Prescriptive Linguists

William Salmon william.salmon at YALE.EDU
Thu Jan 31 00:19:51 UTC 2008

> There was a post in which the poster said that someone else had said >that
> the question "Which car did you put Mary in the garage" was a correct
> English sentence.

I think this part refers to me, as I did post that this sentence was
acceptable to me. I didn't say the sentence was a "correct English
sentence" though, whatever that means.

Clearly there is some kind of regional/dialectal difference in opinion
as to the acceptability of the sentence: those who speak correctly on
one hand, and those who, like me, speak gibberish, on the other. :-)

> What I am saying is: This is poppycock. That sentence is gibberish in
> English. It is English words used with non-English structure and syntax. The
> fact that there may be a few folks out there who understand what the
> sentence means is irrelevant.
> Another sentence was proposed: "He's the one that saw you your hands."
> What I am saying is: Though this is somewhat more intelligible than the
> Mary/car situation, it is still English words being used with non-English
> structure and syntax (also, was he the one that looked at her hands or sawed
> them off?).
> Here are some more English words being used with non-English structure and
> syntax: "That car blue is the car new of the my mother." (Portuguese and
> Italian syntax and structure, English words.) Many Anglophones reading that
> are going to understand it after, perhaps, in some cases, a little thought.
> Does that make it a correctly formed English sentence? Nope.
> That is what I am saying.
> Quoting "David A. Daniel":
>> ...If said descendants were Portuguese/Brazilian we would get a lot
>> of "I go to the cinema with the my friend Carlos," or "The your mother is
>> you calling," or "Where is the my car new?" (Italian too). Just because a
>> seemingly fluent speaker says something doesn't make it correct even
>> acceptable, or even understandable, among those who do not share the same
>> multi-linguistic background/knowledge.
>> DAD
> A "multi-linguistic background/knowledge" isn't necessary for these
> structures
> to occur or be understood, if I understand correctly that you mean
> proficiency/competence/familiarity or even just more than passing exposure
> to
> more than one language.
> While in my example another language provided an analogy that made the
> ditransitive use of "saw" understandable in the sentence "he's the one that
> saw
> you your hands" I could also have taken an analogy from  English itself: for
> example a sentence like "He's the one that wrote you the letter."
> Are you saying that it's only because of language contact that such a
> structure
> exists? Or are you saying that it's only because of contact that the
> acceptability of ditransitive use creeps onto other verbs?
> michael
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

~Will Salmon

The American Dialect Society -

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