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Question about English Grammar

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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby Bert » Mon May 25, 2009 1:30 am

jaihare wrote:For those hungry for grammar links, check this out: http://www.englishlanguageguide.com/eng ... ronoun.asp

:? Referencing English grammars for native English speakers who should be able to determine these things by introspection. What will the world come to next?

someone doesn't learn grammar by introspection. Dutch is my native language. I had no idea that Dutch has neuter nouns until quite recently. I used the correct article with the nouns none-the-less but that was not because I knew the grammar.
If someone knows how to speak a language correctly doesn't mean he knows what transitive, intransitive and equative verbs are. Neither does it mean that he would know what embedded questions are.
And just because I apparently need to start posting links to everything I have to say about the English language (since being a trained professional, a native speaker and a philologist aren't enough), here's a grammar reference for the use of the subjunctive, as I mentioned above.

http://www.englishclub.com/grammar/verb ... nctive.htm

Good grief....
As far as I am concerned, you don't have to post links to everything you have to say about the English language (and that is not because you are a trained professional!) It can be very helpful though. I bookmarked the link you posted here. Thanks.
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby Benedarius » Tue May 26, 2009 4:09 pm

Bert wrote:
jaihare wrote:If someone knows how to speak a language correctly doesn't mean he knows what transitive, intransitive and equative verbs are. Neither does it mean that he would know what embedded questions are.

So? That's not how language works, there isn't "English", and only one way to say a sentence, that's prescriptivism. Learning Latin is like that, because Latin is dead, and so is learning a foreign language, because that's the only way to learn another persons language. If English speakers say that "She is who I love" is correct, it is correct. The fact that 200 years ago, we had far more pronouns than we do now is totally irrelevant, native English speakers cannot (most of the time) be wrong.

Jaihare got it spot on, native English speakers should know without thinking about it, what is "correct". A native speaker should only ever need a grammar to actually be able to explain what is going on, because the rules are formed to deal with what native speakers say, not the other way around. For example, you did know that Dutch had neuter nouns, because you are a native speaker. You used the correct articles etc. You don't need to analyse your own language to know what is correct or not, it's just correct. To say, "Dutch has neuter nouns" is just one way of describing how a certain group of nouns are dealt with, nothing more than that.
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby Essorant » Tue May 26, 2009 5:44 pm

Neither does it mean that he would know what embedded questions are.


Nor does it mean "embedded questions" is necessarily what is going on in such examples. Indeed, one may say "embedded questions" to himself so often that he begins to think that is the only possible thing that is going on. But what is his proof that that is actually what is going on or going on in all same-worded examples?

For me it is one of a few possible ways of description, and so far I am considering its accuracy. But one thing I don't do is absorb things as if they are automatically a "given".

Another possiblity, I think, may even be an adverbial use of "who":

"I know who (=in what whichness) he is.


Don't examples such as these, show that there is some subjectivity in how we approach grammar? Surely not only one approach is "correct"? But I will agree that some approaches certainly work better and have more strength.


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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby Lucus Eques » Tue May 26, 2009 6:16 pm

Benedarius wrote:
Bert wrote:
jaihare wrote:If someone knows how to speak a language correctly doesn't mean he knows what transitive, intransitive and equative verbs are. Neither does it mean that he would know what embedded questions are.

So? That's not how language works, there isn't "English", and only one way to say a sentence, that's prescriptivism. Learning Latin is like that, because Latin is dead, and so is learning a foreign language, because that's the only way to learn another persons language. If English speakers say that "She is who I love" is correct, it is correct.


"It is correct," in what context? In the context of strict English grammar, as has been defined and accepted by numerous individuals over time, then it certainly is not. If you choose to define utterances to be correct if produced by a "native" speaker (a term which we use knowing that it says nothing about that native's education and erudition), then where do you draw the line?

The fact that 200 years ago, we had far more pronouns than we do now is totally irrelevant, native English speakers cannot (most of the time) be wrong.


What pronouns have we lost?

Jaihare got it spot on, native English speakers should know without thinking about it, what is "correct". A native speaker should only ever need a grammar to actually be able to explain what is going on, because the rules are formed to deal with what native speakers say, not the other way around.


A native speaker will rarely have trouble expressing himself on topics with which he is familiar, and will manage to produce sentences and grammar spontaneously in accord with the rules that have rooted themselves unconsciously in the native's mind since birth.

However, this completely ignores that the "native" has grammar in his head that has been molded entirely out of emulation and experience (which is formal and informal education). If the native's parents were foreigners and speak broken English, then, if the native has no one else to emulate, that will be his language. What if the native grows up in an area where there is a strong dialect, brought on by a mix of foreign influences in pronunciation and vocabulary? Urban slang and dialects come to mind.

Again, context is necessary: if you define your boundaries so broad, then so be it; but a more conservative set of rules that are generally agreed upon tends to be the standard, not the native.
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby Benedarius » Tue May 26, 2009 6:34 pm

Lucus Eques wrote:"It is correct," in what context? In the context of strict English grammar, as has been defined and accepted by numerous individuals over time, then it certainly is not.
"The strict context of English grammar" is a facetious concept, prescriptivism vs. descriptivism.

