Semantic peculiarities of the English article and ways of its translation
Article as a part of speech. Theoretical and practical aspect. The historical development of articles. Lexico-grammatical aspects of translation of the definite and indefinite articles. Realization of the contextual meanings of the indefinite article.
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Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine
G.S. Skovoroda Kharkiv National Pedagogical University
Department of English Philology
Semantic peculiarities of the English article and ways of its translation
by Shama M.,
student of the Foreign Philology Faculty,
group 5 E/C
Candidate of Sciences (Philology),
Assistant Professor of the Department of English Philology
Reviewer: Candidate of Sciences (Philology),
Assistant Professor of the
Department of English
Kharkiv - 2007
Part I. Article as a part of speech. Theoretical and practical aspect
1.2 The historical development of articles
1.3 Article determination
1.4 The functions of articles
1.4.1 The use of the Indefinite article
1.4.2 The use of the Definite article
1.4.3 Omission of the article
Part II. Lexico-grammatical aspects of translation of the definite and indefinite articles
2.1 The Category of Definiteness and Indefiniteness
2.2 Rendering of the contextual meaning of the definite and indefinite articles
2.2.1 Realization of the contextual meanings of the definite article
2.2.2 Realization of the contextual meanings of the indefinite article
Part III. Methods of teaching articles
3.1 Article in a school programme
3.2 Teaching articles in the 5th form
3.3 Teaching articles in the 6th form
3.4 Translation exercises for the students of the foreign language departments
Though the article is the part of speech that contains only two words it presents a great difficulty for a student of English. A foreigner can always be told by his wrong use of article. Mistakes in the use of articles are considered to be the most difficult to be corrected. Numerous works devoted to this part of speech have certainly contributed to its better understanding but a great number of problems are still waiting for their further study and solutions [45, c.49]. One of these problems deals with the contextual use of articles and the ways they may be translated into other languages in general and into Russian and Ukrainian in particular[28, c.74; 39, 59].
This research is topical for a number of reasons. First, no matter how many studies have been made in this area the problems relevant to its translation haven't been studied properly. Second, further development of linguistics and other areas relevant to this branch of science call for new approaches to the study of even most traditional aspects of modern grammar. In addition, the study of articles and their contextual meaning and ways they are translated into other languages is of great value of teaching methods [39, c.83].
The object of this research is English articles.
The subject of the research is a study of use of English articles in various contexts and its translation into Ukrainian.
The goal of our work is to make a systematic study of English articles, their contextual use and ways they are translated into Ukrainian.
In compliance with the goal the following objectives are to be solved:
1. To determine the place of the English articles in the system of the English language and to cover some theoretical questions concerned with the object of the research.
2. To study a typical use of articles and its special difficulties.
3. To analyze contextual meanings of the English articles and ways of their translation into Ukrainian.
4. To develop a set of exercises aimed at improving students' skills in the use of the English articles.
The goal and the objectives of the research determine the structure of our work.
It consists of an introduction, 3 parts, conclusion and a list of literature.
More than 50 manuals, articles and other types of educational and research papers served as the material for our analyses. Besides, the use of articles in the works of W.S. Maugham, J. London and their translation served for our analyses in the practical part of the work.
A set of linguistic methods including a descriptive, analytical, contextual analysis was used in the course of our study. In addition a translational method was intensively used while analyzing the contextual peculiarities of the article and determining typical ways of their translation into Ukrainian.
The results obtained in the course of our research have been reported at a number of students' conferences in the Kharkiv Pedagogical university and were widely used in the course of my teaching practice school N172.
The first part of the work deals with the general theoretical principles relevant to the English article and to the description of its traditional difficulties. Part II is devoted to the study of contextual semantic characteristics of English articles and the ways they are translated into Ukrainian. Teaching aspects of the article are discussed in part III. Here a set of exercises aimed at improving students' skills in the use of the English articles is also offered.
Part I. Article as a part of speech. Theoretical and practical aspects
The issues relevant to the nature of the English article have been the focus of attention of early descriptive English Grammar books since the 16th century and it is intensively studied nowadays.
In the 16th -18th centuries the article was considered as a noun determiner. There was, however, a different point of view when the article was included into the adjective. Besides, there existed different approaches to English articles. According to G. Mironets, the article was considered as part of the Noun, as a separate part of speech and as a particle. The terms ”definite” and ”indefinite” were first used by J.Howell in 1662 [45, c.56].
Being aware of numerous points of view regarding the status of the article in the English language we share the view presented by B. Khaimovich and B. Rogovskaya who considered the article a separate part of speech. They consider that the two words a(an), the form a separate group or class characterized by:
a) the lexico-grammatical meaning of ”(in)definiteness”,
b) the right-hand combinability with nouns,
c) the function of noun specifiers [52, c.214]
The lexical meaning of a(n) in Modern English is a very weak reminder of its original meaning (OE. an=one). In spite of the long process of weakening there remains enough of the original meaning in a(n) to exclude the possibility of its being attached to a ”plural” noun.
