Nominative intensified objects

From Rodney Huddleston, a nominative usage he hadn’t seen before (and neither had I):

Arabella had a habit of overstating things, one that she had so much internalised that it was not always easy for she herself to tell when she was mildly pleased about something and when she was genuinely delighted. (John Lanchester, Capital: 70)

A nominative intensified object, from a writer who surely would not have used an nominative without the intensive reflexive:

*it was not always easy for she to tell …

What might have led Lanchester to a nominative intensified object?

A few more, with he and they:

Remember that a person may not enter the kingdom of heaven if he is still stained with sin. Most importantly, the sin comes from the person himself! Even though God has forgiven his sins, it is not easy for he himself to forgive his own sins. (link)

The man was wise enough to see the contradiction; the Pharisees couldn’t trust Jesus because their egos were in the way, but it was easy for he himself to trust Jesus and lay down his ego because he had experienced Jesus’ power in a tangible way. (link)

Unfortunately, when a child is pushed to that point, it is very easy for they, themselves to also become part in part of the bullying game. (link)

Submariners will tell you that active sonar is something they prefer not to use because it makes it very easy for they themselves to be detected. (link)

Now, the first thing to note about these examples is that they involve not just objects, but objects of the preposition for in “for-to complements” — where these objects are semantically interpreted as the subjects of the infinitival VP that follows. That is, the objects are semantically subject-like, in a way that most objects are not; I would not expect to find things like:

I gave it to she herself. [object of (ordinary) preposition]

I saw she herself. [direct object]

The next contribution to the phenomenon is the decision to use an intensive reflexive. As Huddleston noted in e-mail to me, surely pronoun + intensive reflexive is much more common for subjects (with a nominative pronoun) than for objects (with an accusative pronoun) — subjects are more often emphasized via an intensive —  and that would bias people towards the nominative in a pronoun + intensive reflexive.

The nominative-accusative asymmetry can be seen in figures for 1st-person pronouns — straightforwardly for 1pl:

we ourselves 4,600,000 raw ghits
us ourselves 1,190,000 raw ghits
(for a 3.87 ratio in favor of the nominative)

and also in 1sg, when the search is adjusted to eliminate the huge number of occurrences of the formulas “me, myself, and I” and “me, myself, I”:

I myself 24,000,000 raw ghits
me myself (adjusted) 2,870,000 raw ghits
(for a 8.36 ratio)

In the 3rd-person cases, an additional factor comes into play: them themselves, him himself, and her herself all have the accusative pronoun repeated inside the reflexive, so that the unpleasant repetition effect disfavors them even more than for the 1st-person cases:

they themselves 8,700,000 raw ghits
them themselves 784,000 raw ghits
(for a 11.10 ratio)

he himself 17,200,000 raw ghits
him himself 1,100,000 raw ghits
(for a 15.64 ratio)

she herself 4,610,000 raw ghits
her herself 243,000 raw ghits
(for a very impressive 18.97 ratio)

Putting all three factors together, we have considerable pressure towards for she herself rather than for her herself (and similarly for for he himself and for they themselves).

2 Responses to “Nominative intensified objects”

  1. swizzard Says:

    This is kind of a weird ECM breakdown, it seems. Do you think the intensifier is doing/getting the ECM, or is it something more like “oh, there’s already an accusative, we don’t need to do ECM”?

  2. Greg Lee Says:

    My feeling about at least the first examples you mentioned was that the motive was avoiding the “unpleasant repetition” you mention, or putting a name to it, dissimilation.

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