Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Johnny5, Jun 20, 2011.
Simple thing to rember if it starts with a
you use An (I'm 85% sure)
A preceding a consonant, An preceding a vowel. Though A Historic and An Historic are both correct, due to the dialect differences. Eek!
Basically, you are correct, Wolfi. HOWEVER, in this case, that doesn't work.
So, Johnny5, if you will forgive me, I will disassemble this question for you.
Generally, if it begins with a vowel, you will use the 'an' and, if it begins with a consonant, you will use the 'a'.
The contradiction (and the exception that proves the rule) comes with words which begin with a vowel but that vowel is pronounced as a consonant... as in unibody, which is pronounced as though it starts with a 'y'. In a case such as this, the word, although it does begin with a vowel, would be preceded by 'a', since the word sounds as though it begins with a consonant.
There are a few other quirks in the 'rule' such as variant forms of the word 'history'. Now, history is pronounced with a hard 'h' sound and it would be preceded by 'a' as in "a history lesson". HOWEVER, in the word historically, it traditionally was always pronounced with something of a dropped 'h' on the beginning and so you would use 'an', as in "an historically momentous occasion." Also, in a case such as this, the 'an' and the 'historically' sound almost as though they are slurred together. So it becomes, "anistorically momentous occasion."
Now, of course, there will be lots of people who will be quick to argue that point and a few, quite rightly, will point out that, in recent years, the 'a' before 'h' + vowel words is correct. The fact is, in many cases, comomn usage has made that formula more acceptable. (My argument is that this is the result of poor education but that is also what has led to so many changes in language through the ages.) So, in a case such as that, you're pretty much on your own.
A unibody sounds right. With vowels it's usually an but it's an exception.
I usually go with what sounds right. "An unibody" is sort of a mouthful because, phonetically, the word "unibody" begins with a consonant (j). Thus, a unibody is correct. This is why both "a historic" and "an historic" work, because in certain dialects the h is not pronounced.
Caveat: I'm not claiming to ever have written anything correctly.
it depends on how the word is pronounced... 'a' is correct if the first-letter 'u' is pronounced as 'yew'... 'an' if pronounced 'uh'...
Whilst the rest of your post is spot on, I have to disagree on the poor education part.
Pronunciation and intelligence are by no means correlated, only the perception of intelligence founded on the fact that standardised English is based on the dialect found in the Oxford/Cambridge/London triangle, which William Caxton used as the dialect to print the first books in England in 1476.
Being that Jamaican creole and many, many northern British dialects which significantly pre-date widespread education have always dropped their h's, it is difficult to see a connection between h- dropping and education, unless that is to say that there is somehow a connection between where you are from and your intelligence level- which there isn't.
There is nothing denoting superior intelligence by pronouncing h's. It is simply a dialect feature and a false indicator of status.
Northern British poets and news papers have been denouncing this false perception since the 19th century.
Also, Language change is mostly to do with cultural integration, immigration, the invention of new technologies (the internet) and class merging.
The education system can mostly be credited with causing a narrowing in dialect variation by putting such an emphasis on 'correct' pronunciations, not realising the basis of 'correct' English anyway.
This isn't intended to come across as me having a go, just offering my view on things
Firstly, don't confuse intelligence with education -- they're not the same thing either.
And then the whole dropped aitch issue is even more complicated than you describe it. Yes, regional dialects always dropped aitches, but so did "correct" English. What distinguished the "lower classes" was that they dropped the wrong aitches. That's why "an historic occasion" used to be correct: the aitch in "historic" was one of the ones you were supposed to drop. But pronunciation changes, and even the Queen now pronounces the aitch in "historic" -- but still insists on putting "an" in front of it. It remains a class divider (British) English, but it's not a question of logic, it's a question of knowing a set of rules that have become completely disconnected from their original reasons. "A historic", "an 'istoric" and "an historic" can all be heard, all belong to language varieties regarded as "correct" and all give clues to the speaker's background and station in life.
For what it's worth, for writing Fowler recommends "an historic", "an historian" but "a history". The Oxford Style Manual appears to be silent on the issue.
A good education system should in most cases grant greater intelligence. There are of course, exceptions, so it is probably best to say that they are closely related. Saying that, most education systems are pretty poor in relation to the potential that that they have.
A lot more, I was offering the condensed version as the entire version would be pages of regurgitated information.
Not always, in both cases. Some regional dialects retain the aitch whilst some according to work by linguists such as Trudgill, upper-class speakers have a aicth retention in the high 90% region, even in regions where aitch dropping is extremly common.
That still supposes a correct way of aitch usage. Although it affirms what I just said so we appear to be on the same page there.
