zero vs. "that" relatives

David Bowie db.list at PMPKN.NET
Sat Dec 27 16:07:38 UTC 2008

From:    Paul Johnston <paul.johnston at WMICH.EDU>

> About perceptions vs, reality where this type of variation is
> concerned, I couldn't agree with you more.  Having worked in the
> variationist model for thirty years, I can remember countless times
> where I spotted a certain salient variant of a vbriable that I didn't
> expect, or was radically different from my own or other Standard
> systems, and when I finally counted the numbers up, it turned out to
> be a minor, sometimes even sporadic, variant--just one that stuck out
> in MY reckoning.  And informants would have the same problem, too...

Good points all (including the bits i snipped), but there's a problem
here that i've brought up before on this forum--how rare does something
have to be in order for it to be fairly ignored as "not part of the
system" or somesuch? It's easy enough to imagine that someone's
linguistic system could be set up so that they have particular variants
show up 1 time in 10, or 1 time in 100, or 1 time in 10,000, or
whatever--so simple rarity (which would, in many cases, appear to be
sporadicity) isn't enough.

I don't know the answer to this. I know that others have worked on it,
but i remain rather unconvinced by what i've read on *all* sides of the
question. Really, it all boils down to us having a pretty good idea of
how to describe linguistic variation, but not how to explain it.


David Bowie                               University of Central Florida
     Jeanne's Two Laws of Chocolate: If there is no chocolate in the
     house, there is too little; some must be purchased. If there is
     chocolate in the house, there is too much; it must be consumed.

The American Dialect Society -

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