The Meddling of the English Plurality on Meaning

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Today, while working on my website Second Life Build Tutorial, i had to write:

[image] = Rezzing disabled. (rezz means creating objects out of non-existence, in the context of virtual world. It originates from the word de-rezz in the movie Tron (about a video-game virtual world), to mean death of the video game character. (which is manifested as sudden disappearance of the sprite.) )

Originally, i was just going to write:

[image] = No creating objects.

Here's the English problem. In the above, the sentence “No creating objects.” — due to the English grammar's singularity/plurality thing, is ambiguous, because by the plural form of the word “object”, it might be interpreted to mean that creating a single object is OK!

This is a example of my finding serious logical and efficiency problems in English from the aspect of what is possible. I felt that i should write it down more often whenever such issues come to my mind in my writing or reading process. So that, in the long run, i will have collected MY OWN thoughts on all the problems of English, in the context of 21st-century linguistics in our era of info age.

(the literature on English being a wildly imperfect human communication tool is not lacking among the linguistic community, but grammarians and writers have no idea.)

PS the traditional resolution to the “No creating objects” is of course “No creating object(s)”, or rephrase, or even the phrase as it is is understood by CONVENTION. Countless writing guides and books diddle and verbalize on issues like this. Now you see the complexity.

Plurality in English Grammar and Communication Effectiveness

In the following two passages, which one do you think is more clear with respect to communication?

A:

Multiple languages is also problematic in that it creates huge political issues and enmity. On the other hand, since the world as is is not a single language world, and languages is not purely tool of communication because it is a cultural artifact, therefore steps towards one single language in the already multi-lingual world may not necessarily be a good thing as it reduces diversity of a complex context.

B:

Multiple languages are also problematic in that they create huge political issues and enmities. On the other hand, since the world as is is not a single language world, and languages are not purely tools of communication because they are cultural artifacts, therefore steps toward one single language in the already multi-lingual world may not necessarily be a good thing as it reduces diversity of a complex context.

Scroll down to see my analysis.


i kind of find the first version more to the point, since the second version confuses meaning with plurality.

here's a simple example:

① I speak many language.

② I speak many languages.

The first version is clearer and more to the point. He said “many”. The second version, where the standard grammatical issue of plurality and agreements messes with the meaning.

In the above example, clearly ② is more natural because we are all used to it. But because of the plurality grammar stuff in English, it subtly suggest that in ① the speaker may actually speak just one language, singe he didn't use the plural form. This is of course a absurd way to resolve a grammatical conflict, but it does illustrate that in more complex situations when a speaker tries to convey a complex concept or expression, the plurality stuff gets in the way and effects the message sent out.

for example, in this passage:

A: Multiple languages is also problematic in that it creates huge political issues and enmity. On the other hand, since the world as is is not a single language world, and languages is not purely tool of communication because it is a cultural artifact, therefore steps towards one single language in the already multi-lingual world may not necessarily be a good thing as it reduces diversity of a complex context.

The “multiple languages” in the first sentence refers to a situation where multiple languages are used. “multiple languages” is actually not the subject. If we follow the standard grammar and say: “ Multiple languages are also problematic…” then the message is changed because now the subject seems to be “multiple languages”, not “a situation where multiple languages are used”.

in the similar way this applies to the plurality of enmity. Compare:

A. Multiple languages is also problematic in that it creates huge political issues and enmity.

B: Multiple languages are also problematic in that they create huge political issues and enmities

in A, it is understood that many issues are created, and as well a deep-seated hatred, by a situation where multiple languages are used. This is what the author had in mind. In B, it is suggested — by the plural form “enmities” — possibly a multitude of deep-seated hatred. The use of the plural “enmities” thus suggest a meaning more complex than intended.

Likewise, the grammatical restriction of number agreement effect the rest of the passage. It has been in me for a while feeling that this grammatical point (and many others) is a drag in communication. In logic and linguistic studies, grammar in natural languages has long been deemed problematic, and a number of experimental artificial languages have been invented. However, i've been experimenting with actually writing English with a non-standard grammar as in the above passage. I think, at a superficial glance it is obviously grammatically incorrect and therefore badly written, but i believe if the two passages are shown to massive number of average readers (half of which being foreigners or rednecks), statistics should show that the version without the grammar number agreement conveys message more accurately.

One point to note is that when reading, people effectively do scan. And when scanning quickly large quantities of texts, the singularity and plurality of words used has more weight in register meaning in communication than how they work together to form grammatical sentences. That is to say, for example, if a passage repeatedly uses plural form of a word, the reader will automatically associate with “many of” in meaning, even if the author used plural form only to conform grammatical correctness.

Note: in most European languages, a word has many forms (inflection) depending on issues of male/female, time, or one/many. Different language differ in their elaborateness and complexity with these matters, and modern English is actually quite lenient comparatively speaking. One may investigate how did such grammatical trait arose, and theorize their purpose in the context of communication. It is also interesting to note that such grammatical trait does not exist in many other languages, for example, Chinese. In terms of modern mathematical studies on languages, with respect to efficiency and effectiveness, the inflection trait is universally condemned.

“women's rights” or “woman's rights”?

“women's rights” or “woman's rights”?

Technically, i think it's more correct to say “woman's”. But there comes a logical conundrum. “woman's” seems to imply a single female, while “women's” implies all female. So, if you write “women's”, the meaning for all female is embedded, clear to all, including the massive number of people whose native language is not English, yet also clearly understandable and non-intrusive to native speakers (most won't even notice, except the handful and loud “grammar nazis”)

what do you think?

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