Sorry, that’s a garden-path headline: “disappearing” is not a noun but a verb. The, the definite article, is softly and silently vanishing away. And not only in English, according to Mark Liberman’s Log post:
For the past century or so, the commonest word in English has gradually been getting less common. Depending on data source and counting method, the frequency of the definite article THE has fallen substantially — in some cases at a rate as high as 50% per 100 years.
At every stage, writing that’s less formal has fewer THEs, and speech generally has fewer still, so to some extent the decline of THE is part of a more general long-term trend towards greater informality. But THE is apparently getting rarer even in speech, so the change is more than just the (normal) shift of writing style towards the norms of speech.
There appear to be weaker trends in the same direction, at overall lower rates, in German, Italian, Spanish, and French.
I’ll lay out some of the evidence for this phenomenon, mostly collected from earlier LLOG posts. And then I’ll ask a few questions about what’s really going on, and why and how it’s happening.
The evidence is convincing, and the phenomenon is (to me) astonishing. Why is it happening? Mark offers several possibilities, none of which “seem empirically very promising.” And there’s a follow-up post showing that the same thing is happening in Dutch. At least this is one problem Russians don’t have to worry about.