Partitivity and Language Contact, Zürich, 25th-26th November 2016

The Workshop in a nutshell

Welcoming renowned scholars and young academics from all across Europe, experts both on partitivity and their respective language(s), the URPP Language and Space and the research group SyNoDe (Systems of Nominal Determination) will be hosting its second workshop explicitly dedicated to partitivity (cf. Partitivity in Romance and Beyond in 2014). The workshop is integrated into the activities of a large international research network on partitivity with more than 50 members from 18 countries. 

Workshop description – idea, topic and scientific aims

During the last decades, interest in the category of partitivity has continuously increased and given rise to considerable advances in research, both from a functional and formal perspective (cf. e.g. Hoeksema 1996, Luraghi/Huumo 2014).

Crosslinguistically, true partitivity, i.e. the indication of an (un)specified subpart of a definite mass or set, can be encoded by a variety of grammatical means. Somewhat generalizing, the most common ones are case markers and adpositions plus definite nominals.

The former are, among many others, typical of Finnic and Balto-Slavic languages, Ancient Greek, Basque, or Russian, where a morphological partitive or genitive case, when encoding true partitivity (for other semantic features also encoded by the partitive/genitive case, see Huumo 2010 inter alia) is in opposition to the nominative/accusative/absolutive, which denotes the whole set of sets of portions of a definite referent (Luraghi/Kittilä 2014, 20):

(1)  Finn.      a. Aino   sö-i                leipä-ä

                         Aino   eat-pst.3sg   bread-part

                        ‘Aino ate some of the bread.’ (or: ‘Aino ate bread.’)

                     b. Aino   sö-i                 leivä-n

                         Aino   eat- pst.3sg   bread-acc

                        ‘Aino ate the (whole) bread.’

 (Luraghi/Kittilä 2014: 19)

Adpositional encoding, on the contrary, is the standard way of encoding true partitivity in most Romance and Germanic languages:


(2)  Sp.            Jaime   comió           mucho   del                pan

                        Jaime   eat-pst.3sg   a lot      of.det.def   bread

                        ‘Jaime ate much of the bread.’

(3)  Germ.       Marie   aß                  drei    Schreiben   vom                Brot

                        Marie   eat-pst.3sg   three   slices          of.det.def     bread

                        ‘Marie ate three slices of the bread.’

However, ‘partitive’ cases and ‘partitive’ PPs are also found in contexts where true partitivity is not expressed, but rather pseudo-partitivity (Milner 1978, Koptjevskaja-Tamm 2001, Ihsane 2013: reference to an (un)specified subpart of an indefinite substance (cf. also the alternative reading of (1a)):

(4)  Fr.            Je bois                un  verre     de      vin.

                        I drink.prs.1sg   a    glass     of        wine

                        ‘I drink a glass of wine’.

or no partitivity at all, but rather a ‘mass reading’. Thus, some languages possess a typologically highly marked nominal element often referred to in the literature as ‘partitive articles’. This is especially true of Modern French, the only variety in which the element is fully grammaticalized, i.e. obligatory with an indefinite nominal in the singular with an intended mass-reading in argument position. Nevertheless, so-called ‘partitive articles’ also exist in many other Italo- and Gallo-Romance varieties, e.g., Northern Italian (cf. Berruto 1974, Rohlfs 1968), Franco-Provençal (cf. Kristol 2014), and Occitan, many of them in direct contact with French (see e.g. Barthélemy-Vigouroux and Guy 2000 on Provençal).

Semantically (cf. Ihsane 2008, 130), Romance ‘partitive articles’, unlike partitive cases (Koptjevskaja-Tamm 2001) and the ancestor of the Romance ‘partitive article’, the Latin preposition de, are explicitly excluded in most truly partitive or pseudo-partitive constructions (5c) (Luraghi and Kittilä 2014, Carlier and Lamiroy 2014, but cf. Kupferman 1994 for some rare exceptions). Instead, in singular indefinite nominals (5a), Romance ‘partitive articles’ usually 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). The ‘partitive article’ is in opposition to the indefinite article singular, denoting individuals (5b):

 (5)  Fr.   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.

