The Problem of Specificity and Definiteness in Farsi

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Definiteness in Written Farsi by the Students

Considering the first mention and the later mentions of the words ‘father’ and ‘son’, the students have provided sixty-four NPs in this category, from which thirty-four are marked by the ‘zero article’, seventeen are marked by ‘possessives’, ten are specified by ‘adjectives’, and two of them are marked by ‘determiners’.

Definiteness in Spoken Farsi by the Students

In order to mark the definiteness in the spoken Farsi, seventy NPs were produced, among which 25 were the suffix ‘-e’ which (discussed in section 2.3), 23 were marked by possessives, eighteen were marked by the zero article, three were specified by adjectives, and one was marked by a determiner.

Definiteness in English by the Students

These people made seventy-nine sentences to refer to the definite NPs in English. Among these NPs, twenty-eight were marked by ‘the’, twenty-five by ‘possessives’, ten by zero article, and one by a ‘determiner’.

Indefiniteness in Written Farsi by the Students

Overall sixty-seven NPs were produced to indicate indefinite NPs, twenty-nine of which were marked by ‘possessives’, thirteen marked by numeral ‘yek’ eleven were specified by ‘adjectives’, eight marked by the suffix ‘i’, four by the zero article, two were marked by both numeral ‘yek’ and suffix ‘-i’, and two were wrongly marked by the spoken definite suffix ‘e’.

Indefiniteness in Spoken Farsi by the Students

There were fifty-six instances of NPs marked as indefinites in the spoken Farsi, twenty-eight of which were marked by the ‘possessives’ (could be indefinite specifics), fourteen were marked by the numeral ‘ye’, seven were marked by both numeral ‘ye’ and suffix ‘i’, and three were marked by the ‘zero article’.

Indefiniteness in English by the Students

In the English examples, seventy-four NPs were used to marked indefiniteness, twenty-three of these instances were marked by ‘a’, twenty two were marked by the possessives (could be indefinite specifics), seven NPs by ‘the’, six were marked by the zero article, four marked by the word ‘one’, and two were specified by adjectives.


The language production used for the present study has been gathered in an institutional setting and the students have been asked to write a story about an animated short film. Their production, which shaped the primary material for this study, were taken as naturally produced storytelling of Farsi speaking EFL learners both in the written/spoken Farsi and in English. The primary material is, in this respect, real and not intuitive data. In addition, the perspective of this study is to examine the participants’ method for using definite marking systems in both English and Farsi and compare them to the existing literature in this field. Therefore the result of this study is claimed to be driven from the real data. One of the ambitions of the present data could be that its endeavor in such a comparative analysis might serve some pedagogical purposes.
It was mentioned earlier that several scholars believe that Farsi marks noun phrases for specificity/non-specificity rather than definiteness/indefiniteness, while English marks nouns for definiteness/indefiniteness. The present study shows interesting instances of the choices of article that Farsi native speakers make when it comes to marking definiteness in English. It was also stated that definiteness is mostly marked by a bare noun, indefiniteness is marked by the numeral ‘yek’ (pre-positioned) or ye (pre-positioned) or suffix ‘-i’ (i.e. one —post-positioned) and specificity can apply to both definite and indefinite NPs.
According to my data, it seems that the students face a difficulty while trying to make choices of articles. Their choice of articles can be well elaborated according to the ‘Fluctuation Hypothesis’, which states that L2-learners may fluctuate between the two parameter settings and finally choose one setting, which may not be appropriate for the target language (Ionon et al. 2004: 20). The marked NPs seem to have been chosen after being fluctuating between definiteness and specificity. This hypothesis could well support Windfuhr (1979), Mahootian (1997), Karimi (2003), Lambton (2003) and Geranpaye’s (2000) ideas towards specificity/non-specificity marking and ‘lack of strong definiteness/indefiniteness marking in Farsi’ that seems to have made it difficult for the Farsi Native speakers to distinguish between these two and make the correct choice to mark definiteness/indefiniteness or specificity/non-specificity.
The second point is about the common belief that zero articles in Farsi mark definite nouns. However, my data shows that a remarkable majority of the students tend to use the possessive adjectives to mark definiteness of an NP and relate it to an NP that has already been introduced in the text in both Farsi and English. The link that the possessive adjectives create between the NPs, make them recognizable for the reader/hearer by referring them to the previous NPs, which are known to them.
It seems that this phenomenon could be defined by von Heusingr’s (2002) idea when he says that specificity is ‘referential property’ of an NP, which seems to cut across the distinction that exists between the definite and the indefinite. My students, who largely tried to define one NP by the help of another one, seem to have provided support for von Heusingr’s idea. It seems that they have tried to introduce one NP and then by referring to that, specify the other NP. This issue does not seem to have been discussed much. In addition, the possessive adjectives, for Farsi speakers, clearly play a very important role in specifying the NP that is introduced later. Overall, possessive adjectives can be considered strong definite markers in English as well as Farsi, but the excessive use of them by the Farsi speaking L2-learners could be subject for further research.

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Table of contents :

1. Introduction
1.1 Aim
1.2 Data
2. Theoretical Background
2.1 An Overview of the Definite/Indefinite Marking System in English
2.2 An Overview of Definite/ Indefinite Marking System in Spoken and Written Farsi
2.2.1 Definiteness in Written Farsi
2.2.2 Definiteness in Spoken Farsi
2.2.3 Indefiniteness in Written Farsi
2.2.4 Indefiniteness in Spoken Farsi
2.3 ‘E’ as a Unique Definite Marker in Spoken Farsi
2.4 ‘Ra’ as a Complex Definite Marker in Written and Spoken Farsi
2.5 The Problem of Specificity and Definiteness in Farsi
2.6 The Fluctuation Hypothesis
3. Analysis
3.1 Definiteness in Written Farsi vs. English by the Students
3.2 Definiteness in Written Farsi vs. English by the Students
3.3 Definiteness in English by the Students
3.4 Indefiniteness in Written Farsi by the Students
3.5 Indefiniteness in Spoken Farsi by the Students
3.6 Indefiniteness in English by the Students
4. Discussion
Appendix A: List of Abbreviations
Appendix B: The Story of the Animated Short Film


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