Workshop proposal - Partitives

Silvia Luraghi silvia.luraghi at UNIPV.IT
Sun Oct 11 07:27:58 UTC 2009


Silvia Luraghi, Università di Pavia
Tuomas Huumo, University of Tartu

We plan to submit a workshop proposal to the 2010 
Annual SLE (Societas Lingustica Europaea) Meeting 
in Vilnius, Lithuania (2 - 5 September, 2010), 
and invite papers on partitives in 
crosslinguistic perspective. Please send draft 
abstracts to both of us no later than November 8, 
2009 (final abstracts must be submitted by 
January 1, 2010) at the following addresses:

<mailto:silvia.luraghi at>silvia.luraghi at
<mailto:tuomas.huumo at>tuomas.huumo at

Workshop description

Some languages, notably Baltic Finnic and Basque, 
have a partitive case, which is usually said to 
indicate partial affectedness of patients (cf. 
Blake 2001: 151). Such function is also 
attributed to other cases in languages that do 
not have a separate partitive, as in the case of 
the Hungarian partitive/ablative, and the 
partitive/genitive of various Indo-European 
languages (a separate partitive, lexically 
restricted, also exists in Russian).
    Depending on the language, the use of 
partitives may be more or less restricted. In 
Basque, for example, the partitive occurs in 
negative sentences and it can indicate either the 
object of transitive verbs or the subject on 
intransitive verbs (in other words, it can 
substitute the absolutive case in negative 
sentences). A connection between negation and 
partitive(genitive) also occurs in the Slavic and 
the Baltic Finnic languages. The alternation 
between the partitive and other cases sometimes 
also has connections with aspect: this has been 
argued for Baltic Finnic, Slavic (see e.g. 
Fischer 2004), and possibly Sanskrit (Dahl 2009). 
In fact, partitivity is not only a possible 
feature of patients: in Finnish existentials, for 
examples, even agentive intransitive verbs such 
as juosta ‘run’, opiskella ‘study’, etc., take partitive subjects.
    In some Indo-European languages, besides 
partitive objects and partitive subjects (mostly 
with unaccusative verbs, cf. Conti 2009 on 
Ancient Greek), partitive adverbials also exist, 
for example in time expressions (such as Nachts 
‘during the night’ in German). In Ancient Greek, 
some locative occurrences of the partitive 
genitive are attested (see Luraghi 2003, 2009):
è#   halòs     è# epì gês
or  sea:gen or on  land:gen
“either at sea or on land” (Homer, Od. 12.26-27).
    In one of the few existing cross-lingustic 
description of partitives, Moravcsik (1978: 272) 
summarizes typical semantic correlates of partitives as follows:
a. the definitness-indefinitness of the noun phrase;
b. the extent to which the object is involeved in the event;
c. the completedness versus non-completedness of the event;
d. whether the sentence is affirmative or negative.
    Moravcsik further remarks that marking 
difference brought about by the partitive “does 
not correlate with any difference in semantic 
case function”. Thus, the use of the partitive 
seems to be at odds with the basic function of 
cases, that is “marking dependent nouns for the 
type of relationship they bear to their heads” 
(Blake 2001: 1): rather than to indicate a 
specific grammatical or semantic relation that a 
NP bears to the verb, the partitive seems to 
indicate indeterminacy (in various manners). In 
fact, this has been noted by several authors. For 
example, Laka (1993: 158) suggestes that “what is 
referred to as ‘partitive case’ in Basque is a 
polar determiner, much like English any”.  In 
Finnish, the functions of the partitive are also 
related to indeterminacy, unboundedness and 
polarity, and it is noteworthy that the partitive 
is not the sole marker of any grammatical 
function but participates in a complementary 
distribution with other cases in all its main 
functions, i.e. as marker of the object 
(PART~ACC), the existential subject (PART~NOM) 
and the predicate nominal (PART~NOM).
    In this connection, one must mention the 
so-called partitive article of some Romance 
varieties, which derives from the preposition 
which has substituted the Latin genitive (Latin 
de). In French, the partitive article is clearly 
a determiner and not a case marker, as shown by its distribution:
L’enfant joue dans le jardin / un enfant joue dans le jardin
the child plays in the garden / a child plays in the garden
Les enfants jouent dans le jardin / des enfants jouent dans le jardin
the childred play in the garden / some(=part. art.) childred play in the garden
    The brief survey above shows that there are 
striking similarities among partitives across 
languages, which are not limited to the 
indication of partial affectedness. However, 
reaserch on partitives is mostly limited to 
individual languages. In this workshop we would 
like to bring together and compare data from 
different languages in which a case (or an 
adposition, as in French) are classified as partitive.

