Article usage is an area of syntax where a great deal of variation exists in different varieties of English. This study focuses on the uses of the definite article in two specific types of context: with names of social institutions and with the quantifying expressions both of, half of, most of, when followed by a postmodifying of-phrase. Differences in usage are known to exist between British and American English but in this study the scope is extended to selected varieties spoken in different parts of the world. The social distinction between standard and non-standard language is also examined with respect to British Isles varieties. Language contacts leading to substratal influence on article usage, universal semantic or pragmatic constraints, and possible “angloversal” features emerge as the main factors that can provide plausible explanations for a large part of the variability in definite article usage.
It has generally been assumed that Celtic influences in English grammar over the centuries have been minimal. The last couple of decades, however, have witnessed a continuing rise of interest in the ‘Celtic Hypothesis’, which argues for a need to reassess the role of the Celtic languages in the development of English. In this chapter we explicate the Celtic Hypothesis through a discussion of two syntactic features which in our view are likely to have arisen as a result of either direct or indirect (reinforcing) Celtic influence, leaving its mark on English grammar in two waves: first in the early medieval period, and later in the modern contact periods. These features are the progressive or ‘expanded’ form of verbs and the it-cleft construction. We argue that the commonalities between the histories and later developments of these features are such that they provide evidence for continued contact influences between Celtic and English.