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I was reading a novel (The Stranger) that included the usage, “...speaking the French.”; another (Radio Free Albemuth) included, “We were listening to an LP of the Jefferson Airplane at that moment.”

I would have omitted “the” in both cases, or extended them to their full expression: “the French tongue/language”, “the rock band Jefferson Airplane”.

I can’t see their decisions as purposefully colloquial, or as an intended stylistic tool. I suspect something larger is afoot - some dastardly rule.

(I’m also reminded of The Hague, which may or may not be related.)

Clearly I'm missing something. What?

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5 Answers

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Both are proper nouns and therefore do not call for an article. Perhaps the author had some purpose in context for an unusual usage, or maybe these are just mistakes. (I've read The Stranger, but that was 40 years ago. I can't say I recall details of article usage.) I wouldn't use it as a model. Just chalk it up as an odd case and move on.

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You do encounter the occasional unexpected exception to the "rules" suggested by other answers.

The Gambia. Not 'Gambia" even though this IS used.

In New Zealand "The North Island" and NEVER "North Island".
(Similarly "The South Island").

All of:
"The Christ".
"Christ".
"Jesus Christ".
"Jesus, the Christ".
(Caused by a title having been adopted as if it was a name)

"The bayou".
A bayou = generic term.
"The Bayou" - a specific (but unnamed) bayou.

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The Stranger was originally written in French, and the phrasing you see may be a translation artifact. I believe that French and some other Romance languages often use definite articles where they would not be used in English.

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We'd need to see the context to comment on the use of the French, but it does seem strange. Jefferson Airplane are, I believe, usually referred to without the definite article, so perhaps in this case the speaker wasn't aware of the normal practice.

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To me 'speaking the French' sounds wrong without adding 'language.' As far as I'm aware Jefferson Airplane have never used the definite article and to do so sounds a little quaint!

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