The English Language


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The English Language

Abr 14, 2008, 4:59 pm

On my bookshelves I found a book about the English language. My edition is printed in 1995 and it is written (edited?) by David Crystal. Its title is The Cambridge Encyclopedia of The English Language and it tells a lot about the history, use and geography of this world language. There's a lot of illustrations, maps and tables, and I think this book is a 'must' for language lovers. Recommended!!

Abr 14, 2008, 5:27 pm

I would also recommend English as a Global Language by David Crystal, it was a highly informative book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading...

Abr 14, 2008, 6:09 pm

I just finished his Language and the Internet. There's a post about it over at the "I survived the great vowel shift" group.

Abr 15, 2008, 10:46 am

I was thinking about getting that one in the near future...

Jan 31, 2009, 12:19 pm

The King's English ... er, should that be "The Kings English"? See below:

Its a catastrophe for the apostrophe in Britain
By MEERA SELVA 31 January 2009

LONDON - On the streets of Birmingham, the queen's English is now the queens English.

England's second-largest city has decided to drop apostrophes from all its street signs, saying they're confusing and old-fashioned.

But some purists are downright possessive about the punctuation mark.

It seems that Birmingham officials have been taking a hammer to grammar for years, quietly dropping apostrophes from street signs since the 1950s. Through the decades, residents have frequently launched spirited campaigns to restore the missing punctuation to signs denoting such places as "St. Pauls Square" or "Acocks Green."

This week, the council made it official, saying it was banning the punctuation mark from signs in a bid to end the dispute once and for all.

Councilor Martin Mullaney, who heads the city's transport scrutiny committee, said he decided to act after yet another interminable debate into whether "Kings Heath," a Birmingham suburb, should be rewritten with an apostrophe.

"I had to make a final decision on this," he said Friday. "We keep debating apostrophes in meetings and we have other things to do."

Mullaney hopes to stop public campaigns to restore the apostrophe that would tell passers-by that "Kings Heath" was once owned by the monarchy.

"Apostrophes denote possessions that are no longer accurate, and are not needed," he said. "More importantly, they confuse people. If I want to go to a restaurant, I don't want to have an A-level (high school diploma) in English to find it."

But grammarians say apostrophes enrich the English language.

"They are such sweet-looking things that play a crucial role in the English language," said Marie Clair of the Plain English Society, which campaigns for the use of simple English. "It's always worth taking the effort to understand them, instead of ignoring them."

Mullaney claimed apostrophes confuse GPS units, including those used by emergency services. But Jenny Hodge, a spokeswoman for satellite navigation equipment manufacturer TomTom, said most users of their systems navigate through Britain's sometime confusing streets by entering a postal code rather than a street address.

She said that if someone preferred to use a street name - with or without an apostrophe - punctuation wouldn't be an issue. By the time the first few letters of the street were entered, a list of matching choices would pop up and the user would choose the destination.

A test by The Associated Press backed this up. In a search for London street St. Mary's Road, the name popped up before the apostrophe had to be entered.

There is no national body responsible for regulating place names in Britain. Its main mapping agency, Ordnance Survey, which provides data for emergency services, takes its information from local governments and each one is free to decide how it uses punctuation.

"If councils decide to add or drop an apostrophe to a place name, we just update our data," said Ordnance Survey spokesman Paul Beauchamp. "We've never heard of any confusion arising from their existence."

To sticklers, a missing or misplaced apostrophe can be a major offense.

British grammarians have railed for decades against storekeepers' signs advertising the sale of "apple's and pear's," or pubs offering "chip's and pea's."

In her best-selling book "Eats, Shoots and Leaves," Lynne Truss recorded her fury at the title of the Hugh Grant-Sandra Bullock comedy "Two Weeks Notice," insisting it should be "Two Weeks' Notice."

"Those spineless types who talk about abolishing the apostrophe are missing the point, and the pun is very much intended,"

Jan 31, 2009, 2:03 pm

I hope I can be forgiven for indulging a pet peeve and pointing out that use and placement of apostrophes is not a matter of grammar, but of orthography.

Nov 1, 2009, 3:26 pm

As a grammar nazi of the first order (according to my family), I am appalled at the lack of understanding shown by those who make decisions such as that made by Birmingham City Council. Punctuation exists for one purpose only - to aid understanding. Lynne Truss's book, "Eats, Shoots and Leaves," takes up this very theme. Misuse of punctuation, let alone the omission of it, leads to confusion and misunderstanding. We are all far too capable of those errors without increasing the causes of them. Save the apostrophe? How can we not?

