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This is from an American Youtuber's video. Mr. Beast comparing most expensive and the cheapest hotels (see: 4:06-4:08)

In the video, they compare the cheapest and the most expensive hotels, and while he is showing the 50.000-USD-per-day hotel, he says:

I thought the 50 grand was getting me a island.

He says so with an emphasis, and the subtitle say "a island", too(because this is what he said), and the subtitles are not automatic, so it could not have been misspelled. So, I checked all possibilities of error just in case, and he clearly says "a island", putting a particular stress on it. No doubt about that.

I did not understand why he used it that way. I can't simply say it was a slip of tongue, because he said it with a pause and with an emphasis "....a island."

There must be a reason for it, but what?

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    The only reason to purposefully say a island would be to indicate you are purposefully not saying an island. Aside from that there is no other purpose.
    – EllieK
    Commented Jun 20, 2023 at 18:22
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    He may have said it, and emphasized it, and it might even be written in the subtitles. However it's still wrong. It should be "an island". I'm not going to comment as to why he said it, because what I actually think could be considered unkind.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Jun 20, 2023 at 21:42
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    The short answer is that native speakers of a language can sometimes speak it incorrectly in a way which would not be in a textbook or ''swallow'' sounds which appear at the ends of words, I'm sure it's the same in your native language? In Arabic, the difference between textbook and spoken language is even larger. Commented Jun 21, 2023 at 11:12
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    Do not rely on the fact that someone is a native speaker. Saying "a island" is wrong. In fact, many native speakers who are supposed to be experts on the English language, e.g. editors, will use verbs as nouns because they think it makes them sound clever. It does not.
    – John Douma
    Commented Jun 21, 2023 at 11:29
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    I think - at least the emphasis - is because it contrasts his though of getting one (1) island, but from the short scene it seems that the price includes 14 islands. Commented Jun 21, 2023 at 18:22

6 Answers 6

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The change a -> an is not a grammar rule, it exists just to make speech flow more easily. The term for this (from Sanskrit) is sandhi.

In this example the word "a" is separated, emphasised and pronounced as "ei". There is no attempt to form flowing speech with an unstressed article. So the speaker has (instinctively) broken all the rules of sandhi, in order to use the emphatic form "ei".

In terms of normal speech this is simply a mistake. Don't emulate.

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    It depends on the next word, not the noun. "An area" is correct as is "A large area" and "An empty car" and "A car". French has a similar thing. The bank is "le banc" (la bank) whereas the child is "l'enfant" (law faw). Then, The Banks becomes "les banc" (lay bank). English is not the only crazy language out there. Commented Jun 21, 2023 at 4:59
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    @OsamaBinLogin I wouldn’t say this is crazy, it’s just that it’s a rule of English phonology not English syntax (IOW, sequences of sounds matter, not sentence structure, but it’s still part of English grammar). And it actually does make it easier to to correctly understand the spoken language (humans are not good at clearly differentiating sequential vowels without intervening consonants, and it also provides a bit of in-band error correction). Commented Jun 21, 2023 at 11:34
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    @OsamaBinLogin French word "banc" translates to "bench" in English, not "bank".
    – Stef
    Commented Jun 21, 2023 at 12:27
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    @Osama You don't speak French, eh? Your point about sandhi is correct, but not the other details: «Le banc» means "the bench" and is pronounced /lə bɑ̃/ (not "la bank" */la bank, -ɑ̃k/); you're probably thinking of «la banque» /la bɑ̃k/ "the bank". And for plurals, you need to pluralize the noun too: «les bancs» / «les banques». Secondarily, "law faw" needs to be nasalized and doesn't work in English accents where "aw" is [ɔ~o]: /lɑ̃fɑ̃/.
    – wjandrea
    Commented Jun 21, 2023 at 19:16
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    tl,dr; He's intentionally breaking normal convention to stress that he means a single island.
    – ikegami
    Commented Jun 22, 2023 at 15:31
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It should be "an", he misspoke. He is focused on putting emphasis on the singular article to highlight he's not just getting one island, he's getting many. The pronunciation of "a" as "eh" emphasizes the singularity of the item, as opposed to pronouncing it like "uh" which denotes singularity but doesn't emphasize it. But since it's followed by a word starting with a vowel sound, it should be "an island" no matter what.

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    I would edit out "he misspoke". He intentionally used non-textbook English, but that's not a mistake, and even if it were a mistake he meant to say it that way. Commented Jun 21, 2023 at 5:59
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    @GregMartin He intentionally puts emphasis on the word, but I don't see any indication that he's intentionally being non-grammatical and purposefully choosing to say "a" instead of "an". The emphatic effect would be no different by saying "an". Commented Jun 21, 2023 at 13:00
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    Plus one but disagree with your comment. If you put as much emphasis on an an as he does with his a you'd need a throat lozenge. It's followed by a pause so long that it might as well be an ellipsis; whatever you want comes after that. Which in my mind after that a is the saying, 'A. Singular. Uno. One.' Island. - "emphasizes the singularity of the item" +1.
    – Mazura
    Commented Jun 22, 2023 at 0:06
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The use of "a" instead of "an" before a vowel isn't misspeaking. It's just not common in most standard dialects.

It usually comes from African American English, but has spread more widely - it's also heard in the UK in some registers and locations, unrestricted by race, so hearing it from a white speaker isn't surprising. I've also heard it from a (white female, accent sounds Californian to my British ears) YouTuber my daughter used to watch.

While the "a" is stressed here, articles aren't normally stressed. That's to emphasise the singular nature of his expectation, as has already been said. It adds a little confusion but I'm sure it's the same phenomenon.

This article from the New York Times in 1985 uses some rather dated terminology around racial issues, but is worth noting for the following quote:

Many of the characteristics of the black vernacular have long been familiar. Among them are the substitution of ''a'' for ''an'' before a vowel, as in, ''a apple''

What I find more surprising comes very shortly afterwards: "how many is included?". Many would normally be used with a plural ("how many are included?"). I'm not sure whether to characterise this as naturally informal speech, a deliberate attempt to come across as uneducated, or something in between.

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Previous answers have correctly discussed how swapping a/an for emphasis occasionally happens in some dialects. In this case, MrBeast swapped "an" for "a" to emphasize that he was expecting just one island, but got fourteen.

I haven't seen anyone give any other examples, though. I'll put forward Jeremy Clarkson. He often does this for humorous effect.

That said, this is considered a mistake in any professional or technical writing or speaking.

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You are correct. It should be "AN island."

There is no deep reason. Sometimes people make mistakes. Sometimes even on purpose.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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Nobody speaks standard English (or standard Japanese, or standard Swahili, or whatever). Each of us speaks an idiolect, i.e.

... an individual's unique use of language, including speech. This unique usage encompasses vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. This differs from a dialect, a common set of linguistic characteristics shared among a group of people.

From the same Wikipedia article:

... contrasts with a view among non-linguists, at least in the United States, that languages as ideal systems exist outside the actual practice of language users: Based on work done in the US, Nancy Niedzielski and Dennis Preston describe a language ideology that appears to be common among American English speakers. According to Niedzielski and Preston, many of their subjects believe that there is one "correct" pattern of grammar and vocabulary that underlies Standard English, and that individual usage comes from this external system.

I suggest that you try to master one dialect, whichever one is perceived as prestigious where you live (if you already in an English-speaking country), or where you plan to relocate, or one which is used in your academic field (Maybe look at published papers, and then try to track down some talks by those authors).

There must be a reason for it, but what?

I call that "the conspiracy theory of language";-)

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