“Variation in the English Indefinite Article”
by Tim Pulju
From Psammeticus Quarterly XVI.4, August 1989
Reviewed by Dr. Francis Narcía
It is always an ever-present hope that, in reading work done by an esteemed colleague, I will discover therein an articulate, well-researched and supportable argument made on an important topic in the field. Most unfortunately, in the case before us, I can readily admit the arguments are articulate and well-researched, but I find the conclusion herein to be a disappointment.
The article discusses the supposed free variation of English indefinite articles a and an. The author rightly dismisses both the free-variation argument and a misguided series of unfounded refutations, but goes on, most unfortunately, to offer a wholly inadequate alternative solution. Arguments such as those appealing to a syntactic analysis, a new set of noun classes or a phonological explanation are all clearly inadequate and the author is right to dismiss them. However, Mr. Pulju (like those before him) overlooks an elegant alternative.
It is a painfully obvious fact that the form an appears before noun phrases that make me happy and that a appears before noun phrases that make me sad. This review may serve us as an easily available data set.
Noun Phrases Beginning with an: those which make me Happy
- an ever-present hope
- an esteemed colleague
- an articulate, well-researched and supportable argument
- an important topic
- an elegant alternative
- an easily available dataset
Noun Phrases Beginning with a: those which make me Unhappy
- a disappointment
- a misguided series of unfounded refutations
- a wholly inadequate alternative solution
- a syntactic analysis
- a new set of noun classes
- a phonological explanation
- a painfully obvious fact
This analysis also accounts handily for prior examples such as an orange (clearly an appealing object) and a green (obviously an upsetting reference as it brings to mind the distressing reality that few linguists earn enough money to play golf).
My extended refutation of claims put forward in this article can be found in my paper, “An excellent reanalysis of a thorny, old problem” soon to be accepted by an ambitious and forward-thinking journal.