Monday, December 22, 2008

Fishy Business

Interestingly, the same advertisement uses a different plural form of fish on each panel: If fish could talk ..., but Guess the number of fishes.

According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, the usual plural form is fish. However, the old-fashioned (e.g. Biblical) form, fishes, may be used to mean varieties of fish.

To illustrate: there may be 20 fish swimming towards the tank; but if there are equal numbers of salmon, trout, plaice and halibut, then there are four fishes.

Perhaps Tetra should make it clear which sense of fish/fishes they intend ... or perhaps this contest is a test of one’s knowledge of grammar rules rather than one’s counting/guessing ability?
Let’s Be Funny

It is the policy of this blog to avoid making fun of low-proficiency users of English because, apart from providing some mirth, their mistakes don’t actually teach us anything.

But this one is too good to pass up, because of the delicious irony: it is on an educational toy that supposedly teaches young children spelling, vocabulary and mathematics, among other things.

Past Perfect

‘A light fixture had fallen from the ceiling at Tampines Safra last Thursday’ (The New Paper, 25 November 2008).

Wrong use of the past perfect: make it fell (simple past).

In Singapore newspapers this is a very common error, one presumably due to a misunderstanding of the notion of ‘remote past’. In Standard English, the past perfect is used when referring to the earlier of two past events, but many Singaporeans (e.g. the media, teachers, students) evidently believe that it is used with any event that took place ‘a long time ago’ (e.g. last week, seven years ago).

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

An Before Vowels

Some teachers blindly teach (and pupils blindly learn) the rule that the indefinite article an should be used before all nouns beginning in vowels.
This needs to be qualified: an is used before nouns beginning in vowel sounds — so the rule applies to pronunciation rather than spelling.
New Paper columnist Santokh Singh gets only one out of five attempts above (27 November 2008) right — a Eurasian, because the noun begins /ju/ and not in a vowel. Either he doesn’t know the correct rule or he pronounces Eurasian wrongly.
Hard to Get Right

The writer evidently meant hard to miss (New Paper, 25 November 2008).
Topic–Comment in Singapore English

The two highlighted extracts from the New Paper (25 November 2008) illustrate the phenomenon of topic–comment in Singapore English: this is a sentence construction where the topic is mentioned, and a comment is then added to it.

In the above, the topics (all civil servants across the board, administrative officers, et al.) are marked by for. The comments begin with a pronoun referring to the topic: this is called a resumptive pronoun.

Singapore English is more topic-prominent than Standard English, where the preferred construction is simply subject + predicate: in the above instances, for and they would be deleted.