Thursday, 13 November 2008

The Fate of the Apostrophe

An interesting news item was brought to my attention by my mum the other day. Though I didn't see it myself, there was apparently a program on British television featuring a discussion about whether it is worth keeping the apostrophe in the English language. The guest speaker was a professor from Bangor University in Wales, and the final conclusion he reached was in favour of keeping the apostrophe. This is because, without it, clarification of certain sentences like "He always dots all his i's and crosses all his t's!" would become far more difficult.

However, not everyone wishes to protect our little grammatical companion.

According to Dr. Richard Nordquist, those who would abolish the "morbid growth in English orthography" (Byington, 1945) see it as unnecessary for clarification in writing since the context, above all, will tell you whether "well" is intended as "we'll" or if "its" indicates possession or not. The same would go for "He always dots all his is and crosses all his ts!" because it would make little grammatical sense to throw a random "is" in between "his" (possessive) and "and" (connector). In other words, a native speaker would never confuse this particular "is" with the third person singular form of "to be."

On the other hand, some like the members of The Apostrophe Protection Society in England say that while they recognize that languages are forever changing, they feel the need to preserve "the correct use of this currently much abused punctuation mark in all forms of text written in the English language." However, there does not seem to be a clear rationale behind why they feel it is necessary to preserve the apostrophe except for the purpose of preservation for the sake of preservation.

So, what do you think? Is the apostrophe necessary or is it simply another reason why second language learners call English the bane of their existence?


Anonymous said...

So strange...

Keep the apostrophe! It is a weak argument to suggest that context will make the differentiation. Context usually reveals to us whether "where" or "wear" was meant, whether "there", "they're" or "their" was meant, and yet we are still keeping those different spellings. The apostrophe is important!

amethyst said...

I agree! What a silly idea, honestly.

If they wanted to test their "obvious context" theory however, there's an easy way to do it. Take an electronic book, find-and-replace all apostrophe punctuation with no character, & allow people to read the resulting product.

Now that I think about it, likely the older generation will have a tougher time accepting it than the younger; simply because young people today are more accustomed to bad grammer, creative spelling (haha), and shortened words. l33t sp34k prevails!

heather-in-italia said...

I agree with you both. Personally, I don't think its death is in any way imminant, and it would be just as pointless to try and force death upon it as it would be to try feverishly to preserve it in all contexts of written language. I think the apostrophe will serve its purpose until the day comes when it is no longer required - that is, when the English language morphs beyond the need for it, just as the "y" that represented "th" disappeared after Shakespeare's time. :)

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