he and who

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Fri Sep 2 16:13:13 UTC 2011

On Sep 1, 2011, at 9:44 PM, victor steinbok wrote:

> To rephrase the original
> post as a question, in light of Arnold's post, although the long-term
> processes are independent, might the use of "he" in the _given_sentence_
> have been consciously influenced

*consciously* influenced?

> by the hyper-correction of "who" within the
> sentence that immediately follows?

what hyper-correction?  in "It depends on who you ask", we have the "who" (object of "ask") that is appropriate for the now-standard variety i described briefly in my posting here (and, repeatedly, in other postings); this is the same "who" as in "Who did you ask?"  in both cases, the hyper-formal prescriptive variety would have "whom" as the object of "ask".

maybe you've thinking of WHO as the object of "depend".  in that case, the appropriate form would be "whom", since WHO appears to be in a constituent with the preceding verb (though in fact it's the subject of a clause that's the object of that verb).  this configuration is what i've called ISOC ("in-situ subject of an object clause") in blog postings, for instance (from 2007):
but the phenomenon is well-known; it was described by Jespersen many many years ago.  most writers on it characterize *it* as a hypercorrection -- hypercorrect use of "whom", encouraged by attempts to use the form by people who don't naturally control the hyper-formal prescriptivist variety.

but "hypercorrection" is an extremely poor choice of descriptive term here.  strictly speaking, "hypercorrection" refers to a a specific event, a type of error.  once individual people have made the error, the form becomes available as a model for other speakers, who will use it the way they might use any form they hear or read.  after the form has spread, "hypercorrection" is the name of a past historical event, not the name of something that speakers are doing.

so with ISOC.  however it arose -- and hypercorrection need not have been part of the story -- there are people (including some writers on English usage) who have internalized it as part of their variety; they are not hypercorrecting (but, by some reckonings, nevertheless using a non-standard feature).

> My initial guess is based on the notion
> that most writers--especially professional writers (including
> journalists)--plan more than a single sentence ahead. That would mean that a
> succeeding sentence may influence an earlier one.

anticipatory errors are not at all uncommon.  the literature on speech errors gives many illustrations.

the question is whether anticipation is a plausible account for the particular case in hand.  you're suggesting that the writer of the particular passage chose "he" rather than "him" in one sentence via anticipation of the "who" (rather than "whom") in the next.  this would be anticipation at a very high level, of morphological case features.  it *could* be true, but then it could have been sunspots or whatever.  it's an implausible hypothesis, though, especially given the current frequency of NomConjObjs.

> It's not quite like
> playing chess, but that's the general idea ;-) In particular, I suspect this
> direction because (a) is more established and more pervasive than (b). And I
> suspect it as a possibility at all because such proximity may well dispose
> with the superficiality of "extremely superficial fact that both have a
> nominative pronoun where old prescriptions would insist on an accusative".
> I am not suggesting that (a) has any influence on (b) _in_general_--even if
> I were not persuaded by Arnold's account (which I am), I simply have no
> reason to construct such a generalization. But, absent this somewhat ad hoc
> explanation, we'd have to go with Plan B theory--that it's just a
> coincidence.

i won't pursue this further, since i'd just been trotting out material that i've written out a number of times over the years.


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