Burchfield's Fowler

Randy Alexander strangeguitars at GMAIL.COM
Mon Aug 10 16:24:14 UTC 2009

On Mon, Aug 10, 2009 at 12:02 AM, Arnold Zwicky <zwicky at stanford.edu> wrote:
> On Aug 7, 2009, at 8:02 AM, E. Ward Gilman wrote (in e-mail):
> > I was interested to see your posting the other day showing
> > Burchfield's odd prejudice about "by the hundreds".
> now there's a follow-up, clarifying some things (i hope).
> [the postings are:
> Â  AZ, 8/4/09: Unidiomatic:
> Â http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1634
> Â  AZ, 8/7/09: Unspecified large number:
> Â http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1644 Â ]
> > Â Quite a few years ago, when I was hoping to be able to write a
> > review of Burchfield's Fowler, I ran across another curiosity. Â  It
> > was the pronominal use of "various", as in "I spoke with various of
> > them". This use was condemned in the original Fowler, with
> > citations, and in Gower's edition, with additional citations, but is
> > omitted entirely from Burchfield. I don't know whether it was
> > omitted inadvertently or whether Burchfield left it out on purpose.
> hard to tell. Â maybe Burchfield just decided the usage was now
> acceptable. Â unfortunately, we can't ask him.
> both NOAD2 and AHD4 list pronoun uses of "various", but with a usage
> note in each case. Â NOAD2 calls the pronoun use "colloquial American",
> noting that "some traditionalists" insist that "various" is only an
> adjective. Â i see this as denying the possibility of language change,
> with "various" developing an pronominal use parallel to "several".
> (in some postings i've called the operative assumption here
> Originalism -- the very silly idea that the original use of a word is
> its only acceptable use now.)
> [note 1: these sources seem to use "pronoun" as the part-of-speech
> classification for  quantifier words used as determiners with "of".
> i'm playing along with that here.]
> [note 2: OED2 does not in fact label such uses of "several" -- in
> "several of" -- as pronominal. Â instead, they are treated as
> elliptical uses of the *adjective* "several". Â OED2 does something
> similar for "few" in "few of". Â but the June 2009 draft revision for
> "many" classifies it as a pronoun in "many of". Â slow progress.]
> AHD4 reports very substantial hostility to pronominal "various" on its
> usage panel, with somewhat less hostility towards it with inanimate
> NPs. Â the usage note concludes: "It is not clear why this usage should
> be regarded as an error, since it is analogous to the use of
> quantifiers such as _few_, _many_, and _several_."
> well, it is indeed analogous, but "few", "many", and "several"
> developed pronominal uses well before "various" did. Â the offense of
> "various" is that it came late to the party. Â then commenters like
> Fowler fixed on it as an innovation, and others piled on, as often
> happens; it became part of the peevelore, to the extent that you felt
> that MWDEU had to warn readers that some people view the usage as a
> straightforward error, so that you might want to be cautious about
> using it. Â (Crazies win, as i said in a Language Log posting a while
> back:
> Â  AZ, 5/13/08: Crazies win:
> Â http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=123 Â )
> the case is interesting, because it's not clear what the fix is
> supposed to be. Â the usefulness of pronominal "various" is that
> "various of" can combine with definite NPs, as in "various of them"
> and "various of these commenters". Â so if you proscribe pronominal
> "various", then some other partitive construction must be used
> ("several of", "a number of"), or an indefinite construction must be
> used ("various people", "various commenters"), or a noun or pronoun
> head must be supplied for the adjective "various" ("various ones of
> them", "various commenters of these"). Â each of these work-arounds has
> its defects, but the first is probably the best; its defect is that
> the association with "variety" is absent in the alternatives.

Readers interested in this might also be interested in the more modern
solution in _The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language_ of
analyzing these structures as "fused head" structures: fused
determinative-head (few, many, several), and fused modifier-head

These are of four types (p411):
1. Simple -- While Kim had lots of books, Pat had [_very few_].
2. Explicitly partitive -- [_Few_ of her friends] knew she was ill.
3. Implicitly partitive -- We made numerous suggestions but [_few_]
were taken up.
4. Special -- [Few] would have expected it to turn out so well.

Randy Alexander
Jilin City, China
My Manchu studies blog:

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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