x-elements

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The American Dialect Society chose because as its Word Of The Year, and thereby provoked an argument, here and elsewhere, about parts of speech. Most dictionaries and grammars see words like for, in, since, etc. as variously prepositions, adverbs, conjunctions, or particles, depending on how they're used. Geoff Pullum argues that they're all always prepositions, just used in different ways. (See "Because syntax", 1/5/2014, and "The promiscuity of prepositions", 1/8/2014, for some of Geoff's reasons.)

It's worth pointing out that the complex patterning of these words in contemporary English is the outcome of an even more complex historical process.

Originally in Indo-European,

Le terme de préposition est aussi impropre que celui de préverbe. A l'origine, il s'agissait d'un élément adverbial autonome dont la place n'était nullement fixée ni par rapport au nom ni par rapport au verbe.

The term "preposition" is as inappropriate as the term "preverb". Originally there was an autonomous adverbial element whose place was not at all fixed, neither with respect to a noun nor with respect to a verb.

(Meillet & Vendryes, Traité de grammaire comparée des langues classiques, 1948)

Virginia Anne Goetz puts it like this (The development of Proto-Indo-European local adverbs into Germanic prepositions and verbal elements, 2006):

It has been traditionally held that in Proto-Indo-European the archaic construction was an independent x-element with no fixed position in the sentence. At some point, the x-element developed a loose connection with the verb though both retained literal meanings. With time, a closer connection with the verb developed, both semantically with figurative usage and syntactically with a change of transitivity. Concomitantly, object proclivity developed in which the x-element became associated with case to yield a postposition and later a preposition.

She suggests the following terminology:

  • Particle: indeclinable words in IE.
  • x-element: a type of IE particle, originally giving spatial information, without any necessary relationship to verbs or nouns. About 22 of these have been reconstructed for PIE.
  • xv: an x-element with loose affiiliation with a verb.
  • unbound xv-verb: an xv-verb combination that changes the verb's semantics, syntax, or morphology.
  • bound xv-verb: the xv-element always appears immediately before the verb, as in German "inseparable prefixes".
  • O-x and x-O: where the x-element develops a syntactic relationship with an object, occurring either after or before it, though not necessarily adjacent, and often assigning case.

Terminology aside, modern English retains at least some instances of all of these, and more besides. Goetz summarizes the past five millennia this way:

In the initial stage of its development, PIE x was a free constituent in a functional language. Its role was to add a place adverb (xv) modality to a sentence. Often it related a case-bearing object to a verb. In the sequence OxV, for example, O ( – village) might be in the locative case and x would provide additional place adverb information to relate O to V (= go):

the village – toward, within, into, through, around, etc. – go.

From this earliest stage, there were innovations which related x to the object or to the verb. Sanskrit and Hittite are considered to be the most conservative in terms of these developments. There are in these languages some recurring expressions in which x appears to have an attachment to a case-bearing object as an O-x, so that Sanskrit and Hittite may be seen to be on the cusp of developing x as a case assigner. […] In these languages, x was mostly xv (a free adverb of place) or part of an OxV. In the latter, the role of x is ambiguous in terms of [verb proclivity] versus [object proclivity].

The most innovative in terms of x development are Latin and Greek. While there is still some relic structure, especially in older Greek, the “classical” stages of these languages have b.xv (bound verbal prefix), x-O (“preposition”) and xv (“adverb”).

The early Germanic languages, and hence reconstructed Proto-Germanic, fall between the extremes of the conservative (Hittite, Sanskrit) and the innovative (Latin, Greek). While Germanic has a group of b.xv’s and sets of x-O, it still retains x’s that are ambiguous.

