onsdag 17. juni 2009

This annoys me.

Ideally, a linguist should find certain "untraditional" usage of language interesting or fascinating, and marvel at the ever-changing nature of language. Certain constructions, however, do nothing but annoy me.
These are all contructions I have observed in American English, and I don't know whether they also occur in British English. Maybe someone could enlighten us?

One phenomenon that is particularly irritating is the exaggerated use of the modal auxiliary "would" in conditional sentences. More specifically, it is the use of this auxiliary in BOTH parts of the conditional, instead of only in the apodosis.
A conditional consist of two parts; the protasis, which expresses the condition, and the apodosis, which expresses the consequence: "If I had money (protasis), I would buy a car (apodosis)." In the last few years, however, I constantly hear *"If I would have money, I would buy a car". This kind of "error" does not strike me as innovative or interesting, rather, it reveals a lack of reflection on the part of the speaker about what he or she is saying, and only contributes to eradicating the subtleties of the language.

The second phenomenon that makes me cringe is the hyper-correction that makes some people use the subjective form of the first person singular pronoun ("I") in objective position or after prepositions (where the objective form "me" is usually required) when it is coordinated with another element. I will explain.

A typical "mistake" made by many speakers is that, instead of saying "John and I are going to the movies", they would say *"John and me are going to the movies", thus using the objective form "me" in subject position when it is coordinated with another element (in this case "John"). The speakers have currently been made aware of this mistake to such an extent that many now use the subjective form "I", even in cases where "me" is required; *"My mother saw John and I", ("I" as part of the direct object), or *"Her uncle smirked at John and I", ("I" after preposition). What is particularly annoying about this phenomenon is that it seems that people think that they are especially eloquent when they do this.

The third vexing phenomenon is the addition of an extra indeterminate article ("a", "an") when the word "another" is expanded to "a whole other". The "correct" use would be to say: "This is a whole other issue", but I have heard, time and time again: "This is a whole n'other issue." I guess that, the fact that "another" is written as one word makes people ignore that the first part of it, "an", is actually an article.

I am aware that these phenomena possibly will enter the language as accepted variants, and that in some years no one will be aware of the fact that at some point the constructions were different, and the people that wasted time and energy getting annoyed over it will seem like funny clowns. However, I am only human. I can't help it.

4 kommentarer:

  1. I'm very impressed by your interest in contemporary spoken American English! As regards the "I would" case, I wonder if they could be making an incorrect generalisation from "I'd", if you understand what I mean.

  2. Yes, that's an interesting observation! I hadn't thought of that. And my interest in contemporary spoken American English is only a consequence of my incessant watching of more or less mediocre American TV-shows. :P

  3. Brilliant blog, Mags! About the 'a whole n'other' construction, it must be said that in Middle English the noun was 'nother', which, after being used so much together with the article 'a' was interpreted by the speakers of English as 'other', on analogy with nouns beginning with a vowel sound ('an apple') etc. Thus, a return to 'nother' would simply complete the cycle, if such a thing exists in linguistics :-)
    This type of analysis (metanalysis?) could go the other way, as with variants of certain personal names, such as Nelly and Ned. These are derived from old expressions like 'mine Elly' and 'mine Edward'. And of course with 'an adder', originally 'a nadder', as well as 'an ick name' and 'an ewt'.

  4. Thanks for a very interesting comment, Øystein! Isn't it typical that the people who really don't know luck out and turn out to be right after all?