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reph
07-07-2006, 09:54 AM
Recovered from Google’s cache.
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6-10-2006, 3:26 PM
Cyjon

Why is 's possessive?
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So I was reading a website which referred to "CPU's" and I started my usual rant to myself about using 's as a plural. "After all," I grumbled, "are you saying something belongs to a CPU?" Then a thought struck me -- why does English use 's to indicate the possessive? Is it some contraction lost in the mists of time like the way "o'clock" comes from "of the clock"? Or is it just one of those, "That's just the way we've always done it" things.
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6-10-2006, 4:33 PM
Medievalist

The apostrophe marks the genitive singular. Earlier, in Middle English, in some mss., the apostrophe was used to stand for the "e" in the genitive or possessive; later, with the advent of printing, printers started using the apostrphe to distinguish between a plural and a possessive (dogs versus dog's).
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6-10-2006, 4:34 PM
BardSkye

Good question. I'd be interested if anyone knows the answer as well.

Is it, perhaps, a shortening of "his" or "hers" tacked on to the possessor's name in some archaic form of English? Is there an equivalent in other languages?

Edited: Oops. Medievalist posted at the same time I did and answered the question!
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6-10-2006, 8:45 PM
reph

Is it, perhaps, a shortening of "his" or "hers" tacked on to the possessor's name in some archaic form of English?Yes. In Old English, "his" or "hys" was the genitive of "he" (masculine) and "it" (neuter). The OED gives examples like "God his word" and "the earth...his fruit." Use of "his" with inanimate objects began to fade in the 17th century. "Gun-powder that hath lost his strength" (1644).

"Her," in various spellings, was used for females and feminine nouns.
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6-10-2006, 11:46 PM
Carmy

John's book.
John, his book
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6-10-2006, 11:46 PM
BardSkye

Well, now that is just plain fascinating. Thank you! I do love finding out the origins of words and sayings.
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6-11-2006, 12:21 PM
Cyjon

Thanks, folks. I know someone in this crowd would be able to answer it. Very interesting.
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6-11-2006, 1:22 PM
Maryn

Cyjon, it's pretty difficult to come up with an English language question nobody here can answer. Haven't seen one yet--although the answers don't always match up!

Maryn, attempting to absorb it all
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6-18-2006, 1:06 AM
Scribhneoir

Ooh, does that mean someone here knows what caused the Great Vowel Shift? I'd love to know the answer to that one.
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6-18-2006, 2:35 PM
allion

This site explains it better than I can:

http://alpha.furman.edu/~mmenzer/gvs/

Karen
(having a flashback to Linguistics, Beowulf, and Chaucer classes in school)
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6-18-2006, 3:38 PM
Scribhneoir

Fun website. But while it's got a great explanation of the mechanics of the Great Vowel Shift, it doesn't explain why the shift happened.

If the change in vowel sounds was just the result of usage over time, why does it rate a name of its own? Are there other languages that have undergone a Great Vowel Shift? Does modern French or German, for instance, pronounce their vowels in a completely different way today than they did in 1400?
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6-18:2006, 4:09 PM
Medievalist
Are there other languages that have undergone a Great Vowel Shift? Does modern French or German, for instance, pronounce their vowels in a completely different way today than they did in 1400?Yes, there are similar changes; in fact the sound changes are (we think) fairly predictable within Indo-European langauges; this is why we've been able to come up with Proto Indo-European roots. And, by the way, there are sound patterns for consonants as well.

If you're curious read the essay that's part of the Appendix on I.E. languages in the American Heritage Dictionary; it's by Calvert Watkins, who's fairly readable and one of the top three people in the field. You can find it online at http://www.bartleby.com/61/.

In other words, shift happens.