Edited by Renata Szczepaniak and Johanna Flick
[Studies in Language Variation 23] 2020
► pp. 44–73
The grammaticalization of the definite article in German
From demonstratives to weak definites
The present paper looks into the grammaticalization of the definite article in the history of German. Starting with the well-known emergence of the definite article from a demonstrative pronoun over the course of Old High German (750–1050), I will consider the rise of so-called weak definites in Early New High German (1350–1650) as a new piece of evidence for the grammaticalization process. Here, the subclass of possessive weak definites is of particular interest for the grammaticalization of the definite article in German, because of a word order change affecting the position of possessor phrases. As soon as the possessor systematically follows the head noun (except for proper names), we observe three alternatives for the prenominal determiner slot: it may remain empty, or it may be filled either by the indefinite or the definite article in Early New High German. In Present-Day German, the definite article is used in the unmarked case, thus pointing to a second stage in the grammaticalization process of the definite article in German, which has so far not been acknowledged in the literature.