Volume 14, Issue 2, 2014
Articles as a Lexical Pointing System. Is Unique Identifi ability a Linguistic and Cognitive Universal?
Departing from the observation that traditional philosophical, lexical and foreign language approaches to the article system seem to fail in providing a satisfactory outline of article meaning, this paper aims at proposing an alternative, cognitively based account of the semantics of articles. The proposal is to view these closed-class elements as markers of communicative intention; while being more ‘elliptic’ than open-class lexical items, articles appear to be also more cognitively constrained in the meaning that they lexicalize. In other words, articles are likely to express content that is more ‘cognitively real’, and shared by subfields of human cognition other than language. The system of articles (in various languages) is perhaps best understood not as a peculiar phenomenon
that exhausts itself in the description of a list of usage rules, as is currently the trend, but rather as a range of possible codings of the status of nominal reference, whereby different languages choose to express different coding patterns, which can all, crucially, be reconciled with the semantic but also cognitive primitive of ‘pointing’ (as explored by Gärdenfors, 2014: ch. 4). In final analysis it is suggested that pointing on the one hand, and referential (unique) identification on the other, are one and the same communicative universal, with only one distinction: the former is essentially physical and the latter primarily linguistic (lexical), but the two actually overlap. Accessing this (overlapping) conceptual content of the formal linguistic element known as ‘article’ means accessing article meaning, and understanding this link provides new hopes for theoretical and methodological representation of article systems (crosslinguistically).