I would say it is less of a class divider, and more of a class indicator, as one with a cockney accent could have worked in his/her later life to become very rich and upper-class yet still mantain such an accent.
What do you mean when you say " it's not a question of logic, it's a question of knowing a set of rules that have become completely disconnected from their original reasons"?
It is true that all the variations you list exist, but to see them all as correct misses the main point of descriptive linguistics ( the theory which allows them to co-exist without a supposed superiority) in that there is no correctness.
Never had time for the pretentious prescriptivists (joke, sort of).
At any rate, any attempt to classify the correct phonology is largely pointless in that any attempt to implement it would go largely unnoticed against natural language variation and change.
Orthographic correctness is a lot easier to regulate in regard to a standardised format, as a history (no-pun) of language shows, and it is probably justified in its implementation to make the langauge intelligible to all.
My issue is that of a percieved correctness in pronounciation...
I think that is contentious. Better to say that each is an enabler for the other.
Is that current usage? I was referring to historical -- er, sorry, 'istorical -- usage.
I think we are -- I was running out of quote marks.
He might become rich but not upper class. Remember Michael Jopling's put-down of Michael Hesseltine: "The trouble with Michael is that he had to buy his own furniture".
I mean that although the rules for which aitch should be dropped and which should not were arcane, at least the rule that it should be "an" before a vowel sound and "a" before anything else was consistent, but now it isn't, at least in some language communities. One has to choose "a" or "an" according to how a word used to be pronounced, not how it is pronounced. Which is why the Queen pronounces the aitch in "historical" -- dropped aitches are now uncommon even amongst the "upper class", but she precedes it with "an" because the aitch used to be dropped by her social class.
There is correctness for specific contexts. When I write for work I have to follow a set of prescriptive rules associated with standard English, and there is an authority -- my boss. That is not to say that following the same rules would be effective in a different context, so it does not assert a general superiority of standard English, just a contextual one.
The curiosity with "[a|an] historic" is the two-way interaction between the phonology and the orthography.
My interest is in the difficulty with trying to disentangle phonology from orthography and the curious results of the attempt.
As stated earlier, it's all about vowel sounds.
The sub-plot of the thread - the dropping of aitches correctly / incorrectly - is largely irrelevant here so long as the correct form of the indefinite article gets employed to allow your language to roll off yer tongue. As it's meant to!
In French, it's "liasion", isn't it?
I'll use dashes as to refer to each of your points in order:
- I think it is fair to say a better education system will make for more intelligent children, afterall that is it's primary purpose. I see your point though.
- It is as current as the 80's and is still used as secondary evidence in many modern language text books when refferring to modern Language discussions.
- Same here, however, I am enjoying this discussion.
- Well, is upper-class wealth or aristocractic heritage? The latter seems a bit 20th century.
- I see. This is interesting if you consider the differences in American/British spellings. Whilst they are different orthographically, their semantics remain the same. In the case of 'an' and 'a', on a regional or community level, then the need to find a 'correct' usage could be eliminated by the same logic.
The example with the Queen is just language change in action. Whether the Queen uses 'an' for historic is no more important or correct than if John on the street uses 'a', because really they are just different phonemes serving the same purpose as an indefinite article.
Furthermore, you said that "the rule that it should be "an" before a vowel sound and "a" before anything else was consistent, but now it isn't", does not serve as an argument for finding a grounded usage because on that same logic we should be correcting the irregularities in the rules of pluralisation and the irregular spelling of verbs which end with the same phoneme.
Language is an objective, organic thing and even it's rudimentary rules are often broken, so efforts to prescribe to certain universal rules are useless.
- Rules can of course be local as in the example you provided, and as in that example some 'regions' (I mean this physically-regarding isoglosses-and mentally, such as class) and can be bigger than others. In which case, taken all together, each local rule simply feeds into the larger language mass as a whole and further undermines the need for a universal rules in language, or rules entirely as a rule would require some kind of dominance or superiority over the next... since this isn't the case they should be called local variations rather than local rules.
It is possible for several 'rules' (variations) to co-exist in their relative contexts, within langauge as a whole then, if taken objectively and within descriptive linguistics.
- By that I mean it is apparent that everything is orthographically similar, to belong to a language, otherwise it would simply become a different language. The same would go for phonology. I am interested in variations- which is covered above.
Everything has an orthographic and phonological connection.
- With the invention of the IPA Phonetic Alphabet, this is impossible.
The difference between 'a' and 'an' have always confused me...
I'm confused here. Are we talking about early childhood education and brain development? Otherwise, I would say that the above statement runs counter to the definition of the words. Intelligence is one's innate capacity, while education is what one has learned or been taught. Education may allow one to maximize the potential of one's intelligence, and demonstrate it, but it doesn't change it.
