When should one use "the" when referring to a language and when is just the noun appropriate?

e.g. At the end of a quote one may see "Translated from the German." What about, "Joe translated the article from [the?] German."?

But we would also say: "Mike is fluent in Mandarin" not "Joe is fluent in the Mandarin".

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    Related:ell.stackexchange.com/questions/7788/… – user66974 Oct 29 '14 at 16:35
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    The definite article in front of "German" here has nothing to do with the German language. "The German" is short for "the version written in German" -- the article belongs to the document (book, paper, journal ...). ... ... – Kris Oct 29 '14 at 17:34
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    ... On the other hand, I've used the before "German" in the above sentence ("the German language") because 'German' is an adjective for 'language' there, and the article applies to the noun 'language.' – Kris Oct 29 '14 at 17:39
  • @jos That post may add to the confusion, it deals with only one case. (I'll read the full post & revert, though.) – Kris Oct 29 '14 at 17:42
  • Kris, IMHO you have written the answer. Why not make it one formally? – Hack Saw Oct 29 '14 at 20:56

The word the in this context is referring to the translation itself, not the language.

Using your example above, clarity can be provided by adding one word Translated from the German version

  • There are cases where the definite article is used before language names that don’t refer to versions or translations, though. The ones I’ve encountered the most are the Gaelic languages of Scottish and, particularly, Irish: many Irish people would quite naturally say something like, “I wouldn’t know how to say that in the Gaelic”. And of course if the language is further modified in various ways, the definite article is mandatorily added just like before any other proper nouns: “the English of our times”, “the German spoken in 1665”, “the Spanish I learnt at school”, etc. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 11 '14 at 14:54
  • @JanusBahsJacquet that is interesting, though I have never heard someone use the in the Gaelic example that you gave, though the others that I have – David Watts Nov 11 '14 at 15:11

I agree with David Watts, and would like to add the following.

The word the would also refer not just to a translated version, but to any work in that language as well as in some cases (as Kris mentioned via comment) the language itself.

Translated from the German.

This would refer to the German book, the German version, the German text, etc.

I speak German

This refers to the language itself

However, one may also use the article when referring to an instance of the language in an instance like this:

The German I know isn't very useful.

Take care when using 'the German' since it may seem to a listener as if you are referring to a certain German person

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