All Nordic languages: generalizing definite article?

Discussion in 'Nordic Languages' started by Gavril, Feb 4, 2013.

  1. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA

    In many languages, the definite article can have a generalizing meaning, referring to the whole set of things designated by a noun.

    E.g., in French, you can say

    Les requins sont dangereux. "Sharks are dangerous."

    Here, les requins doesn't mean "the sharks" (= a specific group of sharks who have been previously mentioned), but "sharks (in general)".

    Can the definite article function this way in any of the Scandinavian languages? Or, in general, can the definite articles in these languages only refer to a particular, previously-mentioned (or contextually implied) thing or things?

    Thanks for any info
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2013
  2. AutumnOwl

    AutumnOwl Senior Member

    Swedish - Sweden, Finnish
    There are two ways to express the definite article in Swedish, either de, den, det, or with a suffix -a, -en, -et, -men, -met, -n, -na, -nen. With sharks I would use no definite article when talking about sharks in general, Hajar är farliga, but with for example apples it's possible to say Äpplena är mogna nu (the apples are ready (to pick) now, and meaning apples in general.
  3. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    Doesn't "the apples are ready to pick" generally imply a specific group of apples, rather than apples in general? How would you normally translate a sentence such as "Apples are tasty"?
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2013
  4. Merkurius Senior Member

    Hi Gavril.

    In Icelandic, as you know, we would say ''Hákarlar eru hættulegir'' because ''Hákarlarnir eru hættulegir'' means a certain group of sharks.
    I also think that AutumnOwl gives a good example, instead of apples in Iceland we would use e.g. berries (blue berries or something of that kind). When a certain month comes we say ,,Berin eru tilbúin til tínslu'' referring to all the berries!
    (Without knowing it) I think AutumnOwl is using a similar example, in a certain month all the apples should have grown and reached a certain point so now the people can begin to pick all the apples!
  5. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    I was making a distinction between sentences such as

    1) The apples are ready to pick [which suggests a specific set of apples that are available in this context, however large that set might be]

    vs. sentences such as

    2) Apples are usually ready to pick in the summer

    Sentence #2 is a more abstract statement about "apples in general" (and therefore English avoids using the definite article in it). Because of the word nu "now" in AutumnOwl's sentence (Äpplena är mogna nu), I doubted that it had the type of meaning seen in #2. But I may have been missing something.
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2013
  6. Määränpää

    Määränpää Senior Member

    Is my Swedish for foreigners textbook wrong when it says that Sköldpaddor kan leva hundra år and Sköldpaddorna kan leva hundra år are both correct when you're talking about tortoises in general (as a species)?

    I know that sköldpaddorna can also refer to specific individual tortoises who have been previously mentioned.
  7. NorwegianNYC

    NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    In Norwegian, it is usually the indefinite plural that indicates the general (haier er farlige). However, you write: "Can the definite article function this way in any of the Scandinavian languages? Or, in general, can the definite articles in these languages only refer to a particular, previously-mentioned thing or things?" With the exception of certain rare constructs (especially in Danish), the Scandinavian languages do not use definite articles, but definite forms. That is - not for noun phrases alone - only when combined with adjectives.
  8. myšlenka Senior Member

    You do see some generic uses of the definite forms in the singular. I believe this holds for Swedish/Danish too:

    Ulven er et farlig dyr.
    Poteten er en allsidig grønnsak.
    Rypa er en reirflykter.

    But the indefinite plural also works here.
  9. Merkurius Senior Member

    => Berin eru tilbúin til tínslu.

    Yfirleitt má tína berin í sumar/Berin eru yfirleitt tilbúin til tínslu um sumarið.

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