Patterns of prestigious deviance

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The entry for me in Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage notes that:

Everyone expects me to turn up as the object of a preposition or a verb [...] But me also turns up in a number of place where traditional grammarians and commentators prescribe I. [...]

While traditional opinion prescribes someone and I for subject use – I and someone seems a bit impolite — in actual practice we also find me and someone and someone and me [...]

Both are speech forms, often associated with the speech of children, and likely to be unfavorably noticed in the speech and writing of adults except when used facetiously.

The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language gives the following four examples to illustrate "Coordinate accusatives corresponding to non-coordinate nominatives", p. 462, commenting that "The accusatives in [22] are non-standard and strongly stigmatized, especially the pattern in [ii]":

[22] i a. Tina and me sat by the window looking down on all the twinkling lights.
b. She and us are going to be good friends
ii a. Me and Larry are going to the movies.
b. Him and me fixed up the wagon while the others went to town.

But reader SN has pointed out to me that there are some reliable facts about the relative frequency of (some of) the alternatives that these authorities don't directly mention.

Specifically, "me and someone" is about three times more common than "someone and me"; whereas "I and someone" is more than "slightly impolite" — it hardly ever occurs. Thus (with corpus.byu.edu search strings, in which '.' means "start of sentence" and [np*] means "proper noun"):

COCA BNC TIME
. me and [np*] 124 45 3
. I and [np*] 2 0 0
. [np*] and me 51 16 0
. [np*] and I 1395 303 51

Or here, where "[n*]" means "noun":

COCA BNC TIME
. me and the [n*] 38 3 2
. I and the [n*] 8 4 2
. the [n*] and me 6 0 0
. the [n*] and I 169 28 19

Summing up:

Ego="I" Ego="me"
Ego first 16 215
Ego second 1965 73

The pattern for coordinate subjects with he|him ~ she|her is somewhat different. "Him and someone" is again much (five times) more common than "Someone and him"; but now "He and someone" is much commoner (11 times) than "Someone and he":

COCA BNC
. him and [np*] 13 7
. he and [np*] 400 143
. [np*] and him 4 0
. [np*] and he 34 16

(I've limited this table to the masculine pronouns, since her can also be possessive, and we would need to eliminate common things like "Susan and her mother" in order to include the feminine forms.)

One theory would be that in some varieties of English me is an emphatic form rather than (or in addition to) an accusative form. Thus in the same way that French has "Jean et moi" rather than "*Jean et je", this kind of English has "John and me" rather than "*John and I".

But this in itself doesn't explain why "me and John" is preferred to "John and me" by a factor of three; nor (especially) why the prescription against the order "I and John" (justified on post-hoc grounds of politeness) is so much more strongly obeyed (875 to 1) than the prescription against me anywhere in coordinate subjects (7 to 1).

Obviously, the choice among these alternatives will have very different proportions in different registers, as well as in different regions and classes of speakers and writers. Any serious investigation would need to break these factors down in a systematic way. But I feel that the numbers shown so far are enough to establish that there's something interesting going on here.

One direction towards a solution might be to adopt the theory put forward in Joseph Emonds, "Grammatically deviant prestige constructions", 1986, and adopted e.g. by Nicholas Sobin, "Agreement, Default Rules, and Grammatical Viruses", Linguistic Inquiry 29(2) 1997. This theory says that "nominative" pronouns in coordinate subjects are actually ungrammatical in English ("grammatically deviant") and must be introduced by extra-grammatical editing rules ("grammatical viruses", in Sobin's terminology).

A version of this approach can explain why "I and NP" is hardly ever found, as follows:

1) The natural state of all pronouns in coordinate subjects is accusative.
2) There is a rule (of prestigious deviance) turning "and me" into "and I".

On this view, there's no way to generate "I and someone" (or perhaps there's only another and much more marginal prestigious-deviance rule) and so it should never (or hardly ever) occur. This also explains object forms like "between you and I".

But this theory doesn't explain (without further stipulation) why "he and someone" is so common.

