Identifying (in)definiteness in Vietnamese


Trang Phan and Gennaro Chierchia

Journal of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society 15:2, 2022

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Abstract: This paper aims to settle the issue of whether những, các, một are articles in Vietnamese as argued by Nguyen T. C. (1975), Nguyen H. T. (2004), a.o. First, we adopt Dayal (in prep.)’s cross-linguistic questionnaire of (in)definiteness since this questionnaire offers us a set of useful tests to diagnose definiteness and indefiniteness from a crosslinguistic perspective. Second, we broaden up the empirical landscape by contrasting the interpretation of nominal constructions which have the so-called overt (in)definite markers (các-CLF-N, những-CLF-N, and một CLF N) with that of nominal constructions without them (including bare N and CLF-N, numeral(>1)-CLF-N), in order to see if the (in)definiteness effect truly comes from the presence or absence of these three markers, or from something else. We then conclude that (i) những and các are plural markers, (ii) only một seems to be a likely candidate for an indefinite article, and (iii) bare nouns and numerals are not genuine indefinites: the former denotes kinds, while the latter can be interpreted as definite, which sets Vietnamese apart cross-linguistically.

About the author: Trang Phan was a HYI Visiting Scholar from 2020-21.