Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Noncount Nouns

This an advertisement on the Straits Times website.  The noun stuff is noncount in Standard English, but in Singapore English is often used as count (as the plural –s suffix suggests).

Other common noncount nouns used as count in Singapore English include markings (e.g. As an English teacher, I have lots of markings to do), junks, jargons, terminologies, and slangs.
Worse, Worst

The superlative worst above is wrong (Straits Times Life! supplement, 19 February 2011).  Instead, the comparative worse was needed here since the writer meant that there was no time ‘more bad’ than that referred to in the article.

Perhaps there is a phonological explanation for the above: worst ends in the consonant cluster /st/, and since the following word begins in /t/, the writer would probably have dropped the first /t/ in speech, and allowed this to influence his spelling. 

The deletion of /d/ and /t/ in rapid speech is in fact very common, even among BBC announcers; see, for example, David Deterding’s article.
Subject–Verb Agreement and Inversion

The verb comes above is wrong (Straits Times Life supplement, 22 January 2011). The writer probably assumed that the singular noun consumption was the subject of the sentence, but it is in fact the plural noun emissions.

This is because the sentence has an inverted order Adverbial + Verb + Subject, whereas a normal SVA structure would give us Carbon emissions come with low fuel consumption.

In Singapore schools we are often taught to use the indefinite article an before words beginning in vowels, and a elsewhere. However, many teachers seem unaware that this rule applies at a phonological level and not an orthographic one — in other words, it applies to sounds, not spelling.

This misunderstanding of the rule has probably led to the error in the caption above (Straits Times online, 14 February 2011): a NTU Linguistics student ought to be an NTU ..., because NTU begins in a vowel sound, /e/.