Sunday, November 15, 2009

Weak Forms of Function Words

Online discussion forums are a rich source of authentic language data, particularly where linguistically insightful misspellings and other errors are concerned.

In the above extract, the poster (an American) writes would of when he means would have. This misspelling would probably be rather baffling to non-native speakers of English or to speakers of new varieties of English (e.g. Singaporean), but it is very common among ‘traditional’ native speakers such as the British, Canadians and Americans.  In these traditional native varieties of English, the function words of and have have identical weak forms — /əv/ — hence the confusion in spelling.  However, this misspelling does not arise in Singapore English and other newer varieties of English since they do not generally use weak forms of function words.

Similarly, this extract suggests that the poster (British) rhymes you’re (the spelling needed in the first instance) with your.  Again, this is because in British English are has the weak form /ə/ — so both you’re and your are pronounced /jʊə/ or /jɔː/. Likewise, this does not arise in Singapore English since it generally avoids weak forms.


Ruby said...

Thank you for sharing about other varieties of English. You're not a grammar terrorist but an enlightening linguist! :-)

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Thanks, Ruby! I think I'm a reformed terrorist ;-)

The romantic query letter and the happy-ever-after said...

I’m Canadian and a dyslexic so you can’t imagine how many times I’ve been guilty of both these sins. I'm very conscious of it and I try never to comment on anything unless I have my dictionary in hand. Good post, thanks for sharing.
All the very best,

Fox said...

Taken from

"...while the health ministry is yet to decide on the upper limit for reimbursement, it is expected to be at least S$50,000 (US$33,000)."

Is this another example of a weak form-derived mispelling?

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Hi, Fox

Interesting observation, but no, it isn't actually.

The use of 'be' + to-infinitive for official plans and other arrangements is in fact formal English, e.g. 'The Prime Minister is to visit the U.S. next month', 'The committee is to decide the fate of the old stadium'.

Fox said...

Thanks for the clarification!

If you can indulge me again, can you explain the difference between "is yet to decide" and "has yet to decide"?

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Hi again, Fox

Sorry for the late reply -- been busy!

According to the Cambridge Grammar of English, there is no difference between the two (certainly not in terms of grammaticality) except that 'be yet to' is rarer than 'have yet to'.

They give an example of the former: 'The international community is yet to declare what measures it intends to implement ...'.