Partition and individuation in Germanic

DFG project

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) - Project number 465419462

Partition and individuation in Germanic

Project number
Principal investigator
Postdoc researcher
Student assistant(s)

Tina Nägele (until March 2022)


since 2021


The aim of the project is to investigate the role of the indefinie article, adjectival inflection, and n-suffixation in Germanic - both under a dialectal as well as a diachronic perspective. Starting with the observation that in modern Bavarian (and Alemannic) dialects, the indefinite article can be used to express partitive (ich bräuchte ein Geld - 'I need a cash') as well as the more usual individual reading, the question what these readings have in common and how one can model this situation in a theoretically satisfying way.

The initial hypothesis is that the indefinite article and the n-suffixation have a common source and that the abstract meaning is 'partition' or even more abstract 'discrimination' (there are other parts left). This basic meaning can be enriched with further semantic units such that sub-kind, individual and even the specific reading can be expressed. Languages vary whether engage then different lexical items or use item, leading to ambiguity. The theoretical framework is Nanosyntax in which for every meaning unit a separate functional head is postulated. The task is to identify and justify empirically the correct order (hierarchy) of these heads.

The second strand of the project deals with the diachronic development within Germanic. As is well-known, the exponent e.g. for partitive used to be genitive marking in MHG. It is planned to examine, describe and store in a annotated database the inner-Germanic variation in this area. Nanosyntax can be used very fruitfully to trace back such developments - and even more to make predictions about possible developments. Due to the *ABA-theorem, it is predicted that one lexical item can lexicalize further functional heads that are immediate neighbours. Its possible route of extension (leading to ambiguity) is thus constrained. On the other hand, predictions can be made where in the sequence of functional projections new lexical items may enter. The projects aims to test these models against the data from Germanic that will be gathered and systematized.

See the full proposal here.


This image shows Ellen Brandner

Ellen Brandner

apl. Prof. Dr.

Research and Teaching Associate

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