Enhancing language 'artificially' ?

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2006/12/02 07:42 -05:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2006/12/02/1193192.aspx

So yesterday, the question that was asked on an internal blogging alias:

Yesterday, I have installed Windows Vista and observed “Windows Checks” during installation.

My question here is  as per English Grammar

“The third person singular in regular verbs in English is distinguished by the suffix -s.

If the base ends in a sibilant sound like /s/, /z/, /ʃ/, /tʃ/ (see IPA) that is not followed by a silent E, the suffix is written –es.

If the base ends in a consonant plus y, the y changes to an i and -es is affixed to the end.”

I think, The word “Windows” is not singular, as a result it should be Windows Check or Window Checks”, can anybody give me interpretation why the word “Windows” is used a singular here?


Not sure what that has to do with blogging, but.... :-)

A few people pointed out that since Windows in this context is referring to a software product, it is a singular, proper noun. Which it is here, and it is why the usage was actually correct.

Of course Windows is pretty ubiquitous now, but obviously that wasn't always the case. Which got me wondering about this kind of usage and how it would be interpreted by someone who was either unaware of this other status or who was simply less aware of it. You know, like someone who was not really hearing all that much about Windows the software product.

Is this a usage that leads to a garden path sentence? A slightly more conventional one even than the ones I have discussed previously like garden path menus and garden path blog post titles?

Again it does not seem necessarily fit the textbook definition of a garden path sentence that a psycholinguist might use, despite the obvious similarities. But at least the garden path effect seems to be involved....

Now coming back to the present where everyone knows what Windows is and the confusion is much less common, it seems easier to get the effect by using the word to not mean the software product and cause the backtracking to happen.

And obviously someone who speaks no English will never have the ambiguity at all.

But I can't help looking at this principle of Microsoft product names (Windows, Access, Excel, Outlook, etc.) based on generic words and feeling like this is a very artificial and fast process compared to the way words usually tend to shift in language. It just doesn't seem to take as long to change the meaning as it might have used to have taken. Sure things catch on, but do they really catch on this quickly under normal circumstances?

So I wondered whether this is something that a linguist has studied, or maybe even written a dissertation on. It seems like a fascinating thing to be happening in language....


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# Michael Dunn_ on 2 Dec 2006 5:12 PM:

I hit garden paths often when I see the UK usage of a company name + plural verb, as in "Microsoft are releasing Vista this week". I have to stop and go back and mentally "fix" the verb before reading on.

It's most troublesome when skimming post titles in an RSS feed, as there have been a couple times recently when I couldn't tell what the title was trying to say because my brain couldn't parse the sentence.

# David on 3 Dec 2006 5:07 PM:

Wow! Just followed the "Garden path sentence" link and saw the "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo" link at the bottom of it. Thanks for that.

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referenced by

2008/09/13 Where the boys aren't garden path sentences

2008/03/09 Under the big space, you may find a 'Road to Nowhere' sentence

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