The morphosyntax of definiteness agreement in Neo-Aramaic and Central Semitic

Edit Doron, Geoffrey Khan


The article describes the progression of the Neo-Aramaic dialects along the first stage of Greenberg’s cycle, where demonstrative pronouns turn into definite articles. We suggest that the same progression might have originally taken place in Central Semitic, and that it is this process which accounts for the multiple marking of definiteness in the Central Semitic noun phrase. The article describes the two main factors of the change in Neo-Aramaic: First, the syntactic status of the definite article changes from a phrasal demonstrative to a lexical determiner head. Second, the attachment of the definite article to the attributive adjective originally marks the adjective as contrastive. These two factors put in motion a process whereby an original demonstrative phrase evolves into a marker of definiteness agreement. When the article is still a phrasal constituent, it attaches within the noun phrase either to the adjective or the noun, never to both. In subsequent stages, where the demonstrative pronoun has turned into a determiner, it may attach to both noun and adjective within the same noun phrase. Eventually, the latter option may grammaticalize into a marker of definiteness agreement, as it did in such Central Semitic languages as Arabic, Aramaic, and Hebrew.


article; determiner; demonstrative; demonstrative cycle; definite; adjective; contrastive; deictic; anaphoric; definiteness agreement; Central Semitic; Neo Aramaic

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