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Indefinite Pronouns

Most of the world's languages have indefinite pronouns, that is, expressions such as someone, anything, and nowhere. Martin Haspelmath presents the first comprehensive and encyclopaedic investigation of indefinite pronouns in the languages of the world, mapping out the range of variation in their functional and formative properties. He shows that cross-linguistic diversity is severely constrained by a set of implicational universals and by a number of unrestricted universals. The author treats his subject matter broadly within the Humboldt-Greenberg tradition of language typology, but also considers the contribution of other theoretical approaches to an understanding of the functional and formal properties of indefinite pronouns. The book is organized into four logically ordered steps: selection of a part of grammar - indefinite pronouns - that can be identified across languages by formal and functional criteria; investigation of the properties of indefinite pronouns in a world-wide sample of forty languages; formulation of generalizations that emerge from the data, summarized in the form of an implicational map; and theoretically informed explanations of the generalizations, which go beyond system-internal statements, appealing to cognitive semantics, functional pressures, and universals of language change (especially grammaticalization).
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A welcome addition to the typological literature, this book is the most comprehensive work to date devoted exclusively to the description of indefinite pronous ... in the world's languages. / Haspelmath's presentation offers generally interesting reading, giving us many facts, testable universal claims, and tantalizing attempts at explanation. With its many examples, the book can serve not only as a springboard for further scholarship but also as a useful reference work for teaching. / ... well-organized book.../ The writing style is accessible; thus the book has a potentially wide readership among both linguists and nonlinguists interested in language universals and their explanation./ Haspelmath is to be applauded for attempting explanations of so many of his findings. The explanatory ideas he appeals to are seductive ones that crop up repeatedly in linguistics./ Jessica Wirth, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Anthropological Linguistics, Vol 41, no 1 This volume is well presented and edited and contains an extensive bibliography on the topic of indefinite pronouns in what Haspelmath regards the mainstream of linguistics. It will appeal to specialists rather than to people with an only generalist interest in linguistics. * Peter Muhlhausler *

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