From the deep-end of the Internet archives, I’ve stumbled upon a very old but interesting article on LanguageGeek
, about the use of apostrophes in native languages. How interesting can a simple ‘ apostrophe get, you may ask, and you should be prepared to have your mind blown away.
The apostrophe mark serves different functions in different languages. Here’s a few:
1. Elision Mark
Elision refers to the omission of a sound which might otherwise have been pronounced. In English, the eliding apostrophe appears in words like don’t and they’ve. This also appears commonly in French and Welsh. In Skicinuwatuwewakon (Maliseet) the eliding apostrophe indicates that, historically, there once was an initial consonant which is now not pronounced.
2. Separation Mark
Sometimes an apostrophe is used to separate two letters which would otherwise be pronounced as one sound. In Uummarmiutun (a dialect of Iñupiaq), the letter «nng» is pronounced [ŋŋ], as in avinngaq “lemming”. When the sequence should be two distinct sounds [nŋ], an apostrophe separates the two: tan’ngit “whites”.
3. Punctuation Mark
In North American English, the apostrophe also functions as a closing quote-within-a-quote, as in the following. My brother said, “The woman told the dog, ‘Stay!’ after it had barked at the neighbour.” In British English, the rôles of the single and double quotes are reversed. This type of usage may appear in Native language texts. In French, «double guillemets» and ‹single guillemets› are commonly used instead.
4. Grammatical Mark
On occasion, orthographies can distinguish between two otherwise identical words, prefixes or suffixes with some sort of mark or accent. In French, a “have” and à “to” are pronounced the same way but are marked with an accent to help the reader distinguish between the two words. Similarly, the apostrophe in the singular English possessive marker ’s, as in the man’s clothes, reinforces a possessive meaning instead of the unpossessed plural suffix -s.
However, in other dialects of Mohawk, the final apostrophe in the punctual is pronounced.
5. Alphabetic Mark
Many Native languages have orthographies where the apostrophe is used as a letter of the alphabet. Many languages represent the glottal stop (IPA [ʔ]) with an apostrophe, as in the Hul’q’umin’um’ (Cowichan) word ’i’“and”. In Listuguj Mi'gmawi'simg (Restigouche Micmac), the apostrophe can represent a schwa, as in ms’t “all”, pronounced [msət].
The apostrophe itself can take on different forms, depending on the font. Generally speaking, it is either shaped like a filled in number ‘9’ or a slanted line. The shape of the apostrophe no more changes its function than a two-storied a or single-storied ɑ in English; it’s simply a difference in typeface design.
Today, apostrophes are used as what it known as dumb quote ’, which has no real use, and is a hang-over from the typewriter days when the dumb quote was used as a short cut for proper opening and closing single quotation marks. This is why they’re known as typewriter-style quotation marks, too.
Because of this, a wrong usage of the apostrophe has made its way into several different languages, at least the ones using Latin typography. To remedy this, word processors and online writing platforms have included auto-correct which automatically changes dumb quotes to curly quotes: don’t becomes don’t. This works well when the only apostrophe which occurs at the beginning of words is the opening quote or 6-shaped quote.
And then there are apostrophe accents, from which I’ll quote: