English orthography is known throughout the world for its consistency and predictability. Few ever complain about the sound/
While fish has both the count plural fish1 and the typological plural fishes, sheep has only one plural: the disappointing and unclear sheep.2 This is obviously disappointing and unclear and must be resolved.
English has a consistent preference for -s postfix plurals, such as the word plurals. This is a direct descent from PIE in which there is no written evidence that such plurals were not used.4 Thus, -s plurals are primordial. The automatic plural of sheep is therefore sheeps. There is, however, something of a problem with this.
Such automated pluralisation is tempting but ultimately insufficient. And neither English orthography nor its phonology will accept anything but absolute clarity. We cannot have people thinking that we are talking about ships, cheeps or shapes. The most obvious route is to follow the plural of sheaf and voice the final consonant, giving us sheebs. Yet this is not perfect either. It sounds rather too much like the famous Egyptian city of Thebes. We cannot have sheep relating themselves to a great empire. Just look at how cats reacted to being worshipped!
Obviously, we need a mid-
This leaves us with a quandary. The available mid-
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some sheepsies to herd.
1 I shall proceed to ignore this case as it doesn’t fit my theory. This is established protocol for outliers.
2 Contra3 Reviewer 2, who argued that, if sheep are unclear, I need new spectacles, this is not an ophthalmological point but a morphological one.
3 See the informative article in this journal on academic disagreement words.
4 Some uncharitable reviewers have challenged this assertion. However, when challenged to find written evidence of PIE to prove their point, they relented. I rest my declension.
|Overheard in the Linguistics Student Lounge
|SpecGram Vol CXCIII, No 3 Contents