A somewhat different approach is taken by Philipp Angermeyer and John Singler, "The case for politeness: Pronoun variation in co-ordinate NPs in object position in English", Language Variation and Change 15, 2003, which makes a three-way distinction (in object position) among "vernacular" me and X, "standard" X and me, and "polite" X and I.

Also relevant is this back-and-forth:

Frank Parker, Kathryn Riley, and Charles Meyer, "Case Assignment and the Ordering of Constituents in Coordinate Constructions", American Speech 63(3) 1988.
Graham Shorrocks, "Case Assignment in Simple and Coordinate Constructions in Present-Day English", American Speech 67(4) 1992.
Frank Parker, Kathryn Riley, and Charles Meyer, "Here us go again", American Speech 69(4) 1994.

Parker et al. also explain nominative pronouns in conjoined subjects as the result of prescriptivist editing, but argue that the order of conjuncts is explained by general principles of "empathy".

I haven't seen any attempts to survey and explain the extensive corpus data that is now available. This would include looking at the large available collections of transcribed conversational speech, at dialog in out-of-copyright novels now available in digital form, and so on.



34 Comments

  1. Army1987 said,

    October 3, 2011 @ 8:04 am

    I'm very sceptical of claims that the preference for first-person-last coordination can be explained by “politeness”: does that mean that (say) Italian speakers are rude because the unmarked ordering in Italian is to put the first person first?

  2. GeorgeW said,

    October 3, 2011 @ 8:18 am

    Interesting subject.

    "The natural state of all pronouns in coordinate subjects is accusative."

    I have no data to support it, but I have the impression that the default accusative is common in child speech. If correct, this would suggest that the nominative must be prescriptively taught.

  3. Ginger Yellow said,

    October 3, 2011 @ 8:40 am

    But this in itself doesn't explain why "me and John" is preferred to "John and me" by a factor of three; nor (especially) why the prescription again "I and John" (justified on post-hoc grounds of politeness) is so much more strongly obeyed (123 to 1) than the prescription against me anywhere in cordinate subjects (7 to 1).

    What are the numbers like for "Myself and John"?

    [(myl) You can check for yourself at http://corpus.byu.edu. In COCA, there are 2 instances of the pattern
    . myself and [np*]
    vs. 4 instances of the pattern
    . [np*] and myself

    The numbers for the BNC are 4 and 6. Adding them up, 6 vs. 10.

    A rather rare choice in any event — 16 for both orders in 525 million words.]

  4. Colin Reid said,

    October 3, 2011 @ 8:57 am

    I've noticed that in talks, mathematicians often say "Together with X,Y and Z, we proved the following…" to mean "X,Y,Z and I proved the following together…". They then write all the surnames at the start of the theorem (in alphabetical order so there is no implied favouritism), except that for their own name they just put an initial. Academics seem to have special rules of humility when it comes to referring to yourself.

  5. Lars Clausen said,

    October 3, 2011 @ 8:58 am

    The "me and X" could be preferred because "me and my X" has a nice alliteration to it. "Me and my buddies", for instance, has 8165 occurrences in Google NGrams, 91 occurrences in COCA, 19 in BNC, and 1 in TIME. This "me" then carries over to other constructs of its kind.

  6. Keith said,

    October 3, 2011 @ 9:10 am

    I think that there is probably a natural tendency for English speakers to say "Me and X …". However, in school children are taught that this wrong, that the correct form is "X and I …", putting yourself second is showing politeness towards X.

    That is certainly the rule I was taught in England, and curiously my French wife was taught the same politeness rule for French when she was a child (i.e., "X et moi …" and not "moi et X …").

    The constant reinforcement of this "X and I …" rule leads to the hypercorrection that I hear from my own children (and I even hear it from my brother), which leads to such constructions as "the teacher asked Marc and I to work on the project".

    K.

  7. Brett said,

    October 3, 2011 @ 9:24 am

    @Lars Clausen: But "my buddies and me" sounds just as good to me as the reverse order. Naive Google counts suggest it is only marginally less popular. (Of course, I can't say it in my head without hearing the tune from the Beach Boys' "I Get Around", which may influence how mellifluous it sounds to me.)

