Poll re: English plural form's

General discussion about learning languages

How is the plural of “word” correctly written in current English?

Poll runs till Fri Aug 30, 2019 4:20 pm

"words"
28
76%
"word's"
0
No votes
both "words" and "word's"
0
No votes
whatever manner in which native English speakers write it is thereby necessarily correct, so "words" "word's" and "wurds" are all correctly written
1
3%
I decline to select one of the above options, as I sense this is just a prelude to a rant by the OP, to be followed by an unproductive forum war between prescriptivists and descriptivist's.
8
22%
 
Total votes: 37

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Re: Poll re: English plural form's

Postby Adrianslont » Fri Aug 16, 2019 3:32 am

I actually don't think it's useful to separate spoken and written language in this discussion.

I think you can have written dialects just as much as you have spoken dialects. And I'm not talking about using spelling conventions that reflect regional or national accent.

If you search a definition of dialect you get something like this: "a particular form of a language which is peculiar to a specific region or social group" - no mention of speaking or writing. And that is a good thing. I am not the only one to consider signing and the "text languages" you see in SMS messages and in social media as dialects/languages. They certainly fit the definition.

(Deinonysus, please excuse the following as I respectfully disagree with you - I'm really disagreeing with Steven Pinker) I have trouble with the whole "spoken language is inborn and written language just a tool" line of thinking. I'm quite unsure what the word "inborn" means. Yes, we have "speech organs" that served very well as "eating organs" for many years before speech developed. Yes, we have a brain that interpreted the world and classified things and gave meaning to things for many years before languages evolved. I'm not convinced that this adds up to a "language instinct" - I think organs just got re-purposed - mouth, larynx, hands etc. And certainly people don't speak languages unless they are in a social context. The "inborn" I take as a not very interesting given, like legs. The social is where the really interesting stuff lies.

So, the words "Speech is a natural, spontaneous thing that humans generate naturally" seem irrelevant in the context of discussions of dialects. Actually those words seem pretty empty to me in general. Sure, speech is "natural" in that it comes from carbon based life forms. It is "spontaneous" if you disregard the years of learning/acquiring a language that come before any particular utterance I make these days. I actually see very little difference between this and writing. Writing is also generated naturally by carbon based life forms if they have been initiated into the reading and writing club. The only unnatural thing about writing is that you use pencils, pens, computers, paper, screens etc, ie things that are not part of your body. Apart from that reading and writing are communication like speaking and listening or signing.

So, there seems to be a lot of use of emotionally loaded words like "natural" "spontaneous" "just" that is really unhelpful. There ARE real differences between spoken and written language that are very interesting: vocabulary choice, grammatical choice, the rhetorical style that is used when your interlocutor is/isn't physically present, the different kinds of things we say in speaking and writing etc. It is also of great social and political interest that pretty much everyone in the world is initiated into the speech community but many fewer are initiated into the written community.

So what does this mean for word's or wurds? For me, if you choose to be a prescriptivist or descriptivist, I think it makes sense to be one for both spoken and written language.

Personally, I like to speak and write to the standards, written or unwritten, of my interlocutors - I think I like to fit in. I have expectations that others will do the same in certain contexts such as academia, business and major publishing houses. I have different expectations of friends, comedians, artists, members of different social groups. They get to play fast and loose and use their own rules. I will of course do the human thing and "appraise" everyone's use of language.

I really hate it when iOS throws in an unwanted apostrophe and I have to make an effort to change it so I can fit in.

I used to hate the "deliberate misspellings" in Indonesian SMS dialect but I recognise that many of them rose out of the need to fit into Twitter and SMS character limits and use tiny phone keyboards. And now that I understand it better my level of "hate" has dropped significantly.

And speaking of technology, the SMS and Web 2.0 have really changed this discussion. They have given rise to the growth and spread of written dialects and democratised writing for public consumption. And it's still changing fast, faster than usual language evolution.

