This Premise is alarmed!

This Premise is alarmed!
Facebook status doesn’t normally give me cause to geek out and blog, so forgive me for poor blogging ability, however, perusing the various status updates yesterday, a came across this from my Uncle who lives in Singapore:

‘And another thing … since when is it correct to say “This premise is alarmed” rather than “These premises are alarmed” ? Or is that just me ?’

There followed numerous comments from the tory family (i.e. my Mum) wailing about the lack of good English around, something about saying ‘blue colour’ when you only have to say blue, and the capital crime of ending sentences with ‘already’….enough already! But this looks to me like a really interesting case of either

  • co-activation of syntax in bilingual language production or even simpler,
  • a funny but perfectly understandable overgeneralisation of the English plural.

Both of those ideas are based on the assumption that the perpetrator of this specific CRIME AGAINST THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE has English as their L2, but I don’t think that’s too farfetched considering that any L1 English speaker would have a little chuckle at ‘this premise is alarmed’.
So I’ll start with the co-activation of syntax one. It’s pretty much accepted as fact these days that a bilingual speaker doesn’t switch off one language when they’re using the other; both languages are active at the same time. That means that whenever a bilingual speaker thinks of a concept, in this example ‘business dwelling’ (or something like that), they’ve got at least two lexical items available to them and each lexical items has a sort of tag saying ‘I’m the English one’ and ‘I’m the x one.

I would hazard a guess that in this speaker’s L1, the word denoting the concept ‘business dwelling’ is a singular noun, whereas the one denoting the same concept in their English L2 is the plural noun ‘premises’. The criminal has obviously gone into their mental resources, looked at the options available to them and taken the English option, but attached the grammatical features of the L1 option resulting in ‘premise.’

The second option is actually quite reasonable. Maybe when this sign was written, the thought process went something like (picture pen in mouth and deep concentration):

“ah ha, yes, not a house, a premises. Whoah there, hang on, -es? But I’ve only got alarms all over one? Right, must have to take off the –s. Ha! This Premise is alarmed! Bob’s your uncle!”

Funnily enough, Bob actually is my Uncle and the author of that update so had to get it in there somewhere (boom boom!).
Anyway, that’s the end of this little blog; it amused me for a few minutes [already]!

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