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7.1.1. Semantics of al and alle'all'

This section discusses the meaning contribution of al/alle'all'. Subsection I will show that the core semantics involves universal quantification. Since the core semantics of pre-determiner bare al and inflected alle is the same, it has been suggested by, e.g., Verkuyl (1981), Paardekooper (1986), De Jong (1991), Coppen (1991), and Haeseryn et al. (1997) that alle is actually a “fused” form of pre-determiner bare al and the definite determiner; see Perridon (1997) for an opposing view. Under this view the invariant schwa ending on alle could be seen as the remaining part of the definite article de after its “fusion” with al. This approach to the final schwa of alle does not carry over, however, to attested cases with singular neuter nouns like alle geknoei, given that the neuter definite article het, with which al has putatively fused, does not end in a schwa. Subsections II and III will provide more arguments against the “fusion” approach to inflected alle: these subsections discuss, respectively, the specific and generic uses of al/alle and the fact that alle, but not al, can be used to express high degree quantification. Subsection IV concludes by showing that the universal and the high degree quantifiers differ in that noun phrases modified by the former are strong whereas noun phrases modified by the latter quantifier are weak.

[+]  I.  Core semantics: universal quantification

As was discussed in the introduction to this chapter, the core meaning of al/alle involves universal quantification: it indicates that all members of the denotation set of the noun phrase are part of the denotation set of the predicate. If combined with count nouns, al/alle applies to sets, not to structured units. The difference between these two notions can be clarified by means of the pairs in (7). While, at a certain level of abstraction, the noun phrases de bomen'the trees' and het bos'the forest' can refer to the same entity in the extra-linguistic universe, they are linguistically distinct in that the former refers to a set of entities while the latter refers to a unit, which is structured in the sense that it happens to consist of a set of entities. The primeless examples in (7) show that al/alle can be used in noun phrases that refer to sets but not in noun phrases that refer to structured units. The primed examples show that al is fundamentally different in this regard from the pre-determiner heel'all/whole': cf. Section for more discussion.

Example 7
a. al de/alle bomen
  all the/all  trees
a'. * heel de bomen
  whole  the trees
b. * al het/alle bos
  all the/all  forest
b'. heel het bos
  whole  the forest

Al/alle can also precede non-count nouns. This holds both for concrete, substance nouns like wijn'wine' and for abstract, psychological predicates like ellende'sorrow'. In these cases al indicates that the full contextually determined quantity of the entity denoted by the noun is intended.

Example 8
a. al de/alle wijn
  all the/all  wine
b. al de/alle ellende
  all the/all  sorrow
[+]  II.  Specificity/genericity

An important difference between pre-determiner bare al and inflected alle concerns the generic interpretations of noun phrases. It comes to the fore most clearly with nouns like zebra that may refer to a species. As is discussed in, a bare plural like zebraʼs in (9a) can have either a non-generic reading, in which case it refers to a certain set of zebras, or a generic reading. in which case it refers to typical members of the species. A definite noun phrase like de zebraʼs, on the other hand, can normally only be used in specific statements; (9b) is ungrammatical as a generic statement about zebras and, since zebras happen to all be striped, it is also awkward as a statement about a specific set of zebras.

Example 9
a. Zebraʼs zijn gestreept.
  zebras  are  striped
b. # De zebraʼs zijn gestreept.
  the zebras  are  striped

      When we now turn to examples featuring the universal quantifiers alle and al, we find that noun phrases involving inflected alle behave like bare plurals, and that noun phrases involving pre-determiner bare al behave like definite noun phrases. That is, the universally quantified noun phrase alle zebraʼs in (10) is ambiguous between a specific and a generic interpretation, whereas the noun phrase al de zebraʼs in (11) normally has a specific reading.

Example 10
a. Alle zebraʼs kwamen plotseling op ons af.
  all zebras  came  suddenly  at us  prt.
b. Alle zebraʼs zijn gestreept.
  all zebras  are  striped
Example 11
a. Al de zebraʼs kwamen plotseling op ons af.
  all the zebras  came  suddenly  at us  prt.
  'All the zebras suddenly came running towards us.'
b. # Al de zebraʼs zijn gestreept.
  all the zebras  are  striped

Another way to describe these data is by saying that the noun phrase alle zebraʼs can be used either to refer to the set of zebras in the domain of discourse (domain D), or simply to all zebras in the speakerʼs conception of the universe. The noun phrase al de zebraʼs, on the other hand, can only be used to refer to the zebras in domain D. This means that the meaning of this noun phrase is strictly compositional: the noun phrase de zebraʼs refers to the zebras in domain D and the pre-determiner al emphasizes that literally all the entities in domain D that satisfy the description of the NP zebraʼs are included in the set referred to by the definite noun phrase. The fact that alle and al de differ in this way suggests that a “fusion” approach to alle, according to which alle is a contracted form of the pre-determiner al and the definite determiner, cannot be upheld.

