4

In another language, case may make a big difference in the interpretation of a sentence, but what about English?

i could understand if it had a semantic meaning, such as important words being capitalized, but we also start sentences with capital letters, suggesting that the first word is somehow important. if that is true, Why Do We Not Write Sentences Like This? all of those words could be used to start a sentence.

acronyms, which are really just special abbreviations anyway, are rendered in all caps, even when the letters themselves in the expanded . the context of a word determines its meaning, right?

the following two sentences use the same word in different contexts:

  • i hate aids. (acronym "AIDS" in place of "Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome", which i have seen both in Title Case as well as all lowercase)

  • she aids him. ("aids" as in "assists")

and what about "she was a cancer with cancer"? why is the zodiac sign treated as a "proper" noun while the ailment is not?

is this just historical practice that has since lost meaning, or is it still useful in some way aside from helping sentences and Supposedly Important Words to stand out a bit more? some other languages get along just fine without it, even having multiple meanings for the same word/character as in my last example sentence, contrived though it may be. is case differentiation in english still relevant today or merely an antiquated practice that should be followed because to not do so would be considered bad form?

  • why is the zodiac sign treated as a "proper" noun while the ailment is not? because if i were to write the the isolated phrase he's a cancer, in a world where capital letters no longer existed, this would be mighty ambiguous. don't you think? of course in speech we don't hear capitalized or block capital words, but very often we have visual or context clues that avoid many misunderstandings. – Mari-Lou A Nov 19 '14 at 5:46
  • 4
    I think yours is an interesting question, and I'm dismayed you received down-votes. I would lay the blame on knee-jerk reactions to your challenge, they are disagreeing with your argument. But definitely, nowadays, the use of lower-case is becoming increasingly common, mostly thanks to texts. You only have to visit a pop YouTube music video and read users' comments to confirm this. – Mari-Lou A Nov 19 '14 at 5:53
  • By the way, the first letter in your title and question are capitalized, as is the proper noun, English. Old habits die hard. :) – Mari-Lou A Nov 19 '14 at 5:56
  • @Mari-LouA That was intentional, and actually you pinned the ulterior motivation behind this question: are youths evolving the written form of their language, English in this specific case, or are they missing something important? Punctuation serves a clearer purpose than the reason why "of" in a film title is typically lowercase while the reality is that it is written in Title Case. Written communication directed at a more formal audience would most likely maintain the requirements of proper word casing for quite some time, but the reasons behind it seem somehow arbitrary to me now. – user98271 Nov 19 '14 at 22:52
  • @Mari-LouA I do agree that isolated, he's a cancer, is ambiguous, but such a phrase has context normally, whether it is a person reading about their new favorite male celebrity being born at a certain time of year or somebody talking about how a person is unacceptable in their opinion. even if the visual clues are missing, it is rare that context does not accompany a particular phrase. Misunderstandings are avoided often by providing context. Pronouns are inherently ambiguous without context for example. Would you not agree? – user98271 Nov 20 '14 at 4:41
3

Sometimes it is a matter distinguishing between two uses of the same word. For example:

catholic - all-embracing

Catholic - of the Roman Catholic church

chair - a seat with a backrest

Chair - person who runs the meeting (also chairperson, formerly chairman)

conservative - averse to change, very traditional

Conservative - right-wing political party

deaf - inability to hear

Deaf - a cultural adjective, meaning active within the Deaf community

Further, CamelCase (as it is known) can be useful for separating words when spaces cannot be used, such as in web/email addresses.

  • I find this to be a most appropriate answer. Certain uses can easily be replaced (e.g., "She is [a] Catholic.") However, the point about "deaf" vs. "Deaf" leaves me without argument, especially since they both function as the same part of speech. The only way to resolve the ambiguity if uppercase letters disappeared would be for "deaf" to gradually fall into disuse, which is unlikely, or for "Deaf" to be used with additional information to provide context, assuming that context is not already understood implicitly. "Deaf" might be replaced or rendered completely unnecessary as time progressed. – user98271 Nov 19 '14 at 23:11
  • CamelCase could be replaced by an underscore or full stop between words. For some reason, I see many handles like "bloodyxrosex95" in which the letter 'x' replaces spaces, so that might be an alternative as well, ambiguous though it may be. Overall, this is the most convincing answer, though I'm left wondering if time will render the majuscule form of letters obsolete as has been the trend for some time among younger people — something that cannot be answered by anybody at this current time. – user98271 Nov 19 '14 at 23:14
8

The wiki article on History of the Latin Alphabet seems to answer most of your questions. Capitalization is still used for readability, emphasis, and clarity of meaning, and is as much a part of the written language as emphasis and pronunciation is to the spoken word.

  • 3
    Good answer, and I didn't even bother to check your link. ;-) – Drew Nov 19 '14 at 4:46
  • Your answer is helpful in directing me to a resource detailing the evolution of the language, but if the miniscule form became the only form in common usage, something that slowly seems to be happening, I still do not see a problem, based upon your answer alone. It would be evolution of the written language, something that has clearly happened before as explained in the linked wiki article. – user98271 Nov 19 '14 at 22:57
  • Sure, people are txting u r 2 cool, mt @ cafe @ 7 and they are obviously successful at transmitting their meaning. But that's the specialized case of an argot, and doesn't mean the written language is devolving to the point where case, spelling, and punctuation no longer matter. – John Deters Nov 19 '14 at 23:11
  • Punctuation and spelling convey meaning at least. Two forms of each letter in English is perhaps less important or even unnecessary altogether. In the latter case, removal of that which is no longer in common use would effectively be an improvement. I fail to understand how case improves readability. Emphasis can now be conveyed in other ways, especially using electronic communication mediums such as email. Lastly, clarity of meaning may be retained through the addition of necessary information. Case serves little purpose in those respects, but we seem to disagree about that. – user98271 Nov 19 '14 at 23:33
  • Are you suggesting that we substitute case for <i>html tags</i>, because email uses them for emphasis? Capitalization is already effective there. Reading text without mixed case is similar to listening to someone with an unfamiliar accent. Yes, you can get the meaning, but it takes much more concentration and focus than it would listening to a familiar voice. At the expense of a few extra writing rules, we have made reading easier. I don't see much reason for complaint. – John Deters Nov 20 '14 at 0:09

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy