Decomposing Definiteness in Vietnamese


Trang Phan & Lam Quang Dong

Journal of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society, 14.1 (2021): 1-18

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Abstract: This paper provides a detailed description of how Vietnamese encodes definiteness in the nominal phrase in the context of the crosslinguistic debate about the existence of lexical articles in classifier languages. We first show that so-called lexical determiners in Vietnamese are not genuine articles in the technical sense. We then scrutinize six different referring expressions in Vietnamese including bare nouns, classifier – nouns, numeral – classifier – nouns, plural – classifier – nouns, focus cái – classifier – nouns while pointing out how Vietnamese differs from other better-studied classifier languages. Based on this thorough investigation, we posit that Vietnamese systematically differentiates six levels of the givenness hierarchy in the sense of Gundel et al. (1993); therefore, Vietnamese contributes to a better understanding of the nature of definiteness and the structure of the nominal phrase.

About the authors: Trang Phan is a HYI Visiting Scholar from 2020-21. Lam Quang Dong was a HYI TESL Program Scholar from 1993-95.