Syntactic definiteness in the grammar of modern Hebrew

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Definiteness has often been assumed to play a role in syntax, most notably in relation to various "definiteness effects" and case alternations (Belletti 1988; De Hoop 1992; and many others). The question whether this involves a semantic property that is relevant in syntax, or an independent syntactic representation of definiteness, remains to a large extent unanswered. This paper shows that, on the one hand, Hebrew provides independent evidence for assuming a definiteness feature in syntax; and on the other hand, this formal definiteness does not simply correlate with semantic definiteness, and there is no simple one-to-one mapping between the two kinds of definiteness. The second part of this paper focuses on the Hebrew object marker et, which appears only in front of DPs having the syntactic definiteness feature. I argue that et fulfills a requirement for structural case that Hebrew verbs cannot assign, and that this requirement is related to the representation of definiteness as a formal feature and not to any semantic property. In this light I consider Belletti's (1988) theory of abstract partitive and show that Hebrew object marking seems to provide evidence against it.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1071-1116
Number of pages46
Issue number376
StatePublished - 2001


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