Saturday, October 10, 2009


It's become quite common recently (unless this is the recency illusion striking again) for people to get confused and use apostrophes in plural forms, e.g., dog's for dogs. I'm not usually one to criticize non-standard usages, but this one has me puzzled. How do people get confused about this? 's is essentially never used in the plural, except for capitalized acronyms which haven't been lexicalized, and even then I think only MLA recommends using 's. So it's not a case of people being unsure when to use it for plurals and when not to; the rule is never use them.

So why is everyone so confused? The nature of this error makes it extremely difficult to research, since you have to hand pick the true instances, as opposed to the (still) more common genetive 's. I did find this gem through a google search: Hey guy's. I was wondaring do you love dog's or cat's? I like dog's!!! Please say dog's. Dog's rock! (Keep in mind that this was on what appears to be a forum for pre-adolescents and younger people in general.) In this case it seems the poster has internalized the rule as being that plural morphology in English is always 's. But as I said before, since this is never true, how to people get confused? My guess is simply interference from the genitive. I know from experience that people have trouble figuring out the difference between guy's and guys' (or guys's). Thus the confusion is not a grammatical one based on what plural marker to use, but a typographic one, in that people often see 's after a noun, and somehow they generalized it to plural marking.

I'd be interested in researching this further, but I'm at a loss for how to do a search for forms.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Structural ambiguity

A competitor in a Food Network show I watched recently was described as an "award-winning cake and sugar artist". Fairly straightforward, but my language faculty at first wanted to parse this is [[award-winning cake] and [sugar artist]] rather than [award-winning [cake and sugar] artist]. This is essentially the opposite of low attachment, so I'm not sure what was going on. Perhaps a desire for coordinated phrases to be coordinated as high as possible in the syntactic structure of the phrase.