Nov 1, 2009, 3:28 pm

Sorry Jim, I am also an orthographical nazi, I believe.

Nov 1, 2009, 11:05 pm

7> Sounds like you should join the group Pendants' Corner:

Nov 2, 2009, 4:26 am

...yet homonyms exist in the language even now. So why there isn't more punctuation to cover that?

Especially in spoken word one has to wonder what kind of idea it is to have so similar forms for plural and genetive? Queens, Queen's, Queens', how do you pronounce them so that one can hear the difference, if it is so important?

Language is an agreement, and there are no immutable rules.

Editado: Nov 2, 2009, 7:01 pm

Is the need for this change due to the dumbing-down of education, perhaps? The language is far too beautiful to alter it to fit the needs of the uneducated, and every nuance is necessary. I submit that those brains most tortured by signs with apostrophes would be better served with further education.

10> I heartily disagree with the point that 'language is an agreement.' It is a method of communication, and has rules just as mathematics and science require, for complete understanding. Is it a kings road, or is it the road of a king? Only the apostrophe can answer this question, and there is no valid reason to cast aside proper grammar for expediency. However, this is just my point of view.

Nov 3, 2009, 10:32 am

11> Language is a method of communication, yes. But doesn't it mean that a successful communication, when achieved, is the measuring stick of language, no matter if it happened by some rules defined somewhere by someone?

If someone writes "1337" slang or those "b4" things, and the other person can read it, it is successful communication.
I also wonder what would happen to me, if I, a ESL speaker who still has a nice Oxfordian tilt in my English, would suggest to a native speaker who speaks on a thick Scottish accent that I speak better English than he...

Also sometimes communication is misunderstood even if it follows those precious rules. My mother quite happily still talks about negroes as a general term, while others find the term offensive.
In a similar way, on other forum I was following a discussion about the usage of the word "bwana"; in modern English-speaking USA that word was found to mean "white slave master" and thus caution was advised in its use, while in swahili (where the word comes from) it means simply "mister".

Regarding the example of a kings road / the road of a king, it is true that apostrophe answers the question. However, in communication, does anyone ask that question? In the case that there would be a possibility of misunderstanding, one could write the expression open as you did, it is a kings road or the road of a king.

Also, if the possibility of misunderstanding were so dire, why are those pronounced in the same way? How do you pronounce an apostrophe and thus in speech separate king's road, kings' road and kings road?
I'd like to point out a general linguistic rule that the spoken form of the language is the real language, the written form is just a standardised model of the language, standardisation being done in a certain time and place by certain people.

And spoken form of the language evolves all the time, sometimes faster, sometimes slower. I notice that you are writing in English. To achieve that, you have cast aside numerous rules of proper grammar for expediency, otherwise you would be writing in Anglo-Saxon. Or Germanic root language. Or Indo-European root language. Or whatever was before that one.
What right did that hack William Shakespeare have to introduce all kinds of new things in pretty kings' language that existed before him? Did he have no respect for RULES?

Editado: Nov 6, 2009, 7:51 pm

I, for one, would like to know if it is the road of a king, or the road of kings. Your alternative, of writing it out, would, of course, defeat the purpose of the road sign. It's silly, perhaps, but it is what it is, and until the next evolution of the language - which I hope does not incorporate the 'b4' aspects of the current vernacular - to change a language for expediency seems more like catering to the lowest denominator.

As for the 'possibility of misunderstanding' point you raised, it is a moot one, when you consider how many words in the English language are pronounced the same as one or two others, and spelled differently. How would you distinguish their differences, when considering your 'linguistic rule', which would be indiscernible when spoken?

I disagree wholeheartedly with your points, and will content myself with the realization that we can both rest in full agreement to disagree.

Nov 4, 2009, 9:46 am

Don't you just hate it when people write mute when they mean moot?

Nov 5, 2009, 9:25 am

Yes, how would you distinguish between them? If you were to visit Birmingham and call from there to your mother that you are at the moment in King's Road, how would you make sure she knows you are talking about King's Road and not Kings Road?

I return to the same question again and again, as it is both a key here and remains unanswered: how do you pronounce an apostrophe?

Pretty much all languages have homonyms (words which are written and/or pronounced similarly but which have different meanings), some with words that can have numerous different meanings.
It is a problem especially in languages with a limited amount of phonemes and short words. Languages like Chinese get around it by having various tones which give words different meanings, and having highly non-phonetic writing. English keeps the homonyms in speech even if it also does have non-phonetic spelling which might as well spell "fish" ghoti for all the sense it makes. My native language Finnish uses fewer phonemes but to avoid excessive homonymy by longer words (some of it still of course exists).

