Kine: an interesting plural

I read that the only plural in English which shares no letters with its singular form is ‘kine’, a plural for cow. I thought this was really cool until I was disappointed to be reminded that I/we and me/us also fits this description. But it’s still interesting. Plus I that the pronouns aren’t plurals in the same way … unless perhaps I clone myself and make two ‘I’s.

I’d never heard of ‘kine’ before and the OED declares it archaic, but my mother tells me it’s still often used in her cryptic crosswords.

Interestingly as well as not sharing letters with cow, it seems to have a double plural ending. In old English kine was originally ‘cy’ which became cȳna, the genitive plural of cū (cow). In Middle English this became kyn and now kine.

The Old English ‘cy’ seems to have denoted a plural, with another the pluralising ‘(e)n’ suffix added to this. This shows the same plural ending as other irregular plurals, such as children and oxen.

This TED video gives a short, simplified video about plurals which was a fun little watch:


Texting correlated with good spelling and grammar

Texting has been reported to be correlated with good spelling and grammar in schools. I read about an older study in David Crystal’s Internet Language book showing pupils who texted more had better spelling and grammar texted than those who didn’t text as much. While it’s only a correlation, there seems to be the feeling that texting does help with spelling and grammar. This could be for a variety of reasons: to abbreviate and play with language you need to understand the rules of standard spelling and grammar; texting a lot means you’re practising your spelling; when texting you need to be able to express yourself clearly enough for someone else to understand you. I think the latter is really important.

When we learn our mother tongue as a baby and when we learn a foreign language, it’s important to have an immediate response from someone so you can gauge your success. I imagine this might be the same when practising grammar and spelling. When you get something wrong in school you usually have the delayed response to the teacher marking you. While in texting if you don’t express yourself well enough, you’ll often soon receive a confused reply or be asked to explain better. I imagine this might help to develop better grammar and spelling skills. I can’t wait until people stop complaining about how damaging electronic communication is on young people’s spelling and grammar and realise it actually might help


Computer program passes the Turing test (sort of)

The news is currently filled with the story of a computer programme passing the Turing test. To pass it needed to convince 33% of people it was a human responding to them in a five minute typed conversation. The computer programme did convince 10 out of 30 judges that it was human: however it was pretending to be a 13-year-old with English as a second language human. This isn’t quite what was intended by the Turing test.

I was curious about how human-like the interaction was and thought this recorded conversation was quite interesting. In fairness its answers are mostly on topic, but the language didn’t feel quite right. Not just the non-fluent interaction, but some of the language seemed unusual. For example, would a 13-year old language user use ‘to be sincere’ instead of ‘honestly’? While I know from experience of calling international call centres, second language users often use more old-fashioned, formal language than a native speaker would, I still think the language sounds wooden at times.

I can’t imagine the difficulty of getting the computer programme to this level of conversational interaction, so feel a bit guilty criticising it. I haven’t seen a transcript of the conversation, but I’m curious to know if each response is sent in one chunk, or sent in parts (as is common in chat messages) and if there were typos. While it isn’t really passing the Turing test it’s still fascinating.


The Queen’s speeches conservative agenda?

I read a BBC news article this morning about Labour’s criticisms that the Queen’s speech this week contained support for the Conservatives party. It contained the phrases ‘long-term plan’ and ‘long-term economic plan’, which are Conservative Party slogans.

The opening line of the speech was, “My government’s legislative programme will continue to deliver on its long-term plan to build a stronger economy and a fairer society.”

Is ‘long-term plan’ so tied to a conservative message it can’t be used neutrally? What other synonyms could have been used if they wanted to keep the same opening statement?