6.26.2006

Irregular plurals

Arrogant Polyglot provided a link to an Irregular Plurals List that should be helpful for English learners, and interesting for language nerds.

They give two options for the plural of formula: formulae and formulas. I doubt many people use the plural "formulae" version, except for persnickety folks who understand the minutiae of spelling.

They have the same options for antenna: antennae and antennas. I can see people using "antennae" for insects, but not for such items as radios and televisions. "Antennas" is a more democratic (though pedestrian) spelling which seems more appropriate for "common" objects.

This was news to me: the plurals for bureau are bureaus and bureaux. Only the French-Aware would understand the use of an x at the end of a word. What were they thinking? Yes, bureau is a French word, but not many people understand French spelling, and even more don't care.

They also have the word tableau there--why? It's not an oft-used word. And they have the same French option there, too: tableaux/tableaus. That word is more obscure anyway, so I'll give them a pass on the French spelling because not many people dig that deep.

6 comments:

Jon Konrath said...

I thought it was weird that not only does fish have an irregular form and not change, but also many kinds of fish have the same behavior, like tuna, salmon, pike, cod, halibut, etc.

mj said...

Yes. Indeed.

Arrogant Polyglot said...

How could one not care about French spelling? *gasp*

French orthography is traditionally nightmare inducing! The irregularities are undless. Morphological plural markers are random. For instance:

1) pneu (tire) > pneus (tires)
2) cheveu (hair) > cheveux hairs
2) bureau (desk) > bureaux (desks)
3) ordinateur (computer) > ordinateurs
4) pays (country) > pays (countries)
5) croix (cross) > croix
6) oil (eye) > yeux (eyes)

I'm too tired to think of any more. It's no wonder most people don't care about French spelling. It's exceptionally difficult to master, hence its designation as a language of the elite. Certainly far too complex for the common linguist ;)

mj said...

There are more complicated languages--I think Thai ranks up there. I can't speak it, but I've read about it, and there's a lot of cultural and grammatical and tonal stuff going on that makes it complex.

Arrogant Polyglot said...

Tones? Yikes. Keep me away from those. Call me a lazy polyglot, but tones are totally out of my reach!

mj said...

I briefly studied Chinese and the least it did was make the tones sound less scary. So now when I hear people speaking Mandarin, I try to decifer what they're saying instead of hearing sing-song meowing.

Actually, I'd attribute the meowing sound to Thai more than Chinese, but I ended up lumping the tonal languages together out of being mystified.