Lucus Eques wrote:
Benedarius wrote:The fact that 200 years ago, we had far more pronouns than we do now is totally irrelevant, native English speakers cannot (most of the time) be wrong.


What pronouns have we lost?
Well thou and thee, but that's not actually what I meant, that was a mistake. I was thinking of hither, whither, hence and whence.
Lucus Eques wrote:
Jaihare got it spot on, native English speakers should know without thinking about it, what is "correct". A native speaker should only ever need a grammar to actually be able to explain what is going on, because the rules are formed to deal with what native speakers say, not the other way around.

However, this completely ignores that the "native" has grammar in his head that has been molded entirely out of emulation and experience (which is formal and informal education). If the native's parents were foreigners and speak broken English, then, if the native has no one else to emulate, that will be his language. What if the native grows up in an area where there is a strong dialect, brought on by a mix of foreign influences in pronunciation and vocabulary? Urban slang and dialects come to mind.
Well descriptivism within reason. Obviously dialect is hugely important, all varieties of English are different. If slang is excluded, each dialect has a certain amount of definites that native speakers of that dialect would consider correct. Register also comes into account, but since higher registers are highly influenced by prescriptive rules from Latin, they are difficult to quantify.

Lucus Eques wrote:Again, context is necessary: if you define your boundaries so broad, then so be it; but a more conservative set of rules that are generally agreed upon tends to be the standard, not the native.

Prescriptivism vs. descriptivism again, but within reason. Languages change, so that nobody but the set of native speakers can agree on a set of rules, "grammarians" cannot, in most cases and bearing in mind register and dialect, tell a native speaker that they are wrong, because it is most of the time, a facetious concept. There are exceptions to that in my opinion, things like "a lot of elephants is", which is a mistake that natives make, but pure dscriptivist (and I wouldn't argue against them, because I feel their argument in this case is strong) would say that that is just an exception to the rules we use to explain English and nothing else.

Essentially, it comes down to whether language is viewed as what is spoken and we use tools like grammar to analyse it, or whether we put the cart before the horse and say that this is how we should speak it, and everything else is wrong. The latter approach is correct for dead languages, but for living languages the former approach has to be taken. Our aim in speaking Latin is to imitate what the Romans would have said, therefore, we must follow everything they did. But to speak English fluently isn't to speak a theoretical language, but a living language that is spoken. If that is the aim, and it should be, idioms and whatever other seemingly illogical things that natives do should also be imitated.
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby jaihare » Tue May 26, 2009 6:37 pm

Lessons on Embedded Questions

Embedded Questions on ESL Gold

Embedded Questions on Heads Up English

Just read up on it. If you read the above explanations, you will see that this explains exactly what we're dealing with in the questions in this thread.
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby jaihare » Tue May 26, 2009 6:39 pm

Benedarius wrote:Essentially, it comes down to whether language is viewed as what is spoken and we use tools like grammar to analyse it, or whether we put the cart before the horse and say that this is how we should speak it, and everything else is wrong. The latter approach is correct for dead languages, but for living languages the former approach has to be taken. Our aim in speaking Latin is to imitate what the Romans would have said, therefore, we must follow everything they did. But to speak English fluently isn't to speak a theoretical language, but a living language that is spoken. If that is the aim, and it should be, idioms and whatever other seemingly illogical things that natives do should also be imitated.


Couldn't agree more.
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby Essorant » Tue May 26, 2009 6:45 pm

...speakers should know without thinking about it, what is "correct".


A waitress at a restaurant atrociously asks "How is your guyses' meal?"! Someone at another table says "Aren't I clever?". At another table "I and her went to the dance..." . From another table "It was him...". The tables are full of bad grammar. It is not because there is a lack of natural imitation among people, but because there is a lack of understanding and knowing better.

I think an approach that says speakers shouldn't "think" about what is correct is very unhelpful.
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby Benedarius » Tue May 26, 2009 7:41 pm

Essorant wrote:A waitress at a restaurant atrociously asks "How is your guyses' meal?"! Someone at another table says "Aren't I clever?". At another table "I and her went to the dance..." . From another table "It was him...". The tables are full of bad grammar.
In all fairness, that is a bit of an exaggeration. Excluding slang and idiomatic phrases - and I'm going to contradict myself at the end of this post - grammar of most modern natives is normally "correct".
Essorant wrote:It is not because there is a lack of natural imitation among people, but because there is a lack of understanding and knowing better.
Knowing better? It's a facetious concept. I hate to say this again, but grammar is a tool to analyse language, trying to reverse-engineer a language from that is ridiculous. Also, "knowing better" is an extremely arrogant phrase, who says you know better?

There is also the fact that Shakespeare says things like, "I would have my dinner", which to me only makes sense to my 500 year later brain because I know what he "meant". It does not mean that it is ungrammatical or incorrect, simply that that form of expression is no longer in use. Or to take the infamous example, nice in its 2000 year history, will be familiar to Latin scholars as ignorant, all the way through French and English, meaning at different times, foolish and stupid, to its present day usage of pleasant.

