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5.3 The indefinite article

The indefinite article ‘n ‘a’ does not have a paradigm of two or more overt forms. The indefinite article does not distinguish between gender or case, but it does distinguish between singular and plural, by its absence in the plural. It also distinguishes between count nouns and non-count nouns, by its absence before non-count nouns. The following table summarises these facts:

Table 1
Before count nouns ‘n (‘n Bouk ‘a book’) - (Bouke ‘books’)
Before non-count nouns - (Woater ‘water’) NOT APPLICABLE

As mentioned, the indefinite article is only present with count nouns, which may be due to its relation to the numeral one. In fact, the indefinite article may be viewed as a weakened form of the numeral one, though it cannot be reduced to being a numeral. The distinction between count nouns and other nouns is something to which both the definite article and numerals are sensitive. Furthermore, there is a phonological similarity between the numeral one and the indefinite article, in the sense that the phonological form of the indefinite article (n) is part of the two forms of the numeral aan/ een ‘one’, where aan is used for the MSC SG, en een for the FEM SG and the NTR SG.

The indefinite article has the function of signalling the introduction of new information in the domain of discourse. The indefinite article regularly combines with a noun and a verb to form idiomatic combinations. Although the indefinite article does not normally occur with plural nouns, it should be investigated whether it may do so to express an exclamative reading.

The indefinite article is discussed in the sections below.

[+]1. The function of the indefinite article

The indefinite article is used for the first introduction, the presentation, of a new referent into the domain of discourse. Thus the first or second sentence of a story often contains an indefinite NP. The following sentence then refers back to the indefinite NP by means of a pronoun. Consider for example the first two sentences from Erich Kästner’s Die fljoogende Klassenruun ‘the flying class room’, translated by Gretchen Grosser.

Dutmoal wäd dät een rägelgjucht Wienachts-Fertälster. Nau numen wüül iek dät al foar two Jiere skrieuwe.
this.time becomes it a straight Christmas-story strict mentioned wanted I that already for two years write
This time it’s going to be a down-and-out Christmas story. Strictly speaking, I have wanted to write it for two years.

The second sentence contains a pronoun referring back to the indefinite NP. The same remarks apply to the second and third sentences of Antoine de St. Exupéry’s Die litje Prins ‘The little prince’, here quoted with the first sentence as well.

Säks Jiere waas iek oold. Do kreech iek moal een Bouk uur dän Urwald tou foatjen. Dät hiede ju Uurskrift: Weere Fertälstere.
six years was I old then got I once a book about the jungle to grab it had the caption true stories
I was six years old. Then I happened to lay my hands on a book about the jungle. It had the caption: true stories.

Thus the indefinite NP is used to introduce new elements in the discourse. Existential sentence are specifically used for this purpose, as in the famous formula: once upon a time, there was ... Bare plurals may also be used in generic sentences.

[+]2. Variation in form of the indefinite article

The sentences above show that the indefinite NP features the full indefinite article, homophonous to the numeral. This is a matter pertaining to orthography. Instead of the reduced form, the full forms aan (masculine) and een (feminine, neuter) are often written, although they are pronounced in spoken language as just /n/. The indefinite article ’n is pronounced the same way as the reduced definite article (as in: uur ’n kop strookje ‘to stroke the head’). However, this fact rarely leads to confusion. Feminine nouns sometimes get the article ne. Some examples of this interference are given below:

‘ne Ärinneringe, ‘ne gans oolde Ku, ‘ne grote Säärke, ‘ne flugge Tied.
a memory a very old cow a big church a nice time
A memory, a very big cow, a big church, a nice time.

This might be due to High or Low German influence, perhaps facilitated by rythmic or phonological motivations. The form is not found in Fort’s dictionary.

[+]3. Use of the indefinite article as a free choice marker

The spoken language sometimes features the combination: irgend ’n. Irgend ‘any’ is a loan from German which turns the indefinite article into a free choice marker. Some examples are given below:

Dät is nit irgendaan, dät is die Heer säärm.
it is not any.one it is the Lord self
It isn’t just anybody, it is the Lord himself.
Mien Schip bergt moor Gould as irgend een fon de ganze Flotte.
my ship has more gold than any one of the whole fleet
My ship has more gold than any other of the whole fleet.

In these examples, irgend cannot be omitted without causing ungrammaticality. Irgend may have ousted some indigenuous way of expressing free choice meanings in negative (downward entailing) contexts.

[+]4. The indefinite article in idiom formation and noun incorporation

The combination of an article and a noun may have a fixed, possibly idiosyncratic, meaning when combined with a verb, as a sort of habitual activity involving unspecific entities.

Wolt du de Skäipe skere?
want you the sheep shave
Do you want to shave the sheep?
‘t Huus aphämmelje.
the house upclean
Make the house clean.

Here the focus is not on the sheep or the house, since these are given as habitual part of the linguistic context. Habitual activities tend to focus on the information given by the verb. Examples of such habitual activities from the cultural past are cleaning pipes and grafting trees. Such activities could also be expressed by dropping the article alltogether and incorporating the noun in the verb. Some examples of noun incorporation are given below:

Bjuntspier wuud uk brukt tou Piepe scheenmoakjen.
bentgrass was also used to pipe clean.make
Bentgrass was also used to clean pipes.
Woaks brukte me tou Boomäntjen.
wax used one to tree.graft
Wax was used for grafting trees.

The objects of the infinitival verbs both appear in the singular and without any article, which are sure signs that they have been incorporated into the verb. In fact, use of articles preceding the objects would render these sentences ungrammatical. The phenomenon of noun incorporation is present in all three Frisian languages, see ###Literatuur###Dyk (1997:171-193). The author takes the perspective of Magna Frisia and mentions Saterland data as well, including the ones cited above.

[+]5. The indefinite article before a plural noun

Normally the indefinite article is not used before a plural noun.

Du häst ‘n fluch Bouk skreeuwen.
you have a nice book written
You wrote a nice book.
Du häst flugge Bouke skreeuwen.
you have nice books written
You wrote nice books.

West Frisian has exceptions to this claim in the partitive interrogative and exclamative, but Saterland Frisian doesn’t seem to feature such exceptions.

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