Monday, 11 January 2016

The Troublesome Apostrophe? Part II and III

I’ve provided below excerpts from the quoted writings.

Argument for retention

1.
Guardian.com published on January 24 a year-old article:
Missing apostrophes filled in after Cambridge city council had them removed from street signs to help emergency...
        Tim Ward, the executive councillor for planning, told the Cambridge News:
        "We are following national guidelines as requested by the emergency services
        (from the National Land and Property Gazetteer, where all new street names
        are registered). If they change their view we might change our policy, but it's
        not top of anybody's list of things to do."
        A street sign reading "Scholars Way leading to Pepys Court and Fitzgerald
        Place" is among those that have been changed with a marker pen, with apostrophes       
        added to the words "Scholars" and "Pepys". (Kathy) Salaman (director of the
        Cambridgeshire-based Good Grammar Company), said: "This is not about pedantry,
        it's about being able to write a sentence which can be easily understood.
        "If children are surrounded by incorrect or contradictory grammar, it can be confusing.
         It could also teach them it isn't important.
        "If they start getting rid of apostrophes now, commas will be next, then who knows
          what?"
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2.
Apostrophe catastrophe! Punctuation's suffering
By Sara Israelsen
at www.deseretnews.com/article/635166935/Apostrophe-catastrophe-Punctuations-suffering.html?pg=all
          "The (apostrophe) — that's a big trouble," said Don Norton, a retired professor
           of linguistics and the English language from Brigham Young University. "(People)
           put it in where it doesn't belong and leave it out where it should be. Apostrophe
           conventions are fairly rigorous — there's a way to do it."

           Huckin, professor of English and writing at the University of Utah, says, "People
           listen to the way you talk, or they look at your words on paper and they make
           judgements about you as a person, your education background and status," he said.  
           "(People) who . . . cannot use standard educated English are just handicapping
           themselves."
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3.
     “Dumbing down the standard of English is not the road we want to go down,
       but you have to put this decision into context,” says Roger Johnson, Acting
       Chief Executive of Cambridge English Language Assessment. “Lots of people
       do struggle with using apostrophes, and it’s important that learners are taught
       how to use them correctly, but removing apostrophes from street names in
       Cambridge is unlikely to have an effect on English learning standards worldwide.
       Interestingly, we tend to find that students learning English as a foreign language
       master the apostrophe remarkably well. This is also true of some other complicated
       grammar rules, which is really encouraging. I’d be much more concerned if there
       was a proposal to stop teaching grammar in classrooms around the world.”
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Against retention
1.
A rather witty, but excellent pdf article PAIN AND SUFFERING: APOSTROPHES AND
ACADEMIC LIFE by Irvin Hashimoto  published by Journal of Basic Writing, Vol. 7, No. 2, 1988 at http://wac.colostate.edu/jbw/v7n2/hashimoto.pdf
        “And by doing so (explaining and giving exercise), we ignore the ugly truth:
         the rules for apostrophes are much more messy than they appear in typical
         handbook practice.”

        “And they learn that there are exceptions to exceptions: even though you're
          not supposed to use apostrophes to make plurals, you 're sometimes allowed
          to make plurals with apostrophes with numbers or letters or abbrev.'s,unless
          you spell those numbers out or use them in combinations like "1980s" or "1920s"
          or if you happen to use letters in combinations like "PhD" or "MA"-unless those
          letters are lower-case in sentences like, "There are three b's in abbab" (Turabian 31)”

          Unfortunately, things are not always that clear. The Simon and Schuster Handbook
          for Writers says that you use "possessive case" to show "ownership" or "close relationship"
          (457). The McGrawHill College Handbook tells us that apostrophes can "show that
          an entity has a particular attribute, quality, value or feature" (449). But The Little,
         Brown Handbook says you can use the apostrophe to "indicate possessive case" in
          sentences like this, too:
                 She took two years' leave from school.
                 For conscience' sake she confessed her lie. (353)

           But for goodness sake, how do those "years" own or " possess" a "leave"? Do years
           have rights to ownership? If not, how does a "sake" belong to a "conscience"? Is
           there, in fact, a "close relationship" between those "years" and their "leave"? If so,
           how would you characterize it? Or would you say that "conscience" is an "entity"
           and that "sake" is an " attribute, quality, value or feature" of "conscience"?
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2.
In his September 2013 article “Kill the apostrophe! at http://theweek.com/articles/459948/kill-apostrophe, James Harbeck says
    “The English language would be better off without apostrophes.”
    “…Because they cant hear them in speech,…” and
    “…because the meaning is clear even when the apostrophe is used wrongly or omitted.
    His second argument is: George Bernard Shaw did away with most apostrophes
    His third: Many apostrophes are really only there for condescension”.
    His fourth: “Even where an apostrophe can add something useful, we usually get by  
                        without it”.
    His fifth: “They add confusion”.
   His sixth: “It will free them up for use as single quotes”.
    His seventh: “It will make the rules better” which is also his conclusion:
             Im not talking about taking an "anything goes" attitude to English.
             Of course we want rules for clarity and consistency (and computers).
             It also helps if theyre rules that actually get used! We have, many
             times in the past, either naturally or through some persons influence,
             changed the rules. English changes all the time”.
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3.
In his article “Are Apostrophes Necessary? Not really, no.” Matthew J.X. Malady at

www.slate.com/articles/.../apostrophes_and_when_to_use_them_punctua... quotes several authors, text writers on the internet, bloggers who are doing away with the apostrophe. He concludes ‘We’d all be “better off without em.”
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4.
In his February 2015 article at
James Harbeck says
       “… my unlikely-to-happen-anytime-soon-even-though-there's-a-good-justification-
         for-it proposal this week is that our possessive marker, 's, should be written as a
           separate word.”
       “If we make 's a separate word we can just spell it s: "The lady with all the money s
         cats." No lack of clarity there. Or, even better…”
        ‘Generally, z is way cooler. It's rakish and angular. Of course it's partly cool because
        it's rare, but it sure would stand out clearly: "The lady with all the money z cats."’
       “How about if we started writing the possessive of it as itz?”
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The Troublesome Apostrophe? Part III
My conclusion
Those arguing in favour of  retention want the ‘standard’ to continue the apostrophe while those  arguing against retention consider it inessential and confusing and hence would want to do away with the apostrophe as a simplification of the writing process.  
By the same logic, why would it be wrong if we didn't add the suffix '(e)s' to the verb in its present tense when the subject is third person singular? Why couldn't we have all verbs regular? Why don't we simplify by using 'is' for both 'I' and 'you' in the singular? May be these things would happen! Perceptions change with time and the old gives way to the new.

Such changes happen or should happen only when existing 'rules' are questioned, not as illogical, but as 'unwanted' or 'unnecessary' or when 'change' is desired. Use of ‘they’ as a pronoun happened to avoid sex bias.  

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