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5.1 The definite article

The definite article is homophonous to the distal demonstrative. It employs a paradigm of four distinct lexical forms (like the distal demonstrative). These four forms are used to provide information about the following grammatical features:

  • gender: masculine, feminine, neuter.
  • number: singular, plural.

The four lexical forms are used to make a contrast in the singular between the three values for gender, and to contrast the singular with the plural number. So, all three genders makes a number distinction. The plural makes no gender distinction. Alongside the fourfold paradigm of full forms, the definite article has a threefold paradigm of reduced forms. The reduced article tends to be used in unspecific NPs, and it tends to show up mainly in PPs. It deserves further study. The definite article is discussed in the sections below.

[+]1. Paradigm of the definite article

The following table presents an overview of the full forms and their feature values, showing how the four forms are divided accross the six combinations for the values of the features of number and gender:

Table 1
Definite article die ju dät do

The paradigm is irregular, though the initial d- is found in three of the four forms.

[+]2. Use as topic pronoun

The definite article can be used independently, that is, without a following element, to constitute a NP all by itself. As such it can function as a topic pronoun or a relative pronoun. The definite article is homophonous to the distal demonstrative. For discussion of its use as a topic pronoun, see: the demonstrative pronoun (5.2).

[+]3. Use as a relative pronoun

The article independently used also functions as a relative pronoun for subjects, objects and adpositional objects, see Modification of NP by relative clauses (3.5).

[+]4. Correlative measure constructions

Correlative measure constructions involve two measures which are correlated. A common type involves a combination of a measure of frequency with a measure of time, as in the following example:

Twäie Moal deges mout iek spritsje.
two times daily must I spray
I must spray two times a day.

Technically, the expression twäie Moal (literally: ‘twice times’) is a pleonasm. In the example above, a NP and an adverb derived from a noun are involved. The correlative measure construction can also involve two NPs, or a NP and a PP, of which the first one must contain a numeral. In such cases, the second NP or PP contains a definite article (not illustrated).

[+]5. Inalienable possession and full versus reduced forms of the article

Body parts are the prototypical example of inalienable possession. Body parts are introduced by the definite article, and not by a possessive pronoun, in case the clause also contains an argument (subject or object) designating the person whose bode part it is. Body parts feature the definite article in idiomatic expressions such as the ones below. The possessor of the body part depends on the idiom that is involved. Most idiom feature the subject as the possessor of the body part. Put differently, the inalienable possessor of the body part can usually be found in a position in the same clause, but higher in the clause than the body part NP. Examples may be literal or figurative. In the following examples, the subject is the possessor of the inalienable body part:

Nu häst du ju Noze buppe Woater.
now have you the nose above water
Now you are proving yourself (for better, or for worse).
Hie hät neen Middelskot in de Noze.
he has no septum in the nose
He has no septum in his nose. > He cannot submit to restrictions.

The body part is respectively a verbal object and an adpositional object in the sentences above. Note, by the way, that the article is realised as a full article in the verbal object position (ju), and as an unspecific article (de) in the position of the adpositional object.

In the following examples, it is the direct object which controls the body part, which features the unspecific definite article (de instead of do):

Ju klikte mie ap de Skullere.
she tapped me on the shoulders
She tapped me on the shoulder.

There are also cases in which the possessor is realised as the combination of an antecedent in subject position and a reflexive in the position of the indirect object, as in the following example:

Ik weet, dät iek mie ju Noze nit oubiete kon.
I know that I me the nose net off.bite can
I know that I cannot bite off my own nose.

Both antecedent and reflexive are in a higher position in the clause than the body part. Note again that the body part in direct object position features the full article, not the unspecific one. In the following two examples, the inalienable possessor is silent, but it can be inferred to be the subject:

Mäd do Skullere luke.
with the shoulders pull
Luuk die säärm bie de Noze.
pull you self by the nose
Blame yourself.

It is assumed that there is a silent subject in clauses built on imperatives and infinitives. If the owner of the body part is not present in the clause in which the body part occurs, then the possessive pronoun is usually found.

