[tlhIngan Hol] relative strength of the epithets
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
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