And it's not my linguistic rule, it is commonly employed...divisions between languages and dialects are based on if two speakers can communicate with each other without studying each others' form of speech. If they can, they are talking in different dialects, if they can't they are talking in different languages.
Sometimes separating the two can be quite complicated, especially when politics are involved. For example Scottish dialect of English has at some points been considered a different language, sometimes a dialect (currently most think it is latter).
Many researchers consider the major language of India and Pakistan to be one language, Hindustan, with (at least) two standard written forms, Hindi and Urdu. Likewise many researchers consider that what is spoken in Scandinavia is one language, Scandinavian, with four standard written forms, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian Bokmål and Norwegian Nynorsk.

There is also already a separation between English and American spellings of many words, even if the distinction in pronounciation is quite it "colour" or "color"? "Analyse" or "analyze"? Are English and American different languages?

I agree to disagree once you tell me how to pronounce the apostrophe.

Nov 5, 2009, 7:05 pm

Bernard Shaw's spelling of fish g.h.o.t.i. was underinformed and not congruent with English orthography.


Nov 6, 2009, 1:45 am

I agree to disagree once you tell me how to pronounce the apostrophe.

Why don't you pronounce it "'", like everyone else?

Nov 6, 2009, 7:41 pm

14> An error as a result of the outcome of a late night's participation, and hate is a rather strong word for the misstep of another, oui? You must be a Christian, for I see forgiveness is the core of your response.

Nov 6, 2009, 7:50 pm

17> Well said!

16> I would tell her the cross street, and with a good wind crossing my sails, it would also possess an apostrophe, which would then inform her of my location. Simple, oui?

As for pronouncing an apostrophe, I will have to stop laughing before I respond. I studied your language in the USA, so I must admit to some ignorance of its full use. However, I don't think I ever stated that an apostrophe was to be pronounced. That would be like saying a ship can sail on an ice cube, non? Your lengthy point of view still misses the point: is it King's Road, or the road of kings? That is the point, and if it is King's Road, then why change it? Simple, oui?

Nov 8, 2009, 7:51 am

Then why not separate all the other homonyms too? Perhaps we should write "fish", when referring to activity of catching the water-dwelling animals, as "fi'sh" to avoid confusion. Simple, oui?

Nov 8, 2009, 10:34 pm

20> Non, M'sieur. Perhaps you can share with me the logic in your statement regarding le poisson? I fear that is has been completely lost on me.

Nov 9, 2009, 12:03 am

Word "fish" refers both to animal, le poisson, and the act of catching it. To avoid this, we should start marking the verbs derived from nouns with an apostrophe (other inaudible marks suit too).
That makes as much sense as the whole king's/kings'/kings issue.

Nov 9, 2009, 9:52 am

22> Your suggestion is nonsensical, and I think you are fully aware of that. When a conversation leaves the realm of sensibility I tend to seek another occupation for my time, so I will bid you adieu.

Nov 9, 2009, 4:30 pm

Your suggestion is nonsensical

I believe that was the point. You've never heard of reducto ab absurdio? (I probably butchered the latin).

Nov 10, 2009, 4:02 am

Exactly, the suggestion was nonsensical but then again, one could say the same of the current use of apostrophes in English. Yet one is oh-so-precious relic of language which definitely cannot be modified and the other is ignored as ridiculous nonsense. Why?

Nov 10, 2009, 9:29 am

Because language isn't logical?

Nov 13, 2009, 5:11 am

Spoken language is not necessarily logical, whatever works in communication is good...however written language, as a standardised model of that spoken language, should have at least some logic, otherwise things like spelling "fish" as "ghoti" would be acceptable.

Of course talking about this matter with English and French speakers, who are among the worst offenders on the subject, is bit of a hopeless battle...anyone German or Spanish here?

Jun 13, 2023, 1:51 am

Esta mensagem foi marcada como abusiva por vários utilizadores e por isso não é mostrada (mostre)
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Jun 13, 2023, 2:44 am

>28 radhashetty1: Usually when a member is removed, the spam is deleted. Not sure why this hasn't happened here (yet?)

Jun 13, 2023, 10:36 am

>16 Mr.Durick: I think writing ghoti as g.h.o.t.i. misses the point. If you really want to cut it up, it should be gh.o.ti. But then, that gives the joke away.