There is much media uproar over proposals by a local authority to ‘abolish’ the apostrophe from its street signs in an attempt ‘to avoid confusion’. Here’s how the Guardian are reporting the story but we’d love to hear your views on apostrophes from a classroom perspective: do they help or hinder children’s understanding?
Later this month members of Mid Devon district council’s cabinet will discuss formally banning the pesky little punctuation marks from its (no apostrophe needed) street signs, apparently to avoid “confusion”.
The news of the Tory-controlled council’s (apostrophe required) decision provoked howls of condemnation on Friday from champions of plain English, fans of grammar, and politicians. Even the government felt the need to join the campaign to save the apostrophe.
The Plain English Campaign led the criticism. “It’s nonsense,” said Steve Jenner, spokesperson and radio presenter. “Where’s it going to stop. Are we going to declare war on commas, outlaw full stops?”
Jenner was puzzled over why the council appeared to think it a good idea not to have punctuation on signs. “If it’s to try to make things clearer, it’s not going to work. The whole purpose of punctuation is to make language easier to understand. Is it because someone at the council doesn’t understand how it works?”
Jenner suggested the council was providing a bad example to children who were – hopefully – being taught punctuation at school only to not see it being used correctly on street signs. “It seems a bit hypocritical,” he added.
Sian Harris, lecturer in English literature at Exeter University, said the proposals were likely to lead to greater confusion. She said: “Usually the best way to teach about punctuation is to show practical examples of it – removing [apostrophes] from everyday life would be a terrible shame and make that understanding increasingly difficult. English is a complicated language as it is — removing apostrophes is not going to help with that at all.”
Ben Bradshaw, the former culture secretary and Labour MP for Exeter, condemned the plans on Twitter. He wrote a precisely punctuated tweet: “Tory Mid Devon Council bans the apostrophe to ‘avoid confusion’ … Whole point of proper grammar is to avoid confusion!”
The council’s plans caused a stir 200 miles away in Whitehall, where the Department for Communities and Local Government came out in defence of punctuation. A spokesman said: “Whilst this is ultimately a matter for the local council, ministers’ view is that England’s apostrophes should be cherished.”
Are apostrophes more trouble than they’re worth? What are you thoughts on teaching them? Share you views with Schools Improvement Net using this form