The lexical meaning of the in Modern English is a pale shadow of its original demonstrative meaning.
The general lexico-grammatical meaning of these words, as usual, is not identical with their individual lexical meanings. It abstracts itself from the meaning of ”oneness” in a(n) and the ”demonstrative” meaning in the. Perhaps, the names of the articles (”definite”, ”indefinite”) denote the nearest approach to this lexico-grammatical meaning, which, for lack of a better term, might be defined as that of ”definiteness-indefiniteness” [52, c.215].
The article is a form word that serves as a noun determiner. It is one of the main means of conveying the idea of definiteness and indefiniteness.
Definiteness suggests that the object presented by the following noun is individualized and singled out from all the other objects of the same kind, whereas indefiniteness means a more general reference to an object [20, c.75].
The lexical meaning of the English articles is determined by its historical development. That is why after considering the historical development of the English articles their rendering into Ukrainian and Russian becomes obvious. Under the influence of the historical processes that took place both in phonetical and grammatical structure of the English language the article as a part of speech has undergone major changes. Its origin goes deep into the history of the English language both definite and indefinite articles. This explains the fact that when translating articles we get equivalents (in other languages) of various types. That is why we consider it necessary to present all stages of the historical formation of the English article.
1.2 The historical development of the English articles. The definite article
The infinitive in Northumbrian often loses its final -n and ends in -a: drinca 'drink', sinza 'sing'. The 1st person singular present indicative ends in -u, -o (for West-Saxon -e): ic drincu 'I drink', ic sinzo 'I sing'. The 2nd person singular present indicative and the 2nd person singular past indicative of weak verbs often ends in -s (for West-Saxon -si): pu drinces 'thou drinkest', pu lufodes 'thou lo-vedst'. This means that the initial consonant of the pronoun 'pu did not join on to the verb forms. The 3rd person singular present indicative also, often ends in -s: he drinces 'he drinks'. The plural indicative present often takes the ending -as for West-Saxon -ap: hia drincas 'they drink'.
The cause of this spread of the -s-ending is not clear. It may have been partly influenced by the form is of the verb wsan.
The 1st participle sometimes has the suffix -ande (for West-Saxon -ende). This is due to Scandinavian influence.
The plural present indicative of the verb wesan is arun (for West-Saxon sind).
Some strong verbs become weak in Northumbrian. Thus class I verbs: stizan 'ascend' has stizede; zripan 'catch' zripede, hrinan 'touch' hrinade; class II verbs: reocan 'smell' has reohte, supan 'taste' supede; class III: bindan 'bind' has binde, drinzan 'insist' drinzde, swinzan an 'swing' swinzde, war pan 'throw' worpade, strxz-dan 'sow' strx^de, frejnan 'ask' fre^nade; class VI verbs: hebban 'lift' has hefde; class VII verbs: slsepan 'sleep' has slsepte, ondrsedan 'dread' ondnedde, sceadan 'divide' sccadade.
All these phenomena show that in Northumbrian a reduction of inflections was taking place in the ОС period already. This was probably partly due to Scandinavian influence.
Attribute and head word.
An attribute usually precedes its head word, e. g. enzlisc zewrit 'English text', onzemanz o?urum mistlicum and manizfealdum bis^um 'among other various and manifold affairs', hu zes?lizlica tida 'what happy times', se foresprecena hunzur 'the above-mentioned famine', ealle о?rе bec 'all other books', ?fter for?yrnendre tide 'after the passing time'. However, a numeral attribute may follow its head word, e. g. his suna twezen 'his two sons', ?one naman anne 'the name alone'; also ?a bee ealle 'all the books'.
An attribute often follows its head word when used in direct address: wine mm 'my friend', fre-drihten min 'my lord', Beowulf leofa 'dear Beowulf. An attribute consisting of the pronoun se and an adjective also follows its head word: Sidroc eorl se alda 'earl Sidroc senior'.
A genitive attribute usually precedes its head word: para cyninza zetruman 'the kings' troops', Nor?manna land 'the Northmen's land', Seaxna peod 'the Saxons' people', monizra manna mod 'many people's mood'. But sometimes it comes after its head word: on o?re healfe p?re ea 'on the oilier side of the river
In studying the declension of substantives in ME, we have to consider the Southern dialects, on the one hand, and the Midland and Northern, on the other.
In the Southern dialects, distinction between genders and between strong and weak declensions was to some extent preserved, but differences between various types of strong declension were obliterated. Later, distinction of genders was weakened in connection with the development of the definite article, which lost its declension altogether.
Parenthesis means that the sound in question could drop. A second form coming after a comma means that alongside of the first form due to phonetic development a second one appeared, due to analogy.
With feminine substantives, weak declension endings (-en, -ene) spread from the weak to other declension types; in the singular the -ii-cnding was dropped, and all eases of the singular number had the endmg -e. The -e was also joined on to substantives with a long root syllable, which had no ending in Hie nominative singular, such as iir 'honour', synn 'sin'. Only a few substantives remain outside this tendency, such as hond 'hand', might 'might', cow 'cow'.
