The origin and architecture of existential indeterminates in Okinawan

Ken Hiraiwa


In a number of languages, an indeterminate is combined with various particles to yield different indefinite pronouns. This has been called an indeterminate system (Kuroda 1965, Cheng 1991, Haspelmath 1997, Jayaseelan 2001). As Haspelmath (1997) and Jayaseelan (2001) observe, existential indeterminates are often built with disjunction markers. On the other hand, a disjunction particle and a question particle are often morphologically identical cross-linguistically (see Hagstrom 1998, Jayaseelan 2001). Thus, a question that I ask here is whether the alleged homophony between a disjunction marker and a marker that forms an existential quantifier is principled (Jayaseelan 2001, Szabolcsi et al. 2014) or coincidental (Haspelmath 1997, Cable 2010). In this paper, I argue that the observation about homophony is misguided and hence support Haspelmath’s hypothesis, based on the data obtained from my fieldwork on Okinawan, an endangered Ryukyuan language. I propose an analysis where existential indeterminates in Okinawan have a clausal structure of an embedded question and are derived by deletion.


indeterminates; particles; Okinawan; Ryukyuan; syntax; existential quantifiers; free choice; ellipsis; deletion; Japanese; focus concord

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