Essorant wrote:I think an approach that says speakers shouldn't "think" about what is correct is very unhelpful.
Granted, for a non-native speaker, it must be annoying to hear that. But on the broader issue, this isn't a chicken and the egg conundrum, there is a definitive answer. Language came first, and language constantly evolves. Grammar came later as a way to analyse language, logical grammar was no in-built into homo sapiens, and then created languages from that. And we've been doing this for decades, hypercorrection affects us all. As Winston Churchill rightly said, "this is the sort of tedious nonsense up with which I shall not put!"

Back to the contradicting myself, recently, Irish people have begun to use "he was like" to mean "he said", and "he goes" to also mean he said. That is ungrammatical to me, and makes no sense. However, I have to accept it as a new idiom that has recently been introduced into the language. While I don't like it, and I will never use it continually (since I hear it so much, there is a strong likelihood I will use it sometimes), I have to accept it. It's possible that in years to come, dictionaries will include it as a meaning. And as I'm sure you know, we are not new to this, French te^te (head) is not derived from the classical Latin for head (caput?), but rather from what in classical Latin means pot (testa). They just didn't know better.
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby jaihare » Tue May 26, 2009 9:21 pm

Benedarius wrote:Back to the contradicting myself, recently, Irish people have begun to use "he was like" to mean "he said", and "he goes" to also mean he said. That is ungrammatical to me, and makes no sense. However, I have to accept it as a new idiom that has recently been introduced into the language. While I don't like it, and I will never use it continually (since I hear it so much, there is a strong likelihood I will use it sometimes), I have to accept it. It's possible that in years to come, dictionaries will include it as a meaning. And as I'm sure you know, we are not new to this, French te^te (head) is not derived from the classical Latin for head (caput?), but rather from what in classical Latin means pot (testa). They just didn't know better.


Both "he was like" and "he goes" carry that meaning in colloquial English across the board, I think. That is, it's extremely informal, but it is understood everywhere.

I agree that native speakers by nature use the language "correctly." I take difference with the other poster's objection to the use of "aren't I?" — since that really is the form that you should use according to prescriptive grammarians. You cannot say "amn't I?" or "ain't I?" according to the "rules." The lack of this option forces the use of "are" in place of "am," and it's completely acceptable in every register of English to say "aren't I?" in question tags instead of the longer "am I not?"

The only language in which I don't like the idea of native speakers knowing better is Hebrew. This is because Hebrew is a recently revived language, and for some reason those who have grown up with Hebrew in Israel have generally learned Hebrew on the streets very incorrectly, to the point that they do not distinguish in the future tense between the first and third-person singular. They generally disregard all imperative forms (except for a common set of commands) in preference for the second-person future. Instead of using "shim'i" (שִׁמְעִי) for the feminine command ("listen!") they use an ungrammatical form "shme'i" (as if שְׁמְעִי), which breaks standardized Hebrew vocalization rules. They add -ot on to the end of words where it doesn't belong, such as "levatot" (as if לבטות) instead of "levate" (לבטא, "to pronounce"). The examples of mistakes in the native Israeli's speech stretches across the entire expanse of the language, including how they say "likfots" for "to jump" instead of "likpots," as it should rightly be pronounced. Because Hebrew is essentially a revived ancient language, I take issue with its corruption — loving its literary forms and concrete expressions. This is the one language that I would say that those who are native make more mistakes than those who learn Hebrew as a second language and actually understand the WHY behind the various forms. Maybe I'm just too anal about the biblical and Mishnaic language in general. It's just a pet-peeve, I guess. LOL

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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby Benedarius » Tue May 26, 2009 9:29 pm

jaihare wrote:The only language in which I don't like the idea of native speakers knowing better is Hebrew.
Yes I agree for all dead languages. That's probably why prescriptive grammarians tend to be classical scholars, they are used to hard and fast rules. The only way to be descriptive about Hebrew is just to view it as a new language, or a failed revival, the former I presume is the more common view.
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby Essorant » Wed May 27, 2009 12:48 am

Bendarius

In all fairness, that is a bit of an exaggeration. Excluding slang and idiomatic phrases - and I'm going to contradict myself at the end of this post - grammar of most modern natives is normally "correct".


I agree. But small things in high frequencies add up. Consider how much the word "like" interferes in the behaviour of young people's speech. It is ongoing and I find it does inferiorize the ability to speak and think well (especially in conjunction with other ongoing problems). My main point in respect to you though is that ongoing mistakes and abuse of the language is greatly augmented by thoughtlessness and impulsiveness about language. So many people don't think or care much about the language, and therefore they more or less accept anything that most people do as the way to use the language. That to me is a great shame.


Also, "knowing better" is an extremely arrogant phrase, who says you know better?



It is not "who", but the evidence. Someone that understands the grammar in "It is he" and therefore knows it is correct grammar and uses it knows better than someone that simply says "It is him" impulsively in imitation of the majority and thinks it is correct because the majority say it. Not only is that knowing better grammar in that respect but it is doing better by practicing and leaving a good example for others to follow too.


There is also the fact that Shakespeare says things like, "I would have my dinner", which to me only makes sense to my 500 year later brain because I know what he "meant". It does not mean that it is ungrammatical or incorrect, simply that that form of expression is no longer in use.
.

