Apr 3, 2007

Every word is a lie, including the non-existent the

British sailor didn't write "confession." Her captors did.
It's not quite as bad as the spammers' "I need of your assistance" or "within the nearest time", but L/S Faye Turney's most recent letter of "confession", released by the Iranian embassy in London on March 30, really doesn't read like something that a native speaker of English would write. Some of its infelicities might be attributed to stress, lack of practice in writing, or Shropshire vernacular, but it seems much more likely that the text of the letter was largely dictated by Turney's Iranian captors.

Let's take a look at this theory as it applies to the letter's first two out-of-tune phrases -- the salutation and the first sentence.

The first problem is between the first and second words in the salutation, "To British People". This feels wrong -- L/S Turney ought to be addressing herself "To the British People". As a syntactician of slavic origin is said to have explained, "in English, is sometimes necessary to use article". Persian lacks definite articles, and so the subtleties of their use in English are likely to be difficult for native speakers of Persian to master.

Via Noah Schachtman.

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