One useful way to look at the "The case of the disappearing determiners" is to compare bible translations, because this controls to some extent for variation in the underlying message. So as a first tentative step on that path, I compared the Song of Solomon in the King James Version, first published in 1611, with the Song of Solomon in the Message Bible, published between 1993 and 2002.
The overall statistics for the Song of Solomon in the two sources show a fall of about 38% relative:
|Version||# words||# the||% the|
And here are a couple of specific verses to compare:
kjv 2:12: The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;
msg 2:12: Spring flowers are in blossom all over. The whole world's a choir – and singing! Spring warblers are filling the forest with sweet arpeggios.
kjv 2:17: Until the day break , and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether.
msg 2:17: Until dawn breathes its light and night slips away. Turn to me, dear lover. Come like a gazelle. Leap like a wild stag on delectable mountains!
Needless to say, there's a fair amount of chapter-to-chapter variation, which is weakly correlated (r=0.58) across versions:
kjv 1:1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
msg 1:1 First this: God created the Heavens and Earth – all you see, all you don't see.
kjv 1:2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
msg 1:2 Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God's Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.
Construction-wise comparison of whole bible versions looks like a plausible way to test hypotheses about what might be going on.