Strange to think that “the” is disappearing, though I’ve noticed that people talk in much less definite terms lately. Things like adding “I guess” at the end of food orders or using wishy washy phrases like “I think it might be this way, maybe.” While it seems strange, one thing that I remember from my linguistic anthropology class is that humans seek validation through speech, we seek to be assured that what we think and say is in line with what others think in order to maintain connections. Maybe losing “the” is simply another step in being unsure of ourselves, which is sad.
Have you seen “The” lately? Apparently, it hasn’t been around as much as it used to be. I wouldn’t have noticed its absence without those fine folks over at Language Log, who found that “[d]uring the course of the 20th century, the frequency of the English definite article the decreased gradually and radically.”
Linguist Mark Liberman first recognized this trend while analyzing State of the Union addresses, concluding that it could be a sign of increasing informality in the speeches. With the help of an impressive undergraduate paper at Penn, he later discovered that there is an overall trend of “decreasing definiteness” in our language: “the frequency of the has decreased by about half; the frequency of a/an has increased by about a third (though of course the overall frequency of a/an is much lower).” The collections he assessed were mostly of written works in American English, which makes…
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