From Roy Peter Clark:
I've been writing a bit lately about famous literary texts and what makes them work. The beginning of "Lolita," say, or the ending of "The Great Gatsby."
So I've been thinking about "Call me Ishmael," arguably the most famous short sentence in American literature. Among its charms, I argue, is that it is a short, short first sentence for a long, long book, "Moby Dick."
What stumps me is the syntax. I get that the subject is understood, that "call" is an imperative verb. The word "me" feels like an indirect object. But what the heck is "Ishmael"? A direct object? A noun in apposition to "me"?
I asked the question on Twitter, but got no results.
Can you or your Language Log colleagues enlighten me? I would be grateful.
Lost on the high seas of language — Roy Peter Clark
In "Call me Ishmael", the name "Ishmael" is what CGEL calls a "predicative complement" (p. 251-257) — and "me", I think, would be treated by CGEL as a direct object:
A predicative complement is oriented toward a predicand, normally S[ubject] in intransitives, and O[bject] in transitives. In both cases it may be classified as either depictive or resultative […]
|DEPICTIVE||Kim seemed uneasy.||He found Kim intolerant|
|RESULTATIVE||Kim became angry.||He made Kim happy.|
As CGEL notes, predicative complements can be noun phrases (and less often, prepositional phrases) as well as adjective phrases.
And call is among the verbs that can take locative as well as predicative complements: "She called him to the podium" vs. "She called him stupid" — or "She called him Ishmael". (Whence the old joke "Call me X, or call me Y, but just don't call me late for dinner".)
This analysis is a traditional one — I think it goes back at least to Otto Jespersen, who certainly used the term "predicative", though I haven't found his analysis of the transitive cases.