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

                        I   drink  a     glass        of this / of.the /   of   det.part         wine

                        ‘I drink a glass of this / of the wine / of 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 a subset of the possible interpretations of specific partitive cases in other languages (cf. the alternative reading of (1a)). Besides their being typologically highly marked, Romance ‘partitive articles’ show a variety of properties which make them unique among the constructions discussed so far. Furthermore, they show a partial, not perfect co-occurrence with the partitive en/ne-pronominalization (outcomes of Latin inde, cf. La Fauci and Loporcaro 1995 in Romance, see also Dutch er or (d)(e)r(e/u) in some Swiss and West Central German varieties, especially with plural count but also mass nouns, Glaser 1993). En-pronominalization in French is possible in all the three constructions described above, as well as in 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’ (see also Mensching 2008 on Sardinian). In general, also for partitive elements or partitive constructions beyond Romance, the study of non-standard varieties and especially 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), and as language-contact takes place between naturally acquired rather than learnt varieties.

Starting from areal observations made for Romance (cf. Bossong 2016), the workshop will try to answer the following questions:

1. Is there really a ‘partitive article’-area from South-Western Occitan across Southern France up to the Franco-Provençal area, French, the Dutch area in Belgium and the Netherlands and Luxemburgish, also from French to Romansh and Northern Italian dialects, as well as to Alemannic and Bavarian varieties in contact with French (cf. Glaser 1993)?  This is a crucial question, as many of the structural, and especially areal aspects of partitive elements in the languages of Europe (articles, pronominals, cases) are still almost completely underresearched topics. Thus, the possibility of language contact (cf. Cerruti 2014, Heine & Kuteva 2005 on contact-induced grammaticalization) has to be taken into consideration as a possible factor that could shed light on the observed distribution of (pseudo-)partitive elements and ‘partitive articles’.

2. Are effects of language contact in the make-up of ‘partitive elements’ also observed in other parts of Europe (e.g. in the Circum-Baltic area)? If not, are there alternative explanations for the distribution of the (pseudo-)partitive elements or ‘partitive articles’ (e.g. some systematic correlation with other features)?

3. In case the geographical distribution of ‘partitive elements’ is a result of language contact, do ‘partitive articles’, partitive pronominals and/or specialized partitive cases etc. spread to adjacent varieties directly and/or do they influence existing categories/elements of the ‘receiving’ language (matter vs. pattern borrowing)? Are there extra- or intralinguistic factors that favour or disfavour contact-induced change in the encoding of (pseudo-)partitivity or indefinite mass readings? Are (pseudo-)partitive elements or ‘partitive articles’ borrowed more easily if the languages are typologically closely related?

4. What is the exact syntax (e.g., obligatoriness, syntactic restrictions) and semantic function of the (borrowed and/or autochthonous) elements, i.e. which of the three functions outlined above do they encode? What is their behaviour with regard to operators and scope? Are some functions in language contact scenarios more prone to be borrowed than others? If an element has more than one of the three functions in the giver-language, are all functions borrowed or only some of them? 



Friday, November 25th


Opening (Elisabeth Stark)


Partitive Pronouns

Petra Sleeman/Tabea Ihsane

(University of Amsterdam /

University of Geneva & University of Zurich)

Partitive pronouns in contact: the influence of Dutch ER on the L2 acquisition of French EN   


  Coffee Break


Thomas Strobel

(Goethe-University Frankfurt)

Indefinite partitive pronouns in the dialects of Hesse


Guido Mensching

(Georg-August-University Göttingen)

The pseudo-partitive construction in Sardinian


Partitive Determiners and Pronouns 

Elisabeth Stark/Paul Widmer

(University of Zurich)

The (co-)evolution of partitive argument marking in

Breton and Gallo-Angevin French




Caroline Döhmer

(University of Luxembourg)

Syntax and semantics of the Luxemburgish partitive


Partitive Determiners

Anna Bartra Kaufmann

(Autonomous University of Barcelona)

The rise and fall of partitive determiners in Old Romance  


Anna Cardinaletti/Giuliana Giusti

(University of Venice Ca’Foscari)

