Prescriptive Linguists

William Salmon william.salmon at YALE.EDU
Tue Jan 29 16:55:03 UTC 2008

QSubject: Re: Prescriptive linguists
>> *Which car did you put Mary in the garage?
>> So this is supposed to mean "Which car did you put in the garage for Mary
>> (or at Mary's behest/request)?"?
>> DAD

The starred sentence is fine for me, a native speaker of Texan English.
I remember a syntax class, though, where my judgments on these kinds of
sentences were met with such disbelief that I felt like I had insulted
the instructor, who incidentally was a non-native speaker of English. I
didn't press the issue after that. :-)

> Yes, that was his interpretation.
> The fun part was, that no one else in the class was a native
> speaker--they were all international students.  I'm Jewish of the usual
> Ashkenazic background, which he knew, and he took my rejection of the
> sentence as further evidence that Chomsky and I ;-) were not native
> speakers, having grown up solely around immigrants, and thus not exposed
> to the full 'RANGE' of American dialects.
> Geoff
> I am, among other things, a translator (Portuguese, Spanish, French, English
> in various combinations) and it seems the non-native speaker syndrome is
> common to both the translation and linguistics games. That is, there are
> non-native speakers who believe the best defense is a good offense, and they
> come up with all sorts of convoluted reasons why it is actually better to be
> a non-native than a native speaker when studying/translating a language. Of
> course, given reasonably equal levels of education, experience, smarts,
> etc., they are wrong. I direct anyone who feels differently to
> "I put Mary the car in the garage" would fit right in at
> that site.
> --
> Geoffrey S. Nathan <geoffnathan at>
> Faculty Liaison, Computing and Information Technology,
> and Associate Professor of English, Linguistics Program
> Phone Numbers (313) 577-1259 or (313) 577-8621
> Wayne State University
> Detroit, MI, 48202
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

~Will Salmon

The American Dialect Society -

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