In a previous blog (22 Oct, 'pieces'), I discussed the use of pieces with a count noun like apples, suggesting the distinction between count and mass nouns is getting shifted in places like Brunei.
My colleague Ayla has suggested that the use of pieces with a count noun might be influenced by the Malay use of measure words, such as buah for big things like houses, orang for people, and biji for fruit such as apples; and I am sure this is correct.
We might further note that use of pieces with count nouns also occurs quite regularly in Singapore English, and the influence there might be not so much from Malay but from Chinese, which also has an elaborate system of measure words, including 本 for books, 张 for flat things such as paper, and 个 for other things such as people.
In fact, seeing as the English of Brunei and Singapore both exhibit this feature of using pieces with count nouns, it is possible that the use of measure words in two of the the main indigenous languages of the region, Malay and Chinese, has conspired to influence the local varieties of English.
To check whether this is true or not, we would need to investigate varieties of English in places where the local languages do not have measure words and see whether pieces also gets used in this way. An interesting research project for someone!
The sociolinguistics of the Chinese script
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