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Der Mann hilft der Frau.

Why is the same definite article used for male nouns in nominative and female nouns in dative? Is there a deep connection, or just a coincidence? Have they always been the same historically?

       m   n   f
    +-------------
nom | der das die
akk | den das die
dat | dem dem der
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5  
You should think of them as two entirely different words that happen to be homophones. I'm not proficient enough in the matter to write this up as a complete answer though… ^_^;; –  deceze May 26 '11 at 23:57
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2 Answers

I second deceze's comment on your question. Der (nominative, masc.) and der (dative, fem.) are just homophones that are the result of the declination of the article.

German definite articles grew out of the old demonstrative forms dër, diu, daz and have also been used as relative pronouns.

There are even more cases (no pun intended) of articles that cline to der:

Singular  | männlich weiblich sächlich | Plural    | m/w/s
-----------------------------------------------------------
Nominativ | der      die      das      | Nominativ | die
Genitiv   | des      der      des      | Genitiv   | der
Dativ     | dem      der      dem      | Dativ     | den
Akkusativ | den      die      das      | Akkusativ | die
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As I've searched about 2 hours, there is no overlap in history - for nominative and Dative.

From the nominative case being used, we may fairly assume that it was set up in AD 120, when the Emperor was in Britain.

The Dative Case In English The Old English language, current until approximately the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066, had a dative case.

So, there is no deep historical connection and it's just an easy coincidence.

Note: I'll add , if I find more information. Just enough to satisfy your curiosity.

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