Non-Standard conjoined subject noun phrases

Robin Hamilton robin.hamilton2 at BTINTERNET.COM
Thu Feb 25 18:02:57 UTC 2010

> [all the texts have sentences with subjects of the form "me and NPpl"]
> this is what i think of as "vernacular case marking" of subjects (as
> opposed to the prescriptive standard).  subjects of this form have
> been around for centuries -- and, of course, continue to the present
> day.  there's nothing remarkable about your examples.

Thanks -- that (usefully) more or less confirms my own sense of what was
happening, and I'm inclined to leave it at that.

At the least, it clears up the undergrowth around what I'd really be
interested in -- to what degree is what is present in the texts, "vernacular
case marking," a reflection of 'actual' speech of the time, or is it
intended as a (literary) marker of vernacular speech?  Equally, of course,
since "subjects of this form have been around for centuries," this means
there's no reason to think there will be any clue as to any more specific
dating of the texts to be drawn from this.

The parallel would be the use of Stage Irish at the time -- mostly, the
bottom line is if a character says, "Arra, my soul," he has to be Irish.  Or
is intended to be taken as Irish.  One linguistic marker colours the entire
flask of words.  (Though some writers do seem to have a greater grasp of
actual Irish speech, and use it in their plays -- usually playwrights with
an Irish background, Thomas Sheridan for one.  Which of course leads to a
circular argument -- if the anonymous author of _The Prison Breaker_ in 1725
demonstrates a greater than expected knowledge of colloquial Irish speech in
the play, then the author must be Irish.  Like my favoured candidate, John

I still suspect that there may be more to it than that, turning on your
comment above, "there's nothing remarkable about your examples."  In a
linguistic sense, I'm sure that's true, but is the occurrence of this
*specific form of vernacular case marking in five texts at all significant
(or not)?  I ploughed through the entire online Bodleian corpus of
poaching-related broadside texts, but only with enough attention to be able
to at least say that "me and five more / my mates / my dog" only occurs in
roughly four out of perhaps twenty texts, and there didn't seem on my
somewhat cursory survey to be many, if any, parallel forms.  Nobody seems to
have thought to have said, "between me and my dog" or "between my dog and

I think I'm trying to engage with two separate issues here: (1) To what
degree is the form of words a reflection of natural colloquial speech in
18thC England, and (2) To what degree does the occurence of this particular
form of words serve to link five texts and separate them from fifteen or
twenty other texts from the same roughly one hundred year period?  As it
stands, the answer to (1) would seem to be that it is, and to (2) that
there's no way of deciding based on the information I've accumulated so far.

To go any further, I'd have to go back to the Bodeian collection (scans,
blackletter, many of them third generation reprintings from the same plates,
and the earliest not the most legible at the best of times) and read and
annotate more carefully, then somehow get to somewhere which has the Madden
collection of ballads on microfilm, which I've never yet managed to do, or
only relatively briefly to check for individual texts and not browse.  For
starters.  Add in whether or not there's a pattern in the "corrections" made
in the course of time (which already stumbles over the problems of precisely
dating when any particular broadside was issued, leave alone when it was
first composed) ...

I think I'll simply rest content with Arnold's "vernacular case marking",
and leave it at that.

> a number of linguists have noted that the scheme for vernacular case
> marking is:
>   use Nom for a subject (that is, a "complete subject");
>   use Acc otherwise.
> and some have claimed that this system is more "natural" than the
> prescriptive standard system.

This *might be a way forward for me -- if the syntactic form *is more
natural (in an absolute sense), then it's possible/probable that it reflects
an actual spoken form rather than being an imposed literary signal.  I
tripped over this quite badly when I first came on the earliest version of
"The night before Larry was stretched / The boys they all paid him a visit"
(Dublin 1780s).  "De night afore Larry was stretch'd / de Boys de all ped
him a visit
..."  Someone's got to be joking, I thought, rewriting a late eighteenth
century cant poem as if it were a song from a black and white minstrel show.
But of course, turns out that *was the way they spoke in Dublin then.


The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list