[tlhIngan Hol] relative strength of the epithets

SuStel sustel at trimboli.name
Tue Jul 21 08:10:24 PDT 2020


On 7/21/2020 10:31 AM, Will Martin wrote:
> Keep in mind that this is tantamount to eliminating the word “me” and 
> replacing it with “I”, using it for both subject and object form.

Which is actually happening to a certain extent in the opposite 
direction. People are so used to saying /So-and-so and I/ that when they 
want to say something like /Tom saw me and Bill at the park/ they can't 
do it, so they say the "ungrammatical" /Tom saw Bill and I at the park./ 
You can do this now in almost any context and no one will even notice 
except prescriptivist grammar curmudgeons.


> When young children try to regularize irregular words (like saying 
> “gooder” instead of “better”, or saying “Me want ice cream,” instead 
> of “I want ice cream,"), we correct them, repeatedly and they learn 
> the “right” word form for each usage. Apparently, parents of many 
> current adults didn’t do that consistently with who/whom, so the 
> difference hasn’t cemented itself into the vocabulary of many people, 
> such as yourself.

That's not what happens. For the most part, children are not taught 
language by their parents. They ACQUIRE language: their brains are wired 
to connect up to the language patterns they hear around them. If 
children don't acquire the /who/whom/ rule, it's mostly because the 
people around them aren't using the rule.

English speakers have NEVER been particularly good at distinguishing 
between /who/ and /whom./ People have been breaking the rule as long as 
the rule has existed. And it's not just because /who/ and /whom/ are 
less common than /I/ and /me./ English pronouns have changed a HUGE 
amount over the centuries. The complex system of pronouns used in Old 
English shows this. There used to be dual first- and second-person 
pronouns. Most pronouns used to have separate accusative (direct object) 
and dative (indirect object) forms. /Who/, /what,/ and /which/ as 
interrogative pronouns used to have instrumental cases. There used to be 
another interrogative pronoun that meant /which of two?/ Relative 
pronouns /(who, that, which)/ used to be different from interrogative 
pronouns /(who, what, which)./ There used to be separate classes of 
indefinite pronouns /(anybody, everybody, everything, anything) /and 
negative pronouns /(nobody, nothing) /that had their own declinations. 
All of this is lost now. Not because parents forgot to teach their 
children about them, but because people change the way they speak the 
language, even within a single generation, and over time the changes add up.

There's an interesting anecdote in a Stephen Pinker book in which he 
describes a child saying /gooder/ to her parent and the parent saying 
/gooder/ back to the child. The child stops and says the parent is 
saying it wrong; that's the way /I/ talk, not you. Language acquisition 
is so much more than just learning rules.


> Note that preserving this difference between “me” and “I” is 
> completely arbitrary.

It's not arbitrary. Language change happens for reasons, and those 
reasons are complex, but they're not arbitrary.


> Many languages, like American Sign Language and Klingon, don’t 
> distinguish between subject and object forms of pronouns. There are 
> other cues as to whether the pronoun is a subject or an object besides 
> the form of the word. In English, having the form of the pronouns 
> different is one of the many areas of redundancy in the grammar, 
> requiring one more element of agreement, making the language one notch 
> more complicated to learn, giving people one more area to make 
> grammatical mistakes that are wholly unnecessary.

The fact that so many languages include agreement, which you consider 
redundancy, suggests that there's a purpose to it, that it's not 
arbitrary at all. One good reason for agreement is that people are not 
digital computers. When you're listening to language, you're not 
necessarily processing and analyzing every single sound you hear. It's 
not that precise a process. Redundancy helps reinforce an expression. 
It's much easier to process *I am happy*  than *me happy.* While *me 
happy* contains only the information I need, it's easier to mishear the 
sentence as *he happy* or *we happy* or *she happy* or even *Bea happy.* 
There is much less chance of such mistakes with *I am happy,* as you 
have two separate cues as to the person being described. (This is a 
simplistic example, and not the only reason for grammatical redundancies 
like agreement.)


-- 
SuStel
http://trimboli.name

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