FW: Freshman Use of Articles

Johnson, Ellen ejohnson at BERRY.EDU
Tue Apr 16 18:50:07 UTC 2002

got this message from a colleague who is a native speaker of British English.  what do y'all think?  Ellen
-----Original Message-----
From: Smith, Alvin 
Sent: Saturday, April 13, 2002 2:04 PM
To: Johnson, Ellen
Subject: Freshman Use of Articles

Ellen--I've been pondering this linguistic phenomenon among our Berry students since I came here and now I can say for certain that their use of the definite article conflicts with mine!
Here's one student's opening paragraph of the recent comp exam. I've bolded the uses of the definite article that I would deem a violation of (traditional) usage. Let me know what you think. 
"Fuel efficiency throughout the United States, and throughout the world as well, is becoming a major issue in today's society. The citizens are not taking into consideration what they are actually doing to the planet, or they might not even know that technically they could be putting themselves in danger in the long run. New things are being introduced in Washington, DC and bills are being passed to help the consumers understand exactly what is going on that could possibly be detrimental. Raising fuel efficiency would be very important, especially for Sport Utility Vehicles and Trucks, becuase it will limit the foreign oil intake, help the consumers save money while pumping their own gas, and also to help reduce global warming."
The concept at issue is, of course, the notion of what constitutes definiteness. In British English, for example, we would never talk about "the society" for a general concept especially is if it is used as a mass noun to boot. General categories never take a definite article in British English. If we mean "people in general"--even within our own society--we would never say "the people." 
Is this a generational change, I wonder?

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