The develop of fixed configurational relationships correlates with the loss of inflection. Thus John Hewson "Typological Evolution in IE", in John Hewson & Vit Bubenik, From Case to Adposition: The Development of Configurational Syntax in Indo-European Languages, 2006:

We have noted that in the Latin text above there is only one fixed ordering — that of preposition and following noun, found in the phrase sub tegmine. It also happens that sub is the only word in the whole sentence that has no inflectional mark of any kind. In fact the only common configurational requirement in Classical Latin […] was that the preposition should immediately precede the noun it governs — hence the name preposition, a calque upon Greek prothesis — and the obvious reason for this ordering is that the preposition carries no inflectional mark which could be used for agreement. Preposition and noun must be made to form some kind of a configurational syntagma in order to avoid confusion.

The Homeric poems show us, however, that this fixed positioning of preposition-plus-noun in Classical Latin is already a development from an earlier state of affairs. […]

He lists Homeric examples illustrating the protean syntax of e.g. ὲπὶ (romanization epi):

 

 

In all the Indo-European languages, the ancestral x-elements moved towards a stronger configurational identity — but the outcome also depended on which basic clausal word order developed:

There's something conspicuously missing from this story so far — the use of x-elements to introduce a clause, e.g. "Kim left after Leslie complained".  There are two obvious routes to this end. In one, the x-element starts as a free adverbial in a sequence of independent phrases, and is re-analyzed as grammatically bound to a neighboring clause, just as in earlier developments it because grammatically bound to a nearby noun or verb. In the other, which seems more relevant to the history of English, the x-element governs a pronominal element modified by a relative clause, as in the OED's discussion of the background of the quasi-conjunctional uses of for:

In Old English for with the instrumental case of the neuter demonstrative pron. formed advb. phrases = ‘therefore’, which, with the addition or ellipsis of the relative ðe became conjunctional phrases = ‘because’. (For these phrases and their later representatives see for-thon conj., for-thy conj.; cf. also forwhy conj.). Similarly, for that conj.   appears from 13th c. as a conjunction; and in the 16th c. there are a few examples of for this in the senses ‘therefore’ and ‘because’.

 In addition, there's the possibility of new words being added to the list of x-elements, typically from what start out as adverbs. Thus the OED's etymology for along relates it to adverbial use of an adjective "cognate with or formed similarly to Old Saxon gilang attainable, available, Old High German gilang related":

In use as adverb probably originally representing the accusative neuter of the adjective used adverbially […] For comparable use of compounds of long adj.1 as adjective and adverb in Old English compare ēastlang (adjective) lying in an easterly direction, extending eastwards, (adverb) to the east, in an easterly direction, westlang (adjective) lying in a westerly direction, extending westwards, (adverb) to the west, in a westerly direction […]

In use as preposition probably originally representing adverbial use of the adjective with a complement in the genitive. In Old English the preposition usually takes the genitive, but also occurs with dative and accusative.

An early residue of the loss of case was the phrasing "along of NP" rather than "along NP" — but this alternative never seems to have been very common, and in any case, the American Dialect Society was not around to celebrate its disappearance.

In the case of because, the source is the adverbial use of the prepositional phrase "by cause":

1356   Wyclif Last Age Ch. (1840) 31   Þe synnes bi cause of whiche suche persecucioun schal be in Goddis Chirche.
1470–85   Malory Morte d'Arthur (1817) II. 452   By cause of brekynge of myn avowe, I pray yow all lede me thyder.
1480   Caxton tr. Trevisa Descr. Brit. 15   Elidurus was logged atte cite Alcluid by cause of solace and hunting.

c1405  (▸c1395)    Chaucer Franklin's Tale (Hengwrt) (2003) l. 253   By cause that he was hir neghebour.
c1486   Bk. St. Albans D iij b,   Theis be not enlured..by cause that thay be so ponderowse.
?1541   R. Copland Galen's Fourth Bk. Terapeutyke sig. Bivv, in Guy de Chauliac's Questyonary Cyrurgyens,   For bycause that the sayde indication is nat taken of the same cause, it is euydent, [etc.].
1611   Bible (A.V.) John vii. 39   The Holy Ghost was not yet giuen; because that Iesus was not yet glorified.

