The Use of the Zero-Indefinite Article in Singapore English

Term Paper, 2018
15 Pages, Grade: 2,3




1 Methodology

2 Findings

3 Discussion of the findings





Singapore is a country with a remarkable linguistic diversity. This is due to the “heterogeneous population” (Lim, 2012:2) and numerous ethnic groups which inhabit it. Over the years, the different languages in Singapore, dominated by Chinese dialects like Mandarin, Hokkien or Cantonese, had to compete with another input variety as a result of “permanent British settlement” in 1819 (Leimgruber, 2013:1), namely British English. Nowadays, it is the language of government, business, law courts, science and also education (cf. Lim, 2012:5). English is taught in school as the “First Language” (Lim, 2012:5), whereas the people’s mother tongue stands behind.

Finally, a variety called ‘Singapore English’ (SgE), which had a significant input from both, the prevalent Chinese variety Mandarin and British English, evolved and is constantly positioned between influences of these two.

In contact varieties of English, like SgE is one, various features which distinguish the language emerged. Often, they are even pervasive or obligatory, although they do not occur in Standard English (StE). One of them is the zero-indefinite article where StE requires one. This seminar paper will investigate the usage of the zero-indefinite article in SgE. It is supposed to reveal how often speakers of SgE actually realize the indefinite article in a communication, either spoken or written, and if they do not make use of it, in which contexts the omission occurs.

This aspect is of particular interest for the whole topic of World Englishes, because speakers of StE often tend to consider features of a variety as a mistake. But they are not only learner-errors, there is an underlying pattern and a reason for the occurrence of such features and this term paper aspires to provide an impulse in reference to approach the structure of indefinite article omission in SgE.

In the beginning of the seminar paper, the conducted method and the approach which led to the findings will be explained. Afterwards, the findings are presented and visualized. This quantitative analysis is supposed to provide an overview about the actual frequency of the usage or omission of the indefinite article in SgE. In the following, this will lead to the discussion of the results. A qualitative approach is conducted to reveal the context in which a specific utterance occurs and attempts to explain why an indefinite article has been omitted. This is done in order to adequately interpret the findings and to come to a final statement, which then will be summarized in the conclusion.

The research field concerning this particular topic is rather unexamined. In some monographies, e.g. by Lisa Lim, and in the study by Pornter, indefinite article omission in SgE has been indicated. But until now, there are no specific studies which investigate the zero-indefinite article usage in SgE.

1 Methodology

This chapter is supposed to explain the approach which has been used to conduct this research project. It will reveal the applied method which served to gather information. Furthermore, potential complications and a solution to resolve these are demonstrated. This study’s data is drawn from the Singapore component of the International Corpus of English. It is compounded by written and spoken data. The spoken records consist of private as well as public conversations, especially comprising a legal or political context. The written data stems from a prevalent academic sphere. It can be inferred that most of the people who are involved in the communications of the corpus data are on an educated level.

This research project aspires to investigate the usage of the zero-indefinite article where StE requires one. In this case, the variable under investigation is the indefinite article, which can either be realized as the standard variant a or an (cf. Huddleston, 2002:371) or as the non-standard variant zero article and therefore be omitted. To examine a not realized feature, it is indispensable to take the context in which StE would require a realization of it into consideration. As this is the case in various contexts in StE, the topic is curtailed to the application of the different variants to occupational titles. This examination of contexts in which the indefinite article would be realized in StE illustrates the starting point for the conduction of this research project, because the not articulated non-standard variant cannot be directly searched for.

In StE the indefinite article “is the most basic indicator of indefiniteness for singular count nouns” (Huddleston, 2002:371) and is required in a variety of contexts, as “the use of determiners is obligatory with noun phrases” (McCabe, 2013:67). One scenario, which illustrates at the same time the starting point for this term paper, is the usage of the indefinite article in combination with a title of occupation. To be more precise, this “non- quantitative use of a is found in ascriptive predicative complements indicating simple set membership” (Huddleston, 2002:372). This implies that the indefinite article a or an is required in sentences like (1) and (2).

(1) Jane is a doctor.
(2) Jack is an architect.

In example (1) and (2) it is indicated that Jane and Jack belong to “the set denoted by the noun” (Huddleston, 2002:372); doctor and architect. At first, the aim of this term paper was to search for such constructions and subsequently examine them with regard to a realized or not realized indefinite article before the occupational title. But for the purpose of this research project, all instances of indefinite article omission in front of an occupational title, where StE requires a realization, have to be included and reflected on due to the rather infrequent usage of such very fixed constructions as (1) and (2). Another constraint which has been added to this research serves to focus only on variable contexts in which a variation is possible. This would not hold for instances in which the terms doctor or manager are used as a title, not as a profession. For this reason, such occurrences have been subtracted from the original concordance hits.

With the aim of gathering information on the actual frequency of occurrence of both variants in the context of a denoted profession, two quantitative approaches have been applied. The first is based on the search for individual terms of profession like teacher, manager, worker or student. The concordances which occurred for each occupation were investigated with regard to their L1 position or even further in case of e.g. adjective usage. The non-standard instances of article omission have been collected and contrasted to the frequency of the standard variant usage. In a second quantitative approach, to complement the rather infrequent occurrences of the zero-article variant, a file of spoken data has been examined in its entirety with respect to the application or omission of the indefinite article in general. All instances of zero-indefinite article usage and standard indefinite article usage have been counted and contrasted with each other. This approach served not only the purpose of adding more examples to the rather rare findings of the first one, but also proves that the examined infrequency of article omission in the first approach cannot be attributed to the kind of applied method.

From the following qualitative perspective, the instances of non-standard variant application have been examined in further detail by considering the correspondent file of the recorded conversation. For this purpose, the context of the sentence in which the zero- article occurred has been of interest.

2 Findings

The first adopted method to gather information about the frequency of the usage of the standard indefinite article has been the word-list approach. The researched professions teacher, doctor, manager, student, director and worker showed a rather wide range of concordance hits; whereas worker only had 47 hits, student had 199. In the following, the corresponding concordances of all terms after the extraction of titles in doctor, manager and director are presented.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Table 1: Frequency of usage of the different variants

It is clearly visible that the majority of the speakers tend to maintain the StE realization of the indefinite article where it is obligatory. There are only 21 instances of article omission out of 713 cases where the standard requires the indefinite one; in 692 occurrences, the indefinite article was used correctly according to the StE grammars. This indicates that in 3% of all investigated utterances, the non-standard variant zero-indefinite article is realized by the speaker. In 97%, the speaker prefers the standard variant over indefinite article omission.

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Table 2: Non-standard variant context

But it cannot be referred to all producers of concordance hits as ‘speakers’, as one occurrence out of the 21 non-standard variations is contributed by written language.


Excerpt out of 15 pages


The Use of the Zero-Indefinite Article in Singapore English
Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
zero-indefinite, article, singapore, english
Quote paper
Anonymous, 2018, The Use of the Zero-Indefinite Article in Singapore English, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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