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ICOS 2008 Conference Abstract

Functions of the Definite Article with Proper Names

W Van Langendonck
M Van deVelde
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium

Crosslinguistically, we observe various onymic functions of the definite article that hardly occur in appellatives. Since names are inherently definite, languages can ‘play’ with the redundant overt definite articles accompanying unmodified names. They might be absent; they may be generalized to all proprial classes; they may have a classificatory function where articulated names alternate with articleless names. Thus, in Western European languages, we have an anthropocentric hierarchy ranging from highly animate, i.e., human or humanized (settlement or country) names, with a ‘zero’ article (John, Mary; London, England), to inanimate names, often accompanied by an overt article (the Thames, the Highlands). Typically, when regions become genuine states, they lose their overt article: (the) Ukraine. In such languages, a possible ‘de-humanizing’ use can spill over to personal names, as in certain Flemish dialects, where the forename de Jan ‘the John’ is an augmentative variant of Jan, just as de Limburg is an augmentative variant of the province name Limburg. If such a use becomes more frequent, as in German forenames (der Johann), the augmentative force is reduced to mere familiarity. This familiarity may manifest itself as a positive connotation, as in Italian il Petrarca, la Callas. Special forms can occur, as in Catalan en Joan ‘the John’. Even the indefinite article may adopt an emotive use in personal names (A devastated Claes entered the court-room). Additional crosslinguistic data will be provided.

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