Some kind of grammar, um, strict police

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For discussion of the background of this particular misrule (the grammatical one), see “Hot Dryden-on-Jonson action“, 5/1/2007, with some additional syntactic background here. But please don’t cite the alleged Churchill quote about “arrant nonsense up with which I will not put” — it’s syntactically bogus (“A Churchill story up with which I will no longer put“, 12/8/2004), and not original to Churchill (“Churchill vs. editorial nonsense“).

Feel free to go ahead and re-tell the old joke whose punch line is something like “So where are y’all from, bitch?“. But if you can think of a new joke about clause-final prepositions, that would be much better — I’m impressed that the creator of this video managed it.

Speculation is welcome about whether there’s a German counterpart to the English prohibition of clause-final prepositions, or indeed any German equivalent to the whole English culture of Word Rage. (Though in this video, of course, the rage is all on the other side.)

[Update: I should have mentioned that over the past few months, there have been dozens or even hundreds of satirically subtitled versions of this scene.]



39 Comments

  1. Language Log » Some kind of grammar, um, strict police « post.passéism said,

    February 24, 2009 @ 8:56 am

    […] Language Log » Some kind of grammar, um, strict police Language Log » Some kind of grammar, um, strict police. […]

  2. John Cowan said,

    February 24, 2009 @ 9:12 am

    Boy howdy, that’s some thick Austrian accent Hitler’s got.

  3. Faldone said,

    February 24, 2009 @ 9:21 am

    Regarding German versions of the pseudo-rule in question, I would think not, the separable prefix being alive and well in that language.

  4. Z. D. Smith said,

    February 24, 2009 @ 9:32 am

    Though Faldone, generally one can distinguish a converb from a preposition; at least in Yiddish one can say ‘Er geyt tsu tsu …’, ‘He goes over to …’

    My impression is that in Yiddish there is sense that moving the the preposition to the beginning of a relative clause, as in English, is considered formally correct; but that that ‘rule’ is broken to less kerfuffle than in English. Of course as syntactically siblingesque Yiddish and German might be, their standards of usage and the like are apt to have nothing to do with each other.

  5. Z. D. Smith said,

    February 24, 2009 @ 9:34 am

    (I should clarify that by ‘converb’ I mean seperable prefix; I had assumed the term would have a similar meaning in English but apparently there it’s a term of art in Mongolian linguistics.)

  6. Dan Lufkin said,

    February 24, 2009 @ 10:22 am

    Prolly everyone has already seen:

    I dropped a preposition,
    It rolled beneath my chair,
    Said I, “Now come on up
    From down in under there.”

    F.P. Adams, I think.

  7. Lane said,

    February 24, 2009 @ 11:39 am

    The Germanic languages split on clause-final prepositions. I lived in Germany for a year and don’t recall hearing anyone ever end a sentence or clause with a preposition. This is partly because of the rule that moves verbs to the end of subordinate clauses, like “Das ist der Mann, mit dem ich gesprochen habe…” There’s just no way to say “Der Mann, dem ich habe gesprochen mit”. Separable prefixes are different; if the verb is “abfahren” and you say “Wir fahren jetzt ab”, that’s not really the same as ending a sentence or a clause with a preposition. “Ab” is just a different beast in this case. No? I’m not a linguist, just a German-speaker.

    Danish, however, allows clause-final prepositions. “Manden, jeg talte med…” “The man, I talked with”. I think the other Scandos do the same.

  8. Lane said,

    February 24, 2009 @ 11:43 am

    I realize now in re-reading that of course Mark knows you can’t really quite end a clause with a preposition in German and that he’s asking for a “counterpart”. Duh. I can’t quite think of one but a native German would be more likely to know than me.

  9. Olga said,

    February 24, 2009 @ 1:32 pm

    I remember rules against using the subjunctive with würde (as in Ich würde das jetzt tun, wenn ich Zeit hätte, instead, we were supposed to use ich täte das jetzt, wenn ich Zeit hätte ‘I would do it now if I had the time’. Similar about the rule for brauchen ‘need’ without a zu introducing the verbal complement. I think the latter is now considered grammatical; generations of school teachers probably had to tear their hair out. And the subjunctive forms without würde are hardly used by anyone in spoken language.
    Most instances of word rage now appear to be against the use of apostrophes for plural formation and genitives, and against Denglisch, of course.
    German speakers might appreciate a hint to turn off the audio when watching the video.

