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Show full table of contents Articles in evaluative contexts

This section discusses several cases in which the use of an indefinite or a definite article leads to what we may call a subjective/evaluative interpretation, revealing the speakerʼs subjective evaluation of some aspect of his utterance; see Section 8.2.2 for a similar effect in the domain of nominal predicates. This holds especially for the indefinite article een in exclamative contexts and for stressed definite articles.

[+]  I.  The spurious indefinite article een

The examples in (153) and (154) illustrate the evaluative use of een in exclamative constructions, which inherently express some evaluation on the part of the speaker, which may be either positive or negative (depending on contextual or extra-linguistic factors). We are dealing with a spurious indefinite article een in these examples, which is clear from the fact, illustrated by the (b)-examples, that it can be used in combination with plurals.

Example 153
Exclamative wat een N!
a. Wat *(een) boek is dat!
  what a book  is that
b. Wat *(een) boeken zijn dat!
  what a books  are that
Example 154
Exclamative een N!
a. Dat is me toch *(een) boek!
  that  is  me  prt     a  book
b. Dat zijn me toch (een) boeken!
  that  are  me  prt   a  books

If the article is followed by a singular count noun, the evaluation must involve some property of the book, which may be related to its contents, its physical properties, its appearance, etc. The same thing holds if the noun is plural, but in this case the evaluation may also involve the number of books.

Example 155
Een boeken dat hij heeft!
  a books  that  he  has
'Heʼs got an enormous amount of books!'

      Perhaps the interrogative wat voor constructions in (156) can be brought under the same rubric of “evaluativity”, since the speaker is asking the listener for a further characterization of the set denoted by the NP in question. This further characterization can (but need not) be expressed by means of an evaluative attributive adjective: a prototypical answer to (156a) would be een interessant/saai boek'an interesting/boring book'.

Example 156
Interrogative wat voor een N?
a. Wat voor (een) boek is dat?
  what for a book  is that
b. Wat voor (een) boeken zijn dat?
  what for a books  are that

      One might wish to also include the N of a N construction in (157), where the evaluative part should be found in the metaphorical comparison inherently expressed by this construction. Note, however, that Section 4.2.1, sub VI, has claimed that for many speakers the use of een in the plural example (157b) leads to a highly marked result.

Example 157
N of a N
a. een schat van *(een) kind
  a darling of a child
b. schatten van (%een) kinderen
  darlings of a children
[+]  II.  Stressed definite articles: “Par excellence”

This subsection discusses a special use of the definite articles, which is illustrated in (158). This use is easily recognizable by the heavy accent assigned to the article, which is marked in writing by means of an acute accent on the vowel symbol. Note in passing that stressed is the only case in Dutch in which a function word with a nucleus schwa receives heavy accent; the article hèt is not pronounced with a schwa but as /hεt/.

Example 158
a. Dit is dé bank van Nederland.
  this  is the bank  of the.Netherlands
b. Dit is hèt adres voor al uw inkopen.
  this  is the address  for all your purchases

The semantics contributed by the definite article in these examples can best be characterized as par excellence; the noun phrase in question refers not just to a specific entity or group of entities, but asserts the referent is the representative par excellence of the total set denoted by the NP embedded under the determiner.
      There is a tendency for definite noun phrases with an emphatically stressed article to function as nominal predicates, as in (158) and the primeless examples in (159), but it is not impossible for them to perform argument functions, as shown by the primed examples.

Example 159
a. Dit is hèt concert van het jaar.
  this  is the concert of the year
a'. Hèt concert van het jaar vond plaats op 13 juli.
  the concert of the year  found  place  on 13 July
b. Dit is dé manier om PRO het te doen.
  this  is the way  comp  it  to do
  'This is the way to do it.'
b'. Ik heb dé manier om PRO het te doen ontdekt.
  have  the way  comp  it  to do  discovered
  'Iʼve discovered the way to do it.'

      This emphatic use of the definite article is possible not only with common nouns, but also with proper nouns. An example is given in (160). The reaction on the assertion of the first participant in the discourse expresses disbelief/surprise on the part of the second participant, who is asking whether the first participant really refers to the world-famous lead singer of the Rolling Stones.

Example 160
Ik heb Mick Jagger gisteren gezien. — Wat!? Toch niet dé Mick Jagger?
  I have Mick Jagger  yesterday seen.  What  prt  not  the Mick Jagger
'I saw Mick Jagger yesterday. —What!? Not the Mick Jagger?'

      The emphatic use of the definite article is not compatible with a generic interpretation of the noun phrase: since generic noun phrases like de zebra'the zebra' in (161) do not pick out individuals or groups of individuals from out of a larger set, they cannot pick out the representative(s) par excellence of this set either. Hence (161b) is ungrammatical, in contrast to (161a), which features unstressed de.

Example 161
a. De zebra is gestreept.
  the zebra  is striped
b. * zebra is gestreept.
  the zebra  is striped

      Haeseryn et al. (1997) claims that the par excellence reading can also be obtained by using the stressed second person singular possessive pronoun , as in (162). These examples with are, however, not as common nor as widely accepted as the ones with dé/hè t. Note that it is very remarkable that the weak form je (with a schwa as nucleus) can receive accent without switching to the strong form jouw, which never allows a par excellence interpretation.

Example 162
a. Dat is dé/%jé/#jòuw auto.
  that is the/your/your  car
b. Dat is hèt/%jé/#jòuw adres voor Franse kaas.
  that is the/your/your  address for French cheese

Although not all speakers accept the par excellence reading of stressed , they do all accept the weak possessive pronoun je (as well as the weak article het) on a similar par excellence reading in the idiomatic expression in (163); assigning stress to je will result in ungrammaticality (although stress can be assigned to het). Note that je/het ware probably involves an elided noun; similar, non-elided constructions are possible with the nouns leven'life' and geluk'happiness'.

Example 163
Dat is je/het ware!
  that is your/the true-inf
'Thatʼs the real thing, thatʼs great/the best.'

To conclude, it may be interesting to note that the stressed form can also be combined with the definite article het into the highly idiomatic construction in (164), which shares with the earlier examples the par excellence reading. Note that we have glossed stressed hè t as “the” rather than as the pronoun “it”. The reason for doing this is that hét in (164) contravenes two otherwise robust properties of pronominal het: its failure to receive accent and its non-occurrence to the right of prepositions. See the discussion of R-pronominalization in Section P5.1: * Ik kijk naar het vs. Ik kijk ernaar'I look at it'.

Example 164
Dat is van hèt.
  that  is  you(r)  of  the
'Thatʼs the best.'
  • Haeseryn, Walter, Romijn, Kirsten, Geerts, Guido, Rooij, Jaap de & Toorn, Maarten C. van den1997Algemene Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenNijhoff
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