As a result of these changes the following system of declension arose:
The -en-ending of the plural was also extended to two neuter substantives which had in OE belonged to the -es-stems, viz., child 'child' and el 'egg'. In OE the nominative plural of these substantives had been cildru and ?zru; now they were changed into children and eiren.
The declension of substantives with a root stem, which had mutation in the dative singular and in the nominative and accusative plural, developed in ME Southern dialects in the following way:
The substantive boc 'book' lost its mutated forms: its plural is boken, bakes. The substantive burh 'borough' lost mutation in the dative singular and in the nominative and accusative plural. The dative singular form byriz > buri, biri, beri survived only as the second component of compound nouns -- names of towns, which originally had the form of the dative case, such as Canterbury <OE Cantwarabyriz, dative of Cantwaraburz; Atter-bury < at p?er byriz 'at the city'.
Northern and midland dialects.
In Northern and Midland dialects all distinctions between different stems of strong declension and between strong and weak declension, and those between genders disappeared. The genitive singular ending of the ston and dor type substantives spread to all substantives; this also applies to the nominative and accusative ending -es (< OE -as) of the nominative and accusative plural ot the ston type substantives; it also spread to the genitive plural of all substantives.
In 14-century literary English (Chaucer and Gower), developed from Midland dialect, the following declension system is found:
Substantives in -f and -th keep the alternation of voiceless and voiced consonants, e.g. lif 'life', gen. sing, lives, plural lives; path 'path', gen. sing, pathes [?], plural pathes [?].
Several substantives with a root stem, which had mutation in the nominative and accusative plural, have the following system of declension-
Thus mutation is grammaticalized as a sign of plural number.
Several neuter substantives preserved their nominative accusative plural form without an ending: thing, yer, hors, shep, swin, der. As will be readily seen, some of them are names of animals. Some masculine and feminine substantives also preserved plural forms without ending, e.g. winter, night. Gradually, however, the -es-ending penetrates into these words: thinges, yeres, monthes.
Several substantives which belonged to the weak declension preserve their -n-plural: oxe -- oxen; eye, ye -- eyen, yen; fo -- fon; to -- ton. The substantive sceoh 'shoe', which had been a strong declension substantive in OE, acquired an -n-plural in ME: sho -- shon. The weak en-ending also spread to the substantives brother -brethren, doghter -- doghtren, and stister -- snstren. Meanings which had been expressed by case endings now devolve to prepositions, in the first place of (for the genitive), to and wip for the dative.
The OE forms of the demonstrative pronoun (or definite article) se, seo were changed into pe, peo on the analogy of the forms derived from the root p-. In Early ME forms like pe, peo, pat functioned both as demonstrative pronoun and as article. Since the 14th century, however, the form pat was only preserved as a demonstrative pronoun form.
Simultaneously, the declension system of the pronoun was undergoing changes. The form pos (from OE pas, nominative and accusative plural of the OE demonstrative pronoun pes) became the plural of pat.
Early ME declension.
However, in the 13th century declension of the definite article tends to disappear. Thus, while we find in Layamon's Brut (about 1200) phrases like to pan kinge (OE to p?m cyninze), mid pan flode (OE mid p?m flode), the Апогеи Riwle has, alongside of of pen epple (OE of рагт ?pple) mid te word (te assimilated from pe after mid; OE mid р?т worde). Similar changes occur in other case and gender forms. In Late ME the definite article finally becomes invariable.
The other demonstrative pronoun, OE pes, developed in the following way in ME: singular this (from the OE nominative and accusative singular pis), plural thise, these; singular that (from the OE nominative and accusative singular neuter p?t), plural tho, thos
The declension of adjectives underwent substantial changes in ME. Declension of adjectives had always been determined by agreement with substantives in number, gender and case. In Germanic languages the use of strong and weak adjective declension depended on whether the adjective was preceded by the definite article or a similar word, or not. The disappearance of grammatical gender in ME substantives and the reduction of case endings led to a considerable change in adjective declension, too. Besides, the characteristic weak-declension ending -en was dropped. So the only case ending in adjectives came to be -e, and the highly developed OE paradigm was reduced to the following system:
In the Northern dialects, declension of adjectives was completely lost: the only surviving case ending -e was dropped, and the adjectives became invariable.
In the other dialects adjectives in -e became invariable, such as newe, trewe.
The indefinite article.
Numerals from 1 to 3 are declined.
Numerals from 4 to 19 are usually invariable, if used as attributes to a substantive, but they are declined if used without a substantive. Numerals denoting tens have their genitive in -es or in -a, -ra, their dative in -um.
The word 'both' bezen, bu, ba is declined in the same way as twezen, tu, twa.
Numbers consisting of tens and units are denoted in the following way: 22 twa and twentiz, 48 eahta and feowertiz.
