LINGUIST List 3.628

Thu 13 Aug 1992

Disc: Drift in English/Position in Constructions

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  1. Dan I. Slobin, Drift in English

Message 1: Drift in English

Date: Sun, 26 Jul 92 00:42:05 -0Drift in English
From: Dan I. Slobin <slobincogsci.Berkeley.EDU>
Subject: Drift in English

Getting Clinton's drift:

English has been drifting faster than Sapir predicted in
_Language_ (1921). With regard to casemarking in English,
he thought it would take "a couple of hundred years" for
"Whom did you see?" to become "delightfully archaic"--but
"Who did you see?" is, as far as I can tell, already the
norm. He thought that the remaining case distinctions in
the personal pronouns would be maintained, but more on the
basis of " fixed position in the sentence" (i.e. pre- or
post-verbal) than grammatical case. He predicted--correctly
thus far--that: "There is no drift toward such horrors as
_Me see him_ or _I see he_." But there is clearly a "drift"
towards position in *constructions*, which leads to a
different pattern than positions in *sentences*. Thus we
hear "Me and Bill went to New York" along with "She showed
it to Bill and I." Our first post-WWII presidential candidate
shows us clearly how far drift has carried us from
"the uncontrolled speech of the folk" to the controlled
speech of the "readers of many books" (to use Sapir's
characterizations). In a front-page story in
_The New York Times_ of July 23, we have the following
peroration from Bill Clinton, ending up with a use of
"Al and I" which, I expect, will sound quite normal to
post-WWII speakers (but not to me). I append the entire
quote, because it seems to show that this is an example of
"controlled speech" (i.e. planned, written):

"If you're sick and tired of the way it's been going, if you
want the American people in control again, if you believe
your country is still the greatest country in the world, if
you think we can compete and win again, if you're tired of
being heartbroken when you go home at night and you want a
spring in your step and a song in your heart, you give
Al Gore and I a chance to bring America back."

-Dan Slobin (
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