  8. Zythophile said,

    October 3, 2011 @ 10:34 am

    My impression is that "me and …" and "and I" are both easier to say than "I and …", which if true, must have an effect on the choices of pronoun and order.

    [(myl) Not convincing, IMO.]

  9. Jerome Chiu said,

    October 3, 2011 @ 11:30 am

    Is it just me who, upon reading this post, thinks that constructions with only "me" in it (e.g. the quote in the following paragraph) is quite common enough, but has probably missed something?

    "Me? The 13th Duke of Wybourne? …."

  10. Jerome Chiu said,

    October 3, 2011 @ 11:31 am

    oooops, and here's the link:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XusxpT0WHd4

  11. Tom Lambert said,

    October 3, 2011 @ 11:40 am

    Any chance the explanation could be phonological? High, front vowels before low, back vowels? Tick-tock, not tock-tick.

  12. Vasha said,

    October 3, 2011 @ 11:46 am

    Isn't it pretty much true that the only place that "I" universally appears is directly before the finite verb? Any variation on the sentence structure that moves the subject away from that position favors "me". That would probably explain why "I' is more common in the second half of the co-ordinate subject, and also explain variation because of competition between the positional rule and the wish to have a uniform subject pronoun.

  13. Spell Me Jeff said,

    October 3, 2011 @ 12:22 pm

    I think Keith is onto something. If in fact "Me and X" is the default, and "X and I" is a product of deliberate socialization (I'm really not sure), then it seems likely that speakers of "X and I" have acquired case and word order as a package.

  14. J. W. Brewer said,

    October 3, 2011 @ 12:33 pm

    Maybe I'm missing something, but explaining the prevalence of "X and I" over "I and X" by assuming a kinda-sorta-deep-structure in which only "X and me" and "me and X" exist and then postulating the existence of an optional "and me" -> "and I" transformation (whether or not pejoratively characterized as a "virus") coupled with the non-existence of a "me and" -> "I and" transformation seems, to me, not to have advanced the explanatory ball very much. It seems rather tautological. Although if there were some plausible ex ante reason within the epicycles-upon-epicycles of some iteration of generative-transformational theory why the former transformation could and should exist while the latter not only happens not to exist but ought not to exist (which I suppose I can't rule out, so fuzzy is my memory of gen-trans theories and their intricacies), I suppose that could be interesting.

  15. Barbara Partee said,

    October 3, 2011 @ 12:53 pm

    When he was in the 4th grade (age 9) my son Morriss brought me a writing assignment to proofread. It started out "Seth and I went to the mall." He pointed to "Seth and I" and said "That's the way you spell 'me and Seth', right?" I loved it!

  16. Barbara Partee said,

    October 3, 2011 @ 1:08 pm

    p.s. Ed Klima wrote about these patterns in his dissertation, I believe, and in a later article. I don't have the reference, but I know his work is referenced in Heidi Quinn's 2005 book on the case forms of pronouns. I remember Klima lecturing on these issues when I was a grad student in the early 60's, and on the changes leading from earlier French "ce suis je" to later "c'est moi". And he had the idea that the hypercorrection "between you and I" resulted from the fact that the rule changing "and me" to "and I" is learned as a later addition to an already formed unconscious grammar, and that such late additions are invariably "ordered last" in the grammar, accounting for why they get applied sometimes when they shouldn't. (Likewise for the overextension to learned "whom" into places where it shouldn't occur — the late added rule is internalized as "change who to whom when it occurs after a noun", leading to erroneous 'the visitor whom you said would arrive tomorrow'.)
    I haven't read Heidi's book, but I think she has a lot of relevant research. I remember one of my undergraduates in the early 1980's doing a survey of his friends and acquaintances of various generations one year concerning preferred case and word order in conjunctions including a pronoun in a range of different contexts, and including both 1st person and 3rd person singular and plural pronouns; about 40 surveys gave about 25 'dialects', i.e. 25 different patterns of responses!

    [(myl) The Klima article is "Relatedness between grammatical systems", Language 40(1) 1964 -- still quite interesting, 47 years later.