From PIE to the present day, the consistent driver of change in this arena has been re-analysis — typically, syntactic re-interpretation of a functional relationship. Sometimes this is simply re-parsing of an ambiguous sequence, as when O x V was interpreted as O x-V. And sometimes it's a simplification of a more complex structure, as when by cause that S becomes simply because S.

I don't have strong opinions about whether the different functional and structural relations involved should be terminologically split or lumped or both — but I think that Geoff makes a good case for seeing the complex usage patterns of English words like in, from, and because as variations on a single grammatical theme.



30 Comments

  1. John Cowan said,

    January 10, 2014 @ 11:17 am

    Along of survives in various nonstandard English varieties as alonga. It is sometimes written etymologically as along o', as in the come-along-o'-me grip used by police to escort an unwilling person.

    [(myl) Plain along (as in "along the wall" or "along the way") seems limited to spatial meanings, with the commitative meaning standardly expressed as "along with" or non-standardly as "along of"…]

  2. Boris said,

    January 10, 2014 @ 12:33 pm

    I'm sorry for posting this here, but Geoff's posts don't allow comments. I find his examples of things interpolated between "because" and "of" completely ungrammatical, which reinforces my feeling that "because of" means something other than "because" followed by "of". Similarly, his
    made up examples sound wrong or at least nonstandard and playful to me, except ones with quotations, which, in my mind, can be treated as noun phrases with the noun elided (At the sound of "Get set!" you should have…). What does this mean for the rest of the analysis? I don't know, I'm not well enough versed in this area.

  3. tetri_tolia said,

    January 10, 2014 @ 12:35 pm

    "Alongside of" seems perfectly OK, though.

  4. J. W. Brewer said,

    January 10, 2014 @ 1:01 pm

    One potential problem in Hewson's account is that we don't really have any texts in Homeric Greek that aren't Homeric, and in particular afaik don't have any Greek prose texts of the same vintage (however many centuries back that vintage might be thought to be). It is not unknown (in English, for example . . .) for inverted or otherwise non-standard word order to be accepted in poetry for the sake of making the meter work or some other aesthetic effect that might be described as "poetic license" even if the same order would be judged ungrammatical in other settings, so making confident statements about the general syntactic rules of a particular language or a particular historical stage of that language with no textual evidence other than poetry seems like it might be a hazardous endeavor.

    [(myl) Poetry often uses archaic orders, as in this OED note about by:

    A. prep. Forms: OE–ME be, OE–ME bi, OE bí ( big), ME– by, (ME bie, ME bye, north. ME– be). (Formerly often placed after the governed word, which may still be done in verse).

    c1485   Digby Myst. (1882) iv. 658   Com sit me bye.
    1487  (▸a1380)    J. Barbour Bruce (St. John's Cambr.) vi. 667   The Kyng lukyt hym by.

    But I think it would be unexpected for popular poetry to use forms and orders that are completely alien to the language. And Hewson's argument is that Homer is consistent in doing some things (like omitting articles) that later poets would not do. In any case, the fact that the claimed structures are like those found in more conservative IE varieties (including Germanic) increases the plausibility of the argument.

    For the purposes of the present discussion, the point is that "prepositions" were originally a set of indeclinable and syntactically free-floating particles expressing spatial relationships, which over time established a wide variety of morphosyntactic hook-ups and semantic functions as the IE languages developed. This protean character seems to have lasted to the present day in English. ]

  5. DG said,

    January 10, 2014 @ 1:16 pm

    Does anyone know if Latin constructions with "cum" between adjective and noun, as in "summa cum laude" are also of this sort?

    [(myl) My limited exposure to Latin grammar, in secondary school, is now a half a century in the past; but I believe that there's some kind of second-position thing going on, as in e.g. saxa per et scopulos "over rocks and cliffs".]

  6. Craig said,

    January 10, 2014 @ 2:58 pm

    @Boris

    I hate to hijack another thread but his examples of splitting because and of are entirely grammatical. Where else would you include the parts between the commas in the example sentences? The sentences become much harder to parse if you prescriptively decide "because" and "of" must not be split.
    Do you think it desirable to not want to naturally split infinitives as well?

