Here are two questions relevant to what might be called “apparently arbitrary dominance” for lack of a better expression: this occurs when one grammar rule seems to assume purely arbitrary dominance over another.
The two closely related questions below illustrate this problem. Question 1 is specifically about articles, and Question is on how the non-native learner is supposed to decide which rule applies.
Question 1: Which rules apply in these pairs and triplets that *have the same contexts*?
A: He went to church today. (zero article)
B: He went to the hospital today.” (definite article)
A: I read it in the newspaper. (definite article)
B: I read it in a magazine. (indefinite article; definite article not possible if the sentence is said in the same context as the newspaper sentence)
A: I saw it on TV.
B: I heard it on the radio.
Question 2: This is a basic question, critical in language learning and teaching. Even if there is no “arbitrary” dominance of rules, the dominance of one rule over the other *seems* to be arbitrary, and the dominance will be arbitrary *in effect* in the mind of the learner. How is the learner – in producing, not decoding – supposed to know which rule dominates?