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Unmarked definiteness

From:Andreas Johansson <andjo@...>
Date:Monday, August 23, 2004, 13:53
The human mind is a wondrous thing. Having today just finished my second
semester at the RWTH Aachen, I was moved to think of my regretable ability to
pass exams without actually having learnt the contents of the course. This made
me think of an article I read yesterday about Simone de Beauvoir's criticism of
the fakedness she perceived in the works of most female artists. Phonetic
similarity then led my thoughts to Josephine de Beauharnais, from which the
step to Eugene de Beauharnais was short enough, and from him to the Swedish
pronunciation of the name "Eugene" not any longer. That naturally made me think
of the marginal presence of short [e] in Swedish, which in turn  brought to mind
the loss of the /r/ in words like __erkänna_ in rapid speech. From loss of
consonants to my late grandfather's 'lect the step was pretty much inevitable.

And then I realized something nifty about that 'lect I do not believe I've ever
reflected over before, namely that, for certain nouns, the definite form is
simply the most basic form of the stem, while the indefinite is marked by a
preceeding article. Eg [e: o:] "a river" vs [o:] "the river". In standard, this
would be [En o:] vs [o:n], with explicit markers for both, but this 'lect
doesn't like final nasals.

Now, while it's not hard to see how this state of affairs came about - phonetic
change simply ate the definite marker alive, but only snatched a leg from the
indefinite one - but nonetheless seems remarkable; normally, we'd expect the
indefinite to be the less marked form, wouldn't we? Is there any other
languages which do the same?



John Cowan <jcowan@...>
Garth Wallace <gwalla@...>
Benct Philip Jonsson <bpj@...>
Mark P. Line <mark@...>