June 04, 2009

Preposition Choice: No Hope

Hopeful Survivors?
The old feeder used to teach Turks how to use English prepositions. It was difficult because the Turkish language doesn't use prepositions. They use agglutinated postpositions.

I found two internet news headlines that were trying to say the same thing: that there won't be any survivors from the Air France flight that crashed into the Atlantic. The editors' choice of prepositions, however, yielded two very different meanings. Read the headlines and see if you can spot the problem:
  • Air France says no hope of survivors in Atlantic - AP
  • Air France says no hope for survivors - ABC News
I emphasized the operative prepositions. See the difference in meaning?

The first headline says it right, we shouldn't hold out any hope that there were any survivors of the catastrophe. The second headline implies that there were survivors, but that they have no hope of rescue.

Its is sad to see professional users of the English language screw it up so badly. It isn't just the American Way that is dying. Our language is dying with it.
Sample lesson from my teaching notes:
You are at the firing range. Do you fire your weapon [by - toward - near - at - in - to] the target?
Choose the appropriate preposition.
The Turks generally chose toward or to. With prepositions, there aren't always clear cut rules, only acceped usages which must be learned by rote. Still, nuanced choices DO affect meaning. Click the post title for a preposition quiz.

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