Possible topics for the workshop include, but are 
not limited to, the following:
(a) The distribution of partitives in different 
syntactic positions (objects, subjects, other roles) and across constructions;
(b) Partitives as determiners;
(c) Types of verbs with which partitive subjects (or objects) can occur;
(d) The diachrony of partitives: what are the 
sources of partitive markers? What is the 
diachronic relation between ablative, genitive, 
and partitive? (cf. Heine and Kuteva 2002: 32-33, 241);
(e) Do partitives always start out as possible 
substitutes for the object case and then extend 
to subjects and possibly to other roles? (data 
from French and other early Romance varieties 
would be in order regarding this point);
(f) Partitives as non-canonical grammatical 
markers: Finnish partitive subjects and objects 
have been treated under the heading of 
‘non-canonical marking’ (Sands and Campbell 
2001). However, it is highly questionable that 
the occurrence of partitive subjects and objects 
marked by a partitive article, as in French, 
should also be considered under this heading. Is 
the change from case marker (including 
adpositions) some kind of grammaticalization 
process and at what stage should a morpheme start 
to be considered a determiner, rather than a case marker?
(g) Discourse functions of partitives: Since 
partitives indicate indeterminacy, it might be 
expected that they are not topical elements in 
discourse. For instance, Helasvuo (2001) has 
shown that the referents of Finnish partitive 
subjects (unlike those of nominative subjects) 
are typically not tracked in discourse. What is 
the discourse function of partitives crosslinguistically?
(h) Semantic roles and referential functions of partitives.
(i) Partitives, aspect and quantification: The 
Baltic Finnic partitive object is well-known for 
its function of indicating aspectual 
unboundedness. Other BF partitives (existential, 
copulative) do not share the aspectual function 
proper but often indicate an incremental theme 
(in the sense of Dowty 1991), which gives rise to 
unbounded “nominal aspect” (Huumo 2003, 2009). 
What are the aspectual and quantificational 
functions of partitives crosslinguistically?

Blake, Barry 2001. Case. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
Conti, Luz 2008. Zum Genitiv bei impersonalen 
Konstruktionen im Altgriechischen. Paper read at 
the XIII. Fachtagung der Indogermanischen 
Gesellschaft, Salzburg 22.9.-27.9.2008.
Dahl, Eystein 2009 Some semantic and pragmatic 
aspects of object alternation in Early Vedic. In 
J. Barðdal and S. Chelliah (eds) The Role of 
Semantics and Pragmatics in the Development of Case. Amsterdam: John Benjamins
Dowty, David 1991. Thematic proto-roles and 
argument selection. Language 67, 547–619.
Fischer, Susann 2004. Partitive vs. Genitive in 
Russian and Polish: an empirical study on case 
alternation in the object domain. In S. Fischer, 
R. van de Vijver and R. Vogel (eds.), 
Experimental Studies in Linguistics. I, LiP 21. 123-137.
Heine, Bernd and Tania Kuteva 2002. World Lexicon 
of Grammaticalization. Cambridge: CUP.
Helasvuo, Marja-Liisa 2001. Syntax in the Making: 
The emergence of syntactic units in Finnish conversation. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Huumo, Tuomas 2003. Incremental Existence: The 
World According to the Finnish Existential Sentence. Linguistics 41/3: 461–493
Huumo, Tuomas 2009. Fictive dynamicity, nominal 
aspect, and the Finnish copulative construction. 
Cognitive Linguistics 20/1: 43–70.
Laka, Itziar 1993. Unergatives that Assign 
Ergative, Unaccusatives that Assign Accusative. MITWPL 18: 149-172.
Luraghi, Silvia 2003. On the Meaning of 
Prepositions and Cases. A Study of the Expression 
of Semantic Roles in Ancient Greek.  Amsterdan: Benjamins.
Luraghi, Silvia 2009. The internal structure of 
adpositional phrases. In J. Helmbrecht 
Y.  Nishina, Y.M. Shin, S. Skopeteas, E. 
Verhoeven, eds.,  Form and Function in Language 
Research: Papers in honour of Christian  Lehmann. 
Berlin/ New York, Mouton de Gruyter, 231-254.
Moravcsik, Edith 1978. On the case marking of 
objects. In Joseph Greenberg et al. (eds.) 
Universals of Human Language, vol IV. Syntax. 
Stanford University Press, 249-290.
Sands, Kristina and Lyle Campbell 2001. 
Non-canonical subjects and objects in Finnish. In 
A. Aikenvald, R. M. W. Dixon, and M. Onishi 
(eds.) Non-canonical Marking of Subjects and 
Objects. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 251-305.

Silvia Luraghi
Dipartimento di Linguistica Teorica e Applicata
Università di Pavia
Strada Nuova 65
I-27100 Pavia
telef.: +39-0382-984685
fax: +39-0382-984487 
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