I’ve written before about how spelling mistakes are not grammar mistakes, and gave an example of how you could test this. In the case of your/you’re confusion, no one ever tries to extract an auxiliary out of your. So even people who write “You’re parents are home” would never attempt to make a question like “Are you parents are home?”. People fundamentally know the difference between the possessive and the contraction, and it’s really just a simple spelling mistake.
Anyway, I think it’s time to revisit this issue, after reading a quiz on the Telegraph: How much of a grammar pedant are you?. (edit: this link now seems to be dead. Sorry!) I’m not a grammar pedant, but I am a picky linguist, and I don’t like this quiz. It’s supposed to be about grammar, but not all the questions are actually on that topic. They are mostly about spelling, punctuation, or writing style. First, I’ll give a quick overview of grammar vs. writing, and then I’ll tackle the quiz specifically.
I’ve decided to finally give Twitter a try (I’m years behind on this one). This blog is dedicated to articles on grammar and linguistics, and it’s mostly about English, but I’m going to go a different direction on Twitter. I’ll be tweeting about as many different languages as I can. Check out the feed on the side-bar for some examples!
If you hear scientists say something like “We don’t understand much about the climate on Jupiter” or “We don’t know why electrons behave in a particular way”, then that kind of ignorance seems reasonable. Jupiter is a huge planet, it’s far away, and it’s an inanimate object that can’t answer questions about itself. Same for electrons, except they are really small, presenting different problems.
But what about language sciences? Suppose a linguist says “we don’t really understand how determiners work in Salish” or “we don’t understand quantification in Hmong”. What does that mean? It doesn’t sound like a difficult problem to solve. It’s not like studying Jupiter or electrons. Dealing with languages means dealing with people. Can’t you just ask them how their language works? The short answer: