Death of the apostrophe

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Death of the apostrophe

Post by trolley » Sun Dec 08, 2019 7:38 pm

an article from our local newspaper this morning

https://www.timescolonist.com/news/loca ... 1.24030456
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Re: Death of the apostrophe

Post by Dunkeld » Mon Dec 09, 2019 5:51 am

The poor apostrophe!
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Re: Death of the apostrophe

Post by Phil White » Mon Dec 09, 2019 3:24 pm

Nice spot, trolley!

One of the more amusing diatribes on the subject. But it also helped me to put the whole thing into sharp focus. As you know, I listen to text nowadays rather than attempting to read it visually. The voices I use to do so are extremely high quality, very natural sounding voices. I cannot hear the difference between "who's" and "whose", between "it's" and "its", or between "theirs" and "there's". And for good reason. There is no difference. I had to read that particular text very slowly with a magnifier to get the side-swipes, although I suspected they were there.

The truth is that all punctuation, and the apostrophe in particular, has been on a long journey over the years, and that journey is still continuing. In my copy of "The Voyage of the Beagle", almost all subordinate clauses are delimited by commas, most nouns are written with a capital letter and, unless I am very mistaken, "volcanoes" was written "volcano's". I suspect that my presentation edition uses the punctuation from the first edition. It causes a Spock-like raised eyebrow for the first few minutes, but does not impact on my reading pleasure. After all, we dare not question Darwin's use of punctuation, dare we?

I have often said that there are very few "rules" of punctuation in English. Different people follow different guidelines to try to make their texts as readable as possible, but consensus is limited.

If we hear " jɔː nʌts" in a conversation, it is only pragmatics that tells us whether "your nuts" or "you're nuts" is meant. And we disambiguate such things constantly when we are listening to speech. There is no earthly reason why we should distinguish between the two in writing, but the conventions that have grown up over the years demand that we should do so. The rules are mere convention, nothing more.

It is generally accepted that the apostrophe first appeared (around the middle of the sixteenth century) to indicate that a sound (usually a vowel) had been missed out, so we had things like "play'd" instead of "played". And this is also the explanation behind the use of the apostrophe to indicate the Saxon genitive. In Middle English, the remnants of the genitive case could still be seen in things like "the kinges booke". Sometime at the end of the Middle English period, people stopped pronouncing the "e", but printers wanted to indicate that it had once been there. Why? If we say "playd" and "kings", why on earth should we not also spell them thus? Indeed, with the simple past, the use of the apostrophe was drop't at some point and the "e" was reinstated. Why? It bears no relation to the way we pronounce the words.

Actually, I have long felt that the "rules" of grammar and punctuation that the Misters Angry of Surbiton get so agitated about in fact say a lot more about a slavish belief in the innate superiority of the educated classes than it does about practical literacy or the independent thinking that characterizes genuine intelligence.

And yes, I am becoming increasingly politically, socially and linguistically anarchic in my old age...
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Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

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