Rowling’s ESOC

From Ben Zimmer, this whom from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (p. 311):

Krum, whom Harry would have thought ___ would have been used to this sort of thing, skulked, half-hidden, at the back of the group.

The position that the relative pronoun fills in this sentence — as the subject of a subordinate clause (itself functioning as the object of the verb thought) with VP would have been used to this sort of thing is marked by the underlines. In now-standard, but somewhat misleading, terminology, the pronoun is “extracted” from the subject position of an object clause, a configuration I’ve labeled ESOC (for Extracted Subject of Object Clause).

The fact that the pronoun functions as a clausal subject would predict, in most syntactic frameworks, that it should be nominative case (who). However, it immediately follows a verb, a position where an accusative pronoun is often called for; it “looks like” an object, and ESOC pronouns are often marked as accusative: whom (as in the Harry Potter sentence).

This observation applies to interrogative pronouns as well as relative ones, as in this example in the title of a 1/23/07 posting of mine, “Whom shall I say [ ___ is calling ]?”.)

(Another configuration in which a pronoun functioning as subject is nevertheless often marked as accusative is the In-situ Subject of an Object Clause (ISOC) confuguration, as in

Extra copies will be provided for whomever needs them.

where a clause (here, a “free relative”) functioning as object of a preposition (for) gets its subject pronoun marked as accusative because it’s in the position of the object of the preposition.)

In my 6/18/07 posting “ISOC, ESOC”, I noted that both usages are common in the work of serious writers (including an authority on usage!), where they appear to be neither inadvertent errors nor semi-literate sprinkling of whom in texts in the belief that the form is in itself serious or learnèd, but indicate a belief that these are simply correct uses of whom. As I said then:

ISOC and ESOC might now be the primary islands of whom use in [educated] modern written English, outside of the mainland of P + whom — that is, object whom with a fronted (rather than stranded) preposition, as in To whom did you give the book? and the student to whom I gave the book.

That is, ISOC and ESOC seem to have become alternative usages, co-existing with usage schemes in which pronoun case is determined entirely by syntactic function (with whom for human wh pronouns functioning as objects) — what I’ve referred to as the Prescriptive System — or in which who is used for all human wh pronouns except the P + object ones — what I’ve referred to as the Standard System.

(Ben Zimmer points out that the Rowling example came up on the newsgroup alt.usage.english in 2004, where it appeared as a digression in a discussion of zero-subject relatives (like I know a man likes to fish).)

2 Responses to “Rowling’s ESOC”

  1. markonsea Says:

    I wonder if this ESOC appears in the British edition? (I assume you’re quoting from the US edition, which is heavily edited to avoid US kids being infected with too much Bringlish.)

  2. matslj Says:

    Jespersen has examples of this construction from Chaucer and Caxton in an appendix to “The Philosophy of Grammar”, and comments that this construction is far more frequent than people believe (or believed, rather, in the early 20th century).

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