The pronoun sum 'some' is sometimes used in a meaning close to the articles as in the sentence: wses sum bropor '(there) was a (certain) brother' pa stod him sum топ set purh swefn 'then (there) stood a (certain) man near him in his dream'.
Mostly, however, a substantive in an indefinite application is not accompanied by any determinative, as in the sentence he was swype spediz man 'he was a very rich man'.
In a few words the consonant v when followed by another consonant changed into u, as in hafoc, gen. sing, hafces > havkes > haukes and on the analogy of the genitive haukes a new nominative hauk was derived; nafozar > navgar > nauger 'auger'.
This word eventually lost its initial n- as a result of what is called metanalysis: the phrase a nauger was, as it were, reinterpreted as an auger, with the intial n- of the substantive apprehended as a final n of the indefinite article.
There are more examples of this kind of metanalysis. A substantive might either lose or acquire an initial n-. Thus OE ejete 'newt' acquired an initial n- owing to a reinterpretation of an ewte as a newte in ME. The ME substantive ekename 'additional name', 'nickname' also acquired an initial n-: an ekename > a nekename. The ME substantive naperon (from French naperon), on the other hand, lost its initial n-: a naperon > an apron.
A similar phenomenon is also found in some substantives whose final -s, originally belonging to the stem, was apprehended as a plural ending. Thus, OE ?lmesse 'alms' (from Lat. alimosina from Greek eleemosyne 'pity') yielded ME alines > MnE alms; ME richesse (from French richesse) yielded MnE riches, apprehended as a plural form; OE byrzels 'grave' -- ME buriel, MnE burial (it was also influenced by its synonym funeral, of French origin); French cerise, cherise yielded ME and MnE cherry.
In ME an indefinite article arose. As in many other languages, it had its origin in the numeral an 'one'. First signs of such development were already seen in OE. Then long a in an unstressed position was shortened, and there appeared an unstressed variant an. When the long ”a” changed into long open 9 the numeral became on; the divergence in sound between the stressed and the unstressed form furthered the separation of the article from the numeral.
When on or an was followed by a word beginning with a consonant, the -n was dropped, and there arose the variants o, a. With the numeral, this alternation was later abandoned, and the form ”on” came to be used in all environments. With the indefinite article, the alternation of an and a depending on the initial sound of the following word has been preserved until today.
Now that the word the has its counterpart in the word a(n) it is possible to say that English has an article system represented by two words: a/an and the.
In OE, as we have seen, an article appeared when the meaning of the demonstrative pronoun was weakened. In this way a new grammatical category within the system of substantives came into being: the category of determination, represented by the opposition: article/absence of article.
In ME we see a further development in this field: a second article appears here from the OE numeral an. This development must be interpreted as a split in the category of determination, its marked member now splits into two varieties: the definite represented by the article the (from OE se, with substitution of initial s- by th- influenced by other case forms, which were derived from the root p-in OE already). Thus, the whole system of determination may be represented in the following way: 1st opposition: no article (unmarked) vs. article (marked); 2nd opposition: within the second item of the 1st opposition: definite article the vs. indefinite article a(n). The difference between OE and ME in this respect can well be illustrated by comparing the OE examples given above with the following example from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, with the same substantive man:
He was an esy man to yive penaunce 'He was an easy man to absolve sins'.
Here the indefinite article a was used in a context in which in OE there had been no article at all.
The conclusion, the article a(n) has become a part of the system having the same position as the article the, is confirmed by the fact such sentences as he was easy man have become impossible by Chaucer's time [1, c.174].
1.3 Article determination
The Article is a determining unit of a specific nature accompanying the noun in communicative collocation. Its special character is clearly seen against the background of determining words of half-notional semantics [50, c. 179]. Whereas the function of the determiners such as this, any, some is to explicitly interpret the referent of the noun in relation to other objects or phenomena of a like kind, the semantic purpose of the article is to specify the nounal referent, as it were, altogether unostentatiously, to define it in the most general way, without any explicitly expressed contrasts.
This becomes obvious when we take the simplest examples ready at hand. Cf.: Will you give me this pen, Willy? (i.e. the pen that I am pointing out, not one of your choice.) - Will you give me the pen, please? (i.e. simply the pen from the desk, you understand which). Any blade will do, I only want it for scratching out the wrong word from the type-script. (i.e. any blade of the stock, however blunt it -may be.) - Have you got something sharp? I need a penknife of' a blade. (i.e. simply a blade, if not a knife, without additional implications.) Some woman called in your absence, she didn't give her name (i.e. a woman strange to me). - A woman called while you were out, she left a message (i.e. simply a woman, without a further connotation.)
Another peculiarity of the article, as different from the determiners in question, is that, in the absence of a determiner, the use of the article with the noun is quite obligatory, in so far as the cases of non-use of the article are subject to no less definite rules than the use of it.
