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Function of the indefinite article

The indefinite article is used for the first introduction, the presentation, of a new referent into the domain of discourse. Consider the following example:

Example 1

Der wie in frou yn 'e winkel en dy hie wat stellen. Doe kaam de plysje, mar de frou woe de boete net betelje
there was a woman in the shop and she had something stolen then came the police but the woman wanted the fine not pay
There was a woman in the shop and she had stolen something. Then the police came, but the woman did not want to pay the fine

The indefinite article presents a new referent, a woman, in the discourse, whereas the definite article is used to make the woman, now familiar in the domain of discourse, the topic.


As the indefinite article is used for the presentation of a new discourse referent, it characteristically shows up in presentative der-clauses:

Example 2

Der skyt in kat yn 'e tún
there shits a cat in the garden
There is a cat shitting in the garden

In the example above, the indefinite Noun Phrase (NP) in kat is specific, that is, concrete. However, indefinite NPs may also be interpreted as variables, which do not have a specific, concrete interpretation, as in the following example:

Example 3

Gelbrich wol in kat
Gelbrich want a cat
Gelbrich wants a cat

In this example, it may not be known which specific cat Gelbrich wants, but if she takes a cat, she will have a specific one. In the following example, the meaning of the indefinite NP depends on the meaning of a universal quantifier:

Example 4

Elkenien hat in geheim
everybody has a secret
Everybody has a secret

In this example, many different specific secrets are involved, depending on the person picked out by the universal quantifier. This reading is called a list or distributive reading. The indefinite article may also be responsible for a generic reading:

Example 5

In ko yt graach gers
a cow eats eagerly grass
A cow likes to eat grass

Bare plurals can also carry a generic reading, as shown in the example below:

Example 6

Kij ite graach gers
cows eat eagerly grass
Cows like to eat grass