The expression of genericity in languages with and without articles

Student thesis: Doctoral thesis


This thesis focuses on the phenomenon of genericity in Russian, a language without articles, in comparison to English and Romance, languages with articles. The main goal of this research is to study how genericity is encoded in Russian. I propose that there is direct and indirect reference to kinds. The former is encoded in Russian by means of morphophonologically singular bare nominals, which are devoid of semantic and syntactic Number. Unlike English and Romance, where such NPs are preceded by a definite article, in Russian these nominals are semantically indefinite, but being singleton sets they are characterised by uniqueness. I argue that this uniqueness does not come as a result of an application of a semantic operator, it is 'ontological'. I analyse definitional sentences in Russian as an environment where kind-referring NPs are found, showing that they are non-predicational copular sentences which express an identity/identificatiton relationship between two nominal concepts. Next, I study plural nominals which refer to sums of individuals that under certain circumstances may have a generic reference (indirect reference to kinds). Such nominals are bare in English and Russian, and definite in Romance languages. The source of genericity in this case is the type of predicate (kind-level for subjects and subject-experiencer for objects) or the type of sentence (characterising statement). I argue that, regardless of whether generic plurals are bare or overtly definite in a given language, they are characterised by maximality, identifiability and presupposition of existence, which makes them similar to nominals with a definite interpretation. They are different from NPs with a definite interpretation by the unboundedness of their domain: generic plurals cannot be restricted by spatiotemporal localisation or anaphoric anchoring. I propose that the 'definiteness effects' of generic nominals are encoded semantically by means of a definite article, as it is the case in Romance languages, or pragmatically by means of bare plural nominals in Russian (and possibly, in English). Further, I address a more general question of a possible semantic analysis of bare nominals in Russian, because genericity is only one of the interpretations they may have. So, it is highly important to understand not only how this interpretation is derived but also what it is derived from. I argue that Russian bare nominals are semantically indefinite and the other interpretations (definite and generic) they can be associated with are inferred pragmatically. Bare nominals in Russian do not give rise to a presupposition of uniqueness, and their perceived definiteness is either the result of 'ontological' uniqueness, topicality, or familiarity of the referent.
Date of Award28 May 2020
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorM. Teresa Espinal Faré (Director) & Olga Borik (Director)


  • Genericity
  • Languages without articles
  • Bare nominals

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