Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter (A) June 7, 2018

Definite article (omission) in British, Maltese, and other Englishes

  • Manfred Krug and Christopher Lucas EMAIL logo


This article investigates factors that underlie the discrepancies in article omission between Maltese English (MaltE) and British English (BrE), with reference to further ENL, ESL and EFL varieties. We investigate seasons of the year, ordinal numbers, languages, proper nouns, titles, institutions and common nouns. Our sources include text corpora, and web and questionnaire-based data. Our key proposal is that MaltE has innovated a rule that the definite article may be omitted when the uniqueness or identifiability of a referent is salient in context. Furthermore, MaltE avoids the definite article commonly when the referent is generic rather than definite. The resulting MaltE system is regulated according to fewer parameters than in BrE, but more consistently.


Aston, Guy & Lou Burnard. 1998. The BNC handbook: Exploring the British National Corpus with SARA. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Biber, Douglas & Edward Finegan. 1992. The linguistic evolution of five written and speech-based English genres from the 17th to the 12th centuries. In Matti Rissanen, Ossi Ihalainen & Terttu Nevalainen (eds.), History of Englishes: New methods and interpretations in historical linguistics, 688–704. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.Search in Google Scholar

Bonnici, Lisa. 2010. Variation in Maltese English: The interplay of the local and the global in an emerging postcolonial variety. Davis: University of California Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation.Search in Google Scholar

Crisma, Paola. 2011. The emergence of the definite article in English: A contact-induced change? In Petra Sleeman & Harry Peridon (eds.), The noun phrase in Romance and Germanic: Structure, variation and change, 175–192. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.10.1075/la.171.13criSearch in Google Scholar

Ellis, Rod. 2008. The study of second language acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Grech, Sarah. 2015. Variation in English: Perception and patterns in the identification of Maltese English. University of Malta PhD thesis. University of Malta Library: Electronic Thesis & Dissertations Repository. in Google Scholar

Greenberg, Joseph H. 1978. How does a language acquire gender markers? In Joseph H. Greenberg, Charles A. Ferguson & Edith A. Moravcsik (eds.), Universals of human language, vol. iii, 47–82. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Himmelmann, Nikolaus. 1997. Deiktikon, Artikel, Nominalphrase: Zur Emergenz syntaktischer Struktur. Tübingen: Niemeyer.10.1515/9783110929621Search in Google Scholar

Hoffmann, Sebastian, Stefan Evert, Nicholas Smith, David Lee & Ylva Berglund Prytz. 2008. Corpus linguistics with BNCweb: A practical guide. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.Search in Google Scholar

Kachru, Braj. 1988. The sacred cows of English. English Today 16. 3–8.10.1017/S0266078400000973Search in Google Scholar

Kortmann, Bernd, Edgar W. Schneider, Kate Burridge, Rajend Mesthrie & Clive Upton (eds.). 2004. A handbook of varieties of English. Vol. 2: Morphology and syntax. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter.10.1515/9783110175325.2.1031Search in Google Scholar

Krug, Manfred. 2015. Maltese English. In Jeffrey P. Williams, Edgar Schneider, Daniel Schreier & Peter Trudgill (eds.), Further studies in the lesser-known varieties of English, 8–50. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9781139108652.002Search in Google Scholar

Krug, Manfred, Michaela Hilbert & Ray Fabri. forthcoming. Maltese English morphosyntax: Corpus-based and questionnaire-based studies. STUF/Language Typology and Universals (Special issue; Alexandra Vella & Ray Fabri, eds. Towards a description of Maltese English).Search in Google Scholar

Krug, Manfred & Anna Rosen. 2012. Standards of English in Malta and the Channel Islands. In Raymond Hickey (ed.), Standards of English: Codified varieties around the world, 117–138. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9781139023832.007Search in Google Scholar

Krug, Manfred, Ole Schützler & Valentin Werner. 2016. Patterns of linguistic globalization: Integrating typological profiles and questionnaire data. In Olga Timofeeva, Sarah Chevalier, Anne Gardner & Alpo Honkapohja (eds.), New approaches to English linguistics: Building bridges, 35–66. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.10.1075/slcs.177.03kruSearch in Google Scholar

Krug, Manfred & Katrin Sell. 2013. Designing and conducting interviews and questionnaires. In Manfred Krug & Julia Schlüter (eds.), Research methods in language variation and change, 69–98. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511792519.007Search in Google Scholar

