Feature GB020: Are there definite or specific articles?



An article is a marker that accompanies the noun and expresses notions such as (non-)specificity and (in)definiteness. Sometimes these notions of specificity and definiteness are summed up in the term 'identifiability'. The formal expression is irrelevant; articles can be free, bound, or marked by suprasegmental markers such as tone. Articles are different from demonstratives in that demonstratives occur in a paradigm of markers that have a clear spatial deictic function. As demonstratives can grammaticalize into definite or specific articles, they form a natural continuum, making it hard to define discrete categories, but to qualify as an article a marker should be used in some cases to express definiteness without also expressing a spatial deictic meaning.


  1. Code 1 if there is a morpheme that can mark definiteness or specificity without also conveying a spatial deictic meaning.
  2. Code 0 if the source does not mention a definite article and you cannot find one in examples or texts in an otherwise comprehensive grammar.
  3. Code ? if the grammar does not contain enough analysis to determine whether there is a definite article or not.
  4. If you have coded 1 for GB020 and 0 for GB021 and GB022, please write a comment explaining the position of the definite or specific article.


Aiton (ISO 639-3: aio, Glottolog: aito1238)

Coded 1. The definite article is postnominal (Morey 2005:244-245).

mə    nan    a māt     nɛ   wā
time  that   minister  DEF  say 
‘Then the minister said.’

Buwal (ISO 639-3: bhs, Glottolog: buwa1243)

Coded 1 (Viljoen 2013: 234–242).

Ma     ŋga     tekeɗ     anta    vayay ?
mā     ŋgā     tēkēɗ     āntā    vájáj
REL    break   calabash  DEF     who
‘Who broke the calabash?’  

Ganda (ISO 639-3:lug, Glottolog: gand1255)

Coded 1. In Ganda, the definite article only occurs with adnominal numerals lower than 5. If a noun is not modified by a numeral lower than five, definiteness is not marked (Crabtree 1902: 149).

a. entebe   e-biri
chair   DEF-two
‘the two chairs’

b. entebe   biri
chair   two
‘two chairs’

Further reading

Dryer, Matthew S. 2013. Definite articles. In Matthew S. Dryer & Martin Haspelmath (eds), The world atlas of language structures online. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.


Crabtree, William A. 1902. Elements of Luganda grammar. London: Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge.

Morey, Stephen. 2005. The Tai languages of Assam. (Pacific Linguistics, 565.) Canberra: Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University.

Viljoen, Melanie Helen. 2013. A grammatical description of the Buwal language. Melbourne: LaTrobe University. (Doctoral dissertation.)

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0 absent 1374
1 present 824
? Not known 205



Name Glottocode Family Macroarea Contributor Value Source Comment