Don't even know the rules of their own language

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Bob Ladd points out that a commenter ("RobbieLePop") on a Guardian article about Prince Charles (the opinionated prince who is destined to inherit the throne under Britain's hereditary monarchical and theocratic system of government) said this:

The moment the Monarchy, with he at its head, begins a campaign of public influence is the moment the Monarchy should be disbanded.

With he at its head ? Let's face it, the traditionally accepted rules for case-marking pronouns in English are simply a mystery to many speakers.

Of course, they know more than Tarzan did: they know enough to assign cases to single pronouns that are subjects of tensed verbs or objects of verbs or prepositions, so they say I love you rather than *Me love you, and Don't hurt me rather than *Don't hurt I, and all of us rather than *all of we; but once other contexts come into play, they simply do not know what to do.

They may settle for nominative when in doubt, since most people recall being told something about using he in preference to him (I am taller than he or some such pompous nonsense), or they may not, but in this domain (shocking though it is for a linguist to say this) they don't really know what the rules of their own language are.

And as is well known, once coordinations of pronouns (or coordinations containing pronouns) rear their ugly coordinate heads, all bets are off. I have heard utterances parallel to all four of these:

  1. She and I were at school together.
  2. She and me were at school together.
  3. Her and I were at school together.
  4. Her and me were at school together.

I haven't even marked any of these with the asterisk signal of ungrammaticality, because frankly it is too complex a situation to be easily systematized. There are dialect differences, and style level differences (being informal or being proper), and hypercorrections (trying so hard to be right that you get it wrong), and personal idiosyncrasies, and simple one-off speech errors.

I hope the pompous twits who judge people as ignorant if they occasionally get a pronoun case form "wrong" (as judged by the traditional standard rules) will have the grace to admire the Australian aborigines for their intellectual aptitude. In a number of the Pama-Nyungan languages of aboriginal Australia the full noun phrases are marked with case according to the ergative/absolutive system (transitive subjects marked in a special way, but intransitive subjects marked the same way as direct objects) but pronouns are marked with case according to the nominative/accusative system (intransitive subjects marked the same way as transitive subjects but direct objects marked in a different way). And typically they get it right (since case is rather more important than it is in English).

I am inclined to think, however, that there are probably people who believe that using a nonstandard pattern like Her and I were at school together fingers you as clearly unintelligent (it doesn't) while also believing that Australian aboriginal languages are primitive gabble with no fixed grammatical rules (they aren't).

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