28 Definite articles

This feature is described more fully in chapter 28.


In this feature (based on WALS feature 37, by Matthew S. Dryer), we look at definite articles, i.e. elements which accompany nouns and which code definiteness, like the in English. Definite articles need not be obligatory. Definite NPs are NPs whose referent can be uniquely identified by the hearer, as in anaphoric situations, to refer back to something mentioned in the preceding discourse (e.g. I bought a new bicycle... My husband likes the bicycle), or in associative contexts, to refer to something that is not mentioned in the preceding discourse but that is identifiable because of an associative relationship (e.g. I bought a new bicycle. The saddle is very comfortable).

A demonstrative is a word that can be used with a pointing gesture. Demonstratives are often diachronically extended to definite articles, so quite a few languages have words that can be used both to express definiteness (even in associative contexts) and as demonstratives. This feature also notes the existence of indefinite articles for languages lacking definite articles.


Martin Haspelmath and the APiCS Consortium


Definite article distinct from demonstratives38
Definite article identical to a demonstrative19
No definite article, but indefinite article10
Neither definite nor indefinite article9

Language Value Lexifier Details Source
Id Primary text Analyzed text Gloss Translation Type Language Audio Details