Taking into consideration these peculiar features of the article, the linguist is called upon to make a sound statement about its segmental status in the system of morphology. Namely, his task is to decide whether the article is a purely auxiliary element of a special grammatical form of the noun which functions as a component of a definite morphological category, or it is a separate word, i.e. a lexical unit in the determiner word set, if of a more abstract meaning than other determiners.
The problem is a vexed one; it has inspired an intensive research activity in the field, as well as an animated discussion with various pros and cons affirmed, refuted and re-affirmed. In the course of these investigations, however, many positive facts about articles have been established, which at present enables an observer, proceeding from the systemic principle in its paradigmatic interpretation, to expose the status of the article with an attempt at demonstrative conviction.
To arrive at a definite decision, we propose to consider the properties of the English articles at four successive stages, beginning with their semantic evaluation as such, then adding to the obtained data a situational estimation of their uses, thereafter analysing their categorial features in the light of the oppositional theory, and finally concluding the investigation by a paradigmatic generalization.
A mere semantic observation of the articles in English, i.e. the definite article the and the indefinite article a/an, at once discloses not two but three meaningful characterizations of the nounal referent achieved by their correlative functioning, namely: one rendered by the definite article, one rendered by the indefinite article, and one rendered by the absence (or non-use) of the article. Let us examine them separately.
The definite article expresses the identification or individualization of the referent of the noun: the use of this article shows that the object denoted is taken in its concrete, individual quality. This meaning can be brought to explicit exposition by a substitution test. The test consists in replacing the article used in a construction by a demonstrative word, e.g. a demonstrative determiner, without causing a principal change in the general implication of the construction. Of course, such an "equivalent" substitution should be understood in fact as nothing else but analogy: the difference in meaning between a determiner and an article admits of no argument, and we pointed it out in the above passages. Still, the replacements of words as a special diagnostic procedure, which is applied with the necessary reservations and according to a planned scheme of research, is quite permissible. In our case it undoubtedly shows a direct relationship in the meanings of the determiner and the article, the relationship in which the determiner is semantically the more explicit element of the two. Cf.:
But look at the apple-tree! - But look at this apple-tree! The town lay still in the Indian summer sun. - That town lay still in the Indian summer sun. The water is horribly hot. - This water is horribly hot. It's the girls who are to blame. - It's those girls who are to blame.
The justification of the applied substitution, as well as its explanatory character, may be proved by a counter-test, namely, by the change of the definite article into the indefinite article, or by omitting the article altogether [50, c.181] The replacement either produces a radical, i.e. "non-equivalent" shift in the meaning of the construction, or else results in a grammatically unacceptable construction. Cf.: ... - Look at an apple-tree! - Look at apple-tree! ... - A water is horribly hot. - Water is horribly hot.
The indefinite article, as different from the definite article, is commonly interpreted as referring the object denoted by the noun to a certain class of similar objects; in other words, the indefinite article expresses a classifying generalization of the nounal referent, or takes it in a relatively general sense. To prove its relatively generalizing functional meaning, we may use the diagnostic insertions of specifying-classifying phrases into the construction in question; we may also employ the transformation of implicit comparative constructions with the indefinite article into the corresponding explicit coparative constructions. Cf.:
We passed a water-mill. - We passed a certain water-mill. It is a very young country, isn't it? - It is a very young kind of country, isn't it? What an arrangement! - What sort of arrangement! This child is a positive nightmare. - This child is positively like a nightmare.
The procedure of a classifying contrast employed in practical textbooks exposes the generalizing nature of the indefinite article most clearly in many eases of its use. E.g.:
A door opened in the wall. - A door (not a window) opened in the wall. We saw a flower under the bush. - We saw a flower (not a strawberry) under the bush.
As for the various uses of nouns without an article, from the semantic point of view they all should be divided into two types. In the first place, there are uses where the articles are deliberately omitted out of stylistical considerations. We see such uses, for instance, in telegraphic speech, in titles and headlines, in various notices. E.g.:
Telegram received room reserved for week-end. (The text of a telegram.) Conference adjourned until further notice. (The text of an announcement.) Big red bus rushes food to strikers. (The title of a newspaper article.)
The purposeful elliptical omission of the article in cases like that is quite obvious, and the omitted articles may easily be restored in the constructions in the simplest "back-directed" refilling procedures.
Cf. - The telegram is received, a room is reserved for the weekend. ... - The conference is adjourned until further notice. ... - A big red bus rushes food to the strikers.
Alongside free elliptical constructions, there are cases of the semantically unspecified non-use of the article in various combinations of fixed type, such as prepositional- phrases (on fire, at hand, in debt, etc.), fixed verbal collocations (take place, make use, cast anchor, etc.), descriptive coordinative groups and repetition groups (man and wife, dog and gun, day by day, etc.), and the like. These cases of traditionally fixed absence of the article are quite similar to the cases of traditionally fixed uses of both indefinite and definite articles (cf.: in a hurry, at a loss, have a look, give a start, etc.; In the main, out of the question, on the look-out, etc.).
