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A quote from the Economist:

Part of this naturalistic approach is that the transistors in his systems often operate in what is known technically as the “sub-threshold domain”.

May we use a instead of the here and if no, why?

Google Books comes up with numerous examples of "known technically as a":

The sound of h (aitch) at the beginning of words such as have and house and in the middle of words such as ahead and behave is known technically as a voiceless glottal fricative.

(2008, R. Allen, "Pocket Fowler's Modern English Usage")

Are articles in this expression interchangeable? Or do they matter?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

If there is only one, use the, if there can be more, use a

Part of this naturalistic approach is that the transistors in his systems often operate in what is known technically as the “sub-threshold domain”.

There is only one domain called "sub-threshold", hence the “sub-threshold domain”

The sound of h (aitch) at the beginning of words such as have and house and in the middle of words such as ahead and behave is known technically as a voiceless glottal fricative.

since there may be more than one sound that can be "voiceless glottal fricative", we use a. If for example ONLY the h exhibited that behaviour, one could use the voiceless glottal fricative

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Thank you, mplungjan! I should've guessed. But I'd concentrated on thinking whether THE meant that both the author and the reader are cognizant of the term. D'oh. –  CopperKettle Aug 7 '13 at 10:02
1  
Ah. The one we all know and love you mean –  mplungjan Aug 7 '13 at 10:04
    
Hah. (0: Article guides routinely state that the first mention of a term should take "a", and pay little attention to such examples, @mplungjan. –  CopperKettle Aug 7 '13 at 10:13
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Use of a or the affects the sense of what is written accordingly as the reader is asked to think of "sub-threshold domain" of transistor operation as individualized for each part or as unified into one conceptual phenomenon. An absence of definition implies the author is relying on readers' prior familiarity with it, but in the article the author explains the concept (an analogy) in the next sentence.

A field-effect transistor allows a/the drain-source current Ids to be controlled by a/the gate-source voltage Vgs. When a transistor operates with Vgs below the part's threshold voltage VT, the drain-source current decreases exponentially with decreasing Vgs, and this is the "sub-threshold domain" of operation. It is often convenient to think of this as a voltage level below which the transistor is "turned off".

Since the passage appears to discuss all or most transistor operations within a design, using the in this context means their domains of operation are unified conceptually. For discussions of how threshold voltages or operating voltages differ among parts, the author might instead use "a sub-threshold domain" to denote a varied part characteristic or application. A discussion of one single part's specific application could again invoke "the sub-threshold domain".

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