass of this / of.the / of DET.PART wine

      ‘I drink a glass of this / of the wine’.

It is important to bear in mind that, synchronically, nominals introduced by Romance partitive articles have a different semantic interpretation (absence of countability), as well as a different syntactic behaviour from nominals in partitive and pseudo-partitive constructions (denotation of quantities, typically a part-whole relation), and are not to be confounded with them (cf. Milner 1978, Ihsane 2013). Romance partitive articles show a variety of properties which make them unique among the partitive constructions discussed so far. First, only in Romance have partitive elements developed into fully grammaticalized articles, in complementary distribution with other articles (at least in French). Second, Romance partitive articles show an interesting interaction with number marking and declension classes: as argued in Stark (2008), true partitive articles like in (1) are unexpected in varieties with overt number marking on nominals, more precisely in varieties with an 'agglutinative' plural marking like Standard Spanish, unambiguously signalling countability. In this perspective, they can be considered as the morphological exponents of some functional projection inside the articulated Romance DP (F°count, cf. Ihsane 2013, Num°, cf. Stark 2008a, cf. also Cardinaletti/Giusti 2006). Third, partitive articles show an intriguing partial cooccurrence with the partitive en/ne pronominalization (outcomes of Latin INDE, cf. La Fauci and Loporcaro 1995). En-pronominalization in French is possible in all the three constructions described above, as well as in real quantitative constructions headed by numerals. However, nominals introduced by partitive articles are not always and not exclusively constituents pronominalized by en (see Ihsane 2013). Vice versa, in Catalan, such pronominalization is possible despite the absence of partitive articles (Martì 2006; see also Mensching 2008 on Sardinian). Fourth, partitive articles and partitive pronominals like en/ne are one of the core features of the by-now classic typology of Romance languages proposed by Körner (1987), according to which languages with partitive articles (de-languages, such as French and Italian) show, among other properties, no differential object marking, no clitic doubling, pro-drop, and pragmatically-motivated word order, as opposed to a-languages, which possess these features but, crucially, not partitive articles. This classification of Romance languages becomes dubious once micro-variation is taken into account: for example, many Northern Italian varieties show differential object marking (Iemmolo 2011), but up to now, no empirically work is available on a potential correlation or incompatibility with partitive articles in the different dialects. In general, the study of dialects turns out to be indispensable for typological research, since standard languages may not always show natural tendencies because of explicit levelling and conscious codifications (cf. Matras 2004). Many of the structural, typological, historical, and especially areal aspects of partitive elements in Romance and beyond (articles, pronominals, cases) are still far from being understood. In particular, important research gaps are found with regard to their distribution in terms of the ‘what’s where why?’ question (Bickel 2007). Specific aspects that have not yet received enough attention and will be the central concern of the workshop are:

1. What? Do we find partitive articles, partitive pronominals and/or specialized partitive cases etc. in Romance and adjacent varieties? What is their exact syntax (e.g., obligatoriness, syntactic restrictions) and semantic function, i.e. what do they encode? Research on this topic is conducted by Tabea Ihsane on French, Federica Diémoz and Andres Kristol on Franco-Provençal, and Elisabeth Stark in a comparative perspective. Outside Switzerland, this topic is investigated by Cardinaletti/Giusti, Martí, Mensching, and Strobel.

2. Where? Where do we find specialized means for expressing partitivity? What is their geographical distribution in the Romània and adjacent non-Romance varieties? Thus, for example, for Occitan and Franco-Provençal varieties, partitive articles are attested, but no precise studies about their exact geographical and dialectal distribution and their obligatoriness are available. The ALAVAL (cf., an audiovisual atlas of Swiss Franco-Provençal varieties hosted at Neuchâtel, and the ASit (on Northern Italian dialects) are of utmost importance in this context, since they contain relevant data not yet analysed. This question will be empirically investigated focusing on Switzerland, given its unique linguistic landscape comprising Gallo-Romance (French, Franco-Provençal), Gallo-Italian, Romansh and Alemannic varieties. Switzerland has also the added value of a prolonged contact situation between all these varieties, as well as with Romance and Germanic varieties spoken outside the political borders of the country. This will allow the detection of possible grammaticalization and/or contact scenarios (see e.g., Cerruti 2014, Heine & Kuteva 2005 on contact-induced grammaticalization).

3. Why? There are three possible answers to the question of why we find specialized elements to express partitivity: two internal ones, based on correlated grammatical properties, and one external:

  • a. partitive articles correlate with the absence of a sigmatic, agglutinative kind of nominal plural marking, permitting to signal unambiguously countability, and with the absence of alternative morphological means to encode 'mass' (Stark 2008, 2013). In order to test this hypothesis, data on the nominal plural marking in these areas is urgently needed (cf. e.g., Sauzet 2012 vs. Thérond 2002).
  • b. partitive elements might correlate with the absence of strategies for marking individuated (i.e. definite, specific, animate) nominals, such as differential object marking (Körner 1987). This idea is investigated by Giorgio Iemmolo and Elisabeth Stark.
  • c. partitive elements spread due to language contact and might form a 'partitive area' from South-Western Occitan across Southern France up to the Franco-Provençal area, French, Romansh and Northern Italian dialects, as well as Alemannic and Bavarian varieties in contact with them (Glaser 1993).

