On the who/whom front, and AZ terminology

Caught in  the NYT Book Review feature “By the Book” on Sunday (November 1st), in an interview with Gloria Steinem, three questions from the interviewer, questions with Acc whom beginning a WH, or constituent, question:

(1) Whom do you consider to be the best contemporary feminist writers?

(2) Whom do you consider the most underrated or unappreciated writers, past and present?

(3) Whom would you want to write your life story?

The WH element in all three questions is “extracted” from a position that requires an Acc —

(1′) You consider  him / *he  to be the best contemporary feminist writers.

(2′) You consider  him / *he  the most underrated or unappreciated writers, past and present.

(3′) You want  him / *he  to write your life story.

and so Acc whom is prescriptively correct. My own usage has who in all three of these examples; I found the interviewer’s whoms to be stiff, over-formal (even prissy), and old-fashioned — but that’s a matter of taste.

Using the terminology from a 1/23/07 Language Log posting of mine, there is a Prescriptive System and a Standard System for the distribution of Nom who and Acc whom. (In that posting I avoid the traditional names Nom and Acc in favor of neutral labels.) In the Prescriptive System, the item WHO inherits its case from the position it was extracted from. In the Standard System (which is the one I use and the one I recommend to others), Nom who is the default, with Acc whom used only in one special case, not in play in (1)-(3); I have who in all three of the contexts above.

Some people have come to associate whom with formality and seriousness, and as a result, they use it even in situations where the Prescriptive System calls for .

But, as I wrote in 2007, there are situations

where the appearance of whom for a subject has some structural motivation.  People have been noticing examples like these for a hundred years at least (there is some discussion in MWDEU of these precedents), and it’s fairly easy to find new ones.

There are two main cases.

… In the first, we have an object clause (usually the object of a P) with WHO as its subject. The pronoun then immediately follows the governor, and could easily be mistaken for its object (even though it’s the whole clause that’s the object). In fact, I believe there are languages in which a WH pronoun in this position regularly (or optionally) has its case determined by the governor.

I’ll call this case “in-situ subject of an object clause (ISOC)”.

…  The second case is a bit subtler.  Again there’s an object clause, but this time its subject has been extracted and now appears at the front of a higher clause. Still, the gap of extraction immediately follows the governor (most often, a V), so it’s in a position where some languages (I believe) allow the governor to determine the case on this element; if this case is inherited by the extracted element, whom would be predicted.

I’ll call this case “extracted subject of an object clause (ESOC)”.

A variety of examples in the 2007 posting; one of each here:

[ISOC] This month’s social has an Academy Awards theme and two prizes will be given away. One prize will be awarded to [ whomever successfully predicts the most winners for this year ].

[ESOC] And whom do you think [ ___ would be responsible for the [pleasant outdoor weather] ]? I hereby declare that if I can’t go, only [unpleasant outdoor weather] will occur.

Further examples in a 6/18/07 follow-up on ISOC and ESOC.

AZ terminology. To the best of my knowledge, I was the first person to use ISOC and ESOC (or their full expansions) as names for the phenomena in question, so this posting will go on the “AZ terminology” Page on ths blog. I was pleased with the names because in the sequence “ISOC, ESOC” they faintly echo the sequence “Shadrach, Meshach” (but without an Abednego).

Any claim I can make is only about the names, though. As I note above, the phenomena have been discussed for over a century.

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