Wednesday, December 15, 2004

X & not X

Blogging has slowed down and will probably continue to be slow because I've just started work. Well, that is to say, I have started going to the office, which is a very different thing from "working". When I get into a groove I'll try to start posting more regularly.

On our way back from my office yesterday, I spotted a sign saying "Vegetarian & Non-Vegetarian Restaurant". You can guess my reaction: "Why don't they just say 'Restaurant'???" My dad had a similar reaction when he saw the sign a couple of days earlier, I hear. Makes logical sense, don't it? After all, "X & not X" potentially includes everything in the world and doesn't give you any information, right?

My mum begged to differ, though: she pointed out that vegetarians might be attracted to that restaurant, because they would be sure to find something that suited them. Similarly, carnivores would be sure that they could find something to eat, too. So to both these groups, the sign gave significant amount of information, ridiculous as it first appeared to my dad and me.

Second thing: I've just noticed that Singaporeans have a way of substituting "in" for "at", myself included. I would say "I'm in C. University" and find that perfectly natural, until someone who shall remain nameless reacted badly to the in and said, "You're at C. University, not in it!" Then yesterday, my sister said, "When I was in the San Diego Zoo", which drew a snort from me (not to mention a significant amount of teasing afterwards) because she seemed to be referring to herself as one of the long-term residents.

So there seems to be a tendency among Singaporeans to refer to being in a wide, open-space area (though with clearly delineated boundaries) although most other people would say at. It reminds me of a mistake I made when learning Hungarian: you're supposed to say, more or less, "on the university" rather than "in the university". It's considered a surface rather than an enclosed space when choosing the appropriate locational suffix. I think for Americans it might be a toss-up which one they'd choose. For me, "in" was the most natural choice, and I was pretty startled when it turned out not to be the right one.

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