When was the indefinite article "an" removed from the English language?

And why wasn’t i informed?

Seriously, it seems that lately, particularly in spoken English, the indefinite article “an” has just about disappeared from everyday usage. This morning while driving a friend to the airport i was listening to public radio and, in short order, the announcer referred to “a obstacle” and “a announcement.”

I’ve noticed this more and more over the past year or so, particularly in the media. Newsreaders, political commentators, sports announcers, you name it—they all seem to have dropped “an” from their vocabulary altogether. This happens even in situations where the person in question is reading from an autocue, so either the person setting up the text for the autocue is barely literate, or the person doing the talking just glides straight past the correct usage and imposes his or her ignorance on the narrative.

Has anyone else noticed this? Am i being oversensitive? I’m no unreconstructed prescriptivist when it comes to grammar and usage, but some things just annoy the fuck out of me, and this is one of them.

Why, I was talking to an historian about this just the other day…

Not only does it not sound right, I can’t say it that way either. The words just don’t flow. Where they pronouncing it as a long a or a short a?

Annoys the fuck out of me, too. The other day my daughter and I were listening to the radio in the car and some dumbass announcer spoke about renting “a apartment”. My daughter (16 years old) turned to me and said, “Did you hear what he said? I think he’s a asshole.” :smiley:

Did the person have an accent of any type? I have a friend whose first language is German and I noticed he will often do this?

We’ve had fairly heated debates about this on the SDMB. I’m one of those who comes down on the side of changing the accepted use to “a historian”, for precisely the reason you give – it doesn’t sound right. But that’s largely due to pronunciation changes. If you don’t aspirate that “h”, then it comes out more like “istorian”, and the use of “an” isn’t awkward.

The rule clearly isn’t “a before words beginning with consonants and an before words starting with vowels”, because no one says “an unicorn”.

I agree - it’s all in the pronunciation of the trailing word. I should have made more clear the division between my smart ass remark and my comment on the OP. I asked how a is being pronounced because I can make the constructions in the OP work a bit better with a long a.

My impression is that “an historian” (with a silent h) is the British phrase and “a historian” (with a hard h) is American. They’re both correct, based on how the word “historian” is pronounced.

I haven’t really noticed a decline in the use of “an” in American speech (although I have noticed that drunk people often stop using it). However, let me be the first to gently chide Mhendo for his uncapitalized “i”.

(Sorry about the split infinitive. I try not to unnecessarily split them. I also never end a sentence with a preposition unless I can’t think of anything else to end it with.)

I would say “…a history exam,” but “…an historical period”. For whatever reason, the latter “h” is much less aspirated when I say it. Maybe it’s to do with which syllable is accented.

Why the hell would anybody do that? I always thought that the whole point of “an” was that it’s easier to say “an obstacle” than “a obstacle.”

True, but Unicorn is pronounced as if it were “Youny-corn” .It’s ben a while, so I can’t recall the linguistic term for it, but I think there’s actually a very simple rule in place.

I would say “…a history exam,” but “…an historical period”. For whatever reason, the latter “h” is much less aspirated when I say it. QUOTE]
Same here.

I hates me dem pipples what cain’t talk roight. :smiley:
I haven’t yet come across any examples like the ones you cite, but just reading about them makes my ears hurt. Maybe there’s some broadcasting/sound engineering reason for the practice? Yeah, I’m reaching…

Thanks a lot, now I’m running around saying “Youny-corn! Yoooouny-corn!” I never realized it was such a fun word before.

An unicorn is an horse with an horn.

Yeah, me too. This is one rule that seemed to have some practicality behind it, unlike some of the more arbitrary-seeming grammatical rules.

The rule is that you use ‘a’ before a vowel sound. The first sound in ‘unicorn’ is a ‘y’ (j in phonetic script), which is a glide. It can be considered a half-vowel, because it works like a vowel sometimes (like in ‘fly’), but in unicorn it’s working as a consonant.

I’ve read ‘an history’ and that’s what my GF says, but it sounds weird to me. A obstacle would sound like a five-year-old, though I guess it’s not surprising; there does seem to be a tendency towards simplifying grammar rules recently. Damned if I can think of many examples off the top of my head; the blending of ‘less’ and ‘fewer,’ perhaps? Using male job endings for all genders (Julia Roberts, the actor)? Dropping the ‘were’ in second conditionals? Actually, dropping were for third person altogether in some British dialects - moreso than before. Just a general impression overall really.

Yes, the rule is based on sound. It amazes me how many people are tripped up by this. That’s why it’s “a unicorn,” but “an umbrella.” It’s “an FBI agent” and “a UFO researcher,” but “an UNMIK delegation.” (United Nations Mission in Kosovo. Sorry…couldn’t think of a better acronym starting with a short “u” offhand.)

As a long “a,” pretty much rhyming with “day.”

That’s excellent.

Yes, the person had an accent—standard broadcast American.

Believe me, if i thought the issue was merely related to having English as a second language, i wouldn’t have brought it up. I’m definitely talking about people for whom English is their first language.

Well, this is something i do only in informal settings like the message boards and friendly emails. Furthermore, unlike the mixing up of the indefinite article that i discuss in the OP, my lack of capitalization doesn’t change the way that the sentence reads, or the way it sounds when spoken.

That’s pretty standard practice, i believe, and is the course of action recommended by my copy of Fowler’s Modern English Usage (3rd editon, ed. R.W. Burchfield).

Interestingly, Bryan Garner, who writes what i think is about the best usage dictionary focusing on American English (A Dictionary of Modern American Usage), recommends putting “a” before both “history” and “historical.” He believes that nowdays terms like “an hypothesis and an historical are likely to strike readers and listeners as affectations.” He quotes Mark Twain as saying that “Correct writers of the American language do not put an before” words like humble, heroic, and historical.

Garner, amusingly enough, finishes his entry thus:

I tend to follow Garner’s rule, although i had been doing that before i ever read Garner’s book.

Yeah, that’s what really gets me. As Revtim suggests, there are plenty of grammatical rules that seems rather arbitrary, and which i don’t get too worked up over. But this is one rule that actually makes sense in terms of ease of speaking and of listening.

I taught the difference between “a” and “an” at my ESL class the other day. My students won’t be doing this.

There is a very simple rule in place. If you can hear a consonant (and Y in this case apparently counts as a consonant–that’s what you hear), you don’t need the “n.”

(Depending, of course, on your stylebook. There is a much more cumbersome way, in a stylebook I otherwise like, involving whether the stress is on the first syllable of the word beginning with H. Or whether the word beginning with H derived from a language where the H was not pronounced, such as French or Cockney English.)

(Oh, just kidding about the Cockney English. I think.)