That may be true. But that doesn't make everyday English equal to artistically mastered English. For the most part anyone that spends more time with artistically analyzed or mastered English soon learns much better english altogether and then uses it better in his everyday use as well. But people that only ever encounter everyday and common speech only emulate everyday and common speech, never improving their language.


Language came first, and language constantly evolves. Grammar came later...


Indeed, grammar didn't come before language, but nor did meaningful words come before impulsive sounds. Are you suggesting language should go back to the jungle and no longer be civilized?
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby Bert » Wed May 27, 2009 1:37 am

Benedarius wrote:
Bert wrote:
jaihare wrote:If someone knows how to speak a language correctly doesn't mean he knows what transitive, intransitive and equative verbs are. Neither does it mean that he would know what embedded questions are.

So? That's not how language works, there isn't "English", and only one way to say a sentence, that's prescriptivism. Learning Latin is like that, because Latin is dead, and so is learning a foreign language, because that's the only way to learn another persons language. If English speakers say that "She is who I love" is correct, it is correct. The fact that 200 years ago, we had far more pronouns than we do now is totally irrelevant, native English speakers cannot (most of the time) be wrong.

Jaihare got it spot on, native English speakers should know without thinking about it, what is "correct". A native speaker should only ever need a grammar to actually be able to explain what is going on, because the rules are formed to deal with what native speakers say, not the other way around. For example, you did know that Dutch had neuter nouns, because you are a native speaker. You used the correct articles etc. You don't need to analyse your own language to know what is correct or not, it's just correct. To say, "Dutch has neuter nouns" is just one way of describing how a certain group of nouns are dealt with, nothing more than that.

Maybe I misunderstood jaihare. I thought he meant that native speakers should automatically know how something should be said and why that is so. I am understanding now that is not what he meant. (I think) he meant that native speakers should automatically know how something should be said but not why that is so. Also in that case it is not that strange to make reference to a grammar for the benefit of native speakers. After all it was he who said
This is a complex issue in English grammar. Relative clauses are not the clearest things in the world.
What is so ridiculous about referring to a grammar?
A comment about prescriptivism vs. descriptivism; You don't have to pick one or the other. There is a middle road. Your comment
If English speakers say that "She is who I love" is correct, it is correct.
is not correct (pardon the pun.) Pure descriptivism doesn't not make any much sense because for anything would go but pure prescriptivism is stifling. Languages do change but prescriptivism wouldn't allow this. A lot of these changes happen due to wrong ways of speaking becoming standard. Impact wasn't always a verb but it is used as a verb now. Gifting is another noun made into a verb. Slowly these incorrect uses become generally accepted but that doesn't mean that they were always correct just because someone said so.
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby Lucus Eques » Wed May 27, 2009 1:44 am

Benedarius wrote:"a lot of elephants is"


How is this wrong? "a lot" is singular in construction.
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby Lucus Eques » Wed May 27, 2009 2:33 am

Well, there's a lot to respond to here, so allow me to go about it generally.

"Descriptivism," as it has been called, is a form of relativism, and assumes all utterances are inherently "correct." If that is the contextual definition, then very well.

But to say that this is a better philosophy upon which to base policy — especially education policy — is not a good idea.

For example, the notion that "language constantly evolves" assumes that any given language will be subject to new influences from outside, or that new discoveries or "evolutions" in the culture or society surrounding that language will also occur.

This is a false premise; more accurate would be to compare a language to a biological organism: a community of organisms will only evolve when they are subject to intense pressures and influences that alter the proverbial playing field. But if external pressures are not sufficient to cause change, then the organism will not change. We have many species today still just as they were millions of years ago (such as dragonflies, crocodiles, and dung beatles), because they were not exposed to pressures great enough to extinguish or alter the genetic language that had been so effective at communicating efficient traits that permitted fit survival.

A language is quite the same: in isolation, without novelty in the society, it will stay virtually the same.

And how does a language remain the same without physical and cultural forms of isolation?

The answer is education. Fundamentally, a language will only change if there is insufficient education — that is, insufficient transmission of knowledge and of the importance of that knowledge — from one generation to another.

Thus the Latin language spread far and wide, but few were around to educate the countless plebs and lower classes across the provinces to speak (or even read and write!) in a proper fashion. The Roman tower of Babel fell, and the Romance languages "evolved."

So I hope a new element will come into this debate, and brake the speed of this dipolar "prescriptivism/descriptivism" dichotomy. Specifically, language and expression are a matter of choice for individuals and societies: if we choose to educate our children of the language of our generation fully, then there would be no change (but for the addition of new terms for things that did not exist for us). If this education is incomplete, the children's version of the language will appear to "evolve."
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby modus.irrealis » Wed May 27, 2009 2:35 am

Essorant wrote:Don't examples such as these, show that there is some subjectivity in how we approach grammar? Surely not only one approach is "correct"? But I will agree that some approaches certainly work better and have more strength.

Interesting question. I would say that if grammar is a science, then there can only be one correct analysis.
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby modus.irrealis » Wed May 27, 2009 3:07 am

Bert wrote:Pure descriptivism doesn't not make any much sense because for anything would go but pure prescriptivism is stifling. Languages do change but prescriptivism wouldn't allow this. A lot of these changes happen due to wrong ways of speaking becoming standard. Impact wasn't always a verb but it is used as a verb now. Gifting is another noun made into a verb. Slowly these incorrect uses become generally accepted but that doesn't mean that they were always correct just because someone said so.