I believe that everyone is born with a potential for great intelligence.
I do not think intelligence is innate, merely that intelligence exists in ways that cannot always be measured by one's academic skills.
One's education is merely an experience- designed in principle to help maximise their intelligence, as you say. Therefore, to say it doesn't change their intelligence is a contradiction- as it's absence would leave it at the pre-education level. If intelligence is innate, then an education isn't needed, correct?
I'd say incorrect, because intelligence doesn't confer education. I may be the smartest person on the planet, but that doesn't mean that I was born knowing fourteen languages, calculus, and astrophysics, nor does it mean that those things will, at the appropriate age, appear full-blown in my brain without my doing anything to get them there. I need education for that. Intelligence is my _potential_ for being able to learn those things, but I don't get them for free.
To switch to another analogy, my strength determines my ability to, say, carry cinder blocks to build a retaining wall. But just _being_ strong isn't going to cause that retaining wall to come into existence, any more than being intelligent is going to cause a fluent knowledge of the French language to come into existence in my brain. If I don't have enough innate muscular strength or capacity to develop strength, I'm not going to be able to carry the cinder blocks to build the wall. If I don't have enough intelligence, I'm not going to be able to learn astrophysics.
To turn that analogy back in the other direction, it _may_ be that there are ways to do the mental equivalent of increasing my muscle strength. It may be that babies are _not_ born with a predetermined maximum capacity for intelligence, and that specific environmental factors or activities or who-knows-what might increase their intelligence.
And it may be that if intelligence isn't exercised, it may begin to fade, just as muscle strength fades. But school and formal education aren't the only way to exercise intelligence - a highly intelligent person is a highly intelligent person even if he never sets foot in a school. And if he isn't constricted in most opportunities, he's likely to find a way to exercise that intelligence.
So I still argue, whether intelligence is a predetermined attribute or one that can be changed, that intelligence and education are different things, just as muscle strength and a completed retaining wall are different things. What you _can_ accomplish is ability, what you _have_ accomplished is, well, accomplishments. They're not the same thing.
What is a unibody?
"I may be the smartest person on the planet, but that doesn't mean that I was born knowing fourteen languages, calculus, and astrophysics". Then intelligence is not innate. Innate knowledge is knowledge known from birth, by definition. I would argue there are pre-dispositions to certain types of intelligence, but we are not born clever.
I think you're using a traditional view of intelligence. A skilled fisherman, an excellent motor car racer, a great sportsman, an engineer, a writer, and all kinds of other skills require different types of intelligence.
Like I said, everyone is born with the ability to be intelligent but that doesn't mean that they have to be 'book-smart' or capable of learning french. An education will create these types of intelligence in people. And the better it is, the more intelligent that person becomes.
Furthermore, an education doesn't have to be the traditional state system, it could simply be a process of reading lots of books or doing lots of fishing- practice makes perfect.
Intelligence as a concept needs to be widdened. To say that we are 'born' intelligent (in the traditional sense of the word) does not do justice the many, many people who are intelligent in different ways to the narrow concept that is predominant in society.
Also, I never said that education and intelligence were the same thing. I said that a better education will lead to more intelligence.
P.S Sorry if I missed the point, I've just finished work so am prone to mis-reading or getting my ideas jumbled, but I do love a good debate on matters such as these (even if we have strayed a bit from the general topic of this site). So please tell me off if I have misinterpreted.
a structure of some kind that uses its outer shell as a support eg. an egg
as apposed to say a kite the support is on the inside
i think you're confusing it with 'exoskeleton' and its opposite... it's not really a matter of inside/outside but of a single molded unit vs a framework made of more than one piece...
btw, all one need do to go from 'think' to 'know' is google 'define unibody'... ;-)
It sounds more like you should use the "a unibody".
You are absolutely correct and I apologize for my shortsightedness and thank you for the correction.
A because the following word sounds as if it begins with something other than a vowel.
A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y are the keys here.
Y only when it is a sofened vowel sound
myth or hymn it's clearly a vowel, and also in words such as my, where it stands for a diphthong (a combination of two vowel sounds). On the other hand, in a word like beyond there is an obstacle to the breath which can be heard between two vowels, and the same sound begins words like young and yes. (This consonant sound, like that of the letter W, is sometimes called a 'semivowel' because it is made in a similar way to a vowel, but functions in contrast to vowels when used in words.)
One would never write it is an Myth, same for A obstical
When deciding to use A or AN go with the normal speach pattern. If you are unsure say it aloud, this usualy helps clear up any confusion. If it sounds foreign on your lips it will read oddly with the eyes.
Separate names with a comma.