Outside the elliptical constructions and fixed uses, however, we know a really semantic absence of the article with the noun. It is this semantic absence of the article that stands in immediate meaningful correlation with the definite and indefinite articles as such.
As is widely acknowledged, the meaningful non-uses of the article are not homogeneous; nevertheless, they admit of a very explicit classification founded on the countability characteristics of the noun. Why countability characteristics? For the two reasons. The first reason is inherent in the nature of the noun itself: the abstract generalization reflected through the meaningful non-use of the article is connected with the suppression of the idea of the number in the noun. The second reason is inherent in the nature of the article: the indefinite article which plays the crucial role in the semantic correlation in question reveals the meaning of oneness within its semantic base, having originated from the indefinite pronoun one, and that is why the abstract use of the noun naturally goes with the absence of the article.
The essential points of the said classification are three in number.
First. The meaningful absence of the article before the countable noun in the singular signifies that the noun is taken in an abstract sense, expressing the most general idea of the object denoted. This meaning, which may be called the meaning of "absolute generalization", can be demonstrated by inserting in the tested construction a chosen generalizing modifier (such as in general, in the abstract, in the broadest sense). Cf.:
Law (in general) begins with the beginning of human society. Steam-engine (in general) introduced for locomotion a couple of centuries ago has now become obsolete.
Second. The absence of the article before the uncountable noun corresponds to the two kinds of generalization: both relative and absolute. To decide which of the two meanings is realized in any particular case, the described tests should be carried out alternately. Cf.:
John laughed with great bitterness (that sort of bitterness - relative generalization). The subject of health (in general - absolute generalization) was carefully avoided by everybody. Coffee (a kind of beverage served at the table - relative generalization) or tea, please? Coffee (in general - absolute generalization) stimulates the function of the heart.
Third. The absence of the article before the countable noun in the plural, likewise, corresponds to both kinds of generalization, and the exposition of the meaning in each case can be achieved by the same semantic tests. Cf.:
Stars, planets and comets (these kinds of objects: relative generalization) are different celestial bodies (not terrestrial bodies: relative generalization). Wars (in general: absolute generalization) should be eliminated as means of deciding international disputes.
To distinguish the demonstrated semantic functions of the non-uses of the article by definition, we may say that the absence of the article with uncountable nouns, as well as with countable nouns in the plural, renders the meaning of "uncharacterized generalization", as different from the meaning of "absolute generalization", achieved by the absence of the article with countable nouns in the singular.
So much for the semantic evaluation of the articles as the first stage of our study.
Passing to the situational assessment of the article uses, we must point out that the basic principle of their differentiation here is not a direct consideration of their meanings, but disclosing the informational characteristics that the article conveys to its noun in concrete contextual conditions. Examined from this angle, the definite article serves as an indicator of the type of nounal information "which is presented as the "facts already known", i.e. as the starting point of the communication. In contrast to this, the indefinite article or the meaningful absence of the article introduces the central communicative nounal part of the sentence, i.e. the part rendering the immediate informative data to be conveyed from the speaker to the listener. In the situational study of syntax the starting point of the communication is called its "theme", while the central informative part is called its "rheme".
In accord with the said situational functions, the typical syntactic position of the noun modified by the definite article is the "thematic" subject, while the typical syntactic position of the noun modified by the indefinite article or by the meaningful absence of the article is the "rhematic" predicative. Cf:.
The day (subject) was drawing to a close, the busy noises of the city (subject) were dying down. How to handle the situation was a big question (predicative). The sky was pure gold (predicative) above the setting sun.
It should be noted that in many other cases of syntactic use, i.e. non-subjective or non-predicative, the articles reflect the same situational functions. This can be probed by reducing the constructions in question on re-arrangement lines to the logically "canonized" link-type constructions.
If you would care to verify the Incident (object), pray do so. -If you would care the incident (subject) to be verified, pray have it verified. I am going to make a rather strange request (object) to you. - What I am going to make is a rather strange request (predicative) to you. You are talking nonsense (object), lad. - What you are talking, lad, is nonsense (predicative).
Another essential contextual-situational characteristic of the articles is their immediate connection with the two types of attributes to the noun. The first type is a "limiting" attribute, which requires the definite article before the noun; the second type is a "descriptive" attribute, which requires the indefinite article or the meaningful absence of the article before the noun. Cf.:
The events chronicled in this narrative took place some four years ago. (A limiting attribute) She was a person of strong will and iron self-control. (A descriptive attribute) He listened to her story with grave and kindly attention. (A descriptive attribute)
The role of descriptive attributes in the situational aspect of articles is particularly worthy of note in the constructions of syntactic "convergencies", i.e. chained attributive-repetitional phrases modifying the same referent from different angles. Cf.:
My longing for a house, a fine and beautiful house, such a house I could never hope to have, flowered into life again.
