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In the Net of Grans

(44 Posts)
Mamie Tue 08-May-12 07:27:53

I was listening to my three year old, bilingual grandaughter talking to her cousins the other day and pausing before saying that her doll was, "in the house of Mummy and Daddy". It made me think how we use use the possessive form in English. Lynne Truss says that the pesky, old apostrophe didn't exist before the sixteenth century, but I understand that the form of words "in Mummy and Daddy's house" comes from much earlier in English. Does it exist in other languages? Does it make things quicker / easier to say in English?

whenim64 Tue 08-May-12 07:43:12

I'm aware of it existing in Italian and French language, but don't speak other languages - I wouldn't be surprised if it is used to abbreviate phrases all over the world. It shouldn't make any difference except to the written word, but when you hear a bilingual child using a phrase like that Mamie it highlights what a funny language we have. Then again, I still struggle trying to remember feminine and masculine French words. How much better if we were all to be bilingual or multilingual from the start.

Mamie Tue 08-May-12 07:59:37

It doesn't exist in French (AFAIK), you have to use "la maison de Maman," there too. I always say to my French friends that our use of "her house" is much clearer than "sa maison", which could be his or hers and making it understood that it is hers is much more convoluted. I still get the gender of nouns wrong, but have learnt to interpret the look of pain that passes over my friends' faces!

whenim64 Tue 08-May-12 08:07:39

My mistake Mamie. I don't know French well enough, other than my schoolgirl French that gets me by. I thought the apostrophe was used, e.g. d'accord, but perhaps you're referring to it in one specific way.

Mamie Tue 08-May-12 08:12:15

Oh yes, definitely used in d'accord, j'appelle etc. I was talking about the possessive form, so you can't say "Maman's maison" and meant to try and make it clear that it was about the construction of the sentence rather than the actual apostrophe. I woke up thinking about it, so it may have come out a bit muddled, sorry!

Greatnan Tue 08-May-12 08:15:22

I have given up trying to remember whether a noun is masculine or feminine -there is no logic to it anyway, as the word for the vagina, vagin, is masculine!

Annobel Tue 08-May-12 09:13:48

The genitive case in ancient languages such as Latin obviates the need for 'of'. My mother's house is (if my memory serves me): domus meae matris. The loss of inflexions has necessitated circumlocutions such as la maison de ma mere. (Sorry, can't find all the accents on my keyboard).

Mamie Tue 08-May-12 09:29:16

Oh that is really interesting Annobel. So the Latin based languages have lost it and we have kept it in the linguistic mongrel that is English?!

Greatnan Tue 08-May-12 09:30:38

Better no 'of' at all than 'off of'!

Our Latin teacher made us learn a terrible poem to remember the prepositions that take the ablative case - I think it began 'Sine, tenus, pro and prae.......' Now why would I remember something which will never again be of use to me, but forget where I put the charger for my mobile?
I think I read that memories laid down in youth make stronger neural connections (I have no idea what I am talking about).

I also remember reams of poetry, Shakespeare, mathematical formulae, the dates of the French revolution and the characteristics of a Mediterranean climate. Perhaps if I could forget some of this stuff I would make room in my memory for more French vocabulary, which really would be useful.

Bags Tue 08-May-12 09:51:04

English has advanced further than other European languages that keep gender attached to nouns and conjugations for verbs. We've ditched all the conjugations except for the genitive (possessive) and we've ditched gender with regard to nouns. So far so good. But because we've had so many foreign influences on the language, other parts are more complex, e.g. spelling.

Some people argue that we have no subjunctive mood in our language now, but I would argue that we still have it in 'sense' but not in 'construction' or sound. As always, there are exceptions as in "If I were Chinese, I probably wouldn't know this". That's subjunctive.

Greatnan Tue 08-May-12 09:56:11

I have to confess to being a tad pedantic about the use of the conditional - eg. 'If I was a rich man' grates on me.

