Three recent xkcd cartoons: #1767 “US State Names” (goofy play on the names of the states), #1770 “UI Change” (on arbitrary and unannounced changes in user interfaces … and on aging), and #1771 “It Was I” (on pronoun case).
Archive for the ‘Pronoun case’ Category
From the most recent NYT “Metropolitan Diary” (on-line on the 26th, in the national edition on the 28th), a contribution from Michael Joseloff that begins:
Two teenagers with clipboards were stopping passers-by on the Upper East Side. I was in a hurry to get to the bank, so I tried to maneuver past them and avoid their pitch. No luck.
“Me and my friend are trying to raise money to buy uniforms for our basketball team,” one of the boys began, before rattling on with the rest of his memorized speech. To paraphrase Renée Zellweger in “Jerry Maguire,” he had me at “me and my friend.” He seemed sincere. I decided to help.
I was desperately hoping that he was going to help the kid by making a contribution. But no: he proposed to help by correcting the kid’s grammar.
From S4 E4 (“Masonic Mysteries”) of the ITV detective procedural tv show Inspector Morse, an exchange between Morse and his sergeant, Lewis:
(1) Morse: It’s me he wants, it’s me he’s going to get, or rather, it’s me that’s going to get him…
(2) Lewis: Shouldn’t that be: “It’s I who am going to get him”?
It’s all about pronoun case (Acc me vs. Nom I) in it-clefts: roughly, identifying clauses with
subject it, a main verb BE, a predicative NP, and a relative clause missing an NP (the relative clause can have relativizer ∅, that, or a WH-pronoun like who)
— in these instances, clauses supplying the answer to the questions “Who does he want? Who is he going to get? Who’s going to get him?”
And, this being Britain, it’s also all about social class.
In today’s Stanford News, a report by Dayo Mitchell, “The projects conducted by the winners of the 2016 Firestone and Golden medals and the Kennedy Prize represent the breadth of the undergraduate experience at Stanford. They included research on germ cell, federal farm animal policy, the tailoring industry in Naples, ethics and autonomous vehicles, and the writings of author Zadie Smith.”
Thirty-five graduating seniors were recognized recently for their outstanding thesis projects. They are recipients of the 2016 Firestone Medal for Excellence in Undergraduate Research, the Robert M. Golden Medal for Excellence in Humanities and Creative Arts; and the David M. Kennedy Honors Thesis Prize.
The prizewinners represent 24 academic departments and all three schools with undergraduate programs
Among the eight Goldens was
Tyler Lemon, “An Examination of the Distribution and Variation of Non-Coordinated Pronoun Case Forms in English,” linguistics, advised by Tom Wasow (linguistics).
(I helped out).
This is a re-play (edited) of an exchange on ADS-L, back in 2005, about two subtopics in choosing case forms of pronouns in English. The thread was not posted about in Language Log at the time, but now some of these issues have arisen afresh on Facebook in recent days. I’m not sure if I can wrestle the current discussion into some sort of coherent shape, but I can at least revive a bit of the older conversation.
I started the thread on 8/11/05, under the heading “Case choice by rhyme”, and then on from there.
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.
In last Sunday’s NYT Magazine, I was saddened, and not a little outraged, to read, in Dan Kois’s piece “The Misanthropic Genius of Joy Williams”, the following bit of garbled English:
In the end the essay is a call to arms for a new kind of literature, one Williams sounds doubtful that anyone, including she, can write.
(After nearly a week, the sentence is still on the paper’s site. Apparently nobody thought there was anything wrong with it.)
Now, I’m familiar with examples like this, and have posted about them, but not from professional writers or editors who are presumably native speakers of English; instead, they come from amateurs who are so unwilling to trust their instincts about how their language works that they cast about for guidance from (poorly remembered) advice on how to write their language that they’ve been taught. They have some excuse. But Kois and whatever editors worked on this piece do not.
In the NYT yesterday, p. 19, in “Happy Rockefeller, 88, Whose Marriage to Governor Scandalized Voters, Dies” by Robert D. McFadden:
many Americans were shocked when Margaretta Fitler Murphy, called Happy, and Mr. Rockefeller, who was nearly 18 years older than she, married on May 4, 1963.
The point is than she, with a nominative pronoun in construction with than — where many people (I am one) would have used the accusative her. There’s a long-standing issue in usage here, which I’ve posted about on this blog (as “Dinosaur grammar”), in connection with a Dinosaur Comics.
In the NYT Magazine on Sunday (the 15th), an article, “The Last Volunteer”, with an account, as told to Dan Kaufman, from Del Berg:
Del Berg, 99, is the last known surviving veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a contingent of nearly 3,000 Americans who fought to defend the democratically elected government during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s.
The beginning of his story:
It was 1937, and the Fascists had already revolted in Spain. I was walking down a street in Hollywood when I saw a sign — “Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade” — written on the side of a building. I turned the corner, opened the door and went in. The people inside said, “What can we do for you?” I said, “I want to go to Spain.” They couldn’t legally send people to Spain, they told me, but did I want to help? I did. My life started with poverty and then came the Depression. I felt a certain responsibility to help the Spanish workers and farmers.
They told me to go to an organization called the Medical Bureau to Aid Spanish Democracy. I was put to work there helping organize meetings and collecting clothes for the Republic. There was a younger guy working with me. One day he turned to me and said, “Do you want to go to Spain?” I said yes, I sure do. He said, “I’ll tell you whom to go see.”
That whom caught my eye; it sounded awfully formal for the context.