Bare nouns, numbers, and definiteness in Teotitlán del Valle Zapotec


How is definiteness expressed in number-marking languages lacking a definite article? May bare nouns in such languages simply be read as definites or indefinites, without constraint? Dayal (2004) demonstrates that the interpretation of bare nouns with respect to definiteness is significantly constrained in Hindi and Russian. In these languages, singular and plural bare nouns present different possibilities for indefinite interpretation, in a way that receives a natural explanation within a neo-Carlsonian theory of noun meaning (Chierchia, 1998). This makes for a close connection between the meanings of bare nouns in English and those in Hindi and Russian. Does this connection extend to the meanings of bare nouns in numbermarking languages in general, even outside of Indo-European? In this paper, we demonstrate that the answer is yes. Our evidence comes from bare noun interpretation in Teotitlán del Valle Zapotec, a language of Oaxaca, Mexico. The Zapotec findings closely replicate Dayal’s findings for Indo-European languages, providing support for the viability of the neo-Carlsonian approach as a set of constraints on semantic variation in general.

Amy Rose Deal
Julia Nee
Publication date: 
October 14, 2018
Publication type: 
Recent Publication
Amy Rose Deal and Julia Nee, "Bare nouns, numbers, and definiteness in Teotitlán del Valle Zapotec", Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 21, University of Edinburgh, 4-6 September 2016, ed. by Robert Truswell, Chris Cummins, Caroline Heycock, Brian Rabern, and Hannah Rohde (2018), pp. 317-334