19 March 2014


When my wife was doing some shopping in BSB yesterday, a sales assistant told her that, as a result of the introduction of shariah law, she might in the future have to wear a cardigan to cover her arms properly. But she pronounced 'cardigan' with /dʒ/ at the start of the final syllable instead of the expected /ɡ/.

This might be regarded as a case of hyper-correction. In Malay, the letter 'g' is always pronounced as /ɡ/. However, in English, 'g' is sometimes /ɡ/ and sometimes /dʒ/, and the speaker got the wrong one.

Actually, a little knowledge of phonics would have resolved this problem. In English, 'g' is always pronounced as /ɡ/ before 'a', 'o' and 'u'. For example, 'gate', 'garden', 'goat', 'gone', 'gut', 'guest', etc. It is only ever pronounced as /dʒ/ before 'e', 'i', and 'y', in words such as 'general', 'gesture', 'ginger', 'gin', 'gyro', and 'gymnasium'.

In fact, before 'e', 'i' and 'y', there are rather a lot of exceptions: 'get', 'gear', 'give', 'girl', 'gynecologist', and many more all have 'g' pronounced as /ɡ/ rather than /dʒ/. But there are no exceptions for its pronunciation as /ɡ/ before 'a', 'o' and 'u'.

Now that phonics is being taught in Brunei schools, one wonders if the error with 'cardigan' might no longer occur when today's primary school students grow up.


An exchange student from China, Huang Luyin, is taking my module on Translation in which the written assignment required her to find a passage in Chinese, translate it into English, and comment on the translation. In doing this, she translated 肠子('intestine') as 'tharm'.

I assumed that this was a typo, and I asked her what she intended to write. But she insisted that her on-line dictionary, 有道词典, gives 'tharm' as the translation of 肠子. Then she showed it to me, and it does indeed give 'tharm'.

I have never heard of 'tharm', and it is not listed in my New Webster's Dictionary. I have just checked on-line, and it seems that 'tharm' is an archaic word for 'intestine'. Furthermore it seems to be accepted in Scrabble, so I'll remember that.

Even if it is acceptable in Scrabble, it is not a word of modern English, and its listing in the on-line dictionary is bizarre. The inclusion of archaic words in an on-line dictionary is unfortunate, and it illustrates the perils of relying on such resources.

11 March 2014

like her

I was reading an article on The Guardian online (here), discussing a book called Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, in which a sentence started with:

In Lean In, Sandberg aimed to help women like her

When I read this, I thought she was trying to get people to like her. Actually, she was trying to help people who are similar to her. As you might see, this sentence is ambiguous.

I believe that writers should be sensitive to the potential ambiguity of things that they write, and they should try to resolve any such ambiguity. It might have been better to say:

In Lean In, Sandberg aimed to help women who are like her

First Lines

I was just reading an article in the on-line Independent (here) about the importance of first lines in novels, and it included the sentence:

And, of course, Pride and Prejudice starts with the only opening sentence of a novel that everyone knows by heart.

Well, I like to think that I am moderately well read, but I confess that I didn't know what the first sentence of Pride and Prejudice is. So I looked it up, and it is:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

I guess I should have known that. But I didn't. And my guess is that most people don't know it. Which just reminds me how out of touch many newspaper columnists are. Most people in the modern world simply are not familiar with the contents of nineteenth century fiction.

Or maybe I am just ignorant.