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On the Definite Marker in Modern Spoken Persian
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Languages, Department of Linguistics and Philology. (Iranian languages)
2015 (English)Conference paper, Abstract (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Definiteness as a grammatical category has been discussed in theoretical linguistics both from a philosophical and a discourse pragmatic point of view. One definition of definiteness is that it has to do with whether it is assumed that the addressee is acquainted with the referent of the NP or not (Abbott 2006: 393). Definite NPs can either refer to something previously introduced in the discourse or to something that the speaker assumes that the addressee knows already.

            In many languages, both definite and indefinite nouns are marked (e.g. English, French), in other languages only the definite noun is marked (Irish Gaelic) and in yet others, only the indefinite noun is marked (Turkish). Some languages neither mark definiteness nor indefiniteness on the noun (e.g. Russian) (Abbott 2006:398). Markers for indefiniteness often originate from the numeral ‘one’ and can either occur as indefinite articles (e.g. Swedish en/ett) or indefinite suffixes/clitics (e.g. Balochi =ē). As for markers for definiteness, they are often derived from demonstratives (e.g. Romance languages) (Lyons 1999: 331‒334).

            Modern Written Persian (MWP), as well as Classical Persian (CP) is a language that marks indefiniteness, or rather individuation (see e.g. Korn 2009: 75), with the clitic (CP , Middle Persian ēw ‘one’). There is no dedicated marker for definiteness in CP or MWP. On the contrary, there is a marker for definiteness -e (after C) and –he (after V)  in Modern Spoken Persian (MSP). This –e/-he carries stress. The purpose of this study is to investigate the use of this marker and discuss whether it should be regarded as a suffix or as a clitic. In this study, I investigate the use of -e to mark definiteness in MSP in five Persian films and by means of interviews with five L1 Persian speakers.

            Windfuhr and Perry (2009: 432) describes this marker as having “referential function to a person or an item” mentioned earlier in the discourse. Lazard (1992: 73­‒74) also describes this definiteness marker and notes that it is optionally used “better to mark definiteness”. This study, too, shows that the marking of definiteness is by no means obligatory in MSP. Inherently definite nouns (where there is only one possible referent) never take -e, such as ‘the sun, the moon, the world’. For other nouns in the singular, the -e is optionally present. Before the direct object clitic =ro it is realized as -a. There is no marking of definiteness in the plural.

The definite marker -e can be added to a noun phrase consisting of a noun plus an adjective, in which case the ezāfe which normally connects the adjective to the noun is dropped and the noun+adjective is compounded with only one word stress. The fact that the marker is added to the adjective could be the starting point in the grammaticalization of -e as a clitic rather than a suffix, but since the noun+adjective is re-shaped into a unit with only one word stress (on the definite marker) it seems at this point more correct to regard the -e as a suffix that attaches only to nouns.

A finding in Koroshi Balochi texts may be the key to the etymology of the definite suffix in Persian. In Koroshi the originally diminutive suffix -ok carrying stress is optionally used to mark a definite noun (see Jahani and Nourzaei 2011 where the whole text is published).

I therefore argue that the diminutive suffix in Persian, -ak, is a likely candidate for the origin of the -e suffix. The diminutive suffix carries stress, like the -e suffix, and a reduction of -ak > -a > -e in MSP is not hard to envisage. It may be interesting to note that the definite marker -aka in Sorani Kurdish is likewise stressed (on the final syllable) (Thackston, p. 9), and so is the definite marker -eke / -e in Bakhtiari (Anonby and Asadi 2014: 67). Also in these languages, the definiteness marker is likely to be a diminutive suffix that has taken on the grammatical role of marking definiteness.



Anonby, Erik and Asadi, Ashraf (2014). Bakhtiari Studies. Phonology, Text, Lexicon (Studia Iranica Upsaliensia 24). Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis.

Abbott, B. (2006). “Definite and Indefinite”. Encyclopedia of Language & Linguistics. Amsterdam and Oxford: Elsevier, pp. 392–398. ‪

Jahani, Carina, and Maryam Nourzaei (2011). “A Folktale in Koroshi Dedicated to Joy Edelman”. In: Leksika, ėtimologiya, yazykovye kontakty. K yubileyu doktora filologičeskix nauk professor Džoy Yosifovny Ėdel’man [Lexicon, etymology, linguistic contacts. For the birthday of Professor Joy Yosifovna Edelman, doctor of philosophy], ed. L.R. Dodyxudoeva, S. R. Vinogradova, and A. S. Bayandur, A. S. Moscow: Akademiya Nauk,  pp. 62‒70

Korn, Agnes (2009). “The Ergative System in Balochi from a Typological Perspective”. Iranian Journal of Applied Language Studies 1:1, 43–79.

Lazard, Gilbert (1992). A Grammar of Contemporary Persian. Transl. into English by Shirley A. Lyon. Costa Mesa and New York: Mazda Publishers.

Lyons, Christopher (1999). Definiteness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thackston, W.M. Sorani Kurdish. A Reference Grammar with selected readings. Online at: http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~iranian/Sorani/sorani_1_grammar.pdf (retrieved 9 Nov. 2014)

Windfuhr, Gernot and Perry John R. (2009). “Persian and Tajik”. In: The Iranian Languages, ed. G. Windfuhr, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 416‒544.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
National Category
Specific Languages
Research subject
Iranian Languages
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-277740OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-277740DiVA: diva2:905558
International Conference on Iranian Linguistics, 6, Tbilisi
Available from: 2016-02-22 Created: 2016-02-22 Last updated: 2016-07-18Bibliographically approved

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