Freshman Use of Articles

Thom Harrison THarriso at MAIL.MACONSTATE.EDU
Wed Apr 17 15:34:37 UTC 2002

I've been teaching freshman English in the same part of the world for over
thirty years now, and I find that freshmen often do not make a firm
connection between the real language they speak and its reflection in
writing.  All kinds of peculiar diction tends to creep in in constructions
they would never use in conversation.


-----Original Message-----
From: Johnson, Ellen [mailto:ejohnson at BERRY.EDU]
Sent: Tuesday, April 16, 2002 2:50 PM
Subject: FW: Freshman Use of Articles

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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