End of essay.
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Re: Poll re: English plural form's

Postby golyplot » Fri Aug 16, 2019 5:57 am

Deinonysus wrote:Although this is a common error by native speakers, it can be considered an error because writing systems are not the same as dialects.


Common? I can't recall ever seeing this mistake in the wild (not to be confused with its/it's confusion, which is in fact common).
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Re: Poll re: English plural form's

Postby Deinonysus » Fri Aug 16, 2019 1:42 pm

Adrianslont wrote:I actually don't think it's useful to separate spoken and written language in this discussion.

I think you can have written dialects just as much as you have spoken dialects. And I'm not talking about using spelling conventions that reflect regional or national accent.

If you search a definition of dialect you get something like this: "a particular form of a language which is peculiar to a specific region or social group" - no mention of speaking or writing. And that is a good thing. I am not the only one to consider signing and the "text languages" you see in SMS messages and in social media as dialects/languages. They certainly fit the definition.

(Deinonysus, please excuse the following as I respectfully disagree with you - I'm really disagreeing with Steven Pinker) I have trouble with the whole "spoken language is inborn and written language just a tool" line of thinking. I'm quite unsure what the word "inborn" means. Yes, we have "speech organs" that served very well as "eating organs" for many years before speech developed. Yes, we have a brain that interpreted the world and classified things and gave meaning to things for many years before languages evolved. I'm not convinced that this adds up to a "language instinct" - I think organs just got re-purposed - mouth, larynx, hands etc. And certainly people don't speak languages unless they are in a social context. The "inborn" I take as a not very interesting given, like legs. The social is where the really interesting stuff lies.

So, the words "Speech is a natural, spontaneous thing that humans generate naturally" seem irrelevant in the context of discussions of dialects. Actually those words seem pretty empty to me in general. Sure, speech is "natural" in that it comes from carbon based life forms. It is "spontaneous" if you disregard the years of learning/acquiring a language that come before any particular utterance I make these days. I actually see very little difference between this and writing. Writing is also generated naturally by carbon based life forms if they have been initiated into the reading and writing club. The only unnatural thing about writing is that you use pencils, pens, computers, paper, screens etc, ie things that are not part of your body. Apart from that reading and writing are communication like speaking and listening or signing.

So, there seems to be a lot of use of emotionally loaded words like "natural" "spontaneous" "just" that is really unhelpful. There ARE real differences between spoken and written language that are very interesting: vocabulary choice, grammatical choice, the rhetorical style that is used when your interlocutor is/isn't physically present, the different kinds of things we say in speaking and writing etc. It is also of great social and political interest that pretty much everyone in the world is initiated into the speech community but many fewer are initiated into the written community.

So what does this mean for word's or wurds? For me, if you choose to be a prescriptivist or descriptivist, I think it makes sense to be one for both spoken and written language.

Personally, I like to speak and write to the standards, written or unwritten, of my interlocutors - I think I like to fit in. I have expectations that others will do the same in certain contexts such as academia, business and major publishing houses. I have different expectations of friends, comedians, artists, members of different social groups. They get to play fast and loose and use their own rules. I will of course do the human thing and "appraise" everyone's use of language.

I really hate it when iOS throws in an unwanted apostrophe and I have to make an effort to change it so I can fit in.

I used to hate the "deliberate misspellings" in Indonesian SMS dialect but I recognise that many of them rose out of the need to fit into Twitter and SMS character limits and use tiny phone keyboards. And now that I understand it better my level of "hate" has dropped significantly.

And speaking of technology, the SMS and Web 2.0 have really changed this discussion. They have given rise to the growth and spread of written dialects and democratised writing for public consumption. And it's still changing fast, faster than usual language evolution.

End of essay.
You make some very good points. I think you're right on that—writing doesn't fundamentally differ from speech the way I thought it did—but I'll get to that in a minute.

