Page 57 of the Dec. 25, 2006/Jan. 1, 2007 New Yorker, in a piece by Julian Barnes called “The past conditional“:
In the car on the way back to London, we had an–to me–even more peculiar exchange about my niece and her boyfriend.
- For Julian Barnes or an editor, a/an allomorph choice can skip over a parenthetical.
- It’s just an error; Barnes and editors would have changed it if they’d noticed it. Maybe Barnes wrote an even more peculiar exchange and inserted to me later, neglecting to change an to a.
Still, it makes me wonder. Are there English speakers for whom the choice between a and an can (or must??) ignore, in some circumstances, what immediately follows? If so, what are the syntactic or prosodic conditions?
And if not–if all English speakers would consider the above example to be an error–how common are speech errors in which the choice between a and an gets locked in before the speaker decides to insert some more material? Does the error’s frequency vary as a function of syntax or prosody? I pose these as serious questions: maybe someone has looked at this, if not for a/an then maybe for a similar case.
What do you think of a/an before um and other hesitations? I can’t decide what I think about these (imagine the following as fairly fluent utterances):
- It’s a(n), um, strong argument.
- It’s a(n), um, uneven surface.
(I can imagine at least three possibilities: always use a before um; always use an before um; always act as though the um weren’t there, assuming you’ve already got the next word lined up in your speech plan.)