In some Bantu languages, the pre-prefix has been claimed to mark definiteness (Bleek 1869; Mould 1974, Givón 1978). In these analyses, the PPF is equated to the English definite article 'the' while the absence of PPF is equated to the indefinite English article 'a'. In this paper I show that pre-prefixed (augmented) Noun phrases (DPs) surface in a variety of indefinite contexts and thus definiteness cannot be their inherent semantic feature. I also show that PPFs may be used in specific or non-specific contexts. I argue that Nata PPFs are weak determiners which do not show any binary contrast of definiteness/indefiniteness and whose construal depends on the interaction between context-of-use and various overt operators or modifiers. Specifically, PPFs are interpreted with respect to quantifiers, operators (i.e. polarity operators such as negation and wh- morpheme, modals), and variables such as an Object Marker (OM). When these operators/variables/modifiers are absent the augmented noun is consistently ambiguous between definite and indefinite reading. I argue that uniqueness and familiarity (for singular entities) or maximality (for mass and plural), which are the hallmark of definiteness (Heim 1991; Matthewson 1997; 1998; 1999; Kratzer 1998; Krifka 2003; Ionin 2001; Lyon 1999; Lyons 2011) are presupposed when an object noun co-occurs with the OM or when a noun is used with deictic demonstratives which are inherently definite (see Visser 2008; Bresnan and Mchombo 1987 for an account of OM in Bantu). I argue that PPFs (overt or non-overt) share in common the denotation of non-emptiness of a set except where material used with them in a sentence presupposes or asserts an empty set (i.e., negative polarity contexts).
Selected Proceedings of the 43rd Annual Conference on African Linguistics: Linguistic Interfaces in African Languages
edited by Ọ
la Orie and Karen W. Sanders
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