[+]  III.  High degree quantification

That a fusion “approach” to alle is not feasible is also suggested by the fact that alle, but not al de, can be used to express high degree quantification. Examples of this use are given in (12): that the semantic contribution of alle in (12a) is not universal quantification but degree modification is clear from the fact that alle tijd does not mean “all time(s)” but “lots of time”. This example also shows that the pre-determiner al cannot be used in this way. Other examples of the same type are given in (12b&c). Note in passing, that using all in the English translation of (12a) is impossible (although it does occur in the translation of the saying Ik heb alle tijd in de wereld'I have all the time in the world'); examples (12b&c), however, can be rendered in English with the aid of the quantifier every.

Example 12
a. Ik heb alle/*al de tijd.
  have  all/all  the time
  'I have lots of time.'
b. Er is alle/*al de reden tot klagen.
  there  is all/all  the reason  to complaining
  'There is every reason to complain.'
c. Er was alle/*al de gelegenheid tot het stellen van vragen.
  there  was all/all  the opportunity  to the posing of questions
  'There was every opportunity to ask questions.'

The high degree reading is frequently found in noun phrases with alle headed by abstract non-count nouns, especially if these noun phrases are embedded in PPs headed by in'in' or voor'for'. Some examples are given in (13). Note that the semantics of in alle eerlijkheid/redelijkheid in (13a) is accurately rendered in English with the aid of all ( in all honesty/fairness), which suggests that high degree quantification is possible with English all as well. Dutch uses alle in this high degree meaning rather more profusely than English, though.

Example 13
a. in alle helderheid/eerlijkheid/redelijkheid/rust
  in  all  clarity/honesty/fairness/rest
b. voor alle duidelijkheid/zekerheid
  for  all  clarity/security
[+]  IV.  Weak and strong quantifiers

Noun phrases quantified by high-degree alle in (12) behave like weak noun phrases in the sense of Section 6.2.1, sub II: as a subject they typically appear in expletive er constructions like (12b&c), and they may also occur as the object in existential possessive sentences such as (12a). In this respect, these noun phrases are fundamentally different from the noun phrases headed by the universal quantifier alle, discussed in sub I, which is a strong quantifier: the examples in (14) show that a noun phrase modified by the universal quantifier alle cannot occur in the expletive er construction.

Example 14
a. Alle/* mannen zijn in de kamer.
  all/∅  men  are  in the room
b. Er zijn ∅/*alle mannen in de kamer.
  there  are  ∅/all  men  in the room

A similar argument cannot be reproduced for the pre-determiner al given that it never combines with bare plurals (cf. Section; the contrast between the examples in (15) can therefore be attributed to the presence of the definite article. Nevertheless, the fact that Subsection I has shown that al expresses universal quantification combined with the fact that universal quantifier alle is strong makes it reasonable to assume that pre-determiner bare al is also a strong quantifier, although the point is difficult to prove.

Example 15
a. (Al) de mannen zijn in de kamer.
  all  the men  are  in the room
b. * Er zijn (al) de mannen in de kamer.
  there  are   all  the men  in the room
  • Coppen, Peter-Arno1991Specifying the noun phraseAmsterdamThesis Publishers
  • Haeseryn, Walter, Romijn, Kirsten, Geerts, Guido, Rooij, Jaap de & Toorn, Maarten C. van den1997Algemene Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenNijhoff
  • Jong, Francisca de1991Determiners: features and filtersUtrechtUniversity of UtrechtThesis
  • Paardekooper, P.C1986Beknopte ABN-syntaksisEindhovenP.C. Paardekooper
  • Perridon, Harry1997Totaliteit. Over het gebruik van de woorden <i>al(le)</i>, <i>heel</i>, <i>ieder</i> en <i>elk</i>Elffers, Els, Horst, Joop van der & Klooster, Wim (eds.)Grammaticaal spektakel. Artikelen aangeboden aan Ina Schermer-Vermeer bij haar afscheid van de Vakgroep Nederlandse Taalkunde aan de Universiteit van AmsterdamDutch department, University of Amsterdam181-190
  • Verkuyl, Henk J1981Numerals and quantifiers in X-bar syntax and their semantic interpretationGroenendijk, Jeroen & Janssen, T.M.V. (eds.)Formal methods in the study of languageAmsterdamMathematisch Centrum567-599
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