20 March 2012

Plural -s

I am currently doing some analysis of the grammar of Brunei English, based on the recordings of 53 UBD undergraduates (38 female and 15 male) being interviewed by me for 5 minutes each, a total of nearly 4.5 hours of speech.

One feature I have found (as expected) is variable usage of the plural -s suffix on nouns. Sometimes, -s is found when standard English would not have it, and at other times it is absent when it would be expected in standard English.

However, these cases are actually quite rare. In the 20 interviews I have analysed so far, there 249 cases where the -s suffix appears as expected, 13 cases where -s occurs unexpectedly, and just 8 cases where it is omitted in an environment where it would normally occur in standard usage. This means that over 90% of the usage is standard.

In fact, the non-standard instances can mostly be grouped into three categories:
  • occurrance of -s on logically plural nouns, such as furnitures and informations
  • omission of -s after one of, such as 'one of my brother' and 'one of the language'
  • occurrence of -s on the end of in-law, such as 'my brother-in-laws' (rather than the standard 'brothers-in-law')
I will discuss each of these separately in subsequent posts.


  1. Hello Dr Deterding, I have been following your blog for quite a while and it's really interesting to read it.

    I always wanted to improve my writing skills and also my English pronunciation.

    I used to be in your class (Introduction to english language and linguistic 1). I am majoring in media and communication.I was wondering if you can help me. =)

  2. One way to improve writing is to read more. People in Brunei read too little, and students should be reading far more: fiction, texbooks, academic papers, magazines, anything.

    More directly, maybe you could practice writing more. Why not start a blog and then write something every day? (Or maybe I'll just get Alex to set you more assignments!)

    I'm not sure you really need to improve your speaking -- I think you speak pretty well already. When you give a presentation, make sure you rehearse it fully beforehand many times. That should build confidence and fluency.

  3. I have a personal blog www.imsengyee.blogspot.com I like writing but I couldn't write a very good story. That's probably because I seldom read, like what you said.

    I like reading, but I am not disciplined enough to even start reading or continue reading. Maybe if I made a promise with you that I will read at least 5 pages a day then I will?

    I think I have the courage to speak, but I couldn't pronounce some of the words correctly. I do not really know how to pronounce 'd' at the end of the words for e.g. red, bed, praised, cured, mixed etc. The 'd' at the end doesn't sound like a d, but it doesn't really sound like a 't' as well.

    And no, please dont get Alex to give me more assignments. =(

  4. The problem you mention with the final /d/ surprises me -- that doesn't seem to be a real issue in the pronunciation of people in Brunei. The only time 'd' is generally pronounced as /t/ is when it is part of the -ed suffix, as in 'missed' or 'passed'. Note that 'passed' and 'past' are homophones.

    Maybe you need to know a bit more phonetics: the difference between 'bed' and 'bet' actually lies in the duration of the vowel. But I'm not sure if that helps you or not.

    Keep up with the reading and writing.