An American ship reaches port

(Rather than posting about my medical woes, which are considerable and interacting, but nevertheless allow me to continue recovering at home, I’ll continue to work through postings in preparation on June 16th, when the first cascade of crises put me in SUMC.)

From Joe Scarborough on authoritarian rulers (on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show on 6/16):

They substitute competence for blind loyalty

This is “reversed SUBSTITUTE”, conveying what would be traditionally expressed by

They substitute blind loyalty for competence (OR They replace competence with / by blind loyalty)

What’s notable about the example is that JS is American and 60 years old and that the topic is neither sporting events nor food preparation, but much more abstract in nature.

Hang on. I will explain why all of this is notable.

The background. From my 12/2/17 posting “Another ship reaches port”:

The end of our discussion [about Betty Birner’s example of reversed SUBSTITUTE from The Great British Baking Show] was David [Denison]’s noting that the shift from traditional to reversed SUBSTITUTE [with a third variant, “encroached SUBSTITUTE” in the mix] seems to be virtually complete for many British speakers (including educated ones), and Larry [Horn]’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.

I gave two other such examples of changes that have run to completion — in all three cases, involving variants that I (as a really old American) do not use myself at all, but have had to learn to understand the way other speakers intended.

There is a Page on this blog on “Argument structures: reversals” that includes summaries of and links to my postings on reversed SUBSTITUTE. To summarize this material:

Reversed SUBSTITUTE appears first among young British speakers in sporting contexts (and then, frequently, in food preparation contexts, as in Birner’s example), with very weak associations to social class and sex, but then spread rapidy — in BrE, to older speakers and much more diverse contexts; and then to AmE, where it seems to have spread in similar fashion.

The motivations for the developments from traditional SUBSTITUTE to encroached SUBSTITUTE to reversed SUBSTITUTE are discussed in my postings. The crucial point is that these developments are not weird confusions, but serve real discourse functions.

Now you see why it’s relevant that Joe Scarborough is a 60-year-old American talking about an abstract topic: it looks like the ship of change has reached port in AmE as well as, earlier, in BrE.

Brief notes on JS. From Wikipedia:

Charles Joseph Scarborough (born April 9, 1963 [so now 60 years old]) is an American television host, attorney, political commentator, and former politician who is the co-host of Morning Joe on MSNBC with his wife Mika Brzezinski.

JS holds a B.A. in history from the University of Alabama, and a J.D. from the University of Florida College of Law. He served in Congress as a Republican, representing the Florida Panhandle, from 1995 to 2001; in 2017 he left the party to become an independent.


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