  10. dr pepper said,

    February 24, 2009 @ 2:52 pm

    I don’t know about German, but i remember such a prohibition from a French class i had some years ago.

    The teacher divided the class in two and asked us to debate whether it is better to get married earlier or later in life. I was on the later side. I’m not going to give the french since i remember very little. Anyway, one of the students on the earlier side said that a younger father can play football with his kid. I responded, but an older father would have more money to buy a football with. I was very proud of my sentence. It rose up and released the final “avec!” with authority.

    Then the teacher deflated me with a stern declaration that “avec” must never be used to end a sentence.

  11. Strict Police « Panther Red said,

    February 24, 2009 @ 3:05 pm

    […] February 24, 2009 Strict Police Posted by acilius under Language | Tags: Language Log |   Another funny item via Language Log. […]

  12. marie-lucie said,

    February 24, 2009 @ 3:45 pm

    dr pepper,

    You can’t usually end a sentence with a preposition in French, because prepositions have to stay close to their noun phrase, including if that phrase is a WH word:

    Si son père est jeune, l’enfant aura quelqu’un AVEC QUI jouer au ballon.

    Un père plus âgé aura plus d’argent AVEC QUOI acheter un ballon.

    But avec not only can but must be used at the end of a question such as

    Qu’est-ce qu’on fait AVEC? “What do you do with it?”

    There is no other way to ask this type of question.

  13. marie-lucie said,

    February 24, 2009 @ 3:49 pm

    p.s. but in slightly less standard French you could say:

    Si son père est jeune, l’enfant aura quelqu’un pour jouer au ballon AVEC.

  14. Bobbie said,

    February 24, 2009 @ 6:16 pm

    but in Yiddish — geh AVEC!

  15. David Marjanović said,

    February 24, 2009 @ 6:30 pm

    Word rage does exist in German, but there’s less of a culture around it. Perhaps it’s because German grammar is less different from Latin than the English one is — nobody would split an infinitive in German: “to boldly go [there,] where…” translates as kühn dorthin( )zu( )gehen, wo….

    Boy howdy, that’s some thick Austrian accent Hitler’s got.

    It’s more complicated than that. His Spanish-/Russian-style apical-alveolar /r/ (which the actor doesn’t quite manage to imitate) is otherwise only found in Switzerland; those Bavarian-Austrian dialects which still have an alveolar /r/ have the Italian-style laminal one. There are a few other such mysterious peculiarities, too.

    I remember rules against using the subjunctive with würde (as in Ich würde das jetzt tun, wenn ich Zeit hätte, instead, we were supposed to use ich täte das jetzt, wenn ich Zeit hätte ‘I would do it now if I had the time’.

    Wenn-Sätze sind würdelos* is something even the prescriptivists gave up a few decades ago. I only know it from other people’s historical reminiscences.

    * Pun on Würde “dignity”.

    Similar about the rule for brauchen ‘need’ without a zu introducing the verbal complement.

    What? I thought this was exclusively dialectal (my dialect generally avoids zu constructions in various ways).

    And the subjunctive forms without würde are hardly used by anyone in spoken language.

    (That’s because the regular ones are identical to the past tense — like in English, except that in English nobody considers this confusing, somehow –, and the irregular ones are so irregular, due to zany combinations of Ab- and Umlaut, that people just plain forget them and/or find them funny. — The southern dialects like mine do use the short subjunctive forms a lot, but in them the past tense has died out, and many irregular forms have been regularized.)

    Qu’est-ce qu’on fait AVEC? “What do you do with it?”

    There is no other way to ask this type of question.

    Same for German — except that German uses a unique series of words for them: Was macht man damit? — literally “What does one do therewith?”

    However, the da- part can be copied to the beginning of the sentence (note, BTW, the conservation of verb-second word order):

    Da macht man (et)was anderes damit. “You do something else with it” ~ “That you do something else with”.

    …and in such sentences the second instance of da- is then regularly dropped in spoken (!) northern (!!) German:

    Da macht man was anderes mit.

    …so you do end up with sentence-final prepositions.

    But returning to French, what about qu’est-ce qu’on fait avec ça? Is this too strongly demonstrative to be used when the object isn’t emphasized or new information anymore?

  16. Marguerite said,

    February 24, 2009 @ 7:21 pm

    My favorite always was, “what did you bring that book I do not want to be read to out of up for?”

  17. goofy said,

    February 24, 2009 @ 8:15 pm

    I’m interested to learn about the German würdelos prescription, because I was taught the würdelos forms in high school German in North America, earlier than a few decades ago. I was also taught that “isch” for “ich” was wrong and ugly.