    The 2005 book is Heidi Quinn, The Distribution of Pronoun Case Forms in English, 2005. It does indeed look very relevant. As far as I can tell from a quick skim, though, the book's (substantial) empirical content comes from a survey of the sort that you describe. While that information is certainly useful, we know from sociolinguistic studies that survey results often don't give an accurate picture of the usage of stigmatized forms or forms that are highly register-dependent -- and these non-standard uses of accusative pronouns in cooordinate subjects are certainly both stigmatized and register-dependent.

    Now that the field has access to tens of millions of words of transcribed conversation, there's an opportunity for someone to check the survey results against more-or-less unmonitored usage patterns.]

  17. Barbara Partee said,

    October 3, 2011 @ 1:17 pm

    Oh, sorry, I meant "change who to whom when it occurs (immediately) BEFORE a noun", not 'after'. That will get you "the visitor whom we invited" vs "the visitor who arrived yesterday". Such a rule then also changes "who" to "whom" right before any occurrence of "you said", etc., not distinguishing between "who you said would arrive" and "who you said you invited". Getting those right as an adult learner requires learning a conscious algorithm like the one a high school teacher taught us, involving reconstructing an 'underlying' sentence with 'he' instead of 'who' and see if it would be 'he' or 'him' — a little bit of natural transformational grammar.

  18. Arnold Zwicky said,

    October 3, 2011 @ 4:56 pm

    Add to the mix Thomas Grano's 2006 Stanford honors thesis, "“Me and her” meets “he and I”: Case, person, and linear ordering in English coordinated pronouns" (here).

  19. Mr Punch said,

    October 3, 2011 @ 5:59 pm

    I'm in agreement with Keith and Jeff – "me and X" as the default, etc. I'd add that in my observation (as parent/grandparent), small children at first reverse "you" and "I/me," treating them as names, but then recognize "me" before "I" as a first-person pronoun.

  20. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 3, 2011 @ 6:17 pm

    I'm wondering how we know the politeness justification is post hoc.

  21. Ellen K. said,

    October 3, 2011 @ 7:06 pm

    I think the politeness thing plays a role in why "I and Name" is so rare. I think it relates to register. The same kinda English where "I" is more likely is where putting self 2nd is considered proper.

    I think it's also partly we don't hear it, so we don't say it. There's a self perpetuation that continues that pattern, in addition to the reasons that originated it.

    And other reasons too play into it, no doubt.

  22. Stephen Nicholson said,

    October 3, 2011 @ 7:37 pm

    I don't think politeness is a good reason for the lack of "I and Name" at the start of a sentence because that same reasoning works for "Me and name" at the beginning of a sentence. If that were the reason I would expect "I and Name" to be more common than "Me and Name" because I is more common at the beginning of sentences and rule cited is that "I" can be a subject but "me" cannot.

    In fact, generally speaking "I" trumps "me" at the beginning of sentences. I ran a COCA search today and "I" at the beginning of a sentences occurred 933,739 times. Wheres "me" was only at the beginning of a sentence 1,836 times. Which is more than I expected, frankly. But then 425 million words, it's not like 1,836 is a lot.

    I'm not entirely convinced it's because "me" is more natural than "I" and I is a learned behavior. If that was the case, then why do so many instances of "me" at the beginning of a sentence sound so unnatural? I think there's a different rule at play here, something more complicated than pronoun case or politeness.

    [(myl) You've misunderstood. No one has suggested that "'me' is more natural than 'I'" in general. Rather, the suggestion is that "me" is the grammatical norm in coordinate structure, just as "moi" is the norm is coordinate structures in French. This might or might not be true; but your counts of sentence-initial words are not in any way relevant to the question.]

    I think any rule formulate would have to take into account "overcorrecting" where people use "I" where, according the rules of pronoun case, they're supposed to use "me". I think they're intertwined, but I'm not sure.