  7. Charles in Vancouver said,

    January 10, 2014 @ 4:22 pm

    I have to say, I wasn't completely sold on the idea of "because" always being a preposition until thinking about it as "by cause of/that". Even in modern English that structure sounds grammatical albeit archaic.

    I am even tempted to think of "because racecar" as:
    by cause "racecar"

    As in, racecar is a title or quote used to label the cause. Which puts a certain amount of distance between the speaker and the stated cause, and allows for the strong possibility the speaker does not actually believe this is legitimate reasoning.

  8. Bill W said,

    January 10, 2014 @ 4:24 pm

    'Does anyone know if Latin constructions with "cum" between adjective and noun, as in "summa cum laude" are also of this sort?'

    With the personal pronouns me, te, nobis and vobis, cum is regularly postpositive and enclitic: mecum, tecum, nobiscum, vobiscum. Other Latin "prepositions" can be post-positive, too:

    From Allen & Greenough, Latin Grammar:

    http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0001%3Apart%3D2%3Asection%3D9%3Asubsection%3D16%3Asmythp%3D435

    This undoubtedly reflects an earler stage of the language when the position of "prepositions" was not necessarily fixed.

  9. MJP said,

    January 10, 2014 @ 4:24 pm

    @DG

    Interesting historical survey (specifically differentiating the origins from those of the similar construction in non-Latin languages in Italy) in James Clackson's paper here.

  10. David Morris said,

    January 10, 2014 @ 4:57 pm

    Before, during and after typing my long post to 'AD WOTY' (4 Jan), I thought that the fundamental problem about asserting whether 'because' (or any other relevant word) is or is not a preposition or conjunction (or any other relevant word class) is the terminology and definition of 'preposition' and 'conjunction' in the first place.
    However we name and define our word classes, it is undeniable that different words in the same class act in different ways, that the same word can act in different ways even within the same word class, and that the same word can act in ways typical of different word classes (Geoffrey gave three sentences with 'after'; I gave three sentences with 'smoking').
    Probably there will never be full agreement about terminology and definition, or splitting or lumping (kind of like similar (dis)agreement about languages and dialects). But we can discuss it vigorously and respectfully.

  11. KevinM said,

    January 10, 2014 @ 5:25 pm

    I know that feelings are running high on the preposition question. May I add the humble and tentative suggestion that a phrase like "because science" is not necessarily a purposeful innovation of grammar, but rather a humorous departure, er, therefrom? What you are saying to your interlocutor is that you are not merely wrong; you are so fundamentally wrong that it's futile to pinpoint a particular error of fact or logic. I thus refer you to the whole of science, or grammar, or whatever. To a person who is merely mistaken I might say "because of an error in your calculations." As to benighted you, however, for everything following "because," I just swap in "science." The ungainly phrasing neatly encapsulates the feeling that conventional grammar cannot convey how clueless you are. Of course this deliberate departure from grammar may in time, I suppose, make the transition from un-grammar to ungrammatical idiom to acceptability.

  12. Coby Lubliner said,

    January 10, 2014 @ 5:50 pm

    I would surmise that "because that" shrank to "because" in the same way that "after that" (the norm in Chaucer, as in "Thus was the halle full of divining / Long after that the sunne gan up spring," The Kinght's Tale) became "after": the generalized dropping of "that" in certain contexts, seemingly peculiar to English.

    In German, for example, the preposition nach becomes the subordinating conjunction (pace CGEL) nachdem.

    [(myl) Right — some of the OED's examples, which I removed from the post in a vain effort to keep it from being too long:

    a1382 Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) (Douce 369(1)) (1850) Jer. xxxvi. 27 And don is the wrd of the Lord to Jeremye, the profete, after that the king hadde brent the volum.
    c1425 (▸c1300) Chron. Robert of Gloucester (Harl.) 230 After þat Saxons & Englysse verst come þys lond to.
    c1450 Speculum Christiani (Harl. 6580) 24 (MED), Bot after that we haue for-sake oure-selfe, we be mych more fre fro besynes of hem.
    1535 Coverdale Jer. xxxvi. 27 After now that the kynge had brente the boke.
    1611 Bible (A.V.) Jer. xxxvi. 27, After that the king had burnt the roule.