  18. Jette said,

    February 24, 2009 @ 8:29 pm

    I am a native German speaker and fairly fluent in (Australian) English. Over the years, I have noticed — in myself and in general — that emotions can be expressed much more emphatically in English than in German. As a result, emotions often seem to get exaggerated in English and downplayed in German. Telling someone that you “love” Zwiebelfisch in German (“Ich liebe die Zwiebelfisch Kolumne!” — I do!) or that the play you saw last night was “just fantastic” (“Es war einfach fantastisch!”) is so much stronger than in English that it becomes overly dramatic and would usually be taken as being meant ironically.
    Similarly, I can’t imagine people suggesting chopping, smashing or shooting as a response to language misuse in German (and I couldn’t find any examples on the Zwiebelfisch forum), so this might be the extension of my observations about people expressing their emotions differently in the two languages.

    The interesting question is of course, if this difference is due to the innate anger that AA Gill ascribes to the English (and might have been inherited by other English speaking nationals). I wonder whether my own language use might serve as a counterexample to this: in English, I mostly express my feelings just as emphatically as the next Australian; but in German, I’m as cautious as I and my fellow Germans have always been. I doubt, though, that I feel stronger about things when I talk about them in English rather than German. Maybe then it’s just a different way of saying things, while the underlying emotion is the same?
    Then again, I would never suggest in any language to cut someone’s tongue out or chop them to bits because they misplace their apostrophes or drop their German accusative endings, although I feel very strongly about this. But I don’t think any of my Australian fellow prescriptivists would do that either, so physical torture as punishment for linguistic misdoings might be a personal rather than a language-dependent preference. Or maybe Australians just don’t care as much as the raging English and I am held back by some emotional understatedness innate to Germans.

  19. Ray Girvan said,

    February 24, 2009 @ 8:40 pm

    Late comment: very nice. This same clip has been repeatedly used in a variety of contexts (for instance, Hitler gets banned from Wikipedia) but this one curled me up the most so far!

  20. Kiina said,

    February 24, 2009 @ 9:04 pm

    “marie-lucie said,
    February 24, 2009 @ 3:49 pm
    p.s. but in slightly less standard French you could say:
    Si son père est jeune, l’enfant aura quelqu’un pour jouer au ballon AVEC.”

    This is much used in Quebec (french speaking province of Canada) non-formal speech. :)

  21. Amerloc said,

    February 24, 2009 @ 9:46 pm

    Cannot speak to the German rules – don’t even know enough insults in German to get myself refused service; agree w/ dr pepper and marie-lucie about the French, though: terminal prepositions are easier in English.

    I have a hard time believing no one has bothered to recast the “bitch” joke, though.

    And Ray only thought his comment was late…

  22. marie-lucie said,

    February 24, 2009 @ 10:35 pm

    David M:

    But returning to French, what about qu’est-ce qu’on fait avec ça? Is this too strongly demonstrative to be used when the object isn’t emphasized or new information anymore?

    Yes. Suppose someone has a collection of fancy tools and is dicussing them with you. There may be one that you have heard the name of but don’t know the use of it. You could ask qu’est-ce qu’on fait avec? because it is clear what tool you are talking about. But is you are being shown the tools in question, you could pick one up or point to it and ask qu’est-ce qu’on fait avec ça? (or: Et ça, qu’est-ce qu’on fait avec?)

    Kiina:

    “Si son père est jeune, l’enfant aura quelqu’un pour jouer au ballon AVEC.”

    This is much used in Quebec (french speaking province of Canada) non-formal speech

    And it is much used in French French non-formal speech also. But in the Québec case the construction is reinforced by its resemblance to English.

    In some varieties of North American English where a lot of the population is of German origin, you can hear Are you coming with? (= with me/us), as in German Kommst Du mit? (but in German the mit is part of the verb mitkommen, if I remember rightly).

    Actually, in French there is something like German damit (= da + the prep mit) and similar words, as in dedans ‘in it’, dessous ‘under it’, dessus ‘on it’ as opposed to the prepositions dans ‘in’, sous ‘under’ and sur ‘on’ (= older or dialectal sus).

    For example: Mets ça dans le tiroir ‘Put this in the drawer’ as opposed to Mets ça dedans ‘Put this in it’.

    But this is a closed class: you cannot form similar words with other prepositions.

