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Кафедра английского языкознания






§ 1. Introduction: the traditional approach to the English articles

It is common knowledge that the English articles have always presented a great difficulty especially for those whose native tongue has no determiner of this kind. [1] Moreover, even French or German students of English may have trouble with the articles, for in these languages the latter perform purely morphological functions: they are meant to indicate the number, gender and/or case of nouns they determine. It is due to the specific nature of the English article that it contrasts markedly with its German and French counterparts. It is not surprising, therefore, that even for advanced or professionally-oriented learners of English this grammar point proves to be a stumbling block: the misuse of the articles remains to be one of their major errors since in this matter they tend to be guided largely by intuition rather than reasoning or learned skill. Yet, the mastery of the article has always been regarded as a sign of a perfect, native-like command of English and thus is a challenging subject to deal with.

However regular the study of articles in the earlier stages of language acquisition might be, it is usually supplementary to other grammar points and rarely detailed. It is quite natural, therefore, that in the final stages students should be exposed to the subject again, this time giving it a closer look and revising what they have already learnt, in order to bring together and systematize what might be rather fragmentary knowledge.

Teaching articles as well as any other grammar point is generally based on grammar books, which are supposed to provide the learner with both theory and practice. It happens that in using them, he/she is invariably exposed to the principle once suggested by O. Jespersen and consistently adhered to by all the scholars: nouns are grouped together according to their lexical-grammatical properties, which are indissolubly connected with article determination. [2] Thus the use of the articles is always related to the three main divisions of nouns into proper and common, abstract and concrete, countable and uncountable. [3] Being first mentioned in a text, common concrete countable nouns in the singular are supposed to take the indefinite article. Common abstract uncountable nouns are introduced by means of the zero article. The definite article co-occurs with both categories of nouns on condition that they have been used at least once.

Proper names present a less homogeneous group in terms of article determination. For instance, human names are commonly used without any article. Place names, however, are either specified by the definite article or used without it, though never admitting the indefinite article. [4]

Being feasible, well-founded, and indispensable in the earlier stages of language acquisition, the approach does not seem totally relevant to advanced learners. When exposed to a complicated text they infrequently come across some uses contradicting the rules they have already learned. The examples below demonstrate the use of common concrete class count nouns with the zero article as well as the use of proper names with the indefinite article:

Under the influence of this extraordinary style the book becomes semi-transparent. The usual ceremonies and conventions which keep reader and writer at arm’s length disappear. We are as close to life as we can be. (V. Woolf)

Her bed was certainly very comfortable when she eventually reached it. She lay propped up against her pillows, book in hand and pervaded by a sense of well-being. (E. Lemarchand)

Those marvellous little speeches which sum up, in a few minutes’ chatter, all that we need in order to know an Admiral Croft or a Mrs. Musgrove for ever, that shorthand, hit-or-miss method which contains chapters of analysis and psychology, would have become too crude to hold all that she now perceived of the complexity of human nature. (V. Woolf)

Bernard’s second sister went to Corfu for a holiday and came back with holiday snaps.

‘Sometimes,’ said Bernard, ‘I too feel like going to a hotel somewhere and looking out over a blue Mediterranean sea. You and I could have breakfast in bed, Ellen. Wouldn’t you like that?’ (F. Weldon)

Besides, the semantics of a noun may stretch: its meaning may become narrower or broader according to the speaker’s intention. This is signalled by an appropriate form of the article. Take, for example, the nouns strength and weakness. Being common abstract nouns, they admit of both countable and uncountable uses showing the difference in meaning. Compare:

She succeeded by strength of will only. Our financial independence enables us to argue from a position of strength. (The quality or degree of being strong or powerful) The president was accused of weakness in dealing with the crisis. (The fact or state of being weak in mind, body, or character) – The aircraft crashed because of a structural weakness. (A fault) I have a weakness for chocolate. (A strong liking) The strengths and weaknesses of her argument demonstrate her knowledge of the subject in theory and lack of practice. (Strong and weak points, advantages and disadvantages)

The aim and purpose of the present textbook is, then, to bridge the gap between the general rules provided by grammar books and actual language practice.

The extensive literature on the subject is characterized by a rather specialized terminology, which sometimes is ambiguous or even misleading. This can be seen in the opposition of generic and specific reference, which suggests that a noun (phrase) refers either to an individual person or thing, or to a whole class. [5] Indeed, these terms are conceptually relevant, but unfortunately, not at all helpful, as each of them involves the use of all the 3 forms of the article with various lexical-grammatical classes of nouns. Compare:

generic reference

Newland Archer prided himself on his knowledge of Italian art.

A doctor is not better than his patient.

Horses are intelligent animals.

The horse is less to the Arab than clay is to the Bursley man.

The Americans are so jealous because they haven’t got a Royal Family of their own. [6]

specific reference

At the zoo we saw tigers and lions. A lion and two tigers are kept in the same cage. The lion was eating, the tigers were sleeping.

Interestingly, the use of nouns with the zero article in such cases as tigers and lions is referred to as indefinite specific reference. [7]

Therefore, in this paper some new terms are being introduced. They are supposed to complement and support the existing terminology, the use of which is marked by references to original sources. (See Notes)

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