Another ship reaches port

In e-mail yesterday and today, an exchange involving Betty Birner, Larry Horn, David Denison, and me about “reversed SUBSTITUTE”, starting with Betty’s observation:

This struck me while I was watching an episode of The Great British Baking Show on Netflix:

“Andrew is substituting the barmbrack’s customary raisins for milk chocolate chips.”  [voiceover]

Needless to say, he was leaving OUT the raisins and ADDING chocolate chips.  Also needless to say, this is British English.

This is reversed SUBSTITUTE: substitute OLD for NEW (in this case, substitute customary raisins for milk chocolate chipscustomary lets us know that the raisins are OLD), rather than traditional SUBSTITUTE: substitute NEW for OLD (what would be, in this case, substitute milk chocolate chips for customary raisins).

The end of our discussion was David’s noting that the shift from traditional to reversed SUBSTITUTE seems to be virtually complete for many British speakers (including educated ones), and Larry’s suggesting that this was true for some younger American speakers as well. Another ship of linguistic change that has reached its port for many speakers.

Two other such ships I’ve written about: NomCoordObjs (nominative coordinate objects, as in They gave it to Kim and I, rather than to Kim and me; and +of EDM (exceptional degree marking with of, as in that big of a dog, rather than that big a dog).

(I think it’s especially nice that you can understand Betty’s example without having any idea what barmbrack is. But for reference: ‘a kind of soft, spicy bread containing dried fruit, originating in Ireland where it is traditionally eaten at Halloween.’ (NOAD))

Note: in all three cases, older speakers generally don’t use the innovations (I myself don’t use any of them, but then I’m an old man), reject them when queried, are inclined to believe, erroneously, they are just (inadvertent) speech errors, and often complain volubly, but to no avail, about them when they hear or read them. But these ships sailed some time ago, and for some English speakers have reached their ports. Such speakers all comprehend the traditional variants, and a fair number of them use both variants, in different contexts, but with a decided preference for the innovations.

From David (in the UK) today:

I only note reversed substitute occasionally now, it’s so frequent here.

(This is my experience with NomCoordObjs and +of EDM; they’re just too common to try to record scrupulously.)

David reports people who more often reverse it than use the traditional variant (though they use both). When he suggests to them that they might alter their usage in writing  because non-native and older readers might be momentarily thrown by the reversed usage, they clearly think he’s fussing about a non-existent problem. For them, the only problem is remembering which pattern he prefers. This is clear evidence that for these speakers, the reversed variant is entirely normal. (I’ve had roughly similar experiences with people who use NomCoordObjs and +of EDM: when I suggest that they should use AccCoordObjs and –of EDM in their writing, they are baffled; to them, the formerly standard usages sound archaic, hyperformal, “weird”, or just flat wrong.)

The change has apparently been progressing more slowly in the US, but in the UK it seems to have pretty much run its course for many younger speakers.

The reversed SUBSTITUTE case is especially interesting because there are not just two, but three variants, related to one another historically in ways clarified by David in a 2009 paper, discussed by me in postings on ADS-L, Language Log, and this blog, and expanded on by Larry in a magnificent paper in press, “Accept New Substitutes: An Analysis of Reanalysis” (in a Festschrift for Lauri Karttunen), the final draft of which is available on-line here: FinalProofs

Links to David’s paper and to some of my postings on reversals in argument structure are now assembled in a Page on this blog. The bare bones of the historical development, from 1 to 2 to 3 (with Larry’s terminology in boldface):

1. standard / original / traditional SUBSTITUTE: substitute NEW for OLD

2. encroached / innovative / transitional SUBSTITUTE: substitute OLD with/by NEW [of some vintage, and recognized in MWDEU and some other sources]

3. reversed SUBSTITUTE: substitute OLD for NEW [relatively new, apparently originating in football / soccer usage in the UK and then spreading to cooking usage, as in Betty’s baking example, and to other contexts and to the US]

For relatively brief treatments of these developments, see my postings on SUBSTITUTE on the reversals Page. For the real meat, see David’s paper and now Larry’s.

2 Responses to “Another ship reaches port”

  1. Neal Goldfarb Says:

    I was curious to see what, if anything, Garner says about this reversal, and this is what I found, in its entirety (from GMEU 4th ed.):

    “substitute, vb; replace. These verbs are hardly interchangeable. You substitute something *for* something else , but you *replace* something *with* something .”

    Note that Garner deals only with the choice of preposition; he doesn’t say a word about semantics. I don’t know if that means (a) that he sees the choice of prepositions as the only issue, and isn’t aware of the argument-structure reversal, or (instead) (b) that he’s aware of the reversal but thinks that the (perceived) error will be avoided merely by keeping the prepositions straight.

    Either way, he’s in for a surprise when he finds out that there are people who reverse the argument structure while following the traditional choice of prepositions.

    And even when considered from a prescriptive viewpoint, his entry is a failure, because it doesn’t give the kind of advice that’s actually needed by the people who are worry about What Would Bryan Do.

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