We have now come to the third stage of the undertaken analysis of the English articles, namely to their consideration in the light of the oppositional theory. The oppositional examination of any grammatically relevant set of lingual objects is of especial importance from the point of view of the systemic conception of language, since oppositions constitute the basis of the structure of grammatical paradigms.
Bearing in mind the tacts established at the two previous stages of observation, it is easy to see that oppositionally, the article determination of the noun should be divided into two binary correlations connected with each other hierarchically.
The opposition of the higher level operates in the whole system of articles. It contrasts the definite article with the noun against the two other forms of article determination of the noun, i.e. the indefinite article and the meaningful absence of the article. In this opposition the definite article should be interpreted as the strong member by virtue of its identifying and individualizing function, while the other forms of article determination should be interpreted as the weak member, i.e. the member that leaves the feature in question ("identification") unmarked.
The opposition of the lower level operates within the article subsystem that forms the weak member of the upper opposition. This opposition contrasts the two types of generalization, i.e, the relative generalization distinguishing its strong member (the indefinite article plus the meaningful absence of the article as its analogue with uncountable nouns and nouns in the plural) and the absolute, or "abstract" generalization distinguishing the weak member of the opposition (the meaningful absence of the article).
The described oppositional system can be shown on the following diagram (see Fig. 2).
It is the oppositional description of the English articles that involves the interprctation of the article non-use as the zero form of the article, since the opposition of the positive exponent of the feature to the negative exponent of the feature (i.e. its absence) realizes an important part of the integral article determination semantics. As for the heterogeneity of functions displayed by the absence of the article, it by no means can be taken as a ground for denying the relevance or expediency of introducing the notion of zero in the article system. As a matter of fact, each of the two essential meanings of this dialectically complex form is clearly revealed in its special oppositional correlation and, consequently, corresponds to the really existing lingual facts irrespective of the name given to the form by the observer.
The best way of demonstrating the actual oppositional value of the articles on the immediate textual material is to contrast them in syntactically equivalent conditions in pairs. Cf. the examples given below.
Identical nounal positions for the pair "the definite article - the indefinite article": The train hooted (that train). - A train hooted (some train).
Correlative nounal positions for the pair "the definite article - the absence of the article": I'm afraid the oxygen is out (our supply of oxygen). - Oxygen is necessary for life (oxygen in general, life in general).
Correlative nounal positions for the pair "the indefinite article - the absence of the article": Be careful, there is a puddle under your feet (a kind of puddle). - Be careful, there is mud on the ground (as different from clean space).
Finally, correlative nounal positions for the easily neutralized pair "the zero article of relative generalization - the zero article of absolute generalization": New information should be gathered on this subject (some information). - Scientific information should be gathered systematically in all fields of human knowledge (information in general).
On the basis of the oppositional definition of the article it becomes possible to explicate the semantic function of the article determination of nouns for cases where the inherent value of the article is contrasted against the contrary semantic value of the noun or the nounal collocation.
In particular, the indefinite article may occasionally be used with a nounal collocation of normally individualizing meaning, e.g.:
Rodney Harrington laughed out loud as he caught a last glimpse of Allison Mackenzie and Norman Page in his rear-vision mirror (Gr. Metalious). After all, you've got a best side and a worst side of yourself and it's no good showing the worst side and harping on it (A. Christie).
Conversely, the definite article may occasionally be used with a nounal collocation of normally descriptive meaning, e.g.:
Ethel still went in the evenings to bathe in the silent pool (S. Maugham).
The indefinite article may occasionally be used with a unique referent noun, e.g.:
Ted Latimer from beyond her murmured: "The sun here isn't a real sun" (A. Christie).
The zero article may occasionally be used with an ordinary concrete noun the semantic nature of which stands, as it were, in sharp contradiction to the idea of uncountable generalization, e.g.:
The glasses had a habit of slipping down her button nose which did not have enough bridge to hold them up (S.M. Disney). He went up a well-kept drive to a modern house with a square roof and a good deal of window (A. Christie).
In all these and similar cases, by virtue of being correlated with semantic elements of contrary nature, the inherent categorial meanings of the articles appear, as it were, in their original, pure quality. Having no environmental support, the articles become intensely self-dependent in the expression of their categorial semantics, and, against the alien contextual background, traces of transposition can be seen in their use.
Having established the functional value of articles in oppositional assessment, we can now, in broader systemic contraposition, probe the correlation of the meanings of articles with the meanings of functional determiners. As a result of this observation, within the system of the determiners two separate subsets can be defined, one of which is centred around the definite article with its individualizing semantics (this - these, that - those, my, our, your, his, her, its, their), and the other one around the indefinite article with its generalizing semantics (another, some, any, every, no). The type of the division is such as to show the integration of the article meanings into the total semantic volume of the determiners. In other words, the observation inevitably leads us to the conclusion that the article determination of the noun as a specific grammatical category remains valid also in such cases when the noun is modified not by the article itself, but by a seminotional determiner. This is clearly seen in equivalency confrontations such as the following:
But unhappily the wife wasn't listening. - But unhappily his wife wasn't listening.
