GENGO KENKYU (Journal of the Linguistic Society of Japan)
Online ISSN : 2185-6710
Print ISSN : 0024-3914
Long Default and Short Indefinite Noun Forms in Kupsapiiny: Synchronic Usage and Diachronic Development
Kazuhiro Kawachi
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2023 Volume 163 Pages 79-110


In Kupsapiiny, a Southern Nilotic language of Uganda, nearly all common nouns in the singular or the plural have two forms depending on the presence vs. absence of a suffix. This study examines how long and short common noun forms (with and without the suffix, respectively) occur in discourse by means of Dryer’s (2014) Reference Hierarchy. It shows that short forms are only infrequently used for indefinites, with their mandatory use restricted to two types of indefinites, semantically nonspecific indefinites involving negation and true-predicate nominals, whereas long forms serve as frequently used, default forms, which occur not only in definite situations, but also – in fact, more commonly than short forms – in most indefinite situations. The present study hypothesizes that long forms have semantically generalized from forms marking definiteness, i.e., the speaker’s assumption about the identifiability or accessibility of the referent to the hearer (Givón 1995, 2001), to those indicating the speaker’s assumption about the accessibility of the referent (type) to the hearer (or sometimes the speaker themself) with the result that their context extended from definite situations to include most indefinite situations, as reported about the diachronic development of definite articles in other languages (e.g., Greenberg 1978). It speculates that the context extension for long forms was brought about by associations between referents in discourse based on the Gricean maxim of relation as well as subjectification. Other types of factors than the speaker’s assumption about the referent (type) accessibility and indefiniteness in the choice between long and short forms (lexical, constructional, contextual, and generational differences as well as special uses of short forms for definites) are also described. This study also points out that the Kupsapiiny noun system as a whole contradicts the grammatical form–frequency correspondence hypothesis (Haspelmath 2021).

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