“Mind your p's and q's?”: or the peregrinations of an apostrophe in 17th Century English

Abstract : If the use of the apostrophe in contemporary English often marks the Saxon genitive, it may also indicate the omission of one or more let-ters. Some writers (wrongly?) use it to mark the plural in symbols or abbreviations, visual-ised thanks to the isolation of the morpheme “s”. This punctuation mark was imported from the Continent in the 16th century. During the 19th century its use was standardised. However the rules of its usage still seem problematic to many, including literate speakers of English. “All too often, the apostrophe is misplaced”, or “errant apostrophes are springing up every-where” is a complaint that Internet users fre-quently come across when visiting grammar websites. Many of them detail its various uses and misuses, and attempt to correct the most common mistakes about it, especially its mis-use in the plural, called greengrocers' apostro-phes and humorously misspelled “greengro-cers apostrophe's”. While studying English travel accounts published in the seventeenth century, we noticed that the different uses of this symbol may accompany various models of metaplasms. We were able to highlight the linguistic variations of some lexemes, and trace the origin of modern grammar rules gov-erning its usage.
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Conference papers
NooJ 2009 International Conference and Workshop, Jun 2009, Tozeur, Tunisia. Centre de Publication Universitaire SFAX, Finite State Language Engineering, pp.1-17, 2010, NooJ 2009
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  • ARXIV : 1002.0479

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Odile Piton, Hélène Pignot. “Mind your p's and q's?”: or the peregrinations of an apostrophe in 17th Century English. NooJ 2009 International Conference and Workshop, Jun 2009, Tozeur, Tunisia. Centre de Publication Universitaire SFAX, Finite State Language Engineering, pp.1-17, 2010, NooJ 2009. 〈hal-00452436〉

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