    The (apparently) unique development in English was the evolution of that from a pronoun into a complementizer, and the general development of the possibility of deleting it (e.g. in verbal complements and relative clauses as well as in cases of the sort under construction).]

  13. Ø said,

    January 10, 2014 @ 6:06 pm

    Well said, KevinM, about that element of scorn for wrongheadedness. But I sometimes hear the new "because" being used as a convenient and cute shorthand, with no such element.

  14. DCBob said,

    January 10, 2014 @ 6:15 pm

    That is a truly remarkable discussion.

  15. TR said,

    January 10, 2014 @ 7:24 pm

    Interesting stuff. I have some quibbles with the idea that whether x-elements developed into prepositions or postpositions "depended on which basic clausal word order developed" in a language, though: Classical Latin is pretty strongly SOV, but also strongly prepositional; and it's not at all clear to me that Greek, one of the most markedly "free word order" IE languages, can be said to have a basic SVO order, or any basic order at all.

  16. a George said,

    January 10, 2014 @ 7:35 pm

    – why should "because" have an argument at all? The expression is disdainful of the opinion of others, and that could be perfectly transmitted by just leaving out any further term. Much like the sort of child-upbringing in which you would stop any argument by saying "because". At least it used to mean "because I say so", but as the child learnt the lesson, "because" became quite sufficient. Hence, in my view, it is not a humurous departure but mere disdain.

  17. phspaelti said,

    January 10, 2014 @ 9:29 pm

    The (apparently) unique development in English was the evolution of that from a pronoun into a complementiser,…

    In what sense is this development unique to English? I was always under the (naive?) impression that this this represented a cognate with German daß.
    Or perhaps this is supposed to be unique in Germanic (viz. Indo-European)?

    [(myl) You left out the rest of the unique stuff: "… and the general development of the possibility of deleting it (e.g. in verbal complements and relative clauses as well as in cases of the sort under construction)".]

  18. Matt_M said,

    January 10, 2014 @ 11:12 pm

    @Boris, Craig:

    I second Craig's comment that Prof. Pullum's examples seem completely grammatical. But we don't need to rely on our own intuitions here: we can look at whether native English speakers use the structure. Googling for the string "because I believe of" yields three and a half million ghits, and a quick scan of the results confirms that the great majority of the results on the first few pages involve a parenthetical "I believe" inserted between "because" and "of" and that these results are written by competent speakers of English. A large proportion of the results are from Google Books (trying the same search term on Google Books yields about 10,000 hits) — that is, they are extracts from carefully edited prose and not just slips of the keyboard.

  19. Joyce Melton said,

    January 11, 2014 @ 1:29 am

    I thought Prof. Pullum's examples were grammatical but trivial to the discussion. Just because you can put "boldly" between "to and "go" does not mean that "to go" is not the infinitive in the phrase. So to, simply because you can put a parenthetical set off by commas between "because" and "of" does not mean that in some sense "because of" is not a unit.

    That said, I agreed with Prof. Pullum's thesis, I just thought those particular examples to be beside the point.

  20. Michael Watts said,

    January 11, 2014 @ 2:37 am

    Joyce,

    The argument (as I understand it) is about what counts as a word in itself, requiring separate lexical entries from any other words. So, in your model, the list (1) "to go"; (2) "to be"; (3) "to eat"; involves three separate words, each spelled with a space, and each requiring separate dictionary entries from the bare form infinitives "go", "be", and "eat". Personally, I think that's crazy; I would hold more to the view that the list "to go", "to be", "to eat" involves four separate words, "go", "be", "eat", and "to". The "to" is a syntactic phenomenon and verbs may or may not be marked by it according to the syntax of the sentence, but I don't think it makes much sense to consider "go" and "to go" different words. In contrast, it *does* make sense to consider the "to" of "I like to swim" and the "to" of "I went to McDonald's" separate words, even though they're spelled the same.

