Spanish: Indefinite article omission and uncountable use of countable nouns / Arabic influence?

elroy

Imperfect mod
US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
I've noticed two features of Spanish that I believe set it apart from French and Italian (not sure about other Romance languages), and I wonder if they might be due to an Arabic influence.

Spanish often allows singular countable nouns with no indefinite article, where the same construction would be ungrammatical in French and Italian. For example:

SP: No sé si tiene novio. :tick: (I don't know if he/she has a boyfriend.)
FR: Je ne sais pas s'il / si elle a petit-ami. :cross: | Je ne sais pas s'il / si elle a un petit-ami. :tick:
IT: No so se abbia ragazzo. :cross: | Non so se abbia un ragazzo. :tick:

SP: Siempre lleva traje. :tick: (He always wears a suit.)
FR: Il porte toujours costume. :cross: | Il porte toujours un costume. :tick:
IT: Sempre indossa abito. :cross: | Sempre indossa un'abito. :tick:

The reason I suspect this may be an Arabic influence is that Arabic only has a definite article and no indefinite article, so the above examples would not have an article in Arabic. Also, to my knowledge Spanish does not generally omit definite articles where French an Italian would have them, but omission of indefinite articles, as in the examples above, is abundant.

Am I right about the behavior of Spanish, French, and Italian? What about other Iberian and non-Iberian Romance languages? Does anyone think this may be due to an Arabic influence?

The other phenomenon is similar but distinct. I believe Spanish allows ordinarily countable nouns to be used in an uncountable sense, again without an indefinite article or any other determiner, while French and Italian do not. For example:

SP: El bebé ya come manzana. :tick: (The baby already eats apple.)
FR: Le bébé mange déjà pomme. :cross: | Le bébé mange déjà de la pomme. :confused: | Le bébé mange déjà des pommes. :tick:
IT: Il bebè mangia già mela. :cross: | Il bebè mangia già della mela. :confused: | Il bebè mangia già delle mele. :tick:

In this case, I'm not sure if French and Italian allow a singular noun at all, even with a partitive determiner. I do know that a plural noun with a partitive determiner works, but that might possibly give a different meaning (whole apples as opposed to puréed apple for example).

The reason I think this one may be an Arabic influence is that in Arabic, many nouns, including "apple," have two semantically plural forms: one designating individual items and one called the "collective plural" that designates an uncountable mass or a category. Crucially, the collective plural is morphologically singular, just like in the Spanish sentence.

تفاحة /tuffa:ħa/, "apple" (morphologically and semantically singular)
تفاحات /tuffa:ħa:t/, "apples" (morphologically and semantically plural) - designates individual apples
تفاح /tuffa:ħ/, "apples" (morphologically singular and semantically plural) - collective plural, designates apples as an uncountable mass or a category

The collective plural is what would be used in this case in Arabic.

My questions in red above apply to this example as well.
 
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  • Just a couple of comments:

    Sempre indossa un':cross:abito.
    Indossa sempre un abito. Sempre at the beginning of the sentence sounds emphatic and marked, unlike Spanish.
    Il bebè mangia già della mela.
    Bebè is fine but in my opinion it is far less common than in other languages, such as Spanish or French, I'd probably use bimbo instead. In your example, Il bebè mangia già la mela should also be ok in my view.
     
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    bearded

    Senior Member
    Am I right about the behavior of .... Italian?
    Yes (but please note it's un abito without apostrophe).

    Il bebè mangia già mela. :cross: | Il bebè mangia già della mela. :confused: | Il bebè mangia già delle mele. :tick:
    Correct. However, in this case we idiomatically say ... mangia già la mela (in this case a usage similar to Arabic 'tuffah': morphologically singular, semantically plural).

    I am not in a position to say anything about a possible influence of Arabic on Spanish, sorry.

