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Weak vs. strong definite articles: Meaning and form across languages

Florian Schwarz

One line of recent work on definite articles has been concerned with languages
that utilize different forms for definite descriptions of different types. In the first
part of this paper, I discuss the semantic analysis of the underlying distinction of
weak and strong definite articles as proposed in Schwarz (2009), which formalizes
the contrast in terms of uniqueness (for weak articles) vs. anaphoricity (for strong
articles). I also review the empirical motivation for the analysis based on German
preposition-determiner contraction and its implications for related semantic phe-
nomena. The second part of the paper surveys recent advances in documenting
contrasts between definites in various other languages. One issue here will be on
assessing to what extent the cross-linguistic contrasts are uniform in terms of their
semantics and pragmatics, and to what extent there is variation in the relevant
patterns. A second issue is to evaluate how the obvious variation in the formal
realization of the contrast across languages can contribute to a more refined imple-
mentation of the contrast in meaning.

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