Where did the article go?
This afternoon, Amrita in Class 5 asked me about the answer to the following question
11._______, he does not know the answer.A. As he is a teacherB. As he is teacherC. A teacher as he isD. Teacher as he is
This is one of those typical Chinese questions about English. A. might be the correct answer in context and would mean to me that because the person is a teacher, he doesn’t know the answer to a question (perhaps about some other job). B. is ungrammatical for want of an article. I’d also regard C. and D. as ungrammatical because the conjunction as is a barrier to the fronting of NPs. My first inclination (pretending that there was nothing untoward about the utterance) was to opt for D. (which is the correct answer according to the answer key), but I then thought about it, and wondered about C. because of the absence of the article in D. when “teacher” was fronted.
But the conjunction which I felt ought to be used here is though; and it’s clear from other questions in the set that they’re all about fronting of the sort in the question above. Though A. is actually the only grammatical answer (as far as my grammar is concerned), the sentence obviously isn’t supposed to mean “Because he’s a teacher etc.”, but is, rather, adversative. It was when I was thinking about this in the shower (where I do all my best work) that I realised that something may go missing when an NP in a though-clause gets fronted, namely the article, hence “Teacher though he is etc.” beside “A teacher though he is etc.” I can only say “Though he is a teacher”, but not *though he is teacher.
There are very few instances of this construction to be found via Google, which suggests that it’s literary. The only instance of this phrase which I can recall is from Chapter 6 (Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire) of The Hobbit:
Now you can understand why Gandalf, listening to their growling and yelping, began to be dreadfully afraid, wizard though he was, and to feel that they were in a very bad place and had not yet escaped at all. (My italics.)
Now if I put “wizard” back where it came from, I end up with the ungrammatical *though he was wizard. Has the article vanished, and if so, why? Was the article never there in the first place, and if it wasn’t, why would my grammar allow this ungrammatical intermediate stage? Not being a syntactician, I have no answers to offer. I do note, though, that this construction sounds less natural when the conjunction is although.
- This may be a common error in the peculiar world of school-quality Chinglish. A search for the phrase “teacher as he is” yielded “Teacher as he is, he cannot finish task in an hour” from another Chinese source.
- I have a preference for the former, but find nothing objectionable about the use of the article in the latter.
- Unfortunately, Google ignores punctuation, which yields a large number of useless results. A brief search through a few pdf documents has proved fruitless, although I’m not surprised because of the apparent rarity of the construction in the first place.