  23. Mark F. said,

    October 4, 2011 @ 12:36 pm

    I think I once heard the same claim about English and negative concord. The idea was that English was "naturally" a negative concord language but that we were taught to act as if it wasn't. Perhaps the idea could have even come from Emonds' original paper. I was never sure what to make of this idea, though. Does it make sense to say "the grammar calls for Y, but then you are required to transform it to X"? Is there an unambiguous way to isolate that kind of required transformation from ones that are "really in the grammar"? Could there actually be a gradation of integratedness of grammatical rules or laws, with, say, "me and Alice –> Alice and I" fairly peripheral, SVO being very central, and others in between?

  24. Pflaumbaum said,

    October 4, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

    Looking at the data from that Grano thesis, 43% of the third person pronouns in co-ordination are plain form, and even 18% of the 1st person pronouns, despite the high prescriptive pressure against that construction.

    Given how ubiquitous it is among speakers of English, can anyone explain why the CGEL regards it as unquestionably non-standard, when it gives seemingly much more marginal constructions the '%' treatment? I understand that it's deprecated in writing and many kinds of speech. But if someone grew up speaking the standard dialect, yet said [me and X] as a child and still says it in all but the most formal contexts, which non-standard dialect are they switching into? When I do it, am I switching momentarily into a local North London dialect that happens to share this feature with all the other non-standard dialects?

    Is it not analogous to something like obscenities, which are avoided in formal and many informal contexts, but are still clearly part of the standard dialect? Or have I misunderstood the concept of standard and non-?

  25. Joe Rembetikoff said,

    October 4, 2011 @ 6:46 pm

    In Russian, "me and you" as the subject would be written "Мы с вами," we with you. The "with" triggers dative case. It would make a kind of sense if English "and" caused both the words it links to go dative, although it doesn't in Russian. Does anyone know how this was said in old and middle english, when the case system was stronger?

  26. John said,

    October 5, 2011 @ 10:04 am

    So if the "natural" thing to say is either "me and Doug" or "Doug and me", and the rule we're taught is that "Doug and I" is correct, perhaps "Doug and me" is close enough to invoke the rule without forcing us to rearrange the sentence, while "Me and Doug" isn't?

    I do like the explanation that "I and…" is avoided for being phonologically awkward, though.

    [(myl) The trouble with that explanation is that it predicts the wrong thing for "Eye and Ear", which is a standard collocation (e.g. in Mass Eye and Ear), while "Ear and Eye" is not.]

  27. Mary Bull said,

    October 5, 2011 @ 10:15 am

    One prestigious poet's words:
    "I and the public know
    What all schoolchildren learn,"
    –W.H. Auden in "September 1, 1939"

    Well, he did later regret writing the poem, but not because of that sentence, which is in the second stanza.

    (I'm throwing this quote in as a bit of tangential trivia to go with all the interesting serious analysis in the post and in earlier comments.)

  28. Sanna said,

    October 5, 2011 @ 7:38 pm

    I might be misunderstanding what's being discussed.

    While taking German classes in my midwestern American high school and learning all the things about subjects and predicates my 5th grade teacher failed to clearly explain to me, I was taught that 'if you can't say it alone, don't say it with someone else.'
    "I sat by the window." — "Tina and I sat by the window."
    But never: "Tina and me sat by the window," because never: "Me sat by the window."
    Likewise: "He gave me a cookie." — "He gave Tina and me cookies."
    But never: "He gave Tina and I cookies," because never: "He gave I a cookie."
    Nominative vs accusative/dative.

    As for why it seems to be "X and I" vs "me and X," I think it's left over from a child's ear-learned grammar. Who went to the mall? Well, first there's me, then there's also Seth, so 'me and Seth went to the mall'. In a child's mind, the child is always present in the child's life; Seth comes over to play and then goes home, but I'm always in my own head, so I'm more important to myself than Seth is, therefore I come first. Me, and then Seth, went to the mall. And like many ear-learned pieces of children's grammar, it just doesn't get 'larned' out of us as we go through school (don't start me on "you did good"). We learn to say 'Seth and I went to the mall,' but if we ever do use 'me', it becomes 'me and Seth'.

  29. Pflaumbaum said,

    October 6, 2011 @ 6:09 am

    @ Sanna-

    Your high school teacher's explanation is a good way of getting people to apply the prescriptive rule correctly, and fits well with languages with full case systems like Latin (and German?). But there's evidence that it's not a great way of describing pronouns in modern English.

