Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Elderly

This appeared in the online version of the Straits Times (ST Interactive, 17 January 2012). 

Elderly in this context is a noun, and like all other nouns derived from adjectives or adjective phrases and used to refer collectively to a group, it is considered plural.  Hence, prescriptively, singular enjoys is wrong and plural enjoy is preferred.  Similar nouns include (the) dispossessed, less fortunate, sick, meek and brave.

A more standard word would be honking (poster in a North-East Line station).  While horn is often used as a verb in Singapore (e.g. He keeps horning at me), in other varieties of English, the same idea is expressed as to sound the horn or to honk.

In other varieties of English, flour and flower are homophones, i.e. they are pronounced alike. In British English, for example, flour and flower are both pronounced /flaʊə/. 

In Singapore, however, they are not homophones — ignoring actual vowel quality (i.e. /a, ʌ, ɑ/), flower is /flawə/ while flour is /flaː/. The pronunciation of flour is probably a result of smoothing, in which less salient vowels are dropped.
SubjectVerb Agreement

The highlighted verb (Straits Times Life!, 9 September 2011) would probably have English teachers reaching for their red pens. The correct form is the singular has, rather than plural have, because the verb should agree with the head noun, collection, and not the nearest noun, watercolours.

Incidentally, in British English the name Farquhar is pronounced /ˈfɑːkə/ or /ˈfɑːkwə/. However, most Singaporeans who have attended English-medium schools will remember having been taught the pronunciation /ˈfɑːkwɑː/. Considering that Singaporeans generally make no distinction between /ʌ/ and /ɑː/, insisting on using the British pronunciation for this British name would probably be ill advised.