31 May 2012


In my previous post, I discussed the spelling pronunciation in Malay of Budapest with [f] instead of [p] at the start of the final syllable.

Of course, we have lots of similar cases of overgeneralisation with the pronunciation of names in English. For example, why on earth do so many people pronounce Beijing with [ʒ] in the middle? In Chinese it has [dʒ], which is a perfectly good sound in English. So why not use it?

The rationale seems to be this: Beijing is an exotic place, so its pronunciation should sound exotic. And that is why so many people put the rare English sound [ʒ] rather than the commonplace [dʒ] in the middle.

Another example, pointed out by my UBD colleague Alistair Wood, is Zagreb, which some people (especially football commentators) pronounce with stress on the final syllable. In Croatian, and indeed all Slavic languages, the stress is on the first syllable, so speakers can never have heard a native speaker producing it with final stress. Furthermore, stress on the first syllable is the most natural way of saying it in English. But some people seem to think that, because it is an exotic place, the pronunciation must be a little bit unusual; and so they give it final stress

22 May 2012


The pronunciation of names in different languages is always interesting. The morning, on the 8:00 RTB radio news, I heard the announcer state that Prince Sufri, the President of the Brunei Olympic Committee, has gone to Budapest, but he pronounced it with [f] rather than the expected [p] at the start of the final syllable.

This is quite easy to explain: Malay has no [f], except in borrowed words such as faham ('understand') and fikir ('think') from Arabic and filem ('film') and fail ('file') from English. But it is common for people in Brunei (and elsewhere in the Malay-speaking world) to pronounce faham with an initial [p], in effect nativising the pronunciation. To avoid this, some speakers are very careful to make sure they pronounce the [f] correctly. And then occasionally they extend it, and they end up using [f] where in fact it is not expected. We call this "overgeneralisation".

20 May 2012

European Champions!

For a lifelong Chelsea supporter such as me, last night was a bit special. It's not just that we finally won the thing; it was the way we won it.

For goodness sakes: Bayern had twenty corners, and they scored from none of them; but Chelsea had one single corner in the whole game, and Drogba went and scored from it. And then Bayern missed a penalty, they had so many chances with an open goal, there was a disallowed goal for off-side, and they were even up in the final penalty shoot out! ... what can you say?

At the end of the game, I called my son in England and just lay on the floor laughing. My wife says she hasn't heard me laugh so much for years.

From a linguistic perspective: I always find football commentary fascinating, and I feel sorry for English learners from around the world who are trying to make any sense of it. Just think about some of the things the commentators say — not all from last night, but pretty typical for football commentary:

  • they're really under the cosh now
  • Drogba was on his bike there
  • Ribery is looking to pick up the bits and pieces
  • Robben was lucky to get a second bite there

I really pity all those students of English who look up cosh in a dictionary and still have no clue what on earth is going on. I just looked it up in the Macmillan Dictionary, and it means "a weapon shaped like a short thick stick". Well, that helps!

And what is anyone doing on a bike while playing football? But that is the wonder of language — none of it really makes any sense. It's just what we say. Especially in football commentaries.

09 May 2012


This is the label my UBD colleague Adrian Clynes noticed on the back of his jacket.

Artly doesn't seem like a good word in English. But why not? If you can add ‑ly to the end of the noun saint to make saintly, or to the end of friend to create friendly, or to the end of father to make fatherly, why can't you add ‑ly to the end of the noun art to creat artly?

The answer seems to be that the only nouns to which you can add ‑ly to create an adjective must be human. So brotherly is fine, as are womanly and ghostly, but not *carpetly, *bookly, *catly or *horsely.

This is, of course, different from adjectives becoming adverbs: it seems you can add ‑ly to pretty much any adjective to create an adverb, so you have happily, slowly, lazily, dangerously, sleepily, cautiously, superciliously, artfully, etc.

But, in contrast, the ‑ly suffix that converts a noun to an adjective seems to be much more restricted.

Are there any exceptions? I guess worldly and lovely, and probably a few more. Also, there seem to be plenty of human nouns which don't allow a ‑ly suffix: *auntly, *bossly, *scientistly, and many more.

05 May 2012

Subject-Verb Agreement

One feature of New Varieties of English, such as those of Singapore and Brunei, is sporadic lack of subject-verb agreement. A factor that sometimes influences this is an intervening noun. For example, in Singapore I found these examples from student assignments, where generation and speech respectively result in the verb having a third-person singular ‑s suffix:

The children in this generation uses this language.
I realise that the features of my speech is rather distinct and different.
And in my corpus of interviews in Brunei, I have found the following examples, in which English and competition seem to have influenced the main verb:
most of the words of English comes from well originate from Greek language
but those who actually go for the competition is quite less

Does this occur in the English from elsewhere, such as the UK?

I just noticed the following in this week's WorldWideWords newsletter, written by Michael Quinion, who is something of an expert on English:

In the days when knowledge of Greek and Latin were widespread, ...

Note the the head of the subject is knowledge, so we would expect the verb to be was not were. But the intervening 'Latin and Greek' seems to have caused confusion.

I wonder how widespread this phenomenon is.

01 May 2012

this areas

Here is a sign at the entrance to the Belimbing Recreational Park along Jalan Subok.

It is a bit surprising that people can spend lots of money producing such a well-made sign but not bother to get the English right.

The analysis of this English raises some questions. Does areas have a spurious ‑s suffix? Or is it a case of confusion between this and these?

My feeling is that the former analysis is better: the intended message is supposed to refer to 'this recreational area', but the sign-writer used the plural areas instead. However, I have also come across this used with plural nouns. It seems that there is no clear distinction between this and these in Brunei, possibly because many speakers do not differentiate between long and short vowels.