    Amerloc:

    In spite of generations of English students being told not to end sentences with a preposition, prepositions not only can but typically do occur at the end of sentences in English, especially in wh-questions and relative clauses, and also in some passive clauses:

    Who did you speak to? (more natural than “To whom did you speak?”

    The person [that] I spoke to … (ditto for “… to whom I spoke”

    Speak only if you are spoken to. (= “…if someone speaks to you”)

    The bed has not been slept in.” (= “No one has slept in this bed” – a sentence with a different emphasis)

    and many others of those same types.

    The more natural English sentences are the ones which many English teachers try to repress!

  23. servetus said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 4:33 am

    In north German (in the same as “Da macht man was anderes mit”) there is also the interesting reply to a thank-you:

    –Danke. (Thanks)

    –Da nicht für. (Not for that–really you should say “Dafür nicht”).

    It may be something only plattdeutsch influenced speakers say, though.

    I think there is still plenty of the “würdeloses” Deutsch rule circulating, though. I’m not a native speaker, and I only learned that rule while studying at a German university. In my experience educated speakers of the language would only put würde in a conditional clause if they wanted to add an emphatic particule (“Ich würde *schon* gehen,” wenn…) There are a lot of bitter jokes about the incorrect use of “wirklich,” as in a literal translation of “really” (“not really” would be “eigentlich nicht”), a lot of which seems to happen in advertising. I also used to get hassled a lot for writing “dieses” when I should have written “das”. I have heard some grousing lately about people who say “das macht keinen Sinn” when they mean “das ergibt keinen Sinn.”

  24. Stephen Jones said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 5:33 am

    marie-lucie
    Isn’t the preposition at the end very common amongst Moroccans and Algerians in France

  25. marie-lucie said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 7:47 am

    SJ: Isn’t the preposition at the end very common amongst Moroccans and Algerians in France

    Could be. I am from France and return there regularly but I live in English-speaking Canada.

  26. marie-lucie said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 9:47 am

    SJ, do you mean just avec or other prepositions? If it is just avec, then that is very common among French speakers too (but if things are referred to, not people), as in my “less standard” example.

  27. Julia Kriz said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 12:58 pm

    I’m curious about how to distinguish a word’s being used as a preposition from its being used as an adverb. Words like off, up, and over are often prepositions. But then you have cases like these:

    Turn off the lights / Turn the lights off
    Bring up the book / Bring the book up
    Turn over the pancakes / Turn the pancakes over

    Am I correct in claiming that because they have no objects of preposition, they are adverbs? “Turn off” is some kind of verb phrase that means extinguish, unlike how “off” takes an object in “Turn off the highway onto Main Street.” What’s the official name for verb phrases like that, and do they make adverbs out of prepositions in my three examples above?

  28. Julia Kriz said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 1:05 pm

    Ah, my question’s already been answered by the Churchill link.
    http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/001702.html

  29. David Marjanović said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 7:23 pm

    M-L, thanks!

    I was also taught that “isch” for “ich” was wrong and ugly.

    It’s only used somewhere along the Rhine (in Cologne, I think) — but those people either do keep it even when they speak the standard language, or they hypercorrect every /ʃ/ in front of a front vowel or consonant into /x/ — I’m told Helmut Kohl said “die Menchen”.

    In other words, it does either place you geographically with fairly high precision or marks you as a nonnative speaker who hasn’t managed to learn [ç].

    Then again, I would never suggest in any language to cut someone’s tongue out or chop them to bits because they misplace their apostrophes or drop their German accusative endings

    Who does drop those endings?

    In some varieties of North American English where a lot of the population is of German origin, you can hear Are you coming with? (= with me/us), as in German Kommst Du mit? (but in German the mit is part of the verb mitkommen, if I remember rightly).

    Correct.

    I have heard some grousing lately about people who say “das macht keinen Sinn” when they mean “das ergibt keinen Sinn.”

    Yes, this is persecuted as an Anglicism, even though it has been present in northern German for centuries and people like Goethe used it.

    There are a lot of bitter jokes about the incorrect use of “wirklich,” as in a literal translation of “really” (“not really” would be “eigentlich nicht”), a lot of which seems to happen in advertising.

    Could you direct me to some of those jokes? I’ve never come across any. — I’ve seen nicht wirklich decried as an Anglicism by Germans, but it’s also a very common feature of Viennese (that I wasn’t familiar with from Linz, 200 km to the west).

    I also used to get hassled a lot for writing “dieses” when I should have written “das”.

