NPR Speak and pronouns

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Jul 16 18:37:27 UTC 2002

At 12:56 PM -0500 7/16/02, Millie Webb wrote:
>I had noticed this deletion of that/to many times before.  I assumed it only
>bothered me (I have no one in my immediate circles who actually will discuss
>such things with me), and no one else.
>My assumption is that it somehow "sounds more formal", or to the speaker's
>mind, more "BBC-like" that way (though I do not know how a typical BBC
>broadcaster would say it).  Since it works in some cases, and seems to sound
>more formal ("The professor agreed [implied COMMA here] the application of
>the proper phrasing was key in delineation of the underlying meaning"), I
>think people now tend to overuse it.  Especially hyper-corrective
>copywriters for "respected broadcasters".
>Now, what bugs me much much more is the misuse of the subject-pronoun for
>the object-pronoun in "as for my husband and I, we do not allow our children
>to bike without helmets".  That drives me crazy, and I swear I had never
>heard it (I grew up in Minnesota) until I was in college.  Now, I hear it
>all the time, see it in popular print (in newspaper articles, Newsweek,
>everywhere!), and even come across it in advertising, educational seminar
>pamphlets, or sermons from highly educated clergy (constantly!).
>I always tell anyone who will put up with me pointing it out to say it with
>just one person or one pronoun, and see which sounds better.  You wouldn't
>say "as for I", or "as for we", would you?  So, don't do it when combining
>pronouns or names either!  I am not generally a prescriptivist person, but I
>have to admit this one really bugs me.

The only problem with this logic is the tacit assumption that
conjoined noun phrases (X and Y) are syntactically identical to
simple noun phrases (X) when it comes to case assignment.  There's a
lot of evidence that this is not the case, not only from "as for..."
and "between you and I" (vs. *between we, which I'd wager is never
used), but from a wide range of other prepositional and
non-prepositional constructions.  The same point can be raised about
the difference between "Me and him can do it" vs. "Me can do it",
"Him can do it", as in the example you bring up below.  Again, the
above "logic" would predict these are equally likely--and there's no
hypercorrection here, simply (once again) different rules for case
assignment in conjoined vs. simple NPs.  By coincidence, this issue
is one that's addressed in the Guardian review of the
Huddleston-Pullum Cambridge Grammar that was mentioned earlier today
here, at,12084,753669,00.html

>Mainly because I think it is
>hypercorrection from teachers screaming at us not to say "my brother and me"
>in the subject position, and no one knows the difference between subject and
>object, so they use it all the time.  It's like the rule now is:  When
>combining a noun and the first-person pronoun, always use "I", and never

Well, the problem (if it is a problem) is that that's not the one
speakers/writers actually follow either, at least not consistently in
practice.  Many will distinguish "He saw John and me" from "He gave
it to John and I", and the rules are likely to be variable rather
than absolute in nature.  It's always easy to stipulate what everyone
"should" do, but it's sometimes more interesting to investigate what
they actually do.  I take it that's what Huddleston and Pullum sought
to accomplish in their grammar.


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