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

elroy

Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
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

    Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
    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

    Senior Member
    Arabic (Syria)
    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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    S.V.

    Senior Member
    Español, México
    It seems Sant Vicent Ferrer, b. 1350 in Valencia, gave some examples. Below, among many with aver +OBJ; at a time modern ˚el + [subject] & ˚el + [specific object] is mostly complete: E desque ovieren çelebrado e dicho missa, asconderán el cáliçe e la ara e las vestimentas1; Mas en el pecado de la invidia non fallarás una semejança sola de plazer2; Lo sol... La luna... prenen mullers (p.7; EN).

    la segunda promisión es a personas que vençerán el pecado de avariçia por largueza verdadera (EN)
    la terçera promisión es a personas que vençerán peccado de luxuria por linpia castidat
    las personas que vençerán pecado de invidia por amor e karidat
    en esta manera avrán victoria contra pecado de luxuria
    3
    escogerán resçebir e padesçer martirio con alegría
    çelebrarán e dirán missa, los quales non traerán corona nin hábito saçerdotal
    e farán llanto assí como llanto de uno engendrado
    entre sí farán penitençia infructuosa
    Esso mismo, quando estás faziendo oraçión, la tu boca ha dignidat

    quant [...] vench del cel en terra a pendre humanitat tot simplement (
    p.5 ¶2)
    en les sues obres, donant-nos exemple (ib. below Matth. XX)
    a pendre carn humana (ib. above last line)
    qui james feren peccat contra Deu (p.7 ¶2)
    ¿que faran homens e dones, los renegadors, juradors, los superbios, etc? (ib.)
     
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    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    It seems Sant Vicent Ferrer, b. 1350 in Valencia, gave some examples. Below, among many with aver +OBJ; at a time modern ˚el + [subject] & ˚el + [specific object] is mostly complete: E desque ovieren çelebrado e dicho missa, asconderán el cáliçe e la ara e las vestimentas1; Mas en el pecado de la invidia non fallarás una semejança sola de plazer2; Lo sol... La luna... prenen mullers (p.7; EN).
    Saint Vicent Ferrer was from the Kingdom of Valencia and everything he preached was in the Catalan language, the only one he could speak according to some biographers. In fact, it is often stated he had the gift of tongues, because he was understood everywhere without changing the language. So those examples must be from translations of his sermons, as apparently he didn't write down what he preached, but the faithful who followed him.
     

    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    I wonder if this was just a quirk of the time, i.e. the Romance languages were still pretty well mutually intelligible.
    Even today, if there is willingness among the speakers, more than 70% is easily understandable. One can see it just by checking some videos about this.

    Besides, Catalan occupied then an even more central position. I don't think the same would have been said if the preacher would have been from Liege.
     

    pollohispanizado

    Senior Member
    Inglés canadiense
    Even today, if there is willingness among the speakers, more than 70% is easily understandable. One can see it just by checking some videos about this
    I started learning Catalan and I was pleasantly surprised that, despite the very different orthography, I understood quite a lot when spoken (I'm sure that speaking two of its closest relatives --plus a couple of more distant cousins-- helps a lot). But in the 14th century, almost all of them had the same or very similar phonologies (much more than today).
     

    S.V.

    Senior Member
    Español, México
    the Romance languages were still pretty well mutually intelligible.
    Oh, his work in Toledo may be embellished, but I agree in that context. Even if all you change from those dos sermones is two articles and 7 core verbs. :p If we 'see' all the vowel endings floating in the air, Castilian can also represent a simplification ('just add -o & -a, to these nouns I know').

    Some examples may point to legalese; compare quant deu donar sentencia in p. 9 ¶3 with dar, oyr, recebir sentençia (a couple hundred in 1300-1500 range). But in both langs, he may be more representative of generations after the Black Plague, than some poems often quoted. In line with illas cupas, illas tegolas, illa ammica tua (p. 15) by the 7th century & per illa defeſa, per illo lombo, per illo colato, ad illa cote de illa Lopeira (p. 30) by 1011.

    Regarding an edge of intelligible, a mention of Mozarabic on p. 42. Compare Gar qué fareyo / Cóm vivreyo / Est’ al-habib, as saber / por él morreyo (p. 22) with ta jugá yo in Chabacano. :p Though of course, we talk of Castilian's sisters, in a garden like Generalife's (cf. "conquest of Seville"+"two and a half million" olive trees; still long before the quotes on scarcity & the expulsions).

    This last point may then be stressed, if you want to link it to Elroy's question. You may now see

     ♠ ♣           

    across different languages, along in both the 'target' that heard oxalá at home, long before 1400, & the 'Castilian at Church' (˚dezir misa), in a reorganization a la francesa, through the clergy. You talk of a 'potential' in sister languages, and a 'nudge' by contact & stress. We may see a separate line, from the Roman colonia ("almost complete romanization"; "the Visigoths were the most Romanized"; "In the fifth and sixth centuries, Spain remained the most Romanized of all western lands") to that Toledo of 2.5M olive trees & a Cordoba of "700 mosques"; while many still said ˚faré yo, along some Arabic nouns & sounds. :p

    In the larger context of centuries of migration and 'repopulation', since the first fueros; a discussion on Arabic bilingual% may miss the point, as you also merge 'back' old branches. As you mix hundreds of thousands, in some waves. Just as you'd talk of 'easier' calques between two close languages; at a time the modern patterns are being forged & other factors keep the potential alive. Like not losing those vowels at the end of your nouns, or later changing /a/, /e/ from aver into tiene, tengo &c, for that meaning. Or Andalusian segregation ←XI c.
     
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