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(Mod - I moved this from a learner's question as I felt they just needed a simple answer, which they received from others, rather than a debate on the issue. This is more appropriate for this section, so others interested in the theory of linguistics can continue if they wish.)
Re: I, me
Posted: 17 Mar 2005 07:57 AM
JTT: This is how this issue is viewed by language scientists:

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CGEL:
Prescriptive works instantiating this sort of aesthetic authoritarianism provide no answer to such obvious questions. They simply assert that grammar dictates things, without supporting their claim from evidence.

The descriptive view would be that when most speakers use a form that our grammar says is incorrect, there is at least a prima facie case that it is the grammmar that is wrong. ... If what is involved were a matter of taste, all evidence would be beside the point. But under the descriptivist viewpoint, grammar is not a matter of taste, nor of aesthetics.

{Examples like the one at issue} show, however, that the only completely secure territory of the nominative in Present-day English is with pronouns functioning as the whole subject in a finite clause.

{Examples like the one at issue}, with 'I' as final coordinate is, however, so common in speech and used by so broad a range of speakers that it has to be recognized as a variety of Standard English, ..."
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http://pinker.wjh.harvard.edu/articles/media/1994_01_24_thenewrepublic.html

Probably no "grammatical error" has received as much scorn as "misuse" of pronoun case inside conjunctions (phrases with two parts joined by [and] or [or]). What teenager has not been corrected for saying [Me and Jennifer are going to the mall]? The standard story is that the object pronoun Emotion: it wasnt me does not belong in subject position -- no one would say [Me is going to the mall] -- so it should be [Jennifer and I]. People tend to misremember the advice as "When in doubt, say 'so-and-so and I', not 'so-and-so and me'," so they unthinkingly overapply it, resulting in hyper-corrected solecisms like [give Al Gore and I a chance] and the even more despised [between you and I].

But if the person on the street is so good at avoiding [Me is going] and [Give I a break], and even former Rhodes Scholars and Ivy League professors can't seem to avoid [Me and Jennifer are going] and [Give Al and I a chance], might it not be the mavens that misunderstand English grammar, not the speakers? The mavens' case about case rests on one assumption: if an entire conjunction phrase has a grammatical feature like subject case, every word inside that phrase has to have that grammatical feature, too. But that is just false.

[Jennifer] is singular; you say [Jennifer is], not [Jennifer are]. The pronoun [She] is singular; you say [She is], not [She are]. But the conjunction [She and Jennifer] is not singular, it's plural; you say [She and Jennifer are], not [She and Jennifer is.] So a conjunction can have a different grammatical number from the pronouns inside it. Why, then, must it have the same grammatical [case] as the pronouns inside it? The answer is that it need not.

A conjunction is just not grammatically equivalent to any of its parts. If John and Marsha met, it does not mean that John met and that Marsha met. If voters give Clinton and Gore a chance, they are not giving Gore his own chance, added on to the chance they are giving Clinton; they are giving the entire ticket a chance. So just because [Al Gore and I] is an object that requires object case, it does not mean that is an object that requires object case. By the logic of grammar, the pronoun is free to have any case it wants.

The linguist, Joseph Emonds has analysed the 'Me and Jennifer/Between you and I' phenomenon in great technical detail. He concludes that the language that the mavens want us to speak is not only not English, it is not a possible human language!

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Comments  
Out of curiosity, what happened to the rest of page 2 of that original thread, Nona? It looks like you just moved JTT's post. A few other posts seemed to have dribbled off along the route.
http://pinker.wjh.harvard.edu/articles/media/1994_01_24_thenewrepublic.html

Probably no "grammatical error" has received as much scorn as "misuse" of pronoun case inside conjunctions (phrases with two parts joined by [and] or [or]). What teenager has not been corrected for saying [Me and Jennifer are going to the mall]? The standard story is that the object pronoun Emotion: it wasnt me does not belong in subject position -- no one would say [Me is going to the mall] -- so it should be [Jennifer and I]. People tend to misremember the advice as "When in doubt, say 'so-and-so and I', not 'so-and-so and me'," so they unthinkingly overapply it, resulting in hyper-corrected solecisms like [give Al Gore and I a chance] and the even more despised [between you and I].

