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Latin UNUS and the discourse properties of unity cardinals

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 July 2020

Gerhard Schaden
Université de Lille & CNRS UMR 8163 STL


This article investigates the discourse behaviour of Latin unus (‘one’) in the Vulgate, in order to better understand the starting point of the grammaticalization process ultimately leading to an indefinite article. To this end, I will study unity cardinals in general, focusing particularly on English one. Empirically, it will be shown that unus behaved like a unity cardinal in late Latin, without showing any clear sign of ongoing grammaticalization towards an indefinite article. I will try to explain the discursive behaviour of unity cardinals with reference to antipresuppositions, within the framework of the game of same and different. Finally, I will sketch how the results fit within the general picture of the incipient grammaticalization of indefinite articles, by providing an account of so far unexplained scope phenomena.



Le présent article étudie le comportement discursif de unus (‘un’) dans la Vulgate, pour atteindre une meilleure compréhension du début du processus de grammaticalisation qui mène vers les articles indéfinis. Pour ce faire, j’étudierai les cardinaux d'unité plus en général, dont principalement one en anglais, dans le cadre du jeu de l'identité et de la différence. D'un point de vue empirique, je montrerai que unus se comporte comme un cardinal d'unité, sans montrer des signes clairs d'une grammaticalisation vers un article indéfini. J'essaierai d'expliquer le comportement discursif de cardinaux d'unité par les antiprésuppositions, dans le cadre du jeu de l'identité et de la différence. Pour finir, je fournirai une esquisse de la manière dont les résultats cadrent avec le début de la grammaticalisation des articles indéfinis, en donnant une analyse pour des phénomènes de portée qui étaient jusqu’à maintenant restés sans explication.

Copyright © Canadian Linguistic Association/Association canadienne de linguistique 2020

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I had the opportunity to present previous versions of this article at workshops at the universities of Paris 7 and Paris 8, and at the 2016 conference on Formal Diachronic Semantics in Konstanz, and I would like to thank the organizers and the audience for their helpful feedback. I would particularly like to thank Claire Beyssade, who convinced me to abandon my initial approach. I am also extremely grateful for the remarks and criticisms of the anonymous reviewers and the editors of this issue, which have allowed me to improve this article considerably. Igor Yanovich deserves special credit for his patience and never-ending efforts to bring the article into a publishable state. Finally, Heather Newell did a great job editing the final paper. All remaining errors and omissions are mine alone. This article is dedicated to the memory of Helmut Häusle.


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