That's more like fanatic misapplied descriptivism, which is certainly out there though. But as I understand it, descriptivism is just the view that the grammarian's job as grammarian is to simply describe language as it is used, and not to say how language should be used -- what he does off the job so to speak is up to him. So I wouldn't say that descriptivism says that everything's correct, but that "correct" doesn't mean anything when applied to language. There are just a variety of norms that people adhere to (like you said, usually without being aware of them and even being unable to express those norms), but why should some of these norms be labelled as "correct" or "good" and others as "incorrect" or "bad" or worse not even be recognized as norms, as if people spoke with no grammar at all?

About dead languages, though, it seems to me there's a lot less prescriptivism there than elsewhere, probably because there's no group of speakers to criticize and look down on for their "errors." Smyth's Grammar, for example, seems perfectly descriptive -- he just describes how Ancient Greek was used.
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby jaihare » Wed May 27, 2009 6:01 am

Lucus Eques wrote:
Benedarius wrote:"a lot of elephants is"


How is this wrong? "a lot" is singular in construction.

Because we think of "a lot of" as the same as "many." It's plural.
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby jaihare » Wed May 27, 2009 6:17 am

Essorant wrote:It is not "who", but the evidence. Someone that understands the grammar in "It is he" and therefore knows it is correct grammar and uses it knows better than someone that simply says "It is him" impulsively in imitation of the majority and thinks it is correct because the majority say it. Not only is that knowing better grammar in that respect but it is doing better by practicing and leaving a good example for others to follow too.


I agree that in Latin and Greek you need a nominative case after the verbs esse and εἶναι. In today's English, however, it is not at all normal for someone to say "It is I" instead of "It is me." If you go around using that form, people will think you pretentious, and it is often only in jest that this utterance escapes the lips. It's a strange fact, but in this situation it is both natural and universal (from England to South Africa, from Australia to America) to say "It is me," no matter what prescriptive grammarians insist on.

A similar case of an unexpected direct object exists in Hebrew with the particle יש yesh, which means "there exists/is." The language lacks a verb meaning "to have." Instead, you simply use the particle of existence and combine it with "to me/you/etc." to mean "I/you/etc. have." יש לי ספר yesh li sefer literally means "there is to me a book," but we understand it to mean "I have a book." There is nothing transitive at all in the word "there is." Despite this, it is standard Hebrew grammar to use the marker for a direct object (את et) after yesh in this construction whenever we have a definite object in mind.

יש לי את הספר אצלי - yesh li et ha-sefer etsli
"I have the book with me."

The word et only marks the definite direct object of a verb, but how can a participle of existence take a direct object? The same is true of "to be," which cannot take a direct object — yet we all (and this is the point of descriptive grammar — it cannot be wrong if EVERYONE does it and ACCEPTS it) say "It's me," and to say otherwise would be contrary to what is accepted in English (at least at this stage in the language's expression).

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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby Lucus Eques » Wed May 27, 2009 11:18 am

jaihare wrote:
Lucus Eques wrote:
Benedarius wrote:"a lot of elephants is"


How is this wrong? "a lot" is singular in construction.

Because we think of "a lot of" as the same as "many." It's plural.


Even if used that way, it cannot be defended by anything other than "everybody does it." "A lot" is singular.

Even "everybody" suggests plurality, but is singular in construction.

But that is erroneous, and demonstrates the flaw in the philosophy that you are peddling to us: eventually, if we accepted these things as you say, it would not be English anymore, but a different language — our language can no longer be in a state of evolution if it ceases to exist. Hence the point about education: if we choose the language, as it is, with all its little isms and illogical tendencies, and say, "There! that is the language circa 2009. This is what we will teach our children." Thus the 2009-English-standard is taught and maintained — and if taught broadly enough, there will be no change.
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby Benedarius » Wed May 27, 2009 4:06 pm

Lucus Eques wrote:
Benedarius wrote:"a lot of elephants is"


How is this wrong? "a lot" is singular in construction.

I wasn't very clear, I mean't that very few native speakers would say "a lot of elephants is", most would say are.

modus.irrealis express what I was trying to. The job of the grammarian is not to say how language should be spoken, but to analyse how it is.

Lucus Eques wrote:If we choose to educate our children of the language of our generation fully.
That ignores how languages are passed on, children learn languages by hearing what their parents say, and imitating that. Peer groups may use slang, or change their manner of expression. That is their language. Languages are a personal thing, either to an individual's manner of expression, or a peer group's manner of expression. There isn't one over-arching master plan, perfect, grammatically correct logical language. Register confuses the issue, more formal registers use older forms of the language in an effort to seem "educated", but that is just preception. "Uneducated speech" isn't littered with isolated mistakes, it is littered with different forms to the "standard". Mistakes are always consistent, so they aren't mistakes, they are different forms.
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby Essorant » Wed May 27, 2009 5:27 pm

Jaihare,


In today's English, however, it is not at all normal for someone to say "It is I" instead of "It is me." If you go around using that form, people will think you pretentious, and it is often only in jest that this utterance escapes the lips.