But if the person on the street is so good at avoiding [Me is going] and [Give I a break], and even former Rhodes Scholars and Ivy League professors can't seem to avoid [Me and Jennifer are going] and [Give Al and I a chance], might it not be the mavens that misunderstand English grammar, not the speakers?


I doubt it. The ultra elitist snob Pinker might just have to accept the fact that Rhodes Scholars and Ivy League professors simply haven’t been taught correct English grammar. As a matter of fact, this has been the case for many years.

The mavens' case about case rests on one assumption: if an entire conjunction phrase has a grammatical feature like subject case, every word inside that phrase has to have that grammatical feature, too. But that is just false.

What’s false is Pinker’s understanding of traditional grammar. His notorious chapter, “The Language Mavens” from his book “The Language Instinct” is a compendium of errors regarding the assumptions of traditional grammarians.

[Jennifer] is singular; you say [Jennifer is], not [Jennifer are]. The pronoun [She] is singular; you say [She is], not [She are]. But the conjunction [She and Jennifer] is not singular, it's plural; you say [She and Jennifer are], not [She and Jennifer is.] So a conjunction can have a different grammatical number from the pronouns inside it. Why, then, must it have the same grammatical [case] as the pronouns inside it? The answer is that it need not.

There are so many errors in this silly paragraph, it’s hard to know where to begin.

1. Phrases (conjunctive or otherwise) don’t have case. A phrase can never be in the nominative, possessive, or objective case.
2. A copulative conjunction like “and” does not allow one to distribute the meaning of the verb to the individual members. “Jack and Jill went up the hill” does NOT mean “Jack went up the hill and Jill went up the hill.” The latter compound sentence may be true, and it may express a similar truth as the former, but it does so in a different way. There is NO distribution of the predicate to the individual members. If there were such a distribution, the verb would be singular. This is easily shown by using an explicitly distributive adjective like “each” before the subject terms. In such sentences, we can force the predicate to be applied to the elements of the subject-phrase individually, rather than reckon the elements of the subject-phrase jointly. For example:

“Each leaf and each flower IS proof of God’s handiwork.”

The distributive adjective “each” allows us to apply the predicate (i.e., the verb+all-that-follows-it) to the elements of the subject-phrase individually. The meaning is “Each leaf IS proof of God’s handiwork, and each flower IS proof of God’s handiwork.” Notice that if we started with the compound sentence and coalesced it into a simple one, we would NOT change the verb from singular to plural; it remains singular. Conversely, in the sentence “A leaf and a flower ARE proof of God’s handiwork,” does not mean “A leaf is proof of God’s handiwork AND a flower is proof of God’s handiwork.” Both sentences may be true, but they are not interchangeable. The latter expresses two separate thoughts in two separate clauses; the former expresses a single thought: we are asked to consider a leaf and a flower jointly. Obviously, that’s different from considering them separately..

Subject terms joined by “or” are distributive: “Jack or Jill went up the hill” means “Jack went up the hill or Jill went up the hill.”

A conjunction is just not grammatically equivalent to any of its parts. If John and Marsha met, it does not mean that John met and that Marsha met.

Again, this is usually true for copulative conjunctions like “and”; it is untrue for disjunctive ones like “or.” It’s also true to say that “This is a secret between me and you” does not mean “This is a secret between me and this is a secret between you.”

If voters give Clinton and Gore a chance, they are not giving Gore his own chance, added on to the chance they are giving Clinton; they are giving the entire ticket a chance. So just because [Al Gore and I] is an object that requires object case, it does not mean that is an object that requires object case.

