MORE OF THE ENGLISH OF THE FUTURE.

Every so often Dr. Boli wonders about the future of English. Unlike other casual observers, however, Dr. Boli does not merely wonder. He is slowly compiling a dictionary and grammar of the English of the future.

Here are two more grammatical principles that Dr. Boli suspects will be features of the language our descendants speak a century or two from now. We may shake our heads and scoff at the ignorance of some English-speakers today, but if we do we may be placing ourselves in the position of old Edmund Spenser wondering why the language must deviate from Chaucer’s standard. Or we may simply observe the changes as they happen, so that we know what to expect.

The trend, it seems, is away from regularity and back toward the kind of irregularity that characterized Old English.

Today’s first principle of future English: All words that end in -st, or in that combination of sounds, are identical in their singular and plural forms. Test, cost, fist, breast, cast—those are all either singular or plural, like “deer.” Dr. Boli at first thought these were simply typing mistakes, but words like “test” and “cost” appear as plurals so often, and so consistently in certain writers, that we must accept them as foretastes (which of course will soon be spelled foretaste) of the English of the future. An example just collected from the unwashed Internet:

Bayes was born into a family of artist.

This change is happening because the singular and plural forms are already pronounced identically. Artist and artists are both pronounced “artiss.”

Our second noticeable trend: should, would, and could are used instead of shouldn’t, wouldn’t, and couldn’t as contractions of should not, would not, and could not. Again, the phenomenon is common, and completely consistent among the writers who make that mistake—they do it all the time, not just accidentally once or twice. The first time Dr. Boli ran across it, he had trouble understanding why the writer was saying exactly the opposite of what he obviously wanted to say; but now he recognizes the alternative spelling instantly and adjusts with a quiet grumble. It is sometimes surprising how much ambiguity we can tolerate when we attempt to communicate. Perhaps future writers will use some form of typography, such as italics or capital letters, to distinguish “could” meaning “could” from “could” meaning “could not.”

Comments

  1. So . . . “should, would, and could are used instead of shouldn’t, wouldn’t, and couldn’t as contractions of should not, would not, and could not.”

    We should hope.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

  2. The first principle here enumerated, I could live with. The second, I could not.

    I may speak with a lisp, but I do not type with one, so while I may swallow the T sound in artists and tests and so forth when speaking in a hurry, I still type it, no matter how much of a hurry I may be in. But if that usage did become common enough to change the plural form of those words…I could live with that.

    But should for shouldn’t? I could see the apostrophe swallowing yet another letter, and the spelling become should’n, but if it swallows all of “not”, what’s to differentiate should from should not? We’ve already got one flammable/inflammable, we don’t need a whole new family of seeming self-antonyms. At the very least, instead of using italics to differentiate the word from its antonymic homograph, leave the now-overstuffed apostrophe to lean against the last letter of should or could, so it can digest in peace the last few crumbs of not that it has gobbled up.

    Insert your own “not hungry” pun here.

  3. Jason Gilbert says:

    I hope Dr. Boli will continue this series in great detail, perhaps even dedicating another blog entirely to it as a precursor to his book on the subject.

  4. Jason Gilbert says:

    Also, if the good doctor is to maintain his publishing “empire,” then he needs add the standard social media “share” links to his posts. Currently, it takes two (sometimes as many as three!) steps to share his posts on Twitter.

  5. Caren says:

    Not only does the doctor need “share” links, but he’s sorely in need of “like” buttons.

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