When I say "natural" and "spontaneous", I mean something quite specific. The human brain is hardwired to create languages and internalize language rules. If a language sufficient for all communication needs does not exist, then humans will spontaneously generate one within a single generation. The most common example of this is that when children grow up speaking a simple pidgin, they will spontaneously generate complex rules and turn that pidgin into a fully-fledged natural language—a creole. There has also been at least one instance where a community of deaf children were not taught any language, and they spontaneously created a sign language.

Writing is not spontaneously generated the way spoken language is. When a community loses the concept of writing, they will not immediately recreate it. For example, the Greeks lost the knowledge of the linear B, they did not immediately create a new script. They say around with no writing for centuries until they eventually created a new script based on the Phoenecian alphabet.

Humans have mental machinery that is dedicated to creating and understanding languages. Our fellow great apes are not necessarily any less intelligent than we are, and they are perfectly capable of using signs for simple, direct communication, but they don't seem capable of grasping the nuances of grammar, because they don't have the mental machinery to do it. We do. It takes hard work to learn a foreign language—anyone on this forum knows that—but we can eventually become fluent and internalize the complex grammar. Other intelligent beings that do not have the "language instinct" cannot do this, no matter how smart they are, no matter how hard they try, and no matter what pedagogical techniques are used to try to teach them. The late, great Koko the gorilla could sign and could convey abstract, emotional thoughts, but she would never be able to fluently use perfect ASL grammar in a million years. Her brain had no way of processing it.

I think you raised some good points about text speech. I assumed that we only use our mental machinery for spoken (or signed) language, but I am a layperson and that wasn't based on research. The more I think about it, the more I think I was wrong about that. I think we probably do use this mental machinery for writing too. Writing on the internet does seem to evolve the way spoken language does. I'm looking forward to reading the new book Because Internet, which deals with this topic.

I think the plural apostrophe is a completely different case than internet or text speak, which are specialized registers of written English. One key thing about internal rules within a community is that failure to adhere to them is a clear mistake that will mark you as an outsider. For example, in the "Maven" article by Stephen Pinker that I posted above, he mentioned a writer who was lamenting AAVE as corrupted English:

Why should we consider some, usually poorly educated, subculture's notion of the relationship between sound and meaning? And how could a grammar—any grammar—possibly describe that relationship?... As for "I be," "you be," "he be," etc., which should give us all the heebie-jeebies, these may indeed be comprehensible, but they go against all accepted classical and modern grammars and are the product not of a language with roots in history but of ignorance of how language works.
In fact, this construction has a very specific usage in AAVE—it marks habitual aspect. If this writer tried to use this construction in a sentence, he would probably use it wrong and be marked as an outsider. Similarly, if an old man tried to enter a group text with his granddaughter using the same extremely casual, broad register that he would use with close friends in his own age group, it would be seen as horrific and incomprehensible; and if she tried to enter a group text with him and his peers, using her own casual style that she would use with her friends, this would be equally horrific and incomprehensible—because each of these communities has strict internal rules, and failure to use them marks you as an outsider.

A hypercorrection is different, and the key to identifying the difference is that a hypercorrection is not a rule, so failure to use it is not seen as an error and will not mark you as an outsider (unless, of course, it becomes so dominant that it displaces the standard). Two examples of this in speech are the inappropriate use of "whom", and the inappropriate use of nominative-case pronouns such as "I" or "he" in compound subjects. This is done when speakers will try to imitate features of high-register standard speech that do not appear in their native dialect.

Example:
"Whom is calling?"
"They gave my friend and I a gift".

In most native speech, "who" does not inflect for accusative/dative case, so people who are trying to imitate high-register speech mistakenly use "whom" as a fancier "who". Similarly, most native speakers will use the perfectly grammatical disjunctive case when using multiple arguments in their native speech: "My friend and me are going to the store", "they gave my friend and me a gift'. But they wrongly infer that in high-register speech, you always use the nominative case, which is where you get errors like "they gave my friend and I a gift". The key here is that failure to use these hypercorrections is not an error, because they are not rules, they are misunderstandings of rules in an unfamiliar register.

