My working assumption is that definite articles evolve in language after much of more simpler language, though they can later be lost from a language as it evolves further. First, it appears to me that simpler words such as verbs, nouns, and adjectives would be created first, then strung together into sequences like "give me leaf" instead of "give me the leaf", or "me want go lake" instead of "I want to go to the lake".

As such, I am interested to see how the key early languages that all seem to have lacked definite articles (Sumerian, Akkadian, Egyptian, Hittite, Ugaritic, Mycenaean, Sanskrit, even Latin?) say their sentences without "the". What are some examples in some/all of these languages, written in any sort of linguistic gloss-like form, that demonstrate how they would say/write the equivalent English sentence that would traditionally include the word "the". You can pick any sentence or two which would be easy to translate, the more complex the better, since they sometimes shine more light on the language structures used.

Some examples to potentially translate:

  • I lit the fire.
  • I climbed the tree.
  • I looked for the animal.
  • The animal ran away from me.
  • The basket was full of fish.
  • The bird tried to eat the fish (more examples of "the" used in a single sentence).

To top off the glosses, it would be good to know where I could find more examples of glosses in the particular languages you are translating, but not necessary. Ideal answer would include at least 3 languages with references.

  • 2
    Definite articles are a lot simpler than many other parts of language. Your working assumption seems baseless.
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 11 at 9:42
  • 2
    Humans have spoken languages for at least tens of thousands of years and we only have records going back a few thousand years. We have no idea what "early languages" were like.
    – Nardog
    Sep 11 at 12:47
  • 1
    As curiousdannii said, your assumption is quite wrong here. Languages mark different things in their morphology, and it's weird to pick one specific one (definiteness marking on nouns) as being the one indicator of complexity.
    – Draconis
    Sep 11 at 15:43
  • You know nothing about what I am thinking about, saying I am wrong is baseless. It's also just a working hypothesis, used to guide asking more questions. If it proves to be wrong like you are possibly showing, then you adjust. Not a big deal. Sep 11 at 16:25
  • I never understand why so many downvotes. This is a simple and clear question with a clear set of answers. Sep 11 at 16:29

Here are some famous lines.

μῆνι-ν ἄειδ-ε θε-ὰ Πηλη-ϊάδε-ω Ἀχιλῆ-ος οὐλο-μέν-ην
wrath-ACC.SG sing-IMP.PRES.SG god-F.VOC.SG Peleus-son-GEN.SG Achilles-GEN.SG destroy-AOR.MP-F.ACC.SG
"Sing, goddess, of the destructive wrath of Achilles, son of Peleus…"

Arm-a vir-um=que can-ō, Trōj-ae qu-ī prīm-us ab ōr-īs, Ītali-am, fāt-ō profug-us, Lāvīni-a=que vēn-it lītor-a
weapon-ACC.PL man-ACC.SG=and sing.PRES-1.SG.ACT Troy-GEN.SG who-M.NOM.SG first-M.NOM.SG from shore-ABL.PL Italy-ACC.SG fate-ABL.SG drive-PERF.PASS.M.NOM.SG Lavinian-N.ACC.PL=and come.PERF-3.SG.ACT coast-ACC.PL
"I sing of weapons and the man who, first from the shores of Troy, driven by fate, came to Italy and the Lavinian coast…"

Someone who's better at Sanskrit than me could add a good classical example of that too. But my point is that languages can have a lot of morphological complexity without definite articles.

  • Akkadian would be another good example but I don't like (and am not good at) glossing Akkadian so I'm deliberately ignoring that one.
    – Draconis
    Sep 11 at 15:57

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