Krug, Manfred & Lukas Sönning. 2018. Language change in Maltese English: The influence of age and parental languages. In Albert Gatt & Patrizia Paggio (eds.), The languages used on the Island of Malta, 247–270. (Studies in diversity linguistics series). Berlin: Language Science Press.Search in Google Scholar

Löbner, Sebastian. 2011. Concept types and determination. Journal of Semantics 28. 279–333.10.1093/jos/ffq022Search in Google Scholar

Mair, Christian. 1995. Changing patterns of complementation, and concomitant grammaticalisation, of the verb help in present-day British English. In Bas Aarts & Charles F. Meyer (eds.), The verb in contemporary English: Theory and description, 27–35. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Nelson, Gerald. 1996. The design of the corpus. In Sidney Greenbaum (ed.), Comparing English worldwide. The International Corpus of English, 27–35. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Search in Google Scholar

Quirk, Randolph, Sidney Greenbaum, Geoffrey Leech & Jan Svartvik. 1985. A comprehensive grammar of the English language. London: Longman.Search in Google Scholar

Robertson, Daniel. 2000. Variability in the use of the English article system by Chinese learners of English. Second Language Research 16(2). 135–172.10.1191/026765800672262975Search in Google Scholar

Schneider, Edgar W. 2007. Postcolonial English: Varieties around the world. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511618901Search in Google Scholar

Sedlatschek, Andreas. 2009. Contemporary Indian English: Variation and change. Amsterdam: Benjamins.10.1075/veaw.g38Search in Google Scholar

Sharma, Devyani. 2005. Language transfer and discourse universals in Indian English article use. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 27(4). 535–566.10.1017/S0272263105050242Search in Google Scholar

Sun, Ganzhao. 2016. The acquisition of English articles by second language learners: The sequence, differences, and difficulties. SAGE open (January-March). 1–8.10.1177/2158244016635716Search in Google Scholar

Trudgill, Peter. 1990. The dialects of England. Oxford: Blackwell.Search in Google Scholar

Trudgill, Peter. 2010. Contact and sociolinguistic typology. In Raymond Hickey (ed.), The handbook of language contact, 299–319. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.10.1002/9781444318159.ch15Search in Google Scholar

Zahedi, Keivan & Roghayeh Mehrazmay. 2011. Definiteness in Sorani Kurdish and English. Dialectologia 7. 129–157. (accessed 22 January 2017).Search in Google Scholar

Zdorenko, Tatiana & Johanne Paradis. 2008. The acquisition of articles in child second language English: Fluctuation, transfer or both? Second Language Research 24(2). 227–250.10.1177/0267658307086302Search in Google Scholar

Appendix: Internet searches for in a/the/Ø majority of in ENL, ESL and EFL varieties in 2003 and 2017

Google searches January 2017
Region:United KingdomAustraliaUSAIndiaSingaporeSouth Africa
in majority of17,0000.28%9,2100.22%17,3000.93%38,5000.75%2,8400.27%5,4100.19%
in the majority of5,380,00087.8%3,140,00074.2%1,030,00055.3%4,630,00090.4%935,00090.0%2,770,00095.8%
in a majority of734,00012.0%1,080,00025.5%816,00043.8%454,0008.9%101,0009.7%115,0004.0%
Google searches February 2003 (from Sedlatschek 2009: 210)
Region:United KingdomAustraliaUSAIndiaSingaporeSouth Africa
in majority of5600.09%8320.46%5730.88%77937.82%829.57%950.37%
in the majority of574,00095.8%161,00088.1%49,20075.6%65331.7%67078.2%24,20095.0%
in a majority of24,9004.2%20,90011.4%15,30023.5%62830.5%10512.3%1,1704.6%
Region:MaltaNew ZealandRepublic of IrelandGermanyPolandChina
in majority of1440.27%2,5100.19%1,8000.17%20,8000.75%17,5001.31%4,9801.40%
in the majority of46,70087.8%999,00074.0%886,00083.9%2,270,00081.7%1,180,00088.2%141,00039.5%
in a majority of6,34011.9%348,00025.8%168,00015.9%488,00017.6%141,00010.5%211,00059.1%
Published Online: 2018-6-7
Published in Print: 2018-6-26

© 2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

Downloaded on 29.3.2023 from
Scroll Up Arrow