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A semantic solution to the problem of Hungarian object agreement

Natural Language Semantics
Year of publication: 
Scientific journal article - peer reviewed

This paper offers a semantically-based solution to the problem of predicting whether a verb will display the subjective conjugation or the objective conjugation in Hungarian. This alternation correlates with the definiteness of the object, but definiteness is not a completely reliable indicator of the subjective/objective alternation, nor is specificity. A prominent view is that the subjective/objective alternation is conditioned by the syntactic category of the object, but this view has also been shown to be untenable. This paper offers a semantic solution: If the referential argument of a phrase is lexically specified as familiar/new, then the phrase bears the feature [+DEF]/[−DEF], and this feature governs the conjugations. The notions of novelty and familiarity are made precise using a compositional version of DRT in the context of a suitably large fragment of Hungarian, including local and non-local personal pronouns, demonstratives, definite and indefinite articles, quantifiers, wh-words, numerals, and possessives.


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