LINGUIST List 8.726

Thu May 15 1997

Disc: Punctuation

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Lass, RG, Roger, Prof, punctuation

Message 1: punctuation

Date: Tue, 13 May 1997 10:10:23 SAST-2
From: Lass, RG, Roger, Prof <>
Subject: punctuation

I realise it's probably bad manners to add material after a summary, 
but I was fascinated by the 'greengrocer's apostrophe'. In South 
Africa this is extremely common, especially for items whose names end 
in a vowel: avo's, radio's, mielie's (sweet corn), etc. This is 
partly hypercorrect: if you don't know where to put apostrophes 
(?apostrophe's), but you have a sneaky suspicion that they're a mark 
of something good, use them wherever you can. 

This also accounts for the almost universal it's for the possessive 
pronoun (though here there's an analogy to the genitive of nouns: but 
why not *hi's, *her's, which I've never seen).

In SA there's another special problem: since so many people are 
bilingual in Afrikaans and English, there may also be a transfer from 
the Afrikaans rule that loanwords ending in vowels get -'s plurals: 
so avo's for avocado(')s would be perfectly OK in Afrikaans, but 
seems suspect in English.

Somewhat related to this (does it occur in other countries) is what 
might be called the greengrocers quotation marks: Sale: "potato's", 
or even "Closing-down sale".

Just curiosa, maybe, but the data might be interesting to somebody.

Roger Lass

Roger Lass
Department of Linguistics
University of Cape Town
Rondebosch 7700/South Africa
Tel +(021) 650 3138 Fax +(021) 650 3726
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