LINGUIST List 8.881

Sun Jun 15 1997

Disc: Punctuation

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Roger Depledge, 8.859, Disc: Punctuation

Message 1: 8.859, Disc: Punctuation

Date: Thu, 12 Jun 1997 03:19:41 -0400
From: Roger Depledge <>
Subject: 8.859, Disc: Punctuation

John Phillips (8.859) asks, with respect to apostrophised plurals,
e.g. "dyslexic's", "sonata's",

<<Exactly what are the grounds for condemning this usage?>>

One of the joys of linguistlist is that only here could such a
question be asked, and from an academic address. It was, I think,
Benji Wald who perceptively remarked, in the Ebonics debate, that
linguists, AND ONLY linguists, believe in the equal value of all
language forms.

Perhaps I might widen the question to "what are the grounds for
condemning particular variations in human symbolic behaviour
(vocabulary, accent, spelling, non-SI units, facial hair, clothes,
tied or untied laces)?" Alas, the answer is not universalistic, and
comes down to one of two tyrannical reasons: because it'll harm your
job prospects; and, even more tyrannical: because your peers will make
fun of you. It depends on who you take as your reference group ("whom"
for American readers), and how much you feel like a fight.

A lot of academic linguists are in fact not neutral on this
issue--they want a sort of compensatory justice for the usage of
disadvantaged groups, "threatened languages" like their biologist
colleagues' "threatened species". (There are, of course, self-serving
as well as moral reasons for this.) And this may go some way to
explain the gulf of incomprehension between them and other people. It
is hard to find common ground between those who believe in "bettering
oneself" and those who think this invidious rubbish.

Roger Depledge
Freelance translator
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