# A contrastive analysis of the English and Greek system of central determiners

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2017 18 Pages

## Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. Differences and similarities in distribution and function of central determiners in English and Greek
a) The definite article
b) The indefinite article
c) The zero article
d) Demonstrative determiners
e) Poly-definite construction or determiner spreading in Modern Greek

3. Conclusion

4. References

## 1. Introduction

The Modern Greek (MG) system of articles or central determiners does not correspond with the English one in every detail. Hence, mastering the correct use of the articles can present difficulties for Greek learners of English (Kanellou 2005: 435). According to Greenbaum and Quirk (1990: 72f) the term ‘determiner’ includes the definite / indefinite [specific, generic] article the, a / an, the possessive article my, your, etc., the demonstrative article this, that, etc., quantifiers (some, few, etc.) and numerals (two, second, etc.). In the present paper, I will focus on central determiners: definite, indefinite and zero article and demonstrative determiners. We will examine the differences and similarities in their distribution and function for the purpose of raising teachers’ awareness of possible problem areas for Greek ESL learners1.

In the centre piece of this paper (Chapter 2), I will first define the use of the particular determiner in English and give examples. In a second step, we will have a look at the use of the corresponding determiner in Greek and analyse some examples from grammar books. In a third step finally, the focus will be on the differences and similarities in distribution and function of the determiners by examining an interlinear translation in order to draw a contrastive comparison between the two languages.

As a starting point, there shall be a brief description of the English and Greek articles for the purpose of leading to a more concise understanding of what is to follow. In both languages, the two types of articles – definite and indefinite articles – precede the head of the noun phrase. The zero article refers to the case when no article at all is required (Kanellou 2005: 436, Holton et al. 2012: 353). Whereas in Greek the form of the indefinite and definite article depends on number, case, and gender of the nominal it is associated with (Brian / Philippaki-Warburton 1987: 153), there is only one form in English for the respective article in singular and / or plural. Chart 1.1 / 1.2 and 2.1 / 2.2 display the correspondence between the English and Greek system.

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Table 1.1. The basic forms of the English and Greek definite articles (Latin alphabet) (for singular, see Kanellou 2004: 437).

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Table 1.2. The basic forms of the English and Greek definite articles (Greek alphabet).

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Table 2.1. The basic forms of the English and Greek indefinite articles (Latin alphabet)2.

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Table 2.2. The basic forms of the English and Greek indefinite articles (Greek alphabet) (Holton et al. 2012: 53).

## 2. Differences and similarities in distribution and function of central determiners in English and Greek

### a) The definite article

The functions of the definite article in English

Usually the definite article in English is used with definite / specific reference. Regarding count nouns in singular, the main function of the definite article is to signal ‘identifiability’. By using the definite article, the speaker signals to the hearer that the referent described by the relevant noun phrase should be identifiable (i.e. known, familiar) by him (Siemund 2013: 88). The use of the definite article is based on three different kinds of knowledge: knowledge of the world, knowledge of one’s culture and / or knowledge of the English grammar.

We refer to our knowledge of the world when we use the to indicate ‘unique’ elements, such as the sun and the moon. In a prototype situation like visiting a restaurant, we rely on the knowledge of our culture. We may ask the waiter to bring the menu because restaurants usually have a single menu. Thus, the use of the definite article is generally intelligible for both speaker and listener. The choice of the definite article may also be made for reasons of grammar, e.g. in the clause John plays the piano (Kanellou 2004: 437f).

The functions of the definite article in Modern Greek

The definite article in MG is used in a broadly similar way to the English one but there are some major differences. In general, the definite article is used more frequently and additionally in combination with other determiners such as demonstratives (see d)). The definite article is also used with proper nouns (PR) referring to specific places and with titles followed by a person’s name. Moreover, it is used with abstract nouns and with time specification such as days of the week, months and years (Kanellou 2004: 438, Holton et al. 2012: 356).

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Table 3: Features of the use of the definite article in MG in special contexts (Kanellou 2004: 438f).

As we have seen so far, there are cases when the use of the definite article in MG is required in contrast to English. The following example from the short story Human from an interlinear book translation shall show the function and distribution of the definite article in an embedded context in order to point out the discrepancies or correspondences between English and Greek. We will see that the situation becomes more complex.

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Table 4: Illustration of the use of the definite article in MG in contrast to English, embedded in a continuous text (Gouyoumtzian 2014: 4).

- In comparison to English: Specific use of the definite article in combination with a possessive pronoun.
- In comparison to English: Regular use of the definite article plus noun which is identifiable.

From this glossed sample, we see different things. First, the same phenomenon occurs in line 1–3 / gloss 1–3: The genitive forms of the weak personal pronouns are used as possessive pronouns following a noun or acting as part of a noun phrase (Holton et al. 2012: 115). The noun itself is preceded by the definite article (Reumuth / Militsis 2014: 91). In English however, we express the same fact by using the possessive determiner plus noun only: There is no extra determiner like the definite article. In line 4 / gloss 4 finally, we see a function of the definite article as we are used to it from English. The definite article is intelligible because of the subsequent explanation. When the identity of a referent is established by a modifier, such as a relative clause that follows the noun like in the given example, the definite article is used in English and the same is true for Greek (Kanellou 2004: 438).

### b) The indefinite article

The function of the indefinite article in English

In English, the indefinite article exists only in singular for count nouns and precedes the noun or noun phrase. The function of the indefinite article is to signal non-identifiability and we use it when an item is mentioned for the first time. When we come back to our prototype-situation ‘visiting a restaurant’ from a), we may ask a waiter for a table. This is plausible because there may be several waiters and many tables in the restaurant we are going to. Since we speak about waiter and table for the first time, we shall use a / an (Kanellou 2004: 439).

The function of the indefinite article in Modern Greek

The numeral enas / mia / ena (one) functions as the indefinite article in MG and exists in singular only. It precedes the noun or noun phrase and inflects for gender and case as depicted in chart 2.1 and 2.2 (Holton et al. 2012: 353). As in English, one uses the indefinite article when referring to a singular person, thing or concept which is not yet known to the hearer or introduced for the first time by the speaker (Holton et al. 2012: 360).

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Table 5: The use of the indefinite article in MG compared to English (Holton et al. 2012: 360f).

In general, the indefinite article is used less frequently in MG than in English. In many contexts, no article is used in Greek whereas in English the indefinite article is required. This is the case for nouns that serve as predicate (gloss 3). The article can also be omitted from noun phrases preceded by like / σαν in similes (gloss 4). Furthermore, there is no article in Greek (semi-)fixed multi-word expressions (e.g. verb-object collocations) in contrast to English (Holton et al. 2012: 360–364, Kanellou 2004: 440, Reumuth / Militsis 2014: 72).

[...]

1 ESL = English as a Second Language.

2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_Greek_grammar#Definite_article, accessed 9th Aug. 2017.

## Details

Pages
18
Year
2017
ISBN (eBook)
9783668878716
Language
English
Catalog Number
v455183
Institution / College
LMU Munich – Institut für Englische Philologie