Semantic functions of the definite and the indefinite articles – Part 2

July 14th, 20125:24 am


Semantic functions of the definite and the indefinite articles – Part 2

Semantic functions of the definite and the indefinite articles – Part 1

After all, most of his happiness was in his home, and it was a very con­siderable happiness. (Cary)

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 stylistic consideration. Such uses can be found in titles and headlines, in various notices, in e-mails, mobile phone text messages, diaries, etc.: LOST CHILDREN DATABASE GOES LIVE – headline “SLEEPY” TOWN REELING AFTER DOUBLE MURDER – headline Wanted 2 leave 2day but couldn’t buy ticket. M leaving 2morrow. text message

Cannot believe what has happened. At half past eleven, youth came into office bearing enormous bunch of red roses and brought them to my desk. (Fielding) – diary

The purposeful elliptical omission of the article in cases like these is quite obvious, and the omitted articles may easily be restored in the con­structions in the simplest “back-directed” refilling procedures.

Alongside of free elliptical constructions, there are cases of the semantically unspecified absence of the article in various combinations of fixed type, such as prepositional phrases (in debt, on purpose, at hand, from scratch, on foot), fixed verbal collocations (make use, give rise, take sides), descriptive coordinative groups and repetition groups (man and wife, day by day, from time to time), and the like. The article is also missing when the word man has the generalizing meaning “mankind”. 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, out of the question, to give a smile, to have a talk).

Besides the elliptical constructions and fixed uses, however, there are cases of semantic absence of the article that stands in immediate meaning­ful correlation with the definite and indefinite articles as such. These cases are not homogeneous; nevertheless, they admit of an explicit classification founded on the countability characteristics of the noun. For example, 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 may be called the meaning of “absolute generalization”:

Culture (in general) could be a factor that explains psychological and behavioral differences among people and societies. (Chryssochoou)

Acculturation, the gradual adaptation to the target culture (particular cul­ture) without necessarily forsaking one’s native language identity, has been proposed as a model for both the adult entering a new culture (certain culture) and the child in the bilingual program in a public school. (Acton, Walker)

Thus, the article is a means of correlation of a notion with ongoing com­munication process. The indefinite article introduces something new, not mentioned before, whereas the definite article identifies notions already mentioned. Identification is possible even if the referent has not been men­tioned yet but the situation implies its existence and involvement. Abstract nouns and material nouns may be used with the article if they are modified by attributive elements. Proper nouns are usually used without any article. However, the definite article accompanies generalizing naming (denoting a whole family – the Smiths, the Browns).

For over a year Sandy entered into the spirit of this plan, for she visited the Lloyds frequently, and was able to report to Miss Brodie how things were going… (Spark)

It also may be used to make emphasis on a particular person: It was not the John we used to have long conversations with five years ago. He had changed dramatically. The use of the indefinite article is possible in order to emphatically introduce a referent as a new one:

From time to time he wondered if there could, possibly, be a Mr.Palgrave, but there was no way of asking her this. (Bates)

…Sandy, who was now some years Sister Helena of the transfiguration, clutched the bars of the grille as was her way, and peered at him through her little faint eyes and asked him to describe his schooldays and his school, and the Edinburgh he had known. And it turned out, once more, that his was a different Edinburgh from Sandy s. (Spark)