Saturday, September 13, 2008

i don't like this You business

Dad often sends me snippets to keep me in touch with happenings in India. His latest email had a summary of an article from New York Times reproduced in The Times of India.

Why is capital I used in First Person Singular Number? Germans respectfully capitalise You. England is where the capital "I" first raised its dotless head. The generally accepted linguistic explanation is that " i" could not stand alone, uncapitalised as a single letter.Charles Bigelow, a type historian and designer of font families, explains, "One little letter had to represent an important word, but it was too wimpy, graphically speaking, to carry the sematic burden. So the scribes made it bigger, which means much taller."

So what effect has capitalising "I" but not "you" - or any other pronoun - had on English speakers? It is impossible to know, but perhaps our individualistic, workoholic society would be more rooted in community and quality and less focussed on money and success if we each thought of ourselves as small "i" with a little sweet dot.

Modern e-mail culture has shown that many English speakers feel perfectly comfortable dismissing all uses of capitalisation - and even correct spelling for that matter. But take this step further: I suggest that You try, as an experiment, to capitalise those whom You address while leaving yourself in lower case. It may be a humbling experience. It was for me.

- Caroline Winter


His email went on to state how for the last several months, The Times of India has been using the first person singular 'i' in lowercase in all articles on the Editorial page.

Sheesh! :/


Stupidosaur said...

May be we should try 'ai' and U for a change.

Stupidosaur said...


Stupidosaur said...

semantic burden and all is fine. Who the heck asked those linguists to make spelling of 'ai' one letter only? Whatever the reason, why were they partial to 'u' then?

Stupidosaur said...

Do I thus qualify for gold silver and bronze and whatever is next?

Stupidosaur said...

ai = A.I. = Artificial Intelligence.

No real intelligence?

chirpy-paaro said...

Wohuu.... What an article....:)))
Did time of India actually did that??quite surprising...

mythalez said...

that reminds of this prof in my lab who insists on writing all of her name (inc the first letter) in small only. so, it somehow stands out from the list .. sample:
Prof. Abradabra Blahblah
Dr. Moredabra Badrablah
dr monica blahblha
Dr. Yetanother Blah

Nidhi said...

Never really noticed this in TOI, shall check now..

Truly speaking, havent ever thought about it till date , but probably will think about it more and then decied if i would like to try this :)

Anonymous said...

hmm, English has another difference; there's no equivalent of the 'formal/senior you' in english (the Aap in Hindi); most other languages seem to have one. Coincidental? :)

Prats said...

Never Noticed in TOI :-O

beatnik said...

Ah, finally it explains why the 'i' always stuck out in TOI's 'Jugular Vein'(for the uninitiated, it's Jug Suraiya's column).
Good post!

Bivas said...

all bcoz english is a phunny language!!! ;-)

Anonymous said...

Hi ,

I was reading ur blog posts and found some of them to be very good.. u write well.. Why don't you popularize it more.. ur posts on ur blog ‘Sayesha on the rocks’ took my particular attention as some of them are interesting topics of mine too;

BTW I help out some ex-IIMA guys who with another batch mate run where you can post links to your most loved blog-posts. Rambhai was the chaiwala at IIMA and it is a site where users can themselves share links to blog posts etc and other can find and vote on them. The best make it to the homepage!

This way you can reach out to rambhai readers some of whom could become your ardent fans.. who knows.. :)


Toonfactory said... TOI really doing that...I...oops i mean i'll check it out today once i reach home...
Great Post :)

chanakya said...

so thats how the TOI is reducing costs.
Quiet innovative to be honest.

Kanan said...

How interesting! May be i should try it and see how it feels and by the way You have just won an award. ;) hehe