Status of definite articles

The definite article is among the strategies that languages employ to mark definiteness.[1] Appearing alongside a noun, the definite article is a morpheme that serves solely to express definiteness or salience.[2] This morpheme may appear as an independent word, an analytic affix, or a non-deictic demonstrative.[3] It serves two primary functions: (a) anaphoric reference (referring to an entity mentioned in the preceding discourse) and (b) non-anaphoric reference (referring to an entity that was not mentioned in the preceding discourse, but belongs to the set of information with which the listener is familiar or can infer. Some languages restrict the use of definite articles to anaphoric reference.


NoArt: The language does not have articles.

DefArt=W: Definite articles are independent words distinct from demonstratives.[4] In some cases, they may appear alongside demonstratives.

DefArt=Aff: Definite articles are nominal affixes, attaching either directly to the noun or, as clitics, to some element of the phrase (always the last one, for example).

DefArt=Dem: Definite articles are a specific subclass of demonstratives.[5]

DefArt=NonIndefArt: Definiteness is marked by the lack of an indefinite article, rather than by the presence of a definite article.[6]


[1] Alternative strategies include the existence of distinct inflectional paradigms for definite and indefinite nouns. In a synthetic paradigm, a single case affix expresses both (in)definiteness and the given case.

[2] Definite articles may, in some languages, also express salience alongside nouns that are semantically indefinite.

[3] When the definite article appears as an independent word or demonstrative, it may also display deictic features. Some distal and proximal demonstratives, for example, may also function as definite articles. For such a demonstrative to be considered an article, its demonstrative function must be secondary to its expression of definiteness. For example, its use might extend to non-anaphoric reference.

[4] They may, however, display syncretism with a third-person pronoun.

[5] In some cases, these may only appear with pronouns; in others, they may appear with any anaphoric noun phrase. The word order of a demonstrative may differ when used as a definite article compared to in its prototypical function.

[6] In many cases, however, the lack of an indefinite article results in ambiguity, in which case the value NoDefArt is more appropriate.