Lexical Coding vs. Syntactic Marking of Homogeneity: Evidence from Spanish and Danish

Henrik Høeg Müller

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


    The purpose of this article is to substantiate the claim that the semantic feature of homogeneity manifests itself differently in different languages. By contrasting data from Spanish and Danish it is shown that homogeneity is lexically coded in Danish nouns, whereas Spanish nouns are lexically neutral to homogeneity. In Spanish the homogeneity interpretation of nouns is determined when they are inserted into a syntactic structure. The empirical relevance of this assumption is assessed by investigating syntactic and semantic aspects related to the occurrence of bare nominals in object position in the two languages under scrutiny. It is well-known that Spanish as a canonical pattern does not semantically license bare singular nouns with count interpretation (BNs) in object position, viz. #Juan repara coche [Juan repairs car], while in Danish the occurrence of BNs in object position is both possible and normal, viz. Ole maler hus [Ole paints house]. It is argued that this contrast is a predictable consequence of the premise that, in Spanish, transitive activity verbs impose a mass reading on any bare object noun whereas, in Danish, BNs maintain their lexically encoded denotation as inhomogeneous entities. However, contrasting with the leading pattern, the so-called HAVE-verbs (Borthen, 2003) actually license Spanish BNs in object position (cf., e.g., Espinal, 2010; Espinal & Mcnally, 2011), viz. Juan tiene perro [Juan has dog]. It is claimed that the occurrence of BNs in these cases is strongly related to the assumption that HAVE-verbs, contrary to activity verbs, are functionally non-eventive and, therefore, do not impose a specific homogeneity reading on the bare noun in object position.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalStudies in Language
    Issue number4
    Pages (from-to)896-955
    Publication statusPublished - 2014

    Cite this