    The dictionary being impugned in the earlier post has no choice but to call the preposition "because of" because it believes that a preposition must be followed by a noun. If you're willing to say that a preposition can be followed by a prepositional phrase, you don't have that issue.

    That said, while I agree that the examples Pullum provided are good evidence that "because of" is not a word in itself, the mere fact that other words can intrude between them is not dispositive. In "throw it away", assuming the sense of [discard / renounce ownership of], "throw away" is a word, and should not be confused with the phrase "throw away" involving actually throwing something away from yourself.

  21. Joyce Melton said,

    January 11, 2014 @ 3:23 am

    At Michael Watts, you interpolated a whole different argument into what I said then reiterated my actual point in your final paragraph.

  22. Rohan F said,

    January 11, 2014 @ 4:02 am

    The one problem that I have with many of Professor Pullum's examples of supposed prepositional promiscuity is that they seem to make the error of conflating language with metalanguage. In the very first linguistics textbook I ever read, Key Concepts in Language and Linguistics, Larry Trask talked about this:

    "Consider the following example. Using English as a metalanguage to talk about English, we may assert the following: a grammatical English sentence may not contain two consecutive instances of the preposition of. This is true. But beginning students often challenge this by pointing to examples like this one: the grammatical functions of of in English are numerous. Is this a counterexample? No, it is not. It appears to be a counterexample only if we confuse the metalanguage with the object language. This last statement is a statement in the metalanguage, and the first occurrence of of in it is part of that statement. But the second occurrence of of is different: this is merely a piece of the object language, one which we happen to be talking about here." (Trask 1999:184-185)

    He goes on to talk about the use-mention distinction, and how conflating the two can cause analytical confusion; I think that just such confusion underlies most of the made-up examples.

    At "Get set!" you should have all the muscles in your legs tensed ready to explode off the blocks. [direct quotation of imperative sentence]

    This is a classic use-mention conflation. The quoted text could have been a direct quotation of another preposition, or of a quotation including a preposition governing another preposition, ad absurdum. Hell, it could have been a quotation of any word class at all, or even of something extralinguistic like the tut-tutting clicks of English or imitating the scree of a seagull.

    I've decided I enjoy hanging out with uglies; I've had enough of beautiful. [adjective]

    Is this a genuine treatment of "beautiful" as an adjective, or is it simply a zero-nominalisation as is frequent in colloquial English? Such nominalisation occurs elsewhere with no regard for grammatical environment: "Happy is a state of mind" (source). Consequently this isn't really relevant for arguing anything about prepositions in particular.

    He couldn't speak; he was reduced to "Aarrgh!". [direct quotation of interjection]

    Another use-mention conflation.

    There is no way to do this except cautiously. [adverb]

    This one isn't problematic.

    Alice longed to tell her boss what a piece of crap his painting was, but contented herself with ooh rather than take risks. [interjection]

    Same again, and the fact that it's just one word disguises that this could just as easily be an indirect quotation of the same type as one sees in "He has the same bullet-shaped head, the same clenched mouth and jaw line, the same don't-mess-with-me glower." (source) Is "Don't mess with me" an adjective? To ask Professor Pullum's question, should it be lexified as a single unit? There's a spectacular example in Tim Willocks's novel Bloodstained Kings: "Joe Cool stopped and put his hands on his hips and pushed his pot belly at them, all aren't-I-just-the-man-and-funny-to-boot." (source). Again, should this be lexified as a single word?

    I've moved on from frustrated in the past five days; I'm now officially exasperated. [adjective (or passive participle)]

    Same as with "beautiful" before: adjectives in colloquial English can be used unmodified as nouns relatively simply, and it's regardless of morphological position: "[F]rustrated is an understatement" (source), "Irritated is not good for sure, but it's a heck of a lot better than 'mad.'" (source)

    He was hoping for savoir faire, but he really didn't accomplish much more than je ne sais quoi [French idiomatic verbal and clausal expressions]

    Surely the grammar of the structures in French is immaterial when they're used in English? They're phrasal in English insofar as we recognise them to be composed of a number of words, but syntactically they behave as nouns and so again probably shouldn't be used to argue anything about the behaviour of prepositions with non-NP complements.

