Category Archives: English

Why aren’t I instead of amn’t I?

bildschirmfoto-2017-02-18-um-15-23-36

Why don’t we say “amn’t I” instead of “aren’t I”? If we say “am I” why don’t we say “amn’t I”? Isn’t “aren’t I” grammatically incorrect? – I recently had a long discussion with my son about the fact that using aren’t I doesn’t seem right, at least not if we learn that the correct form for the first person is “am”.
Why don’t we use amn’t I instead? This made me curious to look up if this form was ever used and why aren’t I is the current, accepted form instead.

The contraction of I am not in questions is not a logic form for English learners – and teachers: the form I’m not should be Amn’t I ? (with postposition of “I”) in a question.

Why don’t we say “amn’t I” as the the negative form? If in declarative sentences we use the standard form I am not and in questions am I not, and in declarative case, the standard contraction is I’m not, so why don’t we apply this in questions where speakers feel the need for a negative contraction like in “isn’t it” or “aren’t they”?

The contraction ain’t seems to stand for am not and is attested since 1618 (Merriam-Webster). As the combination of two nasal consonants “m-n” is disfavoured by English speakers, the “m” of amn’t was elided, i.e. one of the nasal sounds was dropped to simplify the pronunciation: this reflected in writing with the form an’t. An’t first appears  in the work of English Restoration playwrights (cfr. Merriam-Webster) and in 1695 an’t was used as a contraction of am not in William Congreve’s play Love for Love: “I can hear you farther off, I an’t deaf”, but an’t also appears as a contraction of “are not” in Sir John Vanbrugh’s The Relapse (1676): “Hart thee shoemaker! These shoes an’t ugly, but they don’t fit me”.
Interestingly, the contracted form aren’t for are not appeared in 1675. – In non-rhotic dialects, aren’t lost its “r” sound, and began to be pronounced as an’t.

Apparently, during that period, the form an’t was used for the 1rst singular and 1rst plural form: I am not/ I amn’t = I an’t and We aren’tWe an’t.

An’t for is not

An’t for is not may have developed independently from its use for am not and are not.

Just to complicate it a bit more: isn’t was sometimes written as in’t or en’t, which could have changed into an’t.  “An’t for is not may have filled a gap as an extension of the already-used conjugations for to be not: Jonathan Swift used an’t to mean is not in Letter 19 of his Journal to Stella (1710–13): It an’t my fault, ’tis Patrick’s fault; pray now don’t blame Presto.”

From an’t to  ain’t

The “a” in an’t must have been a long “a” and was written as ain’t since 1749– with the epenthetic “i”.

Interestingly, when ain’t appeared, an’t was already used for am not, are not, and is not.

Therefore, an’t and ain’t coexisted as written forms well into the nineteenth century:

Charles Dickens used the terms interchangeably, as in Chapter 13, Book the Second of Little Dorrit (1857): “‘I guessed it was you, Mr Pancks,” said she, ‘for it’s quite your regular night; ain’t it? … An’t it gratifying, Mr Pancks, though; really?'”.

In the English lawyer William Hickey‘s memoirs (1808–1810), ain’t appears as a contraction of aren’t; “thank God we’re all alive, ain’t we…”

We can find the contraction ain’t for “am not”

In dialects or regional variants…

I was positively surprised when I heared a Scottish friend use amn’t once in a question and found out that it was quite common. In fact:

The contraction amn’t is a standard contraction of am not in some dialects of mainly Hiberno-English (Irish English) and Scottish English. In Hiberno-English the question form (amn’t I?) is used more frequently than the declarative I amn’t. (The standard I’m not is available as an alternative to I amn’t in both Scottish English and Hiberno-English.) An example appears in Oliver St. John Gogarty‘s impious poem The Ballad of Japing Jesus: “If anyone thinks that I amn’t divine, / He gets no free drinks when I’m making the wine”. These lines are quoted in James Joyce‘s Ulysses, which also contains other examples: “Amn’t I with you? Amn’t I your girl?” (spoken by Cissy Caffrey to Leopold Bloom in Chapter 15).

 

The more standardized contraction aren’t seems to fill in the “amn’t gap” in questions: Aren’t I lucky to have you around? Although this form is universally used by Standard English speakers today, it was considered “illiterate” by some twentieth-century writers.