    As CGEL puts it, the only totally secure territory for the nominative is as the sole subject of a finite verb – your I sat by the window, for instance. Elsewhere, the plain form ('accusative') is either optional or obligatory. I don't have CGEL's attested examples to hand, but I do have the constructions, from another correspondence. People who know better than me (I?) can correct me if I'm wrong:

    (1) Isolation:

    A: Who's picking up the kids? B: Me. / ?I.

    (2) Dislocation:
    Me, I'm all for it. / *I, I'm all for it.

    (3) Omission of verb:

    A: I'm very keen on chives. B: Me too. / *I too.

    (4) Modification by adj.:
    Poor me. / *Poor I.

    (5)We/Us as determiner:

    We the people are united. / ?Us the people are united.
    ?So how come all we idiots got the answer? / So how come all us idiots got the answer?

    (6) Complement of verb to be:

    That's him over there / ?That's he over there

    (7) 'It-cleft' construction:

    A: Who's that coming over the hill?
    B: I think it's them. / ?I think it's they.

    (8) Existential construction:
    There's only me left. / *There's only I left.

    (9) Subject of a non-finite verb:

    What, her pay for a drink? What, she pay for a drink?
    Us having arrived first, we started. / We having arrived first, we started.

    (10) Co-ordination:
    !Me and Bill are going to the match. / Bill and I are going to the match.

    And there can be combinations of the various possibilities, like
    !There's only them and us left. / *There's only they and we left / ?There are only they and we left.

    I think Latin has the nominative in all these contexts except (4) and sometimes (9). In some of them the English nominative is still fighting its corner, but in none of them is it unchallenged, and in most it requires at least a formal context (It is they, while still very pompous, is better than It's they). It seems clear that the plain form is the default form in English, which is why [X and I] has to be learned the hard way with rules of thumb like your teacher's. One theory is that this happened under the influence of disjunctive pronouns like moi in French.

  30. Sanna said,

    October 6, 2011 @ 3:58 pm

    @Pflaumbaum
    German has 4 cases (nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive) and English is a Germanic descendent. I admit to having virtually no knowledge of Latin, and therefore can't discuss your final-paragraph points on a level field. But even though English doesn't flaunt its cases as much as other languages do, I do think there's enough hold-overs to help us understand what should be going on. I do feel that when it comes to English, pretty much all your examples seem to be answerable by applying German-esque case rules or else pointing out that most children hate their public school English courses.

    I read your ten example sentences, and it seems like most of them are either an example of 'the personal pronoun is actually not in the nominative part of the sentence, (ie, German-esque cases),' a 'me and Seth' hold-over from incorrect childhood grammar, or else fall under the umbrella of ""

    1: "A: Who's picking up the kids? B: Me. / ?I."
    This is a 'me and Seth' example. Also, children often learn to answer 'who' questions with 'me', as in:
    Teacher: 'Who knows the answer?' Child: 'I know it, pick me', which gets truncated to 'me, me!'
    Consider also that B could answer "I am" (picking up the kids).

    2: "Me, I'm all for it."
    There are invisible words at the beginning: "(As for) me, I'm all for it." We don't say those words because our brain fills in the meaning, but it still puts 'Me' in the (invisibly) accusative case.

    3: "A: I'm very keen on chives. B: Me too." – Same as 1, leftover childhood grammar. Consider also, "B: I am, too."

    4: "Poor me." – This one is an interesting point, I don't actually know why this is accusative.

    5: "We the people are united." – 'the people' is modifying 'we'. The base sentence is 'We are united,' therefore it's clearly nominative case. Alternately, if the base sentence is 'the people are united', 'the people' is still nominative and 'we' modifies it, but doesn't change the case.

    6: "That's him over there" – Also fits because it's a contraction of 'that is him'. 'That' takes the nominative spot, forcing 'him' into the accusative spot.

    7: Same as 6, 'them' is in the accusative.

