The semantics of determiners in field data from two Philippine languages, Ilokano and Yogad, is characterized and compared. In Ilokano, this content appears as gradations along a cline of "individuation." In Yogad, the semantics represents successive degrees of "actualization." In both languages, the function of this semantics is to form and delineate participants by segregating these from the ground of quality and event and also to orient within an existing matrix of knowledge the participants thus formed. The name "determinacy" is given to this participant-forming semantics as a means of comparing it across languages.
Determinacy, as exemplified in Ilokano (individuation) and Yogad (actualization), is motivated by the cognitive principle FOCUSSED--DIFFUSE. This principle is inherent in the process by which variance in focal attention organizes the continuum of the cognitive experience of an organism. Variable focal attention is the cognitive-psychological basis for determinacy and, therefore, for participant formation in language.
The operation of the FOCUSSED--DIFFUSE principle in connection with focal attention outside of language is illustrated in human vision and visual perception and in sonar echolocation in bats. Because the FOCUSSED--DIFFUSE principle is a cognitive universal and is a parameter of meaning characteristic of intelligence itself, we conclude that determinacy is also a linguistic universal, i.e., that it is a constant presence in language, even in languages which lack determining forms.
In proposing a cognitive motivation for determinacy, this study challenges the privileging of discourse pragmatics in recent attempts to understand the function of determiners. The analysis of the Ilokano and Yogad data shows that in these languages determiners are not involved in the management of information flow in connected discourse.
The study rejects the notion of the modularity of language or of linguistic intelligence; it argues that determinacy in language cannot be adequately described apart from understanding the way in which the FOCUSSED--DIFFUSE principle operates in other cognitive domains.