Indefinite determiners across Italo-Romance varieties, optionality and variation


Coffee Break


Internal Meeting Partitivity Network


19.00 Dinner

(Linde Oberstrass, Universitätstrasse 91 - Zurich)


Saturday, November 26th


Jacopo Garzonio/Cecilia Poletto

(University of Padova/Goethe-University Frankfurt)

Partitive in negative contexts: a microvariationist analysis


Partitive Case

Ilja Seržant

(University of Leipzig)

Partitive genitive in the North Russian Area


Coffee Break


Tuomas Huumo

(University of Turku)

Quantifiers and partitive case marking in Finnish 


Anne Tamm

(Central European University Budapest)

A partial and impartial account of a partitive


Liina Lindström

(University of Tartu)

Partitive indefinite pronouns in experiential

constructions in Estonian




Karoliina Lohiniva

(University of Geneva)

Partitive case and association with additives


Partitive Case/Pseudo-Partitive Constructions

Walter Breu

(University of Konstanz)

Partitivity in Slavic-Romance language contact (Molise Slavic)  


Coffee Break


Christine Grillborzer

(University of Freiburg/Germany)

Partitivity in German-Russian language contact. A corpus-based study on the language of Russian-speaking immigrants in Germany 


Silvia Luraghi

(University of Pavia)

Areal Aspects of Partitives


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Bossong, G. (2016), “Classifications”, in: A. Ledgeway and M. Maiden (eds.), The Oxford Guide to the Romance Languages, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 63-72.

Carlier, A. and B. Lamiroy (2014), “The grammaticalization of the prepositional partitive in Romance”, in; S. Luraghi and T. Huumo (eds.) Partitive Cases and Related Categories, Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 477-520.

Cerruti, M. (2014), “From Language Contact to Language Variation. A Case of Contact-Induced Grammaticalization in Italo-Romance”, Journal of Language Contact 7, 288-308.

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Huumo, T. (2010), “Nominal Aspect, Quantity, and Time: The Case of the Finnish object”, Journal of Linguistics 46 (1), 83-125.

Ihsane, T. (2008), The layered DP in French. Form and Meaning of French Indefinites, Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Ihsane, T. (2013), “En Pronominalization in French and the Structure of Nominal Expressions”, Syntax 16 (3), 217-249.

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Koptjevskaja-Tamm, M. (2001), “'A piece of the cake’ and ‘a cup of tea’: partitive and pseudopartitive nominal constructions in the Circum-Baltic languages”, in: Ö. Dahl and M. Koptjevskaja-Tamm (eds.), The Circum-Baltic Languages: Typology and Contact, vol. 2., Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 523-568.

Krifka, M. (2013), “Cognitive foundations of measuring and counting and their reflection in determiner systems“, Talk given at the Workshop “Mass and Count in Romance and Germanic Languages“, 16.12.2013 - 17.12.2013, University of Zurich.

Kristol, A. (2014), “Les grammaires du francoprovençal: l‘expression de la partitivité. Quelques leçons du projet ALAVAL”, in: La géolinguistique dans les Alpes au XXe siècle: méthodes, défis et perspectives. Actes de la Conférence annuelle sur l’activité scientifique du Centre d’études francoprovençales ‘René Willien’, Région autonome de la Vallée d’Aoste, Bureau régional pour l’ethnologie et la linguistique, 29-44.

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Luraghi, S. and S. Kittilä (2014), “Typology and diachrony of partitive case markers”, in: S. Luraghi and T. Huumo (eds.) Partitive Cases and Related Categories, Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 17-62.

Matras, Y. (2004), “Typology, dialectology and the structure of complementation in Romani”, in: B. Kortmann (ed.), Dialectology meets typology : dialect grammar from a cross-linguistic perspective, Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 277-304.

Mensching, G. (2008), “On the so called ‘partitive construction’ in Sardinian”, Talk given at the third Cambridge Italian Dialect Syntax Meeting, Pescara, 5.-6. Juli 2008.

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Rohlfs, G. (1968), Grammatica storica della lingua italiana e dei suoi dialetti, vol. 2 Morfologia, Turin: Einaudi.