word order and "definiteness" in Ukrainian
I have some knowledge of Russian. In that language a noun being positioned at the beginning of a sentence tends to indicate something pretty similar an English definite article: this is something we've already referred to; the rest of the sentence is going to provide us new information about it.
Is this quite different in Ukrainian? In the reverse tree I saw comments on sentences like "The city is beautiful" that a translation like "Місто прекрасно" wasn't right b/c not all cities are beautiful, so it really does have to be "Це місто прекрасно."
It is the same in Ukrainian. "The city is beautiful" in Ukrainian is "Це місто прекрасне".
As I understand the Russian rules, if Ukrainian and Russian are the same on this point, then "The city is beautiful" (in the common context where it refers to a specific city that is understood by both speaker and listener) could perfectly accurately (and clearly) be translated as "Місто прекрасне." So is that not the case (referring to reality, that is, and not the exigencies of teaching articles to people wholly unused to them that inform the choices made in constructing the English from Ukrainian tree)?
Yes, you are right. "Місто прекрасне" could be an accurate and clear translation of "The city is beautiful".
However, I think we would be more inclined to say "Це місто прекрасне", at least in the context I've been thinking about (contemplating a city from a tower, for example, thinking to yourself or saying it out loud: Це місто прекрасне! "Місто прекрасне" would sound a bit weird in this context.
Same in Russian, in fact, you'd probably say "Этот город прекрасен!", not "Город прекрасен!" in this context.
But I do lack imagination to come up with a different context.
Thanks, that example is certainly helpful. Before Immersion bit the dust, I participated in translating maybe somewhere around a hundred pages of a Russian children's story into English. In the course of that there was a time or two (I remember the first one because it struck me so much I commented on it) when I preferred "the" to "this" for этот, but normally "this" seemed just fine. But of course, in a story, the the's are happening because there is constantly a context, so there are "definite" things to be referencing via definite articles.
Your context of the tower is one occasion when "The city is beautiful" would be used. Another that comes to mind is from a quirk of the language that perhaps could be understandably avoided in an intro English course for Ukrainian speakers, "the city" can indeed be used to make a general observation about cities (at least those within a speaker's mental purview). Hadn't thought about that so much before.
" "the city" can indeed be used to make a general observation about cities "
In this case we'd be very likely to use the plural
In any case, I believe in general we would be more likely to omit цей/це when you would use "the" and show the definiteness easier using word order or just leaving it to the context. You were right about that.
It's just the specific example we'be been discussing (about the city) is probably not the best illustration of that.
An example where word order would work perfectly:
A cat came into the room: До кімнати зайшов кіт
The cat came into the room: Кіт зайшов до кімнати.
The following example is ambiguous without any context:
Я бачу кота. = I see a cat, and also I see the cat.
So if you see this sentence without any context (Я бачу кота), it could be translated either way.
Most often than not, when it's in a story, you do know whether it's "a cat" or "the cat".
If we do need to resolve the ambiguity, we can use "цього" or "якогось"
Я бачу цього кота = I see the cat = I see this cat.
Я бачу якогось кота = I see a cat = I see some cat.