Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Apple unveils iPhone 5 at Super Bowl

This article's title reads like a newspaper headline, doesn't it? But guess what. It's not. I'm serious here.

One thing I've noticed about Apple's recent unveiling of the New iPad (I call it the iPad 3, so there!) and the hodiernal unveiling of the iPhone 5 is that Apple has an aversion to the English definite article "the". That's right, they purposefully (read: vulgarly and maliciously) drop the article. "The unveiling of iPhone 5". It's a hipsterish move to make, and it doesn't surprise me that the cult--er, Cupertino-based tech company is butchering the language like this. Truthfully, it does make sense, but only if you say it with a thick Russian accent.

As far as I know, the Russian language has no definite article. Being no speaker of Russian, I can't confirm this firsthand, but I've heard it from somebody who has studied Russian. I would assume that Russian dialects of English reflect this. But what about American dialects of English? The article, believe it or not, is salient in regards to the meaning of the word. You wouldn't say, "I have car!" If you did, you'd sound like a two-year-old.

In searching my brain for possible rationalizations of this strange article-dropping, I find that the only time that English does it is when it deals with abstract nouns. What is an abstract noun, you ask? Here's a list: love, hate, happiness, sadness, anger, government, ideology, religion, and so on. They are nouns that you can't interact with using your five senses. And they all drop the articles (maybe "abstract noun" is a morphological category like "strong verb", but with some additional semantic meat to it). For instance, if I were to say, "I have love," it would be perfectly fine, whereas "I have car" would not be (unless you say "I can has car", which is perfectly grammatical).


  1. True, American English doesn't have "I have car!"...but we do have "My car!". (no article, but there's a possessive pronoun)

    1. Fun, fun, the zero copula, complete with pro-drop on the subject! I have a conlang that has a zero copula, and it's proving to be a ridiculous challenge. But then again, I made it for a journaling lang, so it's supposed to confuse people.

      I'm all in favor of pro-drop, but it works better with topic-prominence. Hypothetical English pro-drop sentence: "About iPad bought," meaning, "I bought an iPad."