But how could amn’t become aren’t?

The form am not contracted into amn’t which, to simplify the pronunciation, became an’t. All happened because in non-rhotic* dialects, aren’t and the pronunciation of an’t are homophones, i.e. both are pronounced without the “r”. So it might be the case of a hypercorrection from non-rhotic dialect speakers that the form aren’t is used instead of an’t: thinking that where there isn’t a “r” we should insert one, people may have started to insert a “r” into an’t which lead to arn’t and by simplifying the pronunciation with an epenthetic e: aren’t, which, besides, already exists as form of the 2nd singular and plural forms of the verb to be and doesn’t sound “wrong”.

The spelling of “aren’t I” started to replace “an’t I” in the early 20th century, and some first examples of aren’t I for am I not appear already in the first half of the 19th century in St Martin’s Day from Holland-tide by Gerald Griffin in 1827: “aren’t I listening; and isn’t it only the breeze that’s blowing the sheets and halliards about?”

Today, the grammatical am I not? sounds stilted, ain’t I? is considered substandard and aren’t I ? is the standard solution adopted in practice by most speakers and taught in school.

*In non-rhotic dialects, the historical /r/ has been lost except before vowels; they include all the dialects of England—except the South West, the southern West Midlands, and parts of West Lancashire—as well as the English dialects of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and some parts of the southern and eastern coastal United States.

More posts about historical linguistics will follow soon – also about Italian, French, German…

Advertisements

Finding British Schools For Your Expat Children, by Luke Rees

A few weeks ago I found a very useful map about British Schools Abroad and shared it on social media. I’m now glad to publish Luke Rees’ very insightful post about it here.

***

Parents who are planning to move abroad face a number of initial challenges. To start with there are the stresses that go along with finding a house, setting up a bank account, buying a car and sorting out healthcare. However there is perhaps nothing quite as tricky as setting your children up in a new foreign school.

Emigrating with children often stirs up a variety of feelings within the family. On the one hand there is the excitement of a new climate, a new culture and a whole new land of opportunities, but on the other there is the fear of change – the stresses of which can wreak havoc on a family. It therefore always pays to be prepared, and to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible.

Taking your kids away from their friends and teachers whilst they are still at primary and secondary school is a delicate process. It is well know that young children need stability, and to wrench everything away from under their feet is no doubt going to be traumatic. If the new country speaks a foreign language or uses their own national curriculum then this can make the transition even harder on your child, who has to learn to negotiate an entirely new educational system.

For British parents there is the option to keep their child at a British school no matter where they are in the world. The British curriculum, from the key stages up to the GCSE exams, are taught in over 1,000 schools around the world. Cambridge IGCSEs are also taught in many schools, which are the international equivalent of GCSEs and accepted by all higher institutions in the UK.

In order to help parents locate British schools an interactive map was created by Expat & Offshore – an online information resource for expats. The map has over 1,000 primary, secondary and through schools to choose from all over the world. In order to find a school in your host country, click on a star and you will find information on the school’s address, website, phone number, and student population. You can view the map here:

British Schools Abroad

British Schools Abroad

Setting your children up in a school where they feel at ease and have the same educational opportunities as back home is everything a parent could hope for, however there are a number of extra strategies to ensure your child’s move is as tear-free as possible.

If your child is particularly sensitive then you must give them lots of time to get used to the idea of moving. Reading books and researching the new country with your children can help them to build an impression before they arrive so that it doesn’t seem so foreign on arrival. Also getting friends and family to put together something to remember them by before you leave – something like a signed T-shirt or a photo album – gives your child time to let go of their home whilst also allowing them to still feel connected to friends after the move.

Some tips to help your child settle into school even quicker include speaking to their new teachers and informing them of your child’s likes and dislikes, as well as giving them the names of important people in their life. Teachers can then reference these people and make your child feel like they’re still at home.

Children with United Kingdom, Guinean, United States and Chinese flags painted on faces

Moving country is one of the biggest steps a family with young children can take and so it always pays to extensively research your country of destination before the move. There are British schools in almost every country in the world (barring a few in Africa), so parents are likely to find an appropriate school no matter where they are.

Luke Rees

Luke Rees

Luke Rees is a travel writer from London who currently writes on behalf of Expat & Offshore.

