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Articles in conlangs (was: CHAT translating the Paternoster)

From:Ray Brown <ray.brown@...>
Date:Wednesday, July 17, 2002, 6:11
On Monday, July 15, 2002, at 06:23 , John Cowan wrote:

> Ray Brown scripsit: > >> In his "After Babel" (a book all >> would-be translators ought to read IMO), George Steiner spends two pages >> [...] >> French: Que la lumi=E8re soit; et la lumi=E8re fut. >> [...]
Ach! 2002 and e-grave still cannot be sent safely via email! What on earth is '=E8' meant to be? I guess all the romanized Greek I've been writing recently is still getting mangled. How much longer do we have to suffer this anglocentric mangling of diacritics?
>> He finds the French version the least satisfactory. The definite >> article >> which French needs in his view 'posits a conceptual essence before >> phenomenality'. The conceptual pre-existence is not there in the >> other versions: the creation of light is immediate & stunning. > > Or (which I believe more likely correct), "le" etc. in French is no longer > a *definite* article at all,
Both he and I are using the term 'definite article' in traditional usage. AFAIK the French articles are still traditionally termed 'definite', 'indefinite' and 'partitive' even tho the usage of the first two do not coincide neatly with usage of 'definite' & 'indefinite' articles in English. For that matter the 'definite article' behaves rather differently from English in ancient Greek also. Indeed, the usage of articles in different langs is quite varied. This, it seems to me, is so often overlooked by IAL makers who blithely give their language a 'definite article' or 'definite' & 'indefinite' articles, without being exactly explicit about their usage. I don't think this so great a problem in an artlang, particularly if the conlanger is "discovering" the language as, e.g. Tolkien discovered his. The author comments on usage as it's "discovered" - s/he doesn't have to be prescriptive from the start. But an conIAL is a different beast. If the author does her/his job properly, then these matters ought IMO to be defined. BrSc - whether BrScA or BrScB - will have no articles :)
> but merely a default determiner that begins > noun phrases when no other determiner applies.
I don't think the _merely_ does it justice. Why assume the 'definite' article is the default in French to be used if the indefinite or the partitive does not apply? There are also contexts in which nouns are not preceded by any article, e.g. il est professeur = he is a teacher.
> The *definite* determiner > is "ce" etc.
Except that 'ce' by no means corresponds to English "the" which still, more often than not, will be rendered 'le', 'la' or 'les' in French. The point surely is that while 'le', 'la', 'les' are used more or less where we use "the" in English, it is also extensively used in other contexts where we would use no article at all.
> Etymology is not always the friend of semantics.
I know that. Etymology would mean 'le' etc. = "that" and 'ce' etc = "behold this" (assumimg the Vulgar Latin meaning of 'iste' = "this", rather than the Classical Latin "that [of yours]"). I can't speak for George Steiner, but I doubt he was thinking of etymology any more than I was. Anyway, it seems to me the use of articles and/or determiners is something a conlanger has to think about. If one is merely relexifying English (and many of us began that way), there's obviously no problem. But if we're trying to create something original, then the problem does need consideration. Ray.


John Cowan <jcowan@...>