I think we need to be careful when giving very subjective viewpoints on how we interpret phrases or how they strike us. This is especially true in language teaching.
In our ideolects (the very individual ways we interpret and use our mother tongues), what may seem "modest" to one person may not strike another person as modest at all. What may seem neutral to one person may seem rude to another.
The point is that we should be very careful about passing on our ideolectal value judgments to those whose native language isn't our own.
So why have I gone into this little lecture? Simply because I don't see any of what you mentioned as being necessarily true or relevant, Jerry. It's so much nicer to keep things simple and clear. Native English speakers will interchange using or not using a in the phrase Thatguy asked about without giving it any deep thought at all, "IMO."
Without the article, the emphasis is that you belong to the homogenous body of the group and not on your role as an individual in the group. You need the article to be able to say "an vital part" or "an important part", e.g. I am not a vital part of the group but I am still a part.
'Part of' and 'a part of' in the example sentences have the same meaning.
a) I am proud to be a part of a group that... OR b) I am proud to be part of a group that... _______
Now, here is the difference described in the Collins COBUILD*:
A part’ is a singular count noun:
• A part of something is one of the pieces, sections, or elements that it consists of. I like that part of Cape Town…Respect is a very important part of an relationship.
Part is a noncount noun:
• If something or someone is part of a group or organization, they belong to it or are included in it. …voting on whether to remain part of the Union or become independent.,
If there is any distinction at all in terms of meaning, it is that ‘a part of’ is close in meaning to ‘a piece of’ -- a discrete piece with distinct borders, whereas ‘part of’ might refer to a more diffuse piece. The meanings seem to have nothing to do with the importance or lack of importance of the part.
Now, as you can see, ‘a part of’ something and ‘part of ‘ something can often be used interchangeably, and can certainly be used interchangeably in Thatguy’s sentences. _______ *Collins COBUILD English Dictionary. Harper Collins 1995
The following examples, some copied elsewhere, & some from myself, show the usage of "part of" & "a part of" in less disputable ways:
You can see this yellow flower only during PART of the year.
Change is AN inevitable PART of life.
This is only PART, not the entirety, of our youth program this year; John will explain the rest.
A PART of the pulley system has fallen off; please check if some other PARTS are missing or not.
Well, we can certainly think of other examples, or draw some from actual experience, where it is less clear whether one option is preferable to the other. Perhaps the original pair of sentences from thatguy is one such case. But otherwise it is hoped that other members or readers can now tell the difference between the two expressions.
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