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PostPosted: Tue Dec 12, 2017 4:02 pm 
Sumerul
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There are a number of grammatical features that I have good examples of languages gaining, but not of them being lost. I’d like to ask about how best to remove certain features, since in some cases an ancestor language needs to have the feature but I don’t want the descendant to have it.

How does one get rid of definiteness as a distinction? I’m aware of numerous examples of languages gaining definite articles/inflections by deriving them from some other type of word (usually determiners), but I don’t know of any languages that have lost this distinction.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 12, 2017 4:26 pm 
Sumerul
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"To school," "to town," "to port"...?


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 12, 2017 7:57 pm 
Smeric
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Yeah, special constructions where definiteness is *not* marked is a good place to start - these can be extended by analogy. Also "I became President".

It's possible to speak English without using articles at all. If the language had a large influx of new learners whose native language did not make use of articles, this could help the process along. Or maybe even if their language did, the feature could drop because they learned a "stripped-down" version that did not make use of the more finnicky distinctions. You don't have to have a creole situation for this to develop - any situation where a large number of people are suddenly learning the language and using it a lot will do.

In general, I think grammatical marking disappears after, not before, it has lost most of its functional load. So either definite marking becomes *more* frequent, so it winds up distinguishing nothing, and therefore becoming extraneous, or it appears relevant in fewer and fewer cases.

Romance languages gained articles partly because they needed something else to mark case and gender after nouns alone didn't do the job. Maybe an alternative to "the" gets more widely used - some English speakers will use "that" in preference to "the" - and then the work that "the" does becomes more and more marginal. "That" might take on the functions of "the" in marking definiteness, or it might not.

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 13, 2017 8:19 am 
Sumerul
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So Haleza Grise wrote:
Maybe an alternative to "the" gets more widely used - some English speakers will use "that" in preference to "the" - and then the work that "the" does becomes more and more marginal. "That" might take on the functions of "the" in marking definiteness, or it might not.

Although in that case one might argue that the language just changed its definiteness marker, but didn't lose definiteness as a category.
@Chengjiang: Are you only interested in definiteness, or in other grammatical features as well?


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 13, 2017 9:36 am 
Sumerul
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One example of getting rid of definiteness is what happened in several modern Slavic languages, although it could be said that the definiteness distinction in question was only a marginal feature.
Balto-Slavic had a definiteness distinction on the adjective, which was achieved by adding the PIE demonstrative-relative pronoun *yo to the ending:
Proto-Slavic *novъ gordъ "new town" - *novъ-jъ gordъ "new -DEF town". Lithianian still has this: juoda jūra "a /any black sea", Juodo-ji jūra "the Black Sea". But in most modern Slavic languages, this distinction has been lost. Mostly, the definite forms (called "long form" in Russian grammar) have won out and replaced the indefinite forms ("short form"), except in (1) certain sub-classes of adjectives or noun classes based on adjectives where "short" forms are used for all or part of the paradigm (e.g. the possesive adjectives in -ov and -in in Russian), (2) in some petrified forms (e.g. "new town" is novyj gorod with the old definite form, but the city name Novgorod shows the old "short" nominative sg., or expressions like po belu svetu "across the wide world", while the usual form of the dative is belomu; and (3) a distinction between "long" and short forms is maintained in Russian in predicative position, but the distinction is now one between general and specifi applicability, e.g. bryuki - korotkie (long form) "the trousers are short" (compared to some general norm) vs. bryuki - korotki (short form) "the trousers are too short" (for the speaker or the wearer). Other Slavic languages (e.g. Polish) have also got rid of the distinction in (3); I assume that Polish had it at one point because several adjectives that are used as modals in predicates have historically short forms (e.g. powinien "obliged").
So the path here was for the marked (= definite) form to win out against the unmarked form, except for a few residual cases, and for the definiteness distinction to be re-interpreted where it was still maintained.


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 13, 2017 9:57 am 
Smeric
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hwhatting wrote:
So Haleza Grise wrote:
Maybe an alternative to "the" gets more widely used - some English speakers will use "that" in preference to "the" - and then the work that "the" does becomes more and more marginal. "That" might take on the functions of "the" in marking definiteness, or it might not.

Although in that case one might argue that the language just changed its definiteness marker, but didn't lose definiteness as a category.
@Chengjiang: Are you only interested in definiteness, or in other grammatical features as well?


