[DWJ] A grammar realization - Where are we from?

Colin Fine colin at kindness.demon.co.uk
Fri Apr 13 17:23:41 EDT 2007

Robyn Starkey wrote:
> Colin said:
>> Yes, I know, there are cases where potential ambiguities in writing 
>> can be clarified in speech, by stress, pause etc. And if all else 
>> fails, in  conversation you can ask for clarification.
>> But the instances where otherwise clear writing is changed or 
>> rendered ambiguous by a misplaced apostrophe are rare as 
>> rocking-horse dung. (I carefully said 'otherwise clear', because I am 
>> convinced that if you do find an example where a misplaced apostrophe 
>> leads you astray you will usually find that the expression is far 
>> from clear anyway).
>> The only function of the apostrophe is to let snooty people look down 
>> their noses at others. Get rid of it.
> As a member of the snooty, I have to agree with minnow (sorry for the 
> inference of snootidity, there, minnow). And I would also point out 
> that removing the apostrophe altogether immediately adds ambiguity in 
> number of everyday examples. As soon as you take out the apostrophe, 
> you can't tell if the possessive noun is singular or plural in most 
> phrases like "the girls books," and context won't necessarily help.
> robyn
As I so immoderately pointed out to Minnow, you can't tell in speech 
either. If this gave us a significant problem the language would have 
evolved ways to solve it.
Admitted, there are occasional cases of ambiguity (the vast majority of 
which, I am persuaded, are formally ambiguous but practically are either 
resoluble or insignificant). But I find apostrophes a heavy price for 
such a marginal gain. And I can't imagine how you can live without being 
able to tell whether 'your books' refers to one or many possessors.


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