Sunday, July 06, 2014

Shopping hours; Road deaths; The AVE; The tiler; & The apostrophe.


Spain is not the most consumerist of countries, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad. What it does mean is that the national and regional governments keep a tight grip on shop opening hours. Things have traditionally been rather more lax in tourist areas - and the Chinese operators always seem to have been able to open pretty much when they like - but the requirements of domestic shoppers have carried less weight. Somebody, though, has realised that this might just be restraining business and economic growth. So, another 14 cities have now been given their freedom - including San Sebastián, Marbella, A Coruña, Oviedo, Santander, Gijón, Almería, León, Jerez de la Frontera and Salamanca. But not Pontevedra, I note. I hope it doesn't all go to their heads.

Deaths on Spanish roads have fallen from 6,000 a year in 2000 to 1,680 in 2013. An amazing achievement, doubtless reflecting the investment in new roads, inter alia.

Talking of transport . . . On my recent drive from León to Pontevedra, I caught sight of AVE high-speed train works up in the mountains. Which is good news but I no longer believe my own worst-case forecast of 2020 for completion of the line from Madrid to Galicia.

The chap who replaced my roof tiles last week is one of life's optimists. Having taken his cash, he asked me to recommend him to others and gave me a card. Or so I thought. In fact there were 12 of them. He must think I have a lot of friends.

Finally . . . There are some who feel we can do without the apostrophe, especially as it's so abused by some. Here's an article from The Times arguing for its retention:

Mark of Favour

Linguists suggest that the apostrophe has a saviour in modern software programs

George Bernard Shaw was a fervent believer in the reform of English spelling and punctuation. He wrote in a letter to The Times in 1906 of “the comeliness of a page on which there are no apostrophes or inverted commas”, and he put this belief into practice by omitting the apostrophe from early editions of his works. Yet eventually he had to relent as actors stumbled over whether to say “we’d” or “wed”, or “I’ll” and “ill”.

These days the committed apostrophe-abolitionist has a different problem. You cant, er can’t, do it, because software programs wont, er won’t, let you. Hence Alexander Bergs, a linguist at the University of Osnabrück, argues that the “autocorrect” function in modern technology is a long-term preservative for the apostrophe.

If so, this should be great news for the self-declared advocates of a zero-tolerance approach to punctuation, who worry about declining standards of literacy. Yet, while The Times believes that the English language has the brightest of futures, we fear that there is no technological fix to the puzzled punctuator’s predicament. English orthography isn’t logical or consistent enough to be encapsulated in a software program.

Users of tablet computers often find that their “its” is changed to “it’s”, for example, even when they don’t want an apostrophe. That’s irksome but unsurprising. It’s hard enough for human learners of English to grasp the conventions that the apostrophe marks possession in nouns but not in pronouns or in the possessive adjective “its”.<

The apostrophe entered the language (from French) only in the 16th century, and the conventions for its use were still quite loose as late as the 19th century. It exists only in written English; spoken English lacks it yet remains intelligible. Perhaps one day the apostrophe will be rationalised away completely. Shaws spirit would approve.

1 comment:

Perry said...

Shaw was Irish & almost certainly pronounced aitch as haitch. His opinion is not worth an apostrophe in the history of literature.

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