indefinite articles (Romance Languages)

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merquiades

Senior Member
English (USA Northeast)
Hello everyone. Does anyone know how or why French and Italian came to use their partitive articles (de + definite article) for their indefinite article plurals too?

Un/Une > Des or Un(o)/ Un'(a) > Dei / Delle instead of *Uns/*Unes or *Uni/*Une, which could seem more straightforward.

Thanks for your responses.
 
  • bearded

    Senior Member
    Hello
    I think the logic is ''(some) of the...'', i.e. a part of.., hence ''partitive''.
    Del pane: (some) of the bread
    Degli uomini: (some) of the men.
    The adjective (and numeral) uno is singular by definition, it cannot have a plural (the only exception I know being the expression gli uni e gli altri/ les uns et les autres).
     
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    jmx

    Senior Member
    Spain / Spanish
    Strictly speaking, the Spanish indefinite article "un/una" doesn't have a plural. That is, the unmarked plural of "tengo un libro" is "tengo libros". Additionally you could add some determiner, such as "varios/unos/algunos libros", but all those words add some nuance not present in the singular form with "un".

    EDIT: (Initially I deleted this post because I thought that it was hardly relevant, however later I asked for it to be recovered because it got 2 responses)
     
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    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    Hello
    I think the logic is ''(some) of the...'', i.e. a part of.., hence ''partitive''.
    Del pane: (some) of the bread
    Degli uomini: (some) of the men.
    The adjective (and numeral) uno is singular by definition, it cannot have a plural (the only exception I know being the expression gli uni e gli altri/ les uns et les autres).
    This rationale does make sense. It's an interesting way of looking at the issue... "some" is really a part of a greater whole.
    Degli amici - Some (of the) friends or a part of the friends. So it would mean that the partitive article expanded in use to occupy the place.

    Logically uno (one) may not have a plural, but if we did try to pluralize it to uni (ones) it would just naturally come to mean "a few", right?
     
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    Swatters

    Senior Member
    French - Belgium, some Wallo-Picard
    Old French had uns/unes (both nominative singular and accusative plural, of course), but they were mostly used for a singular set of plural elements, like "unes armes" meaning weapons, in the sense of enough weapons to arm one soldier, or unes lèvres (lips), unes grans narines (big nostrils).

    Dē could already be used with partitive meaning in Latin ("Probet autem seipsum homo, et sic de pane illo edat, et de calice bibat" from the Vulgate (I Corinthian 11)) and this seems to have remained a low frequency option (it's cross linguistically common for ablative markers to be useable with a partitive meaning) until Late Old French, when fully grammaticalised partitive articles start to emerge from this occasional partitive usage of de. Once de+article has become established as a partitive article, it quickly displaces un(e)s as the plural indefinite article, since there's a heavy semantic overlap between plural indefinites and plural partitives.

    The uses of de + definite article in OF seem roughly similar to those of de + demonstrative determiner in modern French, with the meaning of "some of a previously established concrete thing", almost always in direct objects of verbs of eating or drinking: "le gastel et le vin lor baille, // .i. fromage lor pere et taille. // Cil mangierent qui fain avoient, // et del vin volantiers bevoient" (modern: Il leur donne du pain et du vin, leur prépare et leur coupe du fromage. Ceux qui avaient faim mangèrent, et burent volontier de ce vin)

    Carlier & Lamiroy 2014 (The grammaticalization of the prepositional partitive in Romance) catalogue several parallel uses of de as partitive marker in Old Spanish:

    (El Cid) Y fallaron un vergel con una muy limpia font, [...] Dadnos agora del agua, ¡sí vos vala el Criador!”. Estonces con un sonbrero que tiene Félez Muñoz (mucho nuevo era e fresco, que de Valencia sacó), cogió del agua con él e a sus primas la dio.

    But in Spanish this never led to further grammaticalisation of the type we saw in French or in Italian.
     

    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    In the case of Catalan, the use of the partitive de is always tied to the particle en or to some words in quantitative context (molt, poc, gens, gaire, res, cap...).

    De taronges en tinc vuit. (Of oranges of-them have-I eight)​
    No en vull d'aigua jo! (Not of-it want-I of water I! = I do not want water!)
    Que n'és, de poca-solta! (So-much of-it is-he, of cheeky! = He's so cheeky!)​
    Aquí no n'ha fet gaire, de fred. (Here not of-it has-it done much, of cold = It's not been very cold here)​
    Tens molt de valor i gens de seny. (Have-you much of valour and nothing of commonsense)​
    But unlike in French or Italian, it is never an indefinite plural article, where uns/unes is used.
     

    Olaszinhok

    Senior Member
    Standard Italian
    In the case of Catalan, the use of the partitive de is always tied to the particle en or to some words in quantitative context (molt, poc, gens, gaire, res, cap...).

    De taronges en tinc vuit. (Of oranges of-them have-I eight)
    Yes, of course. However, there is no real partitive article in Catalan, unlike French and Italian.
     
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