[PATCH] few typo fixes to src/en/book/ch07.xml

Ben Collins-Sussman sussman at red-bean.com
Thu May 4 08:50:30 CDT 2006

On 5/4/06, Kamesh Jayachandran <kamesh at collab.net> wrote:

>   * src/en/book/ch07.xml
>     'a' in place of 'an' before 'hint' and 'unique'.

Hi Kamesh!  Thanks for the patch.  I'm now going to argue against
these two suggestions for 'an'.
And as someone who has a minor degree in linguistics, I'm going to try
and back up my arguments.  :-)

The reason the word "an" exists is to prevent english speakers from
doing awkward glottal-stops.  (Glottal sounds aren't inherently
awkward, it's just that english speakers consider them to be.)  It's
tricky to say "a apple", because it requires the glottis to close up
between the two words.  So the solution that has naturally crept into
english is to add an extra consonant sound between the two vowels. 
"An apple" is much smoother to speak.

Schoolkids are taught a simplified version of this rule, though:  that
any word that begins with a vowel must follow "an" instead of "a". 
That's not always the case, however.  Most words that start with "u"
_already_ begin with a consonant ('y') sound.  So a word like 'unique'
is actually pronounced /yuneek/.  There's no need for the extra 'n' in
'an' to smooth things out.  So phrases like "a unicorn", "a ukelele"
and "a unique idea" all flow fine.  At least, to my American ear,
there's simply no need for "an" with these words.

The phrase "an hint" sounds even more bizarre to me... never seen it
written like that, or heard somebody say that.  Perhaps it's a
commonality in Indian English?   "An herb" might make sense: due to
its silent 'h', the 'an' is required to prevent the glottal stop.  But
the 'h' in "hint" isn't silent.

Keep in mind I say all this as a native speaker of American English; 
the rules may be different in India.  But the book is definitely
written in American English.  :-)

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