So, in looking at some fairly basic German conversations, I came across the following:

Hallo, wie heißt du?

Ich heiße Susanne. Und du?

Ich bin der Martin. Und wer ist das?

Das ist meine Freundin, Anne.

In another question, the accepted answer for such a use of the definite article precedent to a person's name is that this is a "usage associated with the south of Germany more so than the north."

That is fine, but what I don't seem to understand is why use it in this situation at all? I could get behind it if there were more than one Martin, and you were pointing out the Martin to whom you are referring, but in this case, the implication is that there is only one, so what is its usage here?

  • I took the liberty to slightly edit your questions. I personally very much dislike the name "forum" for this site, as well as "thread" for questions. Additionally you were talking about the "accepted" answer. If you disagree with the edits, feel free to roll back or call me out in German Language Chat or German Language Meta ;) – Vogel612 Aug 18 '14 at 7:46
  • @Vogel612 I guess coming from a tech background and using StackOverflow extensively, I've transferred those terms. Apologies for causing any offence, it wasn't intentional. – Ryan Aug 18 '14 at 8:04
  • lol offense? none taken ;) Additionally SO is the same. Not a forum, but a Q&A site. I try to keep these as separate as possible. The rules and mechanics are intrinsically different, and to prevent mixing stuff up I try to purge every reference to any se-site as "forum" or similar ;) – Vogel612 Aug 18 '14 at 8:06
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    Well, what can we add?`It's very common in the South, and less so in the North. Why? Just because. It's language, not science. – Ingmar Aug 18 '14 at 8:20
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    People from Köln do it too, and Köln is not what I would call south – Emanuel Aug 18 '14 at 9:11

Since you are not asking where it’s commonly used – i.e. South and West, partially at least –, but why a definite article before a given name would be appropriate at all, be assured that this is the very reaction Northerners are likely to show when first encountering this peculiar phrasal structure.

After living more than seven years south of the Mittellandkanal and A2, i.e. in Aldi Süd country, I have stopped cringing every time I hear it, but I still hope to move away before my children adopt this. It sounds that wrong! As far as I remember, I was first exposed to this usage by the song Ich bin der Martin, ne” by comedian Diether Krebs in 1991, but back then considered it particular to the sociolect portrayed by his character, the eco-freak Martin.

I believe you can best explain it as an emphasis marker.

There are similar patterns that may be acceptable elsewhere, or are even more restricted geographically.

  • Wo ist die Oma / der Opa / die Mama / der Papa? – quite common, though optional article
  • Wo ist der Meyer / die Müller? – also optional usually, but less so for women interestingly
  • Wo ist der Huber Peter / die Schröder Helga? – often considered exclusive to Bavarian
  • Wo ist der Schüler Heinz / die schöne Grete? – article are mostly required with attributes (not just adjectives) before names of people
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You can use it, but you need not do it. Other people may use it out of tradition or with special connotations.

For example, this can be used when talking to somebody as if he was a child.

Das ist der Martin. Und das ist die Oma Gertrude. …

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I come from the northern half and say this too, and never noticed it was considered "wrong", until some people from even farther north thought it appropriate to correct me.

I believe the usage is from the influence of other languages, because the same usage of articles is very common also in italy, which apparantly is also southern neightbor to the german language area. Unfortunately I do not have knowledge in French, so I cannot decide whether this might be in roman languages in general.

Recently, while reading the books of the series "A Song of Ice and Fire" in english, I also found usages of articles in front of names where I would consider it wrong. So, apparantly it was used in more ancient formes of english, too.

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This is not exactly an "answer", but something just occurred to me:

Being Bavarian and very much used to this construction, I feel weird saying "Ich bin Mac."

As a matter of fact, to me it makes my name sound like an adjective. Possibly (and I'd like to make it very clear that this is just a tentative theory), certain dialects developed the article + name combination as a marker?

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With the genitive case in danger of extinction, there is no longer the possibility to recognize from the name which case it is (genitive case would exhibit a trailing s or an apostrophe for names ending in s or similar, e. g. for Alex).

Note that in Goethes time the dative case still had such a suffix, where "Anne" would have become "Annen".

So in my opinion using the article may be an assimilation of the Englisch construction, to make the case visible, so "present a gift to Anne" would translate to "der Anne ein Geschenk überreichen"

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    So if you were introducing yourself, would you use the article in this manner? – Ryan Aug 18 '14 at 8:11
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    @Ryan Being from and living in South Germany, instinctively yes, nearly everybody ("immigrants" from the North excluded) does it here. – guidot Aug 18 '14 at 8:14
  • @guidot disagree. I do not, most people I know don't and I find it to have the air of childishness. Also being from and living in south Germany ... – Vogel612 Aug 18 '14 at 8:21
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    Genitive is not by any means in danger of extinction? What's your backup for that claim? – Emanuel Aug 18 '14 at 9:10
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    @Ryan Coming from western Germany I don't include the article when introducing myself. The only occasions I see this happen is when a group is introduced to a person and some personsn have a name that does not clearly outline their gender. Alex``Rene``Robin``Elliot... – Mark Aug 18 '14 at 10:00

It is actually a bad habit, albeit a widespread one. Your observation that the article is superfluous is correct.

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    Please explain why is it a bad habit? It is part of the dialects spoken in the southern parts of Germany. – Thorsten Dittmar Aug 20 '14 at 8:15
  • To begin with, it is not in line with written German. Moreover, it has no benefit. To the contrary, calling a person by name and adding an article downgrades that person to a thing. There is no satisfying rationale for the article and it simply doesn't fit. Mark the word of a northerner. – countermode Aug 20 '14 at 8:28
  • Please tell me the genders of Jordis and Jante and then tell me it has no benefit to add an article when referring to them. – Thorsten Dittmar Aug 20 '14 at 8:29
  • I tell you when I see them. – countermode Aug 20 '14 at 8:30
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    -1 for "bad habit". I live in Austria. Here it is normal to use names with articles in colloquial talk: "Ich war gestern bei der Susi, der Tom war auch da. Wir haben über den Bernd und die Lisa gesprochen..." It is NOT bad habit. It is just normal use of spoken German in some parts of German language area. Here in Austria is sounds like bad habit if you omit articles before names. Remember: There is NOT just only one German language! German is a pluricentric language, which means that the rules vary from region to region. Non of this variations is wrong or bad habit! They are all correct. – Hubert Schölnast Aug 20 '14 at 12:50

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