The "greengrocer's apostrophe" is an example of a hypercorrection, not a community standard, because failure to use it is not an error and will not mark you as an outsider. If a local vendor put up a sign that said "fresh vegetables" instead of "fresh vegetable's", nobody would notice and it would not be seen as an error. Instead, the plural "s" is a hypercorrection based on the assumption that in high-register writing, when a word inflects to add an "s" at the end you add an apostrophe. In fact, the standard rule is that this is only done for possessives, or creating a contraction.

So in conclusion, I would say that I was right, but for the wrong reasons. The more I think about it, the less I think that writing is fundamentally different from speech. Community standards in writing probably do work the same way that they do in speech.
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Re: Poll re: English plural form's

Postby IronMike » Fri Aug 16, 2019 5:47 pm

The thread title is killing me.

But I assume it is intentional.

But it is still killing me.

That is because I am prescriptive when helping English language learners, or editing colleagues' or subordinates' products at work, or with my kids. Telling any of that crowd that word's or form's is the correct plural only hurts them when they are dealing with those who will judge them for their language ability (future employers, college admissions directors, bosses).

I am descriptive when describing current usage. Thus, while it also kills me when my friends say "I had swam..." I don't interrupt them to correct them on the past participle. Thankfully, one cannot pronounce the apostrophe in @lavengro's taunting thread title. :lol:
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Re: Poll re: English plural form's

Postby Adrianslont » Fri Aug 16, 2019 10:20 pm

IronMike wrote:The thread title is killing me.

But I assume it is intentional.

But it is still killing me.

That is because I am prescriptive when helping English language learners, or editing colleagues' or subordinates' products at work, or with my kids. Telling any of that crowd that word's or form's is the correct plural only hurts them when they are dealing with those who will judge them for their language ability (future employers, college admissions directors, bosses).

I am descriptive when describing current usage. Thus, while it also kills me when my friends say "I had swam..." I don't interrupt them to correct them on the past participle. Thankfully, one cannot pronounce the apostrophe in @lavengro's taunting thread title. :lol:

Yeah, I feel pretty much the same, Mike.

I of (sic) been downvoted over on reddit for suggesting to a learner of English that using “should of” will stigmatise you.

I didn’t suggest that the users of “should of” should be tarred and feathered - I just noted that they will be stigmatised by some. I thought I was being helpful.

Your comments on editing your colleagues’ work make me think about technology some more. The rise of Amazon self publishing has removed editors from a sizeable, and growing, chunk of the publishing market. Trashy romance fiction (and other genres, I mention that genre in particular because I know it is big in self-publishing) used to be professionally edited by big publishing houses - now it goes out in whatever state the author left it when hitting the publish button. I’m guessing this will change the world - maybe some stigmas will lessen. I hope you survive!
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Re: Poll re: English plural form's

Postby MorkTheFiddle » Fri Aug 16, 2019 10:52 pm

badger wrote:according, for some reason, to greengrocers in the UK it would be written "word,s".

if you want a rant on the misuse of apostropes, I find the use of the dangling possessive apostrophe on words ending in "s" but which aren't plurals even more irritating - eg "James' book".
Do you mean like it should be "James's book"? I mean, that's how I was raised to spell it, but I see spellings without the 's more and more often. I'm getting comfortable with it, and have even started to use it myself, though with a quick glance around to be sure I'm not being watched. :)
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Re: Poll re: English plural form's

Postby MorkTheFiddle » Fri Aug 16, 2019 10:54 pm

IronMike wrote:The thread title is killing me.

But I assume it is intentional.

But it is still killing me.


Hah! I didn't even notice "form's" until I read your post. Probably the heat. :lol:
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Re: Poll re: English plural form's

Postby Adrianslont » Fri Aug 16, 2019 11:01 pm

Deinonysus, I will continue our discussion some time over this weekend when I can jump on my computer and my head is clear. At the moment I have woken up with a cold and I am on my phone.

In short, I agree with some of that stuff you just said and disagree with other bits.
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