Date: 2006-06-07 22:34:00
Tags: nz, language
kiwi english

After being here for a couple of months, I've started to notice all sorts of ways in which Kiwi english is different from North American english. The most obvious difference in spoken language is pronunciation, eg. head is pronounced like heed, backpack sounds like beckpeck, fish and chips is like fush and chups. In written language, spelling is the most obvious difference (colour vs. color, organise vs. organize).

One aspect that's a bit different that I hadn't expected is prepositions. Until recently, I thought english speakers used prepositions in pretty much the same way. Perhaps I should have known better than to assume that, because there are definitely some differences:

New Zealand EnglishNorth American English
Not On Service (eg. a bus)Not In Service
What did you do at the weekend?What did you do on the weekend?
Call us on 555 1212Call us at 555-1212
Your balance as at 12:34 is ...Your balance as of 12:34 is ...

It's easy enough for me to adapt to the spelling here (especially since words such as "colour" are spelled the same way in Canadian english) since I have time to think about spelling when I'm typing, but it's going to take a bit more work to come up with the locally correct preposition fast enough when I'm speaking. Then again, since my accent will likely never be anything close to Kiwi, I would hope my funny use of prepositions will be easily excused.

The preposition usage sounds like British English (not too surprisingly). Most of the ESL textbooks here use British English, so I am sometimes caught off guard by their use of prepositions. Combine that with non-native English speakers using inappropriate literal translations from Polish prepositions (or lack of preposition, e.g. "explain me" instead of "explain to me"), and it gets kind of wacky!
I would think "explain me" is legit since it is still Verb-subject. Omission of the "to" is probably not critical, since other imperatives omit it, such as "bring me", "give me", "teach me", "tell me", etc. and I can think of other verbs like "Describe me [object clause]" which would not sound incorrect without the preposition (and you sometimes encounter this in victorian era writing).
[info]goulo : explain/describe to me your experience with this usage
Yes, there are contructions like "tell me a story" and "give me the book" which appear to have two objects, but I don't believe that is legit with any arbitrary verb. I've never heard a native English speaker say "explain me the book". (Have you?)

In theory and in my observation, the direct object of the transitive verb "explain" is always the object being explained, e.g. "explain the book to me", not the person receiving the explanation.

"Explain me" sounds like the questioner wants an explanation about themselves.

Do you actually hear native English speakers say things like "Describe me the book"? That certainly sounds, um, peculiar if not incorrect to me. I always hear "describe" used with a preposition for the person receiving the explanation, e.g. "Describe the book to me" or "Describe the book for me".
[info]mskala : Re: explain/describe to me your experience with this usage
Any given verb takes what in computer programming would be called "arguments" (I'm not sure what grammarians call them) that have different purposes. The one called "subject" is usually the thing or person doing the action. The one called "object" is usually the thing or person the action is being done to. In English, the subject is required, and the object may be required, optional, or not allowed depending on the particular verb. Some verbs also take other arguments that may or may not be allowed or required and are almost always tagged with prepositions. Those are typically called "indirect" objects.

Different languages differ in how they show which argument is which. In English and French, subject and object are implied with word order and the others (usually) need special words that show "this is an indirect object of such-and-such type". In Japanese, subject and object (and "topic", but that's another issue) need to be tagged too, and the tags come after the words ("postpositions") instead of before. It sounds like maybe in Polish, secondary objects can go without tags more often than would be allowed in English.

Now... "explain" takes a subject (whoever's doing the explaining) and usually an object (what is being explained). It can also take an optional secondary object, usually with "to" or possibly "for", for the person receiving the explanation. Those three are not interchangeable.

If you say "Explain me the book" then you've got two noun phrases jammed into the "object" word order slot, and presumably one of them is supposed to be the secondary object, but you aren't saying which is which. That's not English: with most English verbs including "explain", you must tag the secondary object with a preposition to show the difference between "Explain to me the book" and "Explain me to the book". Maybe in Polish, that relationship would usually be shown with word order, and it would be considered okay because one of those meanings is nonsensical and can maybe be discounted. There are a few verbs in English that can show secondary objects with word order, like "give": "Give me the book."

Of course, that's pretty much what you and other posters already said. I guess my point is only that this is something the grammar folks know about and have described precisely.
[info]cowbert : Re: explain/describe to me your experience with this usage
Yeah I dunno. I am pretty sure I have head "Describe me the book." It most likely was based on British English though.
As [info] said, your examples would apply to UK English as much as NZ English (except for the "on service" one). US English has a lot of oddities: I've never come across "different than" except from an American.

You've got me started now. There's one grammatical thing that really winds me up. If you say to an American "Have you got [whatever]?" then the reply is often "I do" rather than "I have", and the speaker can't see anything wrong with that!
[info]kvarko : But "have" isn't a helper verb in that question...
It could be short for the response "I do have it", where "do" is emphasizing the positive response (as similarly in "I do indeed have it").

So it looks like "I do" should be an acceptible shortening of the acceptible response "I do have it". (In fact, thinking about it, just saying "I have it" seems pretty cold. I would only say that if I were in a hurry or angry or something. Given that I would most often say "I do have it", it seems reasonable that I would most often shorten it to "I do".)

Also, it occurs to me that "have" in your example is the real verb. Unlike "do" which is a helper verb. The word "have" can also be a helper (where it doesn't have the meaning of "possession"). I don't think one can shorten just *any* sentence down to "I "; it can probably only happen for helper verbs. Therefore, "I have" only works if "have" is the helper: "Have you eaten?" "I have." From that perspective, it seems incorrect to shorten "I have the book" to "I have". ... Thinking back on my experience learning Swedish seems to back up this theory: In Swedish, there are a number of shortening constructions similar to this: "Det kan jag" "Det ska jag" etc ("That I can", "That I will"). In these responses to questions, you leave the helper verb and omit the real verb.
[info]kvarko : Re: But "have" isn't a helper verb in that question...
Ah, I misread. You asked "Have you got it" not "Do you have it".

It could be that people are actually hearing your question and not your words :P For instance, I don't think I'd ever say "Have you got it", but I understand the meaning. So I could hear the question, "translate" it, and respond according to how the question would have been asked in "my language". It's maybe the same kind of thing that happens when norwegians and swedes of different dialects talk to each other: A swede understands, say, the word "ikke" but he's not going to use it when he responds back.
In order:

1. No idea.
2. Uniformity. "at <date/time>". American English uses "at <time>" but "on <date>" and "over <period>".
3. Abbreviation. "Call us on [the telephone numbered] 555 1212." Americans abbreviate using "[on the telephone reachable] at..."
4. Abbreviation again. "Your balance as [it was] at 12:34 is ..." Not sure where the American version comes from... "as of" sticks in my mind as a unit.
Greg Hewgill <>