Useful Web Links Colour Paintings: Unit 1 Children's Language Acquisition Language & Educational Linguistics
Discussion Topics Conversation Analysis Pragmatics Gricean Implicature Interpreting Utterances Sociolinguistics Grammar Language Change Multilingualism Semantics Words
What is a sentence? Apostrophes Matter Lost Consonants Old Words, New Meanings Punctuation Matters Startings and Finishings
Introduction Contents List Sample Reading Reader Sample Bookmap Strands Bookmap Cross-referencing

Introducing Language in Use: a Coursebook

Fun with Language

Apostrophes and Spellings Matter (and not just to prescriptivists!)

It makes sense to ask what a word is and it makes sense to ask what a word means.

It can make understanding oral language difficult if a word is pronounced with an unusual stress pattern or with a different vowel than the one anticipated, a fact which can explain why some people find some regional accents harder to understand than others. It can make understanding written language difficult if a word is spelt in an unconventional manner.

In both oral and written language, the context can help to disambiguate which word is meant.

In oral language we might not hear a difference between its and it's or between they're, there and their because the words are homophones (words that sound the same). In written language, however, it can be argued that it does matter which spelling is used as the words have different meanings.

Now consider the following:

  1. Explain as if to a learner of English as a foreign language who wants to learn to read and write Standard British English, why the underlined words are not spelt correctly:
  1. Its raining.
  2. The dog hid it's bone under the carpet.
  3. The student sited Bloomer et al. (2005) in there essay.
  4. Anne pitched her tent on the camp cite.
  5. The final seen in the play was most moving.
  6. I would of thought of that, if you had given me more time.
  7. I'm been harassed at work.

The authors have seen these or similar examples in students' essays over the years.

  1. All of these examples of authentic language were spotted by one of the authors or by someone known to one of the authors.

How do you react to such examples? The authors know people who are amused by them, who are enraged by them, who despair about the state of the language as a result of them or who regard them as part of the infinite creativity of language change in use.

  1. Ask other people what they think and why. Ask your tutor what s/he thinks and find out what your examiners think (ask about examiners' reports and what they deduct marks for) as this might affect marks on any future assignments that you have to submit.
  2. Collect other examples for yourself and for each example that you find, make sure that you can explain clearly (as in exercise 1 above) why the apostrophe or the spelling is non-standard and what the effect of the non-standard use is in relation to meaning.

Linguistic points for consideration: