Tuesday, May 25, 2010


This is the packaging of a car-care product.  What could conditional possibly mean?  It turns out that this product is actually a conditioner.  Quite obviously, the misspelling arose because the owner of the business, or the person in charge of marketing the product, does not pronounce syllable-final /l/, hence making conditioner and conditional homophones in his or her speech.
Barbeque (sic)

No, it’s not barbeque — the correct spelling is barbecue.  This has got to be one of the most commonly misspelt words in English.

Friday, May 07, 2010


The first highlighted word, incidences, is wrong; make it incidents (Straits Times, 27 April 2010). 

An incidence is ‘the extent to which something happens or has an effect, e.g. an area with a high incidence of crime’ (Oxford Advanced Learner’s). 

By contrast, an incident is ‘something that happens, usually something unusual or unpleasant, e.g. His bad behaviour was just an isolated incident’.

The above are publicity banners for an exhibition on William Farquhar, who, as every self-respecting student of Singapore history would know, and as the banners helpfully inform us, was the first Resident and Commandant of Singapore, 1819–1823.

In Singapore, the Scots surname Farquhar is usually pronounced /fʌkwʌ/ or /fɑ:kwɑ:/ — the usual pronunciations taught in schools.

So it invariably comes as a shock to Singaporeans to learn that it is pronounced in standard British English as /ˈfɑ:kə/ or /ˈfɑ:kwə/ (Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, 3rd edition).

However, considering that most Singaporeans do not consistently distinguish between the vowels /ʌ/ and /ɑ:/, it is perhaps wiser to stick with the Singaporean pronunciation than to insist on the standard.  Or if the standard pronunciation is indeed important, then teach the variant with /w/, i.e. /ˈfɑ:kwə/ rather than /ˈfɑ:kə/.

The highlighted word above (The New Paper, 14 April 2010) should, of course, be cost rather than cause.  As with so many typos, this one seems to have a phonological basis. 

But how do cost and cause end up as homophones (or at best near-homophones) in Singapore English when, in British Received Pronunciation (RP) for example, they are /kɒst/ and /kɔ:z/? 

The first factor is the neutralization of distinctions between vowels that are differentiated in other varieties of English: here, the distinction between short /ɒ/ and long /ɔ:/, which is responsible for pot/port being a minimal pair in RP.

The second is the phenomenon of final fricative devoicing, where /z/ becomes [s], which leads to course and cause being /kɒs/ or /kɔ:s/ in Singapore English, whereas in RP they are /kɔ:s/ and /kɔ:z/.

And finally, the simplication of consonant clusters, leading to the loss of /t/ in cost.