cafe reviews, wanderings, disconnected thoughts

Plural indefinite articles?

Chalk it up to my limited knowledge of linguistics (that Modern Languages degree was several years ago), but I suspect that English is developing a plural indefinite article.

You know what a definite article is, right? In English it’s ‘the’.

The cat

The bus

The orange

etc. because it refers to a definite thing. It can also refer to a concept or uncountable noun. ‘Love’ vs. ‘the love’ if you like.

And an indefinite article, meaning ‘one’ – and in many languages it’s the same word. In English it started out as ‘an’, related to ‘one’ and the ‘n’ was dropped before a consonant (yes it is that way round. Bite me).

A cat

A bus

An orange (very good example – it was originally ‘a norange’, compare the Spanish ‘naranja’.).

For a plural indefinite article, i.e. more than one cat or bus or orange but not any specific ones, we need to either use the noun bare (‘cats’, ‘buses’ etc) or ‘some’ – some cats are white vis-a-vis the clearly not-true cats are white.

In some languages there is a proper indefinite plural. Spanish and Catalan for example.

un gat – a cat

uns gats – some cats.

una dona – a woman

unes dones – some women. (French doesn’t do this btw despite being related).

But not “a women.”

But, you say, I have seen this. This precise case – “a women.” Also “a grandchildren,” which phrase I saw this morning – something along the lines of “I’m waiting for my son to give me a grandchildren that I can take to children’s shows.” You could just say ‘grandchildren’ or ‘some grandchildren,’ but while non-existent for now the offspring in question are somehow more precise than ‘grandchildren’ – they’re specific.

The indefinite plural is a strange beast, somewhere between singular and plural. “Would you talk like that to a women?” suggests that more than one woman may be involved, as is likely. And it isn’t really the same as ‘some.’ (or ‘not all’); it’s specific in its lack of specificity.

I suspect that instead of being upset when someone apparently spells ‘a woman’ as ‘a women’ (and it isn’t just men who do this, I’ve seen women do it) we should hail it as the possible upsurgence of a plural indefinite article.

Now I’m going to fire up Spotify (other streaming services are available) and listen to a podcasts.