Research Paper

Subject Bare Singulars in Brazilian Portuguese and Information Structure

Abstract

This paper contributes to the debate on the semantics of bare singular nouns (BSNs) in Brazilian Portuguese by looking at the restrictions on their use as subjects. After a reassessment of the literature (e.g., Schmitt & Munn 1999, Müller 2000, Pires et al. 2010), we propose the following descriptive picture: BSN subjects are unconstrained in generic sentences, and somehow constrained with kind predicates and in episodic sentences. The literature has suggested that the constraints in episodic sentences have to do with information structure (e.g., Pires de Oliveira & Mariano 2010, Pires de Oliveira 2012). We submit this suggestion to scrutiny and demonstrate it is not information structure itself that is crucial. Episodic sentences with BSN subjects are utterances about kinds (under an “incompletely involved reading”, cf. Landman 1989) and must be ‘contextually relevant’ (cf. Roberts 1996). We then investigate BSN subjects of generic sentences, argued to be necessarily topics, which would support their analysis as unselective bound indefinites (Müller 2002a, 2004). We show that BSN subjects of generic sentences are not necessarily topics; moreover, they can actually have “incompletely involved kind readings”. We conclude that our results provide support to a kind-denoting analysis of BSNs in Brazilian Portuguese, as proposed by Pires de Oliveira & Rothstein (2011).

How to Cite

Menuzzi, S. & Silva, M. & Doetjes, J., (2015) “Subject Bare Singulars in Brazilian Portuguese and Information Structure”, Journal of Portuguese Linguistics 14(1), p.7-44. doi: https://doi.org/10.5334/jpl.56

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Sérgio de Moura Menuzzi (Instituto de Letras, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul Porto Alegre, Brazil, Av. Bento Gonçalves 9500 Campus do Vale, CEP 91540-000 Porto Alegre)
Maria Cristina Figueiredo Silva (Universidade Federal do Paraná, Curitiba, Brazil Rua General Carneiro, 460, 80060-150 Curitiba – PR)
Jenny Doetjes (Leiden University Centre for Linguistics (LUCL), Leeuwerikstraat 29, NL – 2333 VW Leiden, The Netherlands)

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