    --cross-posted--
     
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    elroy

    Imperfect mod
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    @Olaszinhok
    Thank you! I've purged my Italian of a lot of Spanish influences, but clearly some still remain! :oops: I consciously made sure to place "già" after the verb and not before, but clearly failed to do that with "sempre"! French is more ingrained in me so I generally get the word order right intuitively, but with Italian I have to consciously remind myself that with certain adverbs it works like French and not like Spanish! As for "un abito," this is another frequent error of mine. Apparently I think the default is "uno" and it gets contracted before a vowel. I should train myself to think of the default as "un" and think of the "o" as only surfacing before certain sounds (like "s"). Yes, I was skeptical about "bebè" (is it "bebé" or "bebè"?) but did find some evidence for its use so I went for it. "la mela": ah, yes! Italian loves the definite article much more than Spanish and French! So are you saying both "mangia già della mela" and "mangia già la mela" are okay?
     

    Dymn

    Senior Member
    Am I right about the behavior of Spanish, French, and Italian? What about other Iberian and non-Iberian Romance languages?
    Right about Spanish, in Catalan it's usually omitted too.

    The other phenomenon is similar but distinct. I believe Spanish allows ordinarily countable nouns to be used in an uncountable sense, again without an indefinite article or any other determiner, while French and Italian do not. For example:

    SP: El bebé ya come manzana. :tick: (The baby already eats apple.)
    If you refer to puréed apple, "come manzana" is the only way to say it, if it's whole apples I'd expect the plural. Same for Catalan.

    I think for countable collectives you use the plural in Spanish. Singular use for countable collectives is marked and not usual:

    "I hate men":
    Odio a los hombres (normal translation)
    Odio al hombre (kind of like an institution, it's even more derogatory and othering)

    Now in Brazilian Portuguese the bare singular "Odeio homem" seems to be colloquial but perfectly normal. And in both Portugal and Brazil "Odeio homens" seems ok, which would be ungrammatical in other Romance languages.

    How would you translate this into Arabic?

    Now if you're asking about partitive articles, Catalan doesn't have the partitive article and has never had it, and Gascon Occitan either, whereas most other Occitan dialects have it.

    Spanish: Como pan / Como manzanas
    Catalan: Menjo pa / Menjo pomes
    Gascon: Que mingi pan / Que mingi pomas
    Lengadocian: Mangi de pan / Mangi de pomas
    French: Je mange du pain / Je mange des pommes
     

    pollohispanizado

    Senior Member
    Inglés canadiense
    While it's true that a partitve preposition never coalesced in Spanish as it did in French, there was a partitive pronoun (ende/en/ne; cf. FR., CA. en, IT. ne) used up until the 15th century, i.e. when the Moors were expelled.
     

    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    I've noticed two features of Spanish that I believe set it apart from French and Italian (not sure about other Romance languages), and I wonder if they might be due to an Arabic influence.

    Spanish often allows singular countable nouns with no indefinite article, where the same construction would be ungrammatical in French and Italian. For example:

    SP: No sé si tiene novio. :tick:(I don't know if he/she has a boyfriend.)
    FR: Je ne sais pas s'il / si elle a petit-ami. :cross: | Je ne sais pas s'il / si elle a un petit-ami. :tick:
    IT: No so se abbia ragazzo. :cross: | Non so se abbia un ragazzo. :tick:

    SP: Siempre lleva traje. :tick: (He always wears a suit.)
    FR: Il porte toujours costume. :cross: | Il porte toujours un costume. :tick:
    IT: Sempre indossa abito. :cross: | Sempre indossa un'abito. :tick:

    Am I right about the behavior of Spanish, French, and Italian? What about other Iberian and non-Iberian Romance languages? Does anyone think this may be due to an Arabic influence?
    Catalan and Aragonese do not have a partitive article, but it is common to use the pronoun en (< ENDE), followed by the noun introduced by the partitive de. This does not happen in the West Iberian cluster, which as pollohispanizado said, lost it long ago.

    Aragonese: No sé si en tien, de novio.
    Catalan: No sé si en té, de xicot.

    Aragonese: En leva siempre, de trache.
    Catalan: En du sempre, de vestit.
     

    raamez

    Member
    Arabic
    If old Spanish already had this feature from the beginning then we could also argument that this came about as an influence from Celtic existence in pre Roman Iberia since Celtic languages also don't use the indefinite articles.
     