But the English language was not established by "today's English". It was already long established before the modern stage. Nothing essential has changed about "is" from the beginning. It still means "is" in "It is I" not an implied "have" as in your Hebrew example.

The only reason "It is me" sounds normal is because people keep saying it, not because it is correct English. It is not very different from how an urban myth or folk etymology spreads. People believe such things because they keep saying them over and over again, not because they are true.
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby Benedarius » Wed May 27, 2009 5:52 pm

Essorant wrote:The only reason "It is me" sounds normal is because people keep saying it, not because it is correct English.

That's the crux of the issue, if people keep saying it, it is correct English. Languages are passed on to babies by imitation, they imitate what their parents say. That's why all irregular forms are commonly used, if not, they will be regularised. Language is not static, just because to be was a certain type of verb in the past, does not mean it cannot be another type in the future. English could become entirely analytical in the distant future, who knows?

At every stage, changes are "wrong". For some group of people, not using thee was wrong. For some group of people, using "three times" was wrong. For some group of people, having no case endings was wrong. What you consider to be correct is only because that is what you have learned, not because it is inherently correct. Eventually, sometime in the distant future, what you consider to be correct will be wrong!

I say distant future because we have to assume that widespread literacy will slow language change hugely, certainly the formal registers, but as this is the first time in the history of English that everyone can read and write, it's hard to know.
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby jaihare » Wed May 27, 2009 8:17 pm

Lucus Eques wrote:Even if used that way, it cannot be defended by anything other than "everybody does it." "A lot" is singular.

Even "everybody" suggests plurality, but is singular in construction.

But that is erroneous, and demonstrates the flaw in the philosophy that you are peddling to us: eventually, if we accepted these things as you say, it would not be English anymore, but a different language — our language can no longer be in a state of evolution if it ceases to exist. Hence the point about education: if we choose the language, as it is, with all its little isms and illogical tendencies, and say, "There! that is the language circa 2009. This is what we will teach our children." Thus the 2009-English-standard is taught and maintained — and if taught broadly enough, there will be no change.


Fine, say "A lot of people is in the room" and get laughed at. Whatever you choose. I won't argue that you're speaking improperly, but your peers will think you're strange. Feel free.

"Everybody" is a different case. We do use "everybody" in the singular as if collective. "Everybody wants to read as Locus Eques argues for stilted English."

You will find things that are expressed differently depending on location, of course. In America, we use (I include myself since I'm an America and have lived in Israel only two years) the singular for most collectives, such as "family." We would say "My family is coming to visit for the holidays."

In England, however, they use the plural for such terms, preferring "My family are coming to visit for the holidays."

The only exception that I can think of in American English is the term "police," which we use as a plural collective: "The police are holding my neighbor for questioning regarding what happened last week."

But then again, it seems that across the board "a lot" functions in English just like "police" in American English. It is considered a plural term, no matter how you want to argue to the contrary. I have never heard a native speaker say "A lot of people is in the room." Everyone (without exception) will say "A lot of people are in the room," and it's absolutely correct to say it this way. I would challenge you to find one prescriptive grammar that would argue otherwise with this specific example ("a lot") appearing with a plural verb and demonstrating it in the actual language.
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby jaihare » Wed May 27, 2009 8:25 pm

jaihare wrote:But then again, it seems that across the board "a lot" functions in English just like "police" in American English. It is considered a plural term, no matter how you want to argue to the contrary. I have never heard a native speaker say "A lot of people is in the room." Everyone (without exception) will say "A lot of people are in the room," and it's absolutely correct to say it this way. I would challenge you to find one prescriptive grammar that would argue otherwise with this specific example ("a lot") appearing with a plural verb and demonstrating it in the actual language.


I would like to add one thing to what I wrote.

"A lot" is singular when it accompanies a singular noun. In this case, it has come to substitute "much."

"Much attention has been paid to the development of grammars."
"A lot of attention has been paid...."

It takes a plural verb when it accompanies a plural noun, since it replaces "many."

"Many people think that his movies are boring."
"A lot of people think that his movies are boring."

Thus, it is similar to the word "all of," which can be taken either as singular or plural, depending on the noun it is found with.

"All of the students are in their seats." (No one would argue for "is" here.)
"All of the garbage is in the bin." (No one would argue for "are" here.)

The plural or singular nature of "all of" is dependent on the object of its preposition, as is the plural or singular nature of "a lot of." You can think otherwise if you like, but that doesn't make you correct.