    8: Same as 6; the base sentence is 'it is them', 'it' being nom and 'them' being acc. The 'I think' is sort of a whole-sentence prefix and doesn't affect the cases of the nouns that come after.

    9: I actually have a clear memory of asking my mother about this when I was younger than 9, and I couldn't explain what I was getting at so she didn't have an answer for me. This sort of construction has always sounded strange to me no matter how I phrase it, so I don't really have an answer for how this 'should' be handled in English. If I were to be writing these sentences (ie in a story or something), I would change it to be manageable, such as 'what, like she would pay for a drink?' or 'Since we arrived first, we started.' But I know that altering the sentences that way negates what we're discussing here, hence, I don't know about this one.

    10: This is straight-up a 'me and Seth' example.

    English has, more or less, just two cases ('nominative' and 'predicate'/'not-nominative'), but they still function if we use them like they're real cases. Again, not knowing anything about Latin, I don't know much about how Latin may be influencing our grammar, but knowing what I know about German and seeing the strong influence German has had on English, it seems very simple to me to see how most of these sentences are easily adjusted to be correct. You say 'none of them is unchallenged' but I disagree. In many of these sentences, which noun is nominative and which is accusative is very clear to me. Also, why most English speakers don't use the right pronoun is also clear to me : p. I mean, I don't blame them, I hated English grammar until I started learning German. If a teenager finds English class boring, they won't learn, and they'll continue using language incorrectly. Sure, the meaning gets across so communication still occurs and 99% of the time, that's all we really need. But the rules are still there, even if they get broken.

  31. Sanna said,

    October 6, 2011 @ 4:02 pm

    I mis-read a number. The comment for 8 should read,
    It's still like 6. The base sentence is 'there is me', which is the same sort of sentence as 'that is him (over there)'. All the other words modify some part of the base sentence.

  32. Joe Rembetikoff said,

    October 8, 2011 @ 10:14 pm

    But Sanna, the rules you are talking about are not the actual rules in natural English. English does have two cases, but they aren't so much "nominative and predicate" as "active" and "background/static." The active case is used only for nouns in the subject which are attached to a verb and not stand alone nouns. Thus, if someone says they like ice cream, you can say "I do too" but not "I too" or even "I, too." If pointing at a man, a native english speaker would never say "He!" but "Him!" It can be assumed that "I am pointing at him" or "It is him I want" is implied, but I believe in most other languages the nominative form would be used, so why is it not in English?
    The sentence "me and her like ice cream" is slightly different. Perhaps the phrase "me and her" can be thought of as a single uninflected unit, the individual morphemes of which are descriptive not active and thus naturally in their base forms. Or perhaps, if we look to more inflected languages for answers, "and" can be thought of as triggering the dative the same way "with" does.
    I feel it would be a shame to label such forms incorrect merely because they are unique to English. They can be explained in ways that preserve the language's internal consistency. There is also zero chance that they could cause confusion, since most nouns are immune to case change and English has evolved other ways of indicating the flow of action.

  33. G Bell said,

    January 4, 2012 @ 1:49 am

    The 10 sentences of Pflaumbaum are very enlightening because they present so many different me-inducing contexts, not just the standard "me and Mary" in saddle position.

    Sanna's circumlocutions are entirely familiar. I think educated people in the U.S. use tricks like these all the time to avoid object pronouns in nominative position, in writing and formal speech. I certainly do.

    And these little schoolhouse narratives should not be dismissed: they seem to be the very stuff of the self-reflexive creation of language. Which part of the beaver's dam is not natural?

    I am all in favor of the descriptivist project, but imagine that every single person speaking the language was a linguist and a descriptivist. With a room full of observers, who would determine the language?

    It'd be analogous to a trading pit full of finance professors that all believe in the Efficient Market Hypothesis. They would be sneaking peeks at each other. Where's the price?

  34. G Bell said,

    January 4, 2012 @ 1:53 am

    An amusing example: to my ear "me too" is the very epitome of child talk.

    But my tiny daughter, who is bilingual in German ("ich auch"), is out of the gate with "I also":

    Brother: I want to be first !
    Little sister: I also.

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