The whispering voices caught the attention of the guards. - Those whispering voices caught their attention.
What could a woman do in a situation like that? - What could any woman do in that sort of situation?
At least I saw interest in her eyes. - At least I saw some interest in her eyes.
Not a word had been pronounced about the terms of the document. - No word had been pronounced about those terms.
The demonstration of the organic connection between the articles and seminotional determiners, in its turn, makes it possible to disclose the true function of the grammatical use of articles with proper nouns. E.g.:
"This," said Froelich, "is the James Walker who wrote "The Last of the Old Lords'" (M. Bradbury). Cf.: This is the same James Walker.
I came out to Iraq with a Mrs. Kelsey (A. Christie). Cf.: The woman was a certain Mrs. Kelsey.
It was like seeing a Vesuvius at the height of its eruption. Cf.: The sight looked to us like another Vesuvius.
"I prophesy a wet August," said Old Moore Abinger (M. Dickens). Cf.: Next August will be a wet month, unlike some other Augusts in retrospect.
In the exemplified grammatical uses transpositional features are revealed similar to those the article acquires when used with a noun characterized by a contrary semantic base. On the other hand, the analysis of these cases clearly stamps the traditional proper name combinations with embedded articles, both of the onomastic set (Alexander the Great, etc.) and the toponymic set (The Hague, etc.) as lexicalized collocations that only come into contact with the periphery of grammar.
The essential grammatical features of the articles exposed in the above considerations and tests leave no room for misinterpretation at the final, generalizing stage of analysis.
The data obtained show that the English noun, besides the variable categories of number and case, distinguishes also the category of determination expressed by the article paradigm of three grammatical forms: the definite, the indefinite, the zero. The paradigm is generalized for the whole system of the common nouns, being transpositionally outstretched also into the system of proper nouns. Various cases of asymmetry in the realization of this paradigm (such as the article determination of certain nouns of the types singularia tantum and pluralia tantum), similar to, and in connection with the expression of the category of number, are balanced by suppletive collocations. Cf.: 0 progress - a kind of progress, some progress - the progress; 0 news - an item of news - the news, etc.
The semi-notional determiners used with nouns in the absence of articles, expose the essential article meanings as in-built in their semantic structure.
Thus, the status of the combination of the article with the noun should be defined as basically analytical, the article construction as such being localized by its segmental properties between the free syntactic combination of words (the upper bordering level) and the combination of a grammatical affix with a notional stem in the morphological composition of an indivisible word (the lower bordering level). The article itself is a special type of grammatical auxiliary.[41, c. 164]
The pronunciation of the articles
The pronunciation of the articles and the spelling of the indefinite article depend upon the initial sound of the following word. The indefinite article is spelled as a before consonant and as an before vowel sounds. When stressed it is pronounced respectively as [ei] or [am]. However, since the articles are usually unstressed, the pronunciation of the indefinite article is generally reduced to the neutral vowel [?] before consonants, and to [n] before vowel sounds, which depends entirely on the pronunciation and not the spelling of the following word, as can be seen in the table below.
a dog an apple
a house an hour
a European an eagle
a unit an uncle
a year an x-ray
a manuscript an MP
The definite article is pronounced as [?i:] when stressed. When unstressed, it is pronounced as [??] before consonants and [?i] before vowels:
the dog the apple
the house the hour
the European the x-ray
the unit the uncle
the manuscript the MP
Since the article is the opening element of a noun phrase, it is placed before the noun it refers to or before all the other noun premodifiers. The exceptions to this rule are as follows:
a) the definite article may be preceded by the predeterminers all and
Are you going to cook all the cakes yourself? Both the answers were good.
b) the indefinite article may be preceded by the predeterminers what,
What a sight I am in this hat!
You were such a queen, and I was such a nothing!
You are quite a scholar.
c) the indefinite article is placed after adjectives preceded by the adverbs too, as, so:
That was too difficult a problem for the child to solve. It's as good an excuse as any for breaking it up. I've never seen so miserable a creature as Jane was at the moment [46, c.84].
1.4 The functions of articles
The use of the the Indefinite Article
1. With countable nouns, both concrete and abstract, the indefinite article is used when we want to name an object (thing, person, animal, abstract notion), to state what kind of object is meant:
e.g. He gave her a cigarette and lighted it.
There came a tap at the door, and a small elderly man
entered the room, wearing a cloth cap.
This function may be called the nominating function. It is the main function of the indefinite article with countable nouns.
But at the same time, owing to its origin from the numeral one, the indefinite article always implies the idea of oneness and is used only before nouns in the singular (including such words as alms, barracks, bellows, works, headquarters, etc. which may be singular in meaning).
Alongside of the above mentioned structural meanings the indefinite article may have some other functions, which are to be regarded as its additional meanings (or additional functions). As will be seen, they always result from the principal function. We may trace the following additional meanings in the indefinite article.
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