Thursday, February 13, 2014

Do we need articles?

What are articles for? Do we need articles? Many languages in the world, for example Japanese and Chinese, don't have articles.
Articles are the words (the, a, an) usually put in front of nouns. Sometimes they are necessary, sometimes they are optional, sometimes they must be omitted.
Articles are one of the most difficult items for Japanese people when learning English. Japanese people often omit them entirely when speaking English because they don't understand the reason for using them.
It is actually possible to write in English without using articles at all. The text would still be perfectly understandable. So what is the point of using articles?

I have a theory. I think articles are necessary, not for written language, but for spoken language. Articles are auditive signs to indicate where the nouns are. Without the articles it would be difficult to hear and understand what people are saying, it would be difficult to know where one word finishes and the next starts. In written language such a problem doesn't exist because there is a space between words and you can see clearly the individual words.
But when people talk, the words can just be joined together and pronounced without any pause between the words. When you pronounce an entire sentence without any pause between the words, how can you identify the individual words? HowdoyouknowwhereonewordendsandTHEnextstartsifthereisnopausebetweenTHEwords?

The articles tell you where the nouns are which gives you clues to identify the individual words.
It seems that such a theory should be simple to test. All we have to do is write a text without any articles, read it out loud without any pause between the words and see if people can hear and understand the text.
But such a test would still not be definitive. I think most people would understand most of the text because articles represent a very small percentage of any text. Even if you omitted them completely, the text wouln't change much.

What about Japanese language? If Japanese doesn't have articles, how do they identify the words? By using particles. Particles must be used after words or expressions to indicate the syntactic function of that word.
I don't know about Chinese. Apparently Chinese language has neither articles nor particles. I think Chinese uses intonation to identify the words.

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