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Investigating Definiteness and Quantification in Shan, a Tai language of Myanmar

Thursday, February 27, 2020 at 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Kahin Center

Part of the Ronald and Janette Gatty series

Mary Moroney, PhD Candidate, Department of Linguistics, Cornell University

How do different languages express the same meaning? How do we study these things? In English we use the word ‘the’ to express something called definiteness. Definiteness has been described as expressing one of two meanings either (i) uniqueness within a given context or (ii) familiarity (anaphoric definiteness), indicating it is something has been discussed before. Cross-linguistically, languages express definiteness in different ways. This talk focuses on the expression of definiteness in a language called Shan, a Southwestern Tai language spoken in Myanmar, Thailand, and nearby countries. I discuss my fieldwork with this language and how I collected linguistic data about definiteness and quantification in Shan. I argue that Shan uses bare nouns to express both unique and anaphoric definiteness. This contrasts with languages like Mandarin and Thai, which have been claimed to use bare nouns for unique definiteness and demonstrative phrases for anaphoric definiteness, splitting up the marking of definiteness into two strategies. The pattern of definiteness expression in Shan indicates that it is necessary to expand the typology of definiteness marking.

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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Mathematics, Linguistics, Southeast Asia Program, Asian Studies



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James Nagy

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Mary Moroney

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Cornell University

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