Where English meets Linguistics
Phonology studies the sound system of a language.
Don’t misunderstand, this article has nothing against the church. Instead, it is about a line which I stumbled upon on a web site today, which read:
1. Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and community.
The line was claimed to be taken from a Church Bulletin, although my Christian friend found it questionable. But let’s say, if it was really from the Church Bulletin, why would it talk about those “who are sick of our church” anyway? In fact, the funny thing about this sentence is that upon closer inspection, there can actually be two readings: one which is somewhat absurd (but perhaps more obvious at first glance), and, one which sounds more reasonable (and is thus probably the intended reading).
During the holiday I spent much of my time on a local discussion forum, reading and discussing topics regarding the English language. One question that was raised again and again by local students was this: Why does the ‘p’ in spy sound somewhat different from the ‘p’ in pie, and in fact, for Chinese speakers, the same as ‘b’ in buy?
In English, we can use a number of prefixes on adjectives to form their opposites. The following pairs come to mind as examples:
In most cases, these prefixes are not interchangeable, so we do not have *unlegal or *apossible, for instance. Of course, fluent speakers have no problem in using the right prefix for the right word, as more than often, the negative adjectives are learned word by word. But that should not stop us from pausing and asking, “Are these prefixes randomly matched with the words?” The lesson from Why is probible not possible and possable not probable? tells us that while not everything has a reason, most things indeed do not come from nothing. So the question that we should really ask is “What are the differences between these prefixes?”
In English when we want to describe something as “capable of doing something”, there is a handy set of adjectives that we can use which end in either -able or -ible. Examples are numerous, to name a few, we have adorable, applicable, curable, observable, operable, portable, probable for -able, and divisible, edible, feasible, legible, permissible, plausible, possible for -ible.
These two suffixes carry exactly the same meaning, i.e. “capable of V-ing”, or more often “capable of being V-ed”, where V is a verb constituting the stem of the word. For instance, applicable describes something that is “capable of being applied“, and changeable describes something that is “capable of changing/being changed”. They are, however, not interchangeable, as illustrated by the non-existence of the words *probible and *possable. Why, then, do some words use -able and others -ible?
Back then when I was in Form 3 (Grade 9), I came across this song called “I’ll never get over you getting over me“ from the American group Exposé. I was stuck at the title of the song. No matter how many times I looked at it, I just could not understand what it means. Years later, when I listen to this song again now, I know what went wrong.