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Re: definite/indefinite articles

From:Sally Caves <scaves@...>
Date:Monday, March 31, 2003, 5:39
----- Original Message -----
From: "Michael David Martin" <mdmartin@...>

> Hello, > I've got a basic question regarding the definite and indefinite
> ('the' 'a') - are they really necessary? Is there any reason to have them? > How about having the definite article but not the indefinite article? I
> just wondering if there was a reason that a language should have them. > > Hope this question isn't too simple, but I am a novice to conlanging.
> for your answers.
Don't be ashamed of any questions. "Stay curious," is David Bell's motto! Welsh and a number of other languages have the definite article but not the indefinite one. Definiteness or indefiniteness is just one of many ways of preceding a noun with special information. And it's certainly not the only way to do so. The definite or indefinite articles not only give information about the specificity of a thing (has it been mentioned before? is it new? is it right here?), but about its case (is it a subject? an object?), its gender (is it masculine? feminine? neuter?) or, in some languages, its animacy (is it alive? dead? inanimate? sentient? sapient?). In Latin, neither "the" nor "a" existed, only "that": is, ille, iste (or quidam, "a certain"). Ille was used to refer to an object within one's sight, so to speak, that both speaker and hearer were talking about or could point out. The same was true for our earliest English. Our word "the" comes from a simplified version of our word "that" which, like the modern German article, reflected the number, gender, and case of a noun. Examples: Se mann (that man), seo lar (that learning), thaet wif (that woman). Nominative singular. But: thone mann, tha lare, and thaet wif (accusative singular). Thaem menn, thaere lare, thaem wife (dative singular). And on and on. When English started simplifying, shortly before and especially after the Norman Conquest, it lost all those forms, shortened to "the," and started making a distinction between "the" and "that" which to this day is difficult to define. French sometimes puts its definite article in front of certain abstract nouns that we don't: "La guerre." "War" (in the abstract). So it differs from language to language, even in American and British usages: "Come to (the) table, I go to (the) University, he's in (the) hospital." Some languages don't have articles at all. So no, it's up to you what you want to do with your conlang and your announcement of nouns and proper nouns. Teonaht, my conlang, has two articles for the subject noun: one that announces that the subject acts volitionally, and another that announces that the subject acts passively or without volition. Le beto jane. "The boy speaks." Li beto edrim. "The boy sleeps." Li gwenda ouan, "the girl hears" (experiences a sound). Le gwenda oua, "the girls listens" (for a sound, to a discussion, to music). Matt Pearson's invented language Tokana has a "determiner" which serves double duty as both a kind of pronoun, and a kind of article that expresses the case of a noun. So te ("it, that") is also used in place of "the" in te katia ("the house"). Every specific noun in Tokana must have a determining particle, even names. Padraic Brown's Kerno does this as well: La Guimier (a woman's name). It's like saying "The Nicole." :) I'm thinking of adopting this habit for Teonaht as it seems to be moving more and more towards an obsession with volitionality. Good luck! Sal...


John Cowan <cowan@...>
Adam Walker <carrajena@...>
H. S. Teoh <hsteoh@...>
Nik Taylor <yonjuuni@...>
João Ricardo Oliveira <hokstein@...>