Is the apostrophe dying out? Sloppy grammar on social media could sound the death knell for some forms of punctuation, research suggests
- Online platforms often limit characters per post, making users drop punctuation
- The study is the biggest into speech and writing since spread of tech from 1990s
- Researchers looked at 100 million words to analyse trends over last 30 years
The apostrophe may die out because of sloppy grammar on social media, researchers suggest.
They say online platforms such as Twitter, which limit the number of characters per post, mean users are getting into the habit of dropping punctuation.
Casualties include the possessive apostrophe in plural nouns – such as ‘cats’ paws’ – or those which replace a letter, such as in ‘couldn’t’ for could not and ‘shouldn’t’ for should not.
The study is the biggest into how speech and writing has evolved since the spread of technology from the 1990s.
They say online platforms such as Twitter, which limit the number of characters per post, mean users are getting into the habit of dropping punctuation
Researchers looked at 100 million words to analyse trends and found casual and ungrammatical language has become more prevalent in the last 30 years.
Dr Vaclav Brezina, who led the Lancaster University, study said: ‘We have experienced dramatic changes in technology, which transformed the way we communicate.
Written language has become much more dynamic and shared by many more people.
‘We text or message friends and colleagues and get an immediate response but we might be hard-pressed to remember when we last wrote a letter.
‘Many more people also produce content for the general audience via social media and websites.
‘One doesn’t need to be a journalist or a novelist to reach thousands or millions of people.’
The study said such use of social media has promoted so-called ‘progressive spelling’, such as ‘gunna’ for ‘going to’.
There are also abbreviations, such as ‘defo’ for definitely and ‘tomoz’ instead of tomorrow, plus initials like ‘OMG’ for ‘oh my God’ and ‘TBH’, for ‘to be honest’.
Twitter users often ditch punctuation and longer words as posts are limited to 280 characters. The internet has also brought in words related to technology, like ‘vlog’, ‘fitbit’ and ‘bitcoin’.
Academics analysed how many times per million a word was used in the early 1990s compared with now.
The study said such use of social media has promoted so-called ‘progressive spelling’, such as ‘gunna’ for ‘going to’
They found an 8 per cent decrease in the uses of the apostrophe after a plural noun from 308.47 uses per million in the 1990s to 282.88 uses per million now.
There has also been a 52 per cent drop in the word ‘whom’ and a 60 per cent slump in ‘shall’.
Titles like ‘Mr’ and ‘Mrs’ are declining in favour of using first names but the use of ‘amazing’ soared from 16.6 times to 88.6 times per million.
The developments have not been welcomed by traditionalists. Ex-headteacher Chris McGovern, of the Campaign for Real Education, said: ‘The demise of the apostrophe is a symptom of linguistic laziness and dumbing down.’
The study looked at British English in genres including newspapers, TV shows, blogs, fiction and academic writing.