    Yep, the this/that distinction isn’t handled the same way in any two languages that have it. For instance, in English, “this country” is the one where I am; in German, it’s the one I just mentioned. And then of course it isn’t a simple two-way distinction in German.

  30. marie-lucie said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 8:50 pm

    In French the growing influence of English is shown by the translation of both “this” and “that” as ce (or its other forms cet/te), which is much less specific. So for instance in speeches referring to France the equivalent of American “this country”, which used to be notre pays (“our country”), becomes ce pays which could refer to any country that has already been mentioned, but probably not the one the speaker is in (which could be emphasized by ce pays-ci but would sound strange if referring to the whole nation).

    I have also seen translations of both “this is” and “that is” as c’est which is also much less specific, for instance using c’est ce qu’il a dit as equivalent of both “This is what he said” (anticipating the quotation) and “That’s what he said” (normally following the quotation). The normal equivalent of “This is what he said” would be Voici ce qu’il a dit” which unambiguously announces a following quotation, while Voilà ce qu’il a dit could be used ambiguously as (at least in France) is much less specific than ici or the suffix -ci.

  31. John Cowan said,

    February 26, 2009 @ 6:20 pm

    David: What I actually meant was, “I don’t understand a word he’s saying.” On reflection, though, the subtitles may have influenced me. Quine, the philosopher, reports that on hearing a talk in Argentinian Spanish (he speaks and understands Mexican Spanish), he couldn’t quite grasp it, but when he had an English translation of the talk to read along with, the Spanish words came through to him clearly.

    Here, of course, the subtitles are not a translation at all, and probably made me simply unable to hear the utterly different German altogether, any more than I can read and pay attention to TV (as opposed to merely hearing it as sounds) at the same time, even though in this case I was trying not to read the subtitles.

  32. dchamil said,

    February 26, 2009 @ 11:47 pm

    Here’s why we Poppycock Prescriptivists want to stick to tradition: Communication with the past (being able to read old texts), and communication with the future (so our grandchildren can read ours.)

  33. Stephen Jones said,

    February 27, 2009 @ 6:42 am

    Here’s why we Poppycock Prescriptivists want to stick to tradition: Communication with the past (being able to read old texts), and communication with the future (so our grandchildren can read ours.)

    And do you seriously think that the way to ensure this is to keep trotting out the same odd hundred old shibboleths,

    Anyway, many of prescriptivists pet peeves are against perfectly venerable traditions. ‘Infer’ in both senses goes back to Thomas Moore in the 1530s. The use of ‘disinterested’ to mean ‘uninterested’ is Early 17th century, whilst its use to mean ‘impartial’ is Middle 17th century.

    When I was at University one of the things we had to do as part of the Practical Criticism Class was to date passages we were given based on the style. After a year’s practice we could probably get to within fifty years or closer.Prescriptivist rules had zero effect on the change.

    When the American troops came over during the second world war they were given a list of British English words that were different from American English words. Now half the British English words have fallen into disuse in the UK and nearly all the American words are understandable. Wireless meant something very different to your grandad than it does to your grandson.

  34. Verena said,

    February 27, 2009 @ 10:29 am

    @David:
    There’s also a prescriptive “rule” concerning the use of ‘zu’ with ‘brauchen’:

    Wer brauchen ohne zu gebraucht, braucht brauchen überhaupt nicht zu gebrauchen.

  35. Oliver said,

    February 27, 2009 @ 4:13 pm

    Mark, check this one out too – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKlTAxTvKkY

  36. David Marjanović said,

    February 27, 2009 @ 5:31 pm

    Here’s why we Poppycock Prescriptivists want to stick to tradition: Communication with the past (being able to read old texts), and communication with the future (so our grandchildren can read ours.)

    When has that ever worked?

    Wer brauchen ohne zu gebraucht, braucht brauchen überhaupt nicht zu gebrauchen.

    That’s more like it.

  37. marie-lucie said,

    February 28, 2009 @ 9:30 am

    I can read a fair amount of German but this sentence defeats me. Translation please?

  38. weskos said,

    February 28, 2009 @ 1:28 pm

    Wer brauchen ohne zu gebraucht, braucht brauchen überhaupt nicht zu gebrauchen.:

    “Whoever uses ‘brauchen’ without ‘zu’, doesn’t need to use ‘brauchen’ at all.”

  39. marie-lucie said,

    February 28, 2009 @ 7:46 pm

    Thank you, weskos!

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