2. Scientific aims, methods

The overall methodological challenge of this workshop is how to answer the following question: "What methodology provides reliable tools for distinguishing between change resulting from language contact and change resulting from language-internal motivations or factors?" (Frajzyngier 2014: 394). The principled idea underyling the workshop is to overcome the limits of traditional dialectal research confined to respective varieties and to unite, for the first time, in a theoretically- and typologically-oriented way (cf. Kortmann (ed.) 2004) available expertise on Romance and Germanic dialects within the Edisyn network (, focusing on one concrete phenomenon, i.e. the expression of "partitivity", in the perspective of language contact (cf. Heine & Kuteva 2005). The aim of the proposed exploratory workshop, which will be further articulated in the following sections, is to bring together specialists in formal syntax, functional typology, Romance and Germanic dialectology, diachrony, and language contact to discuss the issues outlined above in order to identify concrete areas of empirical and theoretical investigation and set up a long- term collaboration and concrete research projects. On a general level, this workshop aims at investigating the geographical distribution, morphosyntactic properties, and motivations for the presence of partitive elements in Romance and Germanic varieties in contact. More in detail, two aims can be identified. The first aim is to identify where these elements are present in Romance and Germanic varieties of Switzerland, as well as adjacent ones in France, Germany, and Italy, and to fill up the lacunae about their geographical distribution, lacunae to be further explored in collaborative research projects based on available databases, especially inside the Edisyn Network (e.g., ALAVAL for Francoprovençal, DADDIPRO for Occitan, ASiT for Northern Italian dialects, SADS for Swiss German dialects). Crucially, many of the researchers leading these projects will take part in the workshop. The second aim is to establish sound hypotheses about the geographical distribution of partitive elements with regard to their development: did these elements develop (at least initially) independently for language-internal reasons? Did contact play a role (and which one) in the rise and spread of such elements? One crucial idea will be that explicit hypotheses about i) the internal motivation (correlations) of a given morphosyntactic element will permit to formulate predictions about its actual presence or absence in a given variety and ii) that its existence -despite it being unexpected- will give a sound reason to look for language contact as an explanation for it to appear nevertheless.

3. Program

Thursday 11 December:

Distribution and morpho-syntax of partitive elements in Romance

Room HIM-E-1

09.00 Welcome and coffee
09.30-10.00Opening remarksElisabeth Stark & Giorgio Iemmolo (Zurich)
10.00-10.45 Some remarks on partitivity in Ibero-RomanceJohannes Kabatek (Zurich)
10.45-11.30The Syntax of Partitives: Evidence from CatalanNúria Martí-Girbau (Barcelona)
11.30-12.15On de-dislocation (pseudo-partitive) in Romance: Catalan and bexondGuido Mensching (Göttingen)
12.15-13.45Lunch (Sento)
13.45-14.30Looking for partitives in Alpine RomanceGeorg Kaiser & Stefano Quaglia (Konstanz)
14.30-15.15The internal syntax of indefinite dei/delle in Italo-Romance, a micro-parametric approachAnna Cardinaletti & Giuliana Giusti (Venice)
15.15-16.00Partitive phenomena in the Northern Italian varieties in synchrony and diachronyCecilia Poletto & Jacopo Garzonio (Frankfurt a. M. and Venice)
16.00-16.30Coffee break
16.30-17.15L'expression de la partitivité dans les parlers francoprovençaux valaisans de l'ALAVALFederica Diémoz & Andres Kristol (Neuchâtel)
17.15-18.00Partitive article and partitive pronoun in French: focus on the intersectionTabea Ihsane (Geneva)
18.00-18.45Two notes on ne-cliticizationUr Shlonsky (Geneva)

Friday 12 December:

Typology, dialectology, diachrony and language contact

Room SOE-E-8


9.00-9.45 Partitives (zero, light and full) and number marking in Occitan Patrick Sauzet (Toulouse)
9.45-10.30 The 'THESAURUS OCCITAN' Morpho-Syntactic Module Michèle Oliviéri (Nice)
10.30-11.15 Between contact-induced and language-internal changes: the case of partitives in Piedmontese Massimo Cerruti & Riccardo Regis (Turin)
11.15-11.45 Coffee break  
11.45-12.30 Explaining language contact and structural convergence: a function-cognitive approach Yaron Matras (Manchester)
12.30-14.00 Lunch (Kunsthaus)  
14.00-14.45 The expression of part-whole relationships in Indo-European Paul Widmer (Zurich)
14.45-15.30 The diachrony of partitives Silvia Luraghi (Pavia)
15.30-16.15 Structural properties of partitive/quantitative pronouns in Germanic and Romance Thomas Strobel (Frankfurt a. M.)
16.15-16.45 Coffee break  
16.45-17.30 Partitivity in German dialects Elvira Glaser (Zurich)
17.30-18.15 (Un)grammatical and (Un)realized Sjef Barbiers (Utrecht & Meertens Instituut)
19.30 Conference dinner  


Saturday, 13 December

Room HIM-E-1

10.00-12-30Discussion: Looking for a strategy: What do we need to find out, which research projects could be conceived of, which funding instruments?

4. References

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