Re[1]: Contractions

Subject: Re[1]: Contractions
From: SANDRA CHARKER <scharker -at- OZEMAIL -dot- COM -dot- AU>
Date: Sat, 8 Apr 1995 15:45:31 +1000

Heli Roosild wrote:

> ... When people are reading rapidly, it is all too
easy to miss the meaning behind a contraction--especially with negatives
such as "don't" and "can't"....

I don't (contraction intended) understand why contractions should be harder to
understand in technical literature than they are in comics, advertisements,
newspapers, magazines, novels, or the thousands of general non-fiction books
that are published in English every year. If people are used to reading English
at all, how can they not be used to reading contractions?

The only cases I can think of that might give trouble are I'd, He'd, You'd
etc., where there's might be doubt about whether the verb is would or had. But
the solution to those is more likely to be recasting the sentence than spelling
out the words in full, and I doubt that the contraction per se would cause a
serious misunderstanding in any case.

> And as the literature shows, reading is very much a process of
> recognizing the visual patterns of common words--e.g., "is,"
> "will," "not," and so on.

Yes (with the qualification that reading is not just a matter of recognising
individual words) but I'd, you'd, can't, I'll, would've ARE common words. In
speech, and increasingly in writing, the expanded versions are used for
emphasis; "does not" is an emphatic form of "don't", not a synonym.

From Dave Demyan's message:

> Foreign-born readers may have to ask such questions as: *Don't:
> is that do not or donut?* We can not (lack of contraction
> intentional) afford such ambiguity in our writing.

"Foreign-born"? Millions of native English speakers are born and live their
whole lives in countries where 'donut' is spelt 'doughnut' and this particular
ambiguity doesn't exist. In many cases doughnuts don't either, which leads me
to point out that contractions are a very small part of the general problem of
communicating in a one language across many cultures and nations.

Sandra Charker


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