  23. Ø said,

    January 11, 2014 @ 8:29 am

    @a George: It's not always about disdain for the opinion of others. The other day my son, explaining why he did not quite dare to deal on his own with an unfamiliar foreign breaker box and its bare wires, said "because electricity".

  24. Bill W said,

    January 11, 2014 @ 10:28 am

    It's interesting that Latin is generally described as SOV, but contrary to the dominant patterns evolved primarily towards prepositions.

  25. Matt_M said,

    January 11, 2014 @ 10:38 am

    @Michael Watts:

    That said, while I agree that the examples Pullum provided are good evidence that "because of" is not a word in itself, the mere fact that other words can intrude between them is not dispositive. In "throw it away", assuming the sense of [discard / renounce ownership of], "throw away" is a word, and should not be confused with the phrase "throw away" involving actually throwing something away from yourself.

    I'm not so sure about this. If "throw away" (= discard) is a word because its meaning is not compositional, how about "kick the bucket" or "the world is your oyster"? Should they be regarded as words too? I think the most appropriate terminology for these expressions (including verb + preposition combinations like "throw away") would be something like "multi-word lexeme".

    I still think that the fact that words can be inserted between "because" and "of" is problematic for any analysis that treats "because of" as one word.

  26. Jack said,

    January 11, 2014 @ 11:54 am

    I can't say this on Pullum's article, but "because my homework" and "because you" are definitely acceptable. I'd go as far as to say, in my understanding of the construction, anything is acceptable in that place. Those two sound a bit odd, but with the right context they'd make sense.

  27. Michael Watts said,

    January 12, 2014 @ 4:26 am

    @Matt_M:

    I don't really object to drawing a distinction between inseparable words and lexemes consisting of arbitrary numbers of such. But as I read Pullum's post, he objected to the dictionary labeling "because" and "because of" as separate words when it makes more sense to say that it's the same preposition, "because", in both cases. I read it as a lexeme-level argument; if "because + of-PP" meant [given to the object of "of"] ("I bought a dress because of my daughter" = "I bought a dress and gave it to my daughter"), you *could* make the objection that "because of" shouldn't be listed as a word, and that instead there should be two entries for "because", but you wouldn't want to make the argument that there should only be one entry for "because". And I read the post as caring more that there should be only the one entry than that the "of" shouldn't be promoted from the definition of the second sense into the entry itself.

    Even if we want to talk about inseparable words, the fact that stuff might intrude is still not dispositive, as seen in expressions like "abso-fucking-lutely" (I don't think anybody argues that this is evidence for "absolutely" not being a word).

  28. Boris said,

    January 13, 2014 @ 11:02 am

    Sorry about the late response. No, I don't feel this way about splitting infinitives. And it's just my feeling, I'm not prescribing anything to anyone. "Because I believe of" sounds only slightly strange to me, but it still sounds unnatural. If the sentence does not start with because, I would stick the "I believe" right before "because", or earlier i the sentence. That would work in most cases. But even if there are cases where "because" and "of" can be split, it doesn't automatically mean that "because…of" is not something special and is just "because" followed by "of", much like the infinitive does not cease to be an infinitive just because it's split

  29. bevrowe said,

    January 14, 2014 @ 10:51 am

    "But I think it would be unexpected for popular poetry to use forms and orders that are completely alien to the language":

    He leadeth me
    The quiet waters by

    sounds pretty alien to me.

  30. bevrowe said,

    January 14, 2014 @ 10:51 am

    "But I think it would be unexpected for popular poetry to use forms and orders that are completely alien to the language":

    He leadeth me
    The quiet waters by

    sounds pretty alien to me.

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