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Jason
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby Essorant » Wed May 27, 2009 8:31 pm

if people keep saying it, it is correct English


I think that were true if there were no (knowledge of the) past and the present determined all. But that is not so. Consider how modern dictionaries use the spelling "adder" for nadder. Since there is knowledge and evidence of the past of the word, we know that the spelling is a mistake from interpreting "a nadder" as "an adder". This is going to be the truth no matter how long it continues to be spelt as "adder". Continuing to use the spelling isn't going to change it into a non-mistake. Today or 50 years hence, it shall be a mistake. It just depends on how long you want to make a mistake or deny that you are making a mistake. The same kind of principle is true about "It is me". The history of English and its grammatical traditions (and also closely related languages) have a well established evidence of how the word "be" works. It is a copula that links, not a transitive verb that acts on and turns a following word into an object. That is an established fact of the language, not a subjective variation. The only way you may overlook that "adder" is a mispelling of nadder and that "it is me" is incorrect grammar, is if you ignore the past and ignore the fact that the language is an inherited tradition that was already established, not a freeforall that we make up on the spot.
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby spiphany » Wed May 27, 2009 8:41 pm

RE: "It is I" vs. "It is me"
I have a growing suspicion that English pronouns function much as in French -- not as in Latin or German. Here we have essentially a subjective and objective case, but also disjunctive forms which resemble object pronouns. For example, in French a sentence such as "C'est moi" is not only perfectly correct, but (as far as I know) the only way to formulate this.

I haven't seen any descriptive grammars which describe English pronoun usage this way, but it wouldn't surprise me if the argument has been made.
At any rate, it helps explain why English speakers persistently use forms like 'me' and 'him' in situations where they are clearly not objects of a transitive verb. Dismissing it as a mistake doesn't help us understand why the mistake happens. (I don't buy the argument that it is just the result of uneducated speakers using the language incorrectly, as though their language is in a state of anarchy until someone comes along and tells them how it should be spoken -- their language usage may not conform to the standard, but it does not mean that it does not follow its own set of rules (rules in the sense of more-or-less consistent patterns, not in the sense of 'ought' clauses).)
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby modus.irrealis » Wed May 27, 2009 8:45 pm

Essorant wrote:I think that were true if there were no past and the present determined all. But that is not so. Consider how modern dictionaries use the spelling "adder" for nadder. Since there is knowledge and evidence of the past of the word, we know that the spelling is a mistake from interpreting "a nadder" as "an adder". This is going to be the truth no matter how long it continues to be spelt as "adder". Continuing to use the spelling isn't going to change it into a non-mistake. Today or 50 years hence, it shall be a mistake. It just depends on how long you want to make a mistake or deny that you are making a mistake. The same kind of principle is true about "It is me". The history of English and its grammatical traditions (and also closely related languages) have a well established evidence of how the word "be" works. It is a copula that links, not a transitive verb that acts on and turns a following word into an object. That is an established fact of the language, not a subjective variation. The only way you may overlook that "adder" is a mispelling of nadder and that "it is me" is incorrect grammar, is if you ignore the past and ignore the fact that the language is an inherited tradition that was already established, not a freeforall that we make up on the spot.

But what use is there in such a concept of "incorrect" where virtually everything becomes incorrect? "It is I" in related languages and Old English was of the form "I am it", because "be" had to agree with the first person. Is that change in how "be" works a mistake?
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby jaihare » Wed May 27, 2009 8:46 pm

Essorant wrote:
if people keep saying it, it is correct English


I think that were true if there were no past and the present determined all. But that is not so. Consider how modern dictionaries use the spelling "adder" for nadder. Since there is knowledge and evidence of the past of the word, we know that the spelling is a mistake from interpreting "a nadder" as "an adder". This is going to be the truth no matter how long it continues to be spelt as "adder". Continuing to use the spelling isn't going to change it into a non-mistake. Today or 50 years hence, it shall be a mistake. It just depends on how long you want to make a mistake or deny that you are making a mistake. The same kind of principle is true about "It is me". The history of English and its grammatical traditions (and also closely related languages) have a well established evidence of how word "is" works. It is a copula that links, not a transitive verb that acts and turns a following word into an object. This is an established fact of the language, not a subjective variation. The only way you may overlook that "adder" is a mispelling of nadder and that "it is me" is incorrect grammar, is if you ignore the past and ignore the fact that the language is an inherited tradition that was already established, not a freeforall that we make up on the spot.


Then your post (and all of ours on this forum and throughout cyberspace) are naught but mistakes. We need to go back to writing the same way they did 50 years ago and trying to maintain the purity of English from that period. Heck, why stop there? Let's all start speaking like Shakespeare wrote. Or, to be really extreme in our insistence on the purity and immutability of this holy tongue of ours, let's revert to English at the time of Beowulf!

It's obvious that today we have the word "adder." If someone came to me and said "nadder" referring to a snake, I would look them with confusion written across my face. The word is not "nadder" — and the automatic spellcheck on my Google Chrome browser catches "nadder" and asks me to change it to "dander," "adder," etc. It's not a word in today's English, no matter if it originated as a mistake or if it was uttered by God himself. It's not a word that ANYONE uses, so it has no appearance or use in our language, though it may have appeared that way in the past. What a terrible argument for language preservation.

If we have to preserve the word "nadder" because it existed at some point in the past, then we should be speaking with "thou" and "ye," and we should restore the letters ð (eth), þ (thorn) and ƿ (wynn), which dropped out of English long ago. We need to become purists who refuse to allow the language to change naturally. I mean, why fight for and restore "nadder" when we didn't keep "þou" (thou)? It's obviously much more important to have a way to address people formally (using "you") or informally (using "þou") — as is still done in many languages, from French (tu v. vous) and Spanish (tú v. usted), to German (du v. Sie) and Dutch (jij v. u) — than it is to keep the name of a snake intact from generation to generation. We went wrong somewhere when we didn't put the language in stone and keep it from shifting, so it would be wrong for us to continue our mistakes — after all, "[t]oday or 50 years hence, it shall be a mistake."
Last edited by jaihare on Wed May 27, 2009 8:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby jaihare » Wed May 27, 2009 8:51 pm

modus.irrealis wrote:But what use is there in such a concept of "incorrect" where virtually everything becomes incorrect? "It is I" in related languages and Old English was of the form "I am it", because "be" had to agree with the first person. Is that change in how "be" works a mistake?