First of all, if voters give Gore or Bush a chance, they are giving Gore a chance or they are giving Bush a chance. Second, “Al Gore and I” is a phrase, and phrases don’t have case, any more than they have person, number, or gender. In the sentence “Give Al Gore and me a chance,” the two object-terms are taken jointly; the direct object of “give” is a compound. They are BOTH object terms and should therefore BOTH be in the objective case. Pinker seems to think that phrases can somehow override the normal syntactic rules governing individual parts of speech; as if a phrase were a kind of “macro-word” that has grammatical veto power over the elements it comprises. This is completely untrue, and it was certainly not the belief of most traditional grammarians in the 18th and 19th centuries.

“Jennifer and I are studying grammar.” The subject is a compound; the terms are meant to be taken jointly with ONE predicate (“are studying grammar”) applying to both. Since both are subjects, both should be in the nominative case. Pinker – like many psychologists and many linguists – is a mystic. He believes that there’s a separate, invisible entity called a “phrase” that is in the nominative case, and that this invisible entity is like a container with elements clanking around in it. Those elements, he claims (“Jennifer” and “I”) need not conform to the case of the invisible container. The invisible container, claims Pinker, has a different case from those of the elements within it. All right. If it has a different case from those of the elements within it, why shouldn’t it also have a number from those of the elements within it. The elements within it are plural – there are two of them – but the phrase is a single entity, with one case, performing the function of subject. By the logic of grammar (as Pinker is fond of saying) the phrase “Jennifer and I” or “Me and Jennifer” should take a singular verb, not a plural one. We should really be saying “Me and Jennifer is studying grammar.” “Me and Jennifer” is a single phrase in the nominative case, singular number. Or is Pinker saying that the phrase may have a different case from the elements it comprises, but not a different number? If so, why?

The linguist, Joseph Emonds has analysed the 'Me and Jennifer/Between you and I' phenomenon in great technical detail. He concludes that the language that the mavens want us to speak is not only not English, it is not a possible human language!

There’s not single linguist who would actually try to publish an article with constructions like “Me and Noam Chomsky was talking one fine day,” or “This was a secret theory between Chomsky and I.”
Students: We have free audio pronunciation exercises.
"There’s not single linguist who would actually try to publish an article with constructions like 'Me and Noam Chomsky was talking one fine day,' or 'This was a secret theory between Chomsky and I.'"

Very true.

But this is simply because we have imposed an entirely arbitrary, socially acceptable "standard" of "correct" English grammar.
All language is 'entirely arbitrary'. The screen in front of you would still be a screen, if we called it a krong. 'Screen' however is the entirely arbitrary standard of the correct English word for the thing in front of you.


By Pinker's reasoning, 'between you and I' is right. But the nature of that reasoning (that coordinated pronouns have special rules) precludes the possibility that 'between you and me' is also right.

Yet we know that 'between you and me' is right.

So Pinker's reasoning, which excludes that rightness, must be wrong.

MrP
...an entirely arbitrary, socially acceptable "standard" of "correct" English grammar...

Interestingly, in this instance, the reviled usage (between you and I) is most commonly used not by an underclass, but by those who have had a little more education than most people and imagine that the phrase is somehow more grammatical than 'between you and me'. It's an affectation of the 4x4 brigade, in fact: a social grouping rarely championed by 'language scientists'.

Even more amusingly, in defence of the hapless phrase, the original poster (and Pinker, of course) cite with approval those very bastions of 'arbitrary social acceptability' whose linguistic dominance they would frown upon, in other contexts: Rhodes scholars, Ivy League professors, 'language scientists'.

In other words, the OP's and Pinker's arguments against snobbery are based on – snobbery.

MrP
Students: Are you brave enough to let our tutors analyse your pronunciation?
"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet"[W]

What is Pinker's view on krongs, by the way? pure intellectual curiosity, you understand.
"Wrong."

MrP
He knows nowt!
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