Fwd: Zero vs. "that" relatives

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Mon Dec 29 18:23:34 UTC 2008

my response to Mark Davies:

Begin forwarded message:

> From: Arnold Zwicky <zwicky at STANFORD.EDU>
> Date: December 29, 2008 9:18:03 AM PST
> To: Mark Davies <Mark_Davies at byu.edu>
> Subject: Re: Zero vs. "that" relatives
> On Dec 29, 2008, at 8:15 AM, Mark Davies wrote:
>> The decrease since the 1970s makes sense -- others have noted a
>> shift towards zero with both relatives and as verbal
>> complementizers ... in both contemporary British and American
>> English.
> this just says that usage changed for complementizer "that" as well
> as relativizer "that".  it doesn't  say why the usage should have
> changed.  of course, sometimes things just change.  in this case, i
> suspect that the growing preference for zero over "that" is part of
> a larger pattern of change in favor of more coversational and
> informal variants (seen also in the increase of "that" vs. "which"
> in restrictive relatives, which has been occurring even without
> pressure from copyeditors).
> it *is* significant that others have noted the shift towards zero.
> otherwise, we might have suspected that the shift was specific to
> the editorial practices of Time magazine.
>> The increase in "that" (or, decrease in zero) during the preceding
>> 30-40 years is somewhat more problematic. Prescriptive pressure,
>> which died out / lessened in the 1960s/1970s?
> well, actually the decline apparently started in the 1980s.  but the
> effect of lessening prescriptive pressure could have been delayed
> some.
> but the levels of "that" were low in the 1920s-1940s (lower than in
> the 2000s, in fact).  is there any reason to think that prescriptive
> pressure increased in the 1950s-1970s?
> here it would be nice to have data from a source other than Time, to
> find out whether the change was the result of changing editorial
> practices at the magazine.

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