Why reading aloud is important: a challenge with English

In addition to my post about the importance of reading aloud, I would like to make an example for English. Every non-native speaker will struggle with the pronunciation of English and sooner or later will understand that English is not an easy language. Maybe the grammar is easier than in other languages – it obviously depends on which other languages you already know – but the pronunciation is a challenge for us and apparently for some English native speakers too: they say that “if you can pronounce correctly every word in this poem, you will be speaking English better than 90% of the native English speakers in the world”. – I still struggle with some (better: several) words and the rhyme helped me several times…

This is a poem the Dutch teacher Gerard Nolst Trenité (1870-1946), known as “Charivarius”, published in his book about the English pronunciation “Drop Your Foreign Accent: Engelsche uitspraakoefeningen” in 1920 with the title “Chaos” (later “The Chaos”). The poem had a length of 292 verses when Trenité died in 1944 and more were added later. It now contains 800 of the worst irregularities of English pronunciation.

English: pronunciation phonogram

English: pronunciation phonogram (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Chaos
by G. Nolst Trenite’ a.k.a. “Charivarius” 1870 – 1946

 

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse
I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye your dress you’ll tear,
So shall I! Oh, hear my prayer,
Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
Just compare heart, beard and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written).
Made has not the sound of bade,
Say said, pay-paid, laid, but plaid.
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
But be careful how you speak,
Say break, steak, but bleak and streak.
Previous, precious, fuchsia, via,
Pipe, snipe, recipe and choir,
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles.
Exiles, similes, reviles.
Wholly, holly, signal, signing.
Thames, examining, combining
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war, and far.
From “desire”: desirable–admirable from “admire.”
Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier.
Chatham, brougham, renown, but known.
Knowledge, done, but gone and tone,
One, anemone. Balmoral.
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel,
Gertrude, German, wind, and mind.
Scene, Melpomene, mankind,
Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,
Reading, reading, heathen, heather.
This phonetic labyrinth
Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.
Billet does not end like ballet;
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet;
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Banquet is not nearly parquet,
Which is said to rime with “darky.”
Viscous, Viscount, load, and broad.
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s O.K.,
When you say correctly: croquet.
Rounded, wounded, grieve, and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive, and live,
Liberty, library, heave, and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven,
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the difference, moreover,
Between mover, plover, Dover,
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police, and lice.
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label,
Petal, penal, and canal,
Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal.
Suit, suite, ruin, circuit, conduit,
Rime with “shirk it” and “beyond it.”
But it is not hard to tell,
Why it’s pall, mall, but Pall Mall.
Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron,
Timber, climber, bullion, lion,
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, and chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor,
Ivy, privy, famous, clamour
And enamour rime with hammer.
Pussy, hussy, and possess,
Desert, but dessert, address.
Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants.
Hoist, in lieu of flags, left pennants.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rime with anger.
Neither does devour with clangour.
Soul, but foul and gaunt but aunt.
Font, front, won’t, want, grand, and grant.
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say: finger.
And then: singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, age.
Query does not rime with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post; and doth, cloth, loth;
Job, Job; blossom, bosom, oath.
Though the difference seems little,
We say actual, but victual.
Seat, sweat; chaste, caste; Leigh, eight, height;
Put, nut; granite, and unite.
Reefer does not rime with deafer,
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,
Hint, pint, Senate, but sedate.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific,
Tour, but our and succour, four,
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, guinea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria,
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay.
Say aver, but ever, fever.
Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.
Never guess–it is not safe:
We say calves, valves, half, but Ralph.
Heron, granary, canary,
Crevice and device, and eyrie,
Face but preface, but efface,
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust, and scour, but scourging,
Ear but earn, and wear and bear
Do not rime with here, but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, clerk, and jerk,
Asp, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.
Pronunciation–think of psyche–!
Is a paling, stout and spikey,
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing “groats” and saying “grits”?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel,
Strewn with stones, like rowlock, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict, and indict!
Don’t you think so, reader, rather,
Saying lather, bather, father?
Finally: which rimes with “enough”
Though, through, plough, cough, hough, or tough?
Hiccough has the sound of “cup.”
My advice is–give it up!

 

And if you don’t want to give up, here’s a teacher reading it for (or with?) you.

Enhanced by Zemanta