Bags Tue 08-May-12 10:06:12

Thanks, gn. I got my conditionals and my subjunctive muxed ip!! blush

Bags Tue 08-May-12 10:06:49

Or did I? confused

Annobel Tue 08-May-12 10:26:49

Just checked a web site that gives info on OE grammar and a lot more besides and, as I thought, our 's genitive is the remnant of the -es ending of the OE genitive singular. The s' genitive plural in modern English would need a bit more research, as the OE genitive plural was -a.
Oh, this was one part of my degree that I just loved! Can't you tell?

absentgrana Tue 08-May-12 10:45:46

*Bags" May and might, the latter being the subjunctive?

Modern German remains inflexive, like Latin – i.e. the the ending of the noun changes depending on its grammatical function. English started out like that and it's difficult to believe that Old English had much connection with the language that we speak now.

Wodon pa waelwulfas, for waetere ne murnon,
wicinga werod, west ofer Pantan,
ofer scir waeter scyldas wegon,
lidmen to lande linde baeron.

(The pa in the first line doesn't start with a p, but a letter that looked a bit like it and was a th sound.)

Modern English is a very sophisticated language and the only change to the endings of nouns is to denote plurals. Otherwise, it's all done with prepositions and the possessive apostrophe s/s apostrophe.

Annobel Tue 08-May-12 10:51:28

I love that alliterative verse convention!

Bags Tue 08-May-12 11:11:13

So conditionals can sometimes be subjunctive as well? I'd always understood the subjunctive mood to be to express uncertainty. 'If' often denotes uncertainty.

Am I thinking along the right lines?

Greatnan Tue 08-May-12 11:21:12

Bags - if you can follow this explanation your brain is in better fettle than mine!

Re: Subjunctive vs conditional

This is a fairly complex topic and even the experts disagree on the nuances. The web has vast amounts of information on the formation and use of the conditional/subjunctive, the decline of the subjunctive in English, and provides many examples.

The conditional mood involves statements in which the results or outcome are contingent (depend) on a given situation or condition, including, like the subjunctive, hypothetical situations. The certainty of the outcome can vary from absolutely certain (not always considered the "true" conditional) through generally, potentially, and rarely certain to contrary to fact (the unreal conditional). For example:

If you take LSD you start to hallucinate. (Certain)
When I feed my dog, he usually bites me. (Generally certain)
If he were to arrive right now, we might have a chance to see him. (Hypothetical/uncertain).
If I made lots of money, I would invest in gold (Contrary to fact).

The subjunctive mood treats statements of emotion, wishing, uncertainty, and contrary to fact/hypothetical situations:

I wish he were dead!
May you always be prosperous!
I wish I were in Figi, it is too cold here.
Would that it were true!

There is a link between the conditional and subjunctive: in an unreal present conditional statement (one hypothetical or contrary to fact), the main clause (the result) is in the conditional while the subordinate clause (the condition) is in the subjunctive:

I would have more fun in Berlin if I spoke German. (I don't speak German).

I hope this is of some help,

Bags Tue 08-May-12 11:42:18

I understand it perfectly, thank you! wink

Well, it confirms what I thought – that there is overlap between the two, and that we still do use the subjunctive mood. It's just that I've heard people say there is no subjunctive in English when there clearly is. What they mean is that we don't have a different form of the verb for use with the subjunctive. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist in thought or that it can't be expressed. It's just too subtle for some people.

absentgrana Tue 08-May-12 11:45:29

Bags Oh yes we do. May and might again.

He may have killed himself i.e. the dead man might have committed suicide.
He might have killed himself i.e. he narrowly avoided death.

Mamie Tue 08-May-12 11:53:30

Be that as it may!
Wish I could use it instinctively in French - I do after il faut que, but struggle with remembering the rest.

Bags Tue 08-May-12 11:59:56

Thanks, absent, but you could also say "he might have killed himself" about a person who is dead and is suspected of having committed suicide, but the facts of the killing/dying process are not known even though the fact of the deadness is. The meaning and connotations are different but the verb 'might have' is the same.

Bags Tue 08-May-12 12:00:13

Is that usage subjunctive as well?

Bags Tue 08-May-12 12:01:54

Or is it nearer to what in greatnan's post was called the general certainty?

gracesmum Tue 08-May-12 12:03:40

When a pedant gets upset I just say "Their, they're, there" grin