Agreed. Although I would analyse it more as a loss of the demonstratives (since it becomes mostly impossible to tell a demonstrative from a definite apart), at least in the first stage. If the demonstrative then is "restored" by not longer using it for definiteness, now...

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 13, 2017 10:06 am 
Avisaru
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On the traces of PS indefinite form: the -y-less form of passive participles ending in -ony is sometimes used in poetry when the author wants to make his work in old style, resembling Old Polish or some extinct, I think, or eastern dialect of Polish.
Back to the question: there are always some exceptions, so you could make them so confusing speakers would just not use any marker at all or begin to use just one type of it and then drop it.

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 13, 2017 10:16 am 
Sumerul
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ˈd̪ʲɛ.gɔ kɾuˑl̪ wrote:
On the traces of PS indefinite form: the -y-less form of passive participles ending in -ony is sometimes used in poetry when the author wants to make his work in old style, resembling Old Polish or some extinct, I think, or eastern dialect of Polish.

In 18th / early 19th century Russian poetry the long and short forms were used interchangeably, based only on the requirements of rhyme and metre. At that time, the spoken language already seems to have lost the short forms except in the cases I described above, but the poetical language retained the short forms, just without the old functional distinctions, only as poetic variants.


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 13, 2017 11:40 am 
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So Haleza Grise wrote:

Romance languages gained articles partly because they needed something else to mark case and gender after nouns alone didn't do the job. Maybe an alternative to "the" gets more widely used - some English speakers will use "that" in preference to "the" - and then the work that "the" does becomes more and more marginal. "That" might take on the functions of "the" in marking definiteness, or it might not.


One far-from-impossible development: increased use of "this" for both definites and indefinites, which already happens in some style of narrative.
"So this man walks into this bar, and he orders this drink from this barman, but this barman says..."

"This" could become effectively a marker of singular count nouns, contrasted with plurals, mass nouns and generic nouns. The existing articles could drop, or become more specialised. For instance, "a" could easily become, effectively, a distributive marker ("one for each", as it were). So, "Six men order this drink" (six men, one drink), but "Six men order a drink" (six men, sx drinks - one drink each). "Every man needs a home" - one home for each man. "The", meanwhile, could in its unstressed form be an indicator of certain proper nouns ("This cart and horses" (a cart and some horses) vs "The Cart and Horses" (the name of a pub)), and its stressed form could become a rarely-used emphatic identifier ("theee cart and horses" - you know, the famous ones!).

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 16, 2017 12:37 pm 
Sumerul
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Vijay wrote:
"To school," "to town," "to port"...?


I think these are probably relics of the older, pre-article stage of English, rather than recent innovations.

Actual instances of article loss occur in creole genesis, so maybe you could explain it through a partial creolisation scenario. You could also imagine sound changes playing a part: easy if you've got definiteness suffixes - that's just the same as sound change eroding case endings, say - but there are also scenarios where sound changes could make separate articles cease to be worthwhile (e.g. if English lost initial /ð/ across the board that would, at the very least, do a lot of damage to the article system).

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 16, 2017 5:27 pm 
Sumerul
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Curlyjimsam wrote:
Vijay wrote:
"To school," "to town," "to port"...?


I think these are probably relics of the older, pre-article stage of English, rather than recent innovations.

What "pre-article stage of English"?


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 19, 2017 3:31 pm 
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Vijay wrote:
Curlyjimsam wrote:
Vijay wrote:
"To school," "to town," "to port"...?


I think these are probably relics of the older, pre-article stage of English, rather than recent innovations.

What "pre-article stage of English"?

English always had a definite article – but the indefinite article is an innovation that occured after there was such a thing as "English".

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 19, 2017 3:59 pm 
Sumerul
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vec wrote:
Vijay wrote:
Curlyjimsam wrote:
Vijay wrote:
"To school," "to town," "to port"...?


I think these are probably relics of the older, pre-article stage of English, rather than recent innovations.

What "pre-article stage of English"?

English always had a definite article – but the indefinite article is an innovation that occured after there was such a thing as "English".

Which should be irrelevant as all three of those examples are referring to places of definite reference; if you're going "to school," that means you're going to a specific school (presumably one you frequently attend or are at least enrolled in), not just to any school. AFAIK the equivalents to all three of those examples in languages that do use an article there would use the definite article.

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