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Roberto Suarez Soto scripsit:

>         Isn't this just a contraction of preposition + article? I've
> only read a few things about french, but they all mean "of" + "the".

Historically, yes; synchronically, definitely not.  The French for
"Give me some bread" is "Donnez-moi du pain", and that does not mean
*"Deme del pan", but rather something like "Deme un poco de pan" (with
a different noun, perhaps).  In effect, du and friends are simply the articles
used before mass nouns: as a result, in French-based creoles most count
nouns begin with "l" and most mass nouns with "d"!

--
John Cowan          http://www.ccil.org/~cowan        [log in to unmask]
To say that Bilbo's breath was taken away is no description at all.  There are
no words left to express his staggerment, since Men changed the language that
they learned of elves in the days when all the world was wonderful. --The Hobbit