‘n Säk Wete läästerde ap mien Skullere.
a sack wheat weighed on my shoulders
A sack of wheat weighed on my shoulders.

Note that the process described, the weighing of a sack, does not involve something inalienable, though the relation between the shoulders and the possessor is inalienable. This shows that inalienable possession is something quite complex, and the judgments are occasionally subtle, depending on the interpretation.

[+]6. Full and reduced forms of the definite article

The four forms of the article given above are the full forms. However, there is also a reduced form, which is invariant and which may be used instead of all four forms. These reduced forms are especially found following frequent prepositions, so inside the NP functioning as a prepositional object. The following table presents both the full forms and the reduced forms:

Table 2
Definite article die / dän ju dät do
Reduced form ‘n ‘e / de ‘t ‘e / de
Appended to preposition (-) (no space) ‘n (no space) ‘e (no space) ‘t (no space) ‘e

The reduced form for the masculine singular seems to be based on the non-nominalitive form, which is not surprising. The table illustrates that the full paradigm testifies to a fourfold distinction of forms, whereas the reduced paradigm has a threefol distinction, collapsing the feminine singular and the plural, which is found in other Saterland Frisian paradigms as well, notably in adjectival agreement. As for orthography, the reduced forms are often appended to the preceding prepositions, as the following examples illustrate:

Ap’n Disk. Ap’e Toal. Ap’t Zofa. Ap’e Diske.
on the table on the barn(.floor) on the sofa on the tables
On the table. In the barn. On the sofa. On the tables.

Some further examples are given below:

Hie strokede hier uur’n Kop.
he stroked her on.the head
He stroked her head.
Do bän iek ook ieuwen ap‘n Säärkhoaf wezen.
then am I also just on.the graveyard been
Then I also spent some time in the graveyard.’
Die Pot stoant ap’t Fjuur.
the kettle stands on.the fire
The kettle is over the fire.
Bie de Ladere andeel.
at the ladder down
Down the ladder.
Ju hiede Härm al bie de Ore tou pakjen.
she had Härm already at the ears to grab
She had already grabbed Härm’s ears.

Instead of -‘n for the masculine singular, we often find -e, leading to a twofold distinction in the paradigm: the neuter singular against all others. In writing the -e article often appears as de. This also weakens the position of non-nominative case. The use of the reduced article is not restricted to PPs. It is also found in examples like the following:

Ätters, as ju de oolderlike Stede uurnoom.
Afterwards when she the parental home over.take
Afterwards, when she took over the parental home.

In the example above, the expected form would have been ju. Perhaps de was used to avoid a sequence of two ju’s, though such cases are normally resolved by just having one ju (by a constraint informally termed the stuttering prohibition). Consider next the following case of a reduced article:

Deerum kuden de Römer ze unnerjochje.
that’s why could the Romans them educate
That’s why the Romans could educate them.

It could be supposed that the reduced article signals an NP that has been backgrounded, because its presence in the clause is predictable from the linguistic context, or because it is not relevant for the topic of the sentence. Below are two more examples:

In de Loundesheer sien Interesse.
in the landlord his interest
In the landlord’s interest.
Bie Sunnenferdunkelung kon ju Moune de Sunne nit gans ferdunkelje.
at solar.eclipse can the moon the sun not totally obscure
During a solar eclipse, the moon cannot completely obscure the sun.

The last example shows that the subject has the full article, whereas the object has the reduced article, though both NPs are one of its kind. It also seems that in older Saterland Frisian, the relation with unspecificity was stronger. Thus a noun like sun could appear in subject position with the reduced article. Nevertheless, there is still a relation with specificity. That’s why body parts usually have the reduced article, as they are not specific but predictable from the person, so to speak. Also, if one highlights a NP and provides more information about it in the form of prenominal APs, then it is more likely to be preceded by the full definite article. All this correlates with a more general tendency to drop the definite article alltogether in idiomatic expressions, which are or have been frequently used.

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