    Terio

    Senior Member
    Français (Québec)
    In French, the omission is also possible in some circumstances. For example, in idiomatic expressions like prendre mari, of for stylistic reasons : Elle portait robe et chapeau pour aller au bal.
     

    S.V.

    Senior Member
    Español, México
    In Italian
    Also sono amate da chi non ha moglie (Sacchetti, Spos. 1378-1381) & Il detto Velluto ebbe moglie (Velluti, Cron. 1367-1370).

    After Leiss 2000 ('the loss of verbal aspect morphology as the main trigger for the emergence of the article system'), Spanish would be in the 'middle' & non-dynamic verbs would keep these escuetos (Todavía no posee título). A 'middle' that allows for the types ˚ha mujer & ha moglie, ˚nin por oro & Ne por or7 to survive. Then you could claim the centuries of language contact were a 'nudge', as if they were tiny spheres in a Galton board. Hard to prove. :p
     

    Wadi Hanifa

    Senior Member
    Arabic
    I can't comment on Spanish grammar, but just historically speaking isn't modern Spanish descended from dialects that were spoken in the north where Arabic was not spoken? There was a Romance language that was spoken side-by-side with Arabic in the southern parts of the peninsula and it was influenced by Arabic (and written in the Arabic script), but it disappeared with the Reconquista and is not the ancestor of modern Spanish. For this reason alone, a grammatical influence seems unlikely, though some Arabic words did make it into Spanish vocabulary through contact.
     
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    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I can't comment on Spanish grammar, but just historically speaking isn't modern Spanish descended from dialects that were spoken in the north where Arabic was not spoken? There was a Romance language that was spoken side-by-side with Arabic in the southern parts of the peninsula and it was influenced by Arabic (and written in the Arabic script), but it disappeared with the Reconquista and is not the ancestor of modern Spanish. For this reason alone, a grammatical influence seems unlikely, though some Arabic words did make it into Spanish vocabulary through contact.

    The above is more or less the case. The Arabs/Moors were in the Iberian Peninsula for a very long time. It was not always a question of Christians v Moors. There were shifting alliances with Christians and Moors allied against Christians and Moors. Whilst Castilian originated in the north, with the advance of the Reconquista the centre of power shifted south to Toledo and it is there that what can today be recognised as Castilian first emerged. There would have been trade contacts which is always a vehicle for language borrowings. At times Mozarabs may have found it convenient to relocate northwards to avoid conflict.

    The influence is almost exclusively restricted to borrowing nouns. The influence on grammar is absolutely minimal if not non-existent.
     

    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    Whilst Castilian originated in the north, with the advance of the Reconquista the centre of power shifted south to Toledo and it is there that what can today be recognised as Castilian first emerged.
    Castilian wasn't Castilian before reaching Toledo? That doesn't make sense.
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Castilian wasn't Castilian before reaching Toledo? That doesn't make sense.

    I am not saying that was spoken in the north was not Castilian, but that in Toledo Castilian reached a form which is sufficiently like modern Castilian to be recognised as Castilian rather than something else.
     

    S.V.

    Senior Member
    Español, México
    Regarding modern el +SUBJECT, the NGLE mentions cc. XIII-XV (14.1h). The type in Alfonso X continued throughout this period:

    No han seso de mantenerle; han natura de volar muy bajas cerca del agua (1); por tentación del diablo habían sabor de dejar sus monasterios; hombres que habían sabor de morir antes que ser vencidos; habían corazón de vengarse si pudiesen (2); como habían costumbre de hacer; no habías codicia de ser emperador; habían ocasión de salir (3); habemos voluntad de guardar las órdenes; haber achaque de ir a alguna parte (4, 5)

    During the same centuries Italian & Spanish got to tiene ∅ mujer coexisting with a 'modern' UNA mujer ~ LA mujer system, a 'nudge' could be caused by different forms of stress on that system. You are not talking about Arabic 'causing' it, but rather the conquests of Toledo→Sevilla coinciding with volatility, in a lang. that kept a wider +OBJECT type.
     
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