nominative coordinate objects

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Sun Aug 7 19:35:18 UTC 2005

While I agree completely with Arnold's main points, I'd like to point out that once you reach a certain age, even twenty or thirty years ago can seem to be "recent" in linguistic terms.


"Arnold M. Zwicky" <zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU> wrote:
---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: "Arnold M. Zwicky"
Subject: nominative coordinate objects

stanford student Tommy Grano's been looking at pronoun case usage,
especially in coordination. this has led him to the "Dr. Language"
column on, specifically to a piece entitled "Are
you and I you and me?":

the piece retails the standard hypercorrection story for "between you
and I" and similar expressions, and in addition locates this
hypercorrection as quite recent -- so recent that it could be nipped
in the bud by quick action. (dInIs, if you're collecting such folk
beliefs, here's a nice one). possibly, Dr. Language got this idea
from James Cochrane's annoying Between You and I; on p. 14, Cochrane
says: "This oddity, which seems to have emerged only in the last
twenty or so years, presumably arises from a feeling of discomfort
about using the word _me_, a sense that it is somehow impolite or
"uneducated." "

... The result is that prescriptive grammar books used in U.S.
schools for years have taught children to avoid constructions like
"me and X" in favor of "X and I," where "X" represents any other noun
or pronoun referring to a human being. They seldom make clear that
this rule applies only in the Subject position. The critical
grammatical rule, that "I" appears only in the Subject while "me"
must be used in all Object positions gets lost in the concern for

Young people in the U. S. have been so exposed to this oversimplified
explanation of the "me-and-you" problem, that about 20 years ago U.
S. English-speakers began switching "me and X" to "X and I"
everywhere the phrase occurs—in Subject and Object positions. When
actors and others on TV and radio began speaking with this error, it
spread like wildfire.

However, since has caught this speech error in its
early stages, it is possible to stop its spread. The prescription is
simple: first, we must all stop making the error. Second, we must
make sure that when we, as teachers and parents, correct "me-and-you"
problem [sic], we keep in mind that it is a dual error: the
grammatical error of using the Object form of "I" in the Subject
position and a point of etiquette that is at best optional. It is
crucial that everyone understands that changing the "me" to "I" is
restricted to Subject position.

... Keep the following mnemonic sentence in mind: "I" am the Subject
but the Object is "me." There are no exceptions. Join yourDictionary
in the fight to nip this linguistic virus in the bud!


now for my rant. why do people (like Cochrane and Dr. Language) who
propose to offer authoritative advice to educated people not use
standard sources of information? ("you could look it up", as Casey
Stengle is reported to have said, with reference to his claim that
most people his age were dead.) a quick trip to the OED would show a
longer and more complicated history, and the MWDEU entry on "between
you and I" would be a real eye-opener. the facts look complex, but
it's safe to say that the rise of "between you and I" in Late Modern
English goes back at least 150 or 160 years, not 20. there's no way
it can be blamed on modern education, as John Simon suggested in
1980, unless Simon was just playing with different senses of "modern".

in any case, we have here another instance of the Recency Illusion,
the belief that things *you* have noticed only recently are in fact
recent. this is a selective attention effect. your impressions are
simply not to be trusted; you have to check the facts. again and
again -- retro "not", double "is", speaker-oriented "hopefully",
split infinitives, etc. -- the phenomena turn out to have been
around, with some frequency, for very much longer than you think.
it's not just Kids These Days.

professional linguists can be as subject to the Recency Illusion as
anyone else. Charles Hockett wrote in 1958 (A Course in Modern
Linguistics, p. 428) about "the recent colloquial pattern _I'm going
home and eat_", what Laura Staum has been investigating under the
name (due to me) the GoToGo construction. Here's an example i
overheard in a Palo Alto restaurant 8/6/05: "I'm goin' out there and
sleep in the tent." but Hockett's belief that the construction was
recent in 1958 is just wrong; David Denison has collected examples
from roughly 30 years before that.

another selective attention effect, which tends to accompany the
Recency Illusion, is the Frequency Illusion: once you've noticed a
phenomenon, you think it happens a whole lot, even "all the time".
your estimates of frequency are likely to be skewed by your noticing
nearly every occurrence that comes past you. people who are
reflective about language -- professional linguists, people who set
themselves up as authorities on language, and ordinary people who are
simply interested in language -- are especially prone to the
Frequency Illusion.

here at Stanford we have a group working on innovative uses of "all",
especially the quotative use, as in the song title "I'm like 'yeah'
and she's all 'no'". the members of the group believed that
quotative "all" was in fact very common these days in the speech of
the young, especially young women in California, and the
undergraduates working on the project reported that they had friends
who used it "all the time". but in fact, when the undergrads engage
these friends in conversation, tape the conversations, transcribe
them, and then extract occurrences of quotatives, the frequency of
quotative "all" is very low (quotative "like" is really really big).
there are several interprertations for this annoying finding, but
we're inclined to think that part of it is the Frequency Illusion on
our part.

nominative coordinate objects are also a lot less frequent than you
might have thought, according to Grano's searches through several
types of corpora.

of course, sometimes your off-the-cuff frequency estimates are
right. quotative "like" really *is* incredible common for some
speakers. double "is" -- "The thing is is that we've gotta go" --
really *is* incredibly common for some speakers; i've come across one
speaker who appears to use it very close to categorically, producing
an extra form of "be" in virtually every place he could. but the
point is that you actually have to look at the facts; your
impressions are unreliable.

people like Dr. Language are just too lazy to look it up in reference
works (so they fall into the Recency Illusion) or to look at the
facts (so they fall into the Frequency Illusion). they just go on
their seat-of-the-pants guesses; don't confuse me with facts. and so
they spread error. and on top of that, some of them make
reputations and actually earn money doing this.

arnold (zwicky at

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