I agree with this completely.

When the soldiers come to find Jesus in Gethsemane, he asked them, "Whom are you seeking?" They answered, "Jesus of Nazareth." Instead of replying in the KJV, "It is I" or anything like this, he said (in the KJV), "I am he." The underlying Greek text just says ἐγώ εἰμι without a pronoun after the verb.
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby modus.irrealis » Wed May 27, 2009 9:06 pm

spiphany wrote:RE: "It is I" vs. "It is me"
I have a growing suspicion that English pronouns function much as in French -- not as in Latin or German. Here we have essentially a subjective and objective case, but also disjunctive forms which resemble object pronouns. For example, in French a sentence such as "C'est moi" is not only perfectly correct, but (as far as I know) the only way to formulate this.

And in English, the only possible one-word answer to "Who is it?" is "Me".

At any rate, it helps explain why English speakers persistently use forms like 'me' and 'him' in situations where they are clearly not objects of a transitive verb. Dismissing it as a mistake doesn't help us understand why the mistake happens. (I don't buy the argument that it is just the result of uneducated speakers using the language incorrectly, as though their language is in a state of anarchy until someone comes along and tells them how it should be spoken -- their language usage may not conform to the standard, but it does not mean that it does not follow its own set of rules (rules in the sense of more-or-less consistent patterns, not in the sense of 'ought' clauses).)

There's also developments the other way, things like "between you and I". Hypercorrections always seem to be an indication that the underlying system has changed, so like you said, the distinction between I and me is different from the one between ich and mich.
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby Benedarius » Wed May 27, 2009 9:21 pm

Essorant wrote:Today or 50 years hence, it shall be a mistake.

That is absolute nonsense. The English word is adder, how it arose is irrelevant. Nice therefore should mean ignorant, and as has been pointed out, a whole host of other thing. "To be" isn't inherently a linking verb, but for some stages in history, it has been. It doesn't always have to be, in fact, in the future it might not exist at all.

You still misunderstand the role of grammar. Grammar DESCRIBES what happens in a language. If that language does illogical things, grammar must reflect that. If English "to be" is transitive in one case only, grammar should say that. Grammar does not decide how we speak, it only describes it.
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby Bert » Thu May 28, 2009 1:44 am

jaihare wrote:
modus.irrealis wrote:But what use is there in such a concept of "incorrect" where virtually everything becomes incorrect? "It is I" in related languages and Old English was of the form "I am it", because "be" had to agree with the first person. Is that change in how "be" works a mistake?


I agree with this completely.

When the soldiers come to find Jesus in Gethsemane, he asked them, "Whom are you seeking?" They answered, "Jesus of Nazareth." Instead of replying in the KJV, "It is I" or anything like this, he said (in the KJV), "I am he." The underlying Greek text just says ἐγώ εἰμι without a pronoun after the verb.

This is very interesting. jaihare, can you explain what you are trying to point out with the difference between "it is I" and "I am he"? Thanks.
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby jaihare » Thu May 28, 2009 2:17 am

Bert wrote:This is very interesting. jaihare, can you explain what you are trying to point out with the difference between "it is I" and "I am he"? Thanks.


Difference? There's no difference. It's just that during the time of the KJV no one said either "It is I" or "It is me." They expressed this sentiment with "I am he." There's no difference. It's the same meaning. It's just that "I am he" is the older way to say it.
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby Essorant » Thu May 28, 2009 3:50 pm

modus.irrealis wrote:But what use is there in such a concept of "incorrect" where virtually everything becomes incorrect? "It is I" in related languages and Old English was of the form "I am it", because "be" had to agree with the first person. Is that change in how "be" works a mistake?


No. There is nothing incorrect about "I am it" or "It is I". They are simply different ways of using correct grammar. But "Me am it" and "It is me" on the other hand are two ways of using incorrect grammar. What is the point of denying it?
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby modus.irrealis » Thu May 28, 2009 4:29 pm

Essorant wrote:No. There is nothing incorrect about "I am it" or "It is I". They are simply different ways of using correct grammar. But "Me am it" and "It is me" on the other hand are two ways of using incorrect grammar. What is the point of denying it?

So if some changes in grammar don't result in incorrect grammar but other changes do, how do you determine whether to label something as correct or incorrect?
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby Essorant » Thu May 28, 2009 5:52 pm

Jaihare,


Then your post (and all of ours on this forum and throughout cyberspace) are naught but mistakes. We need to go back to writing the same way they did 50 years ago and trying to maintain the purity of English from that period. Heck, why stop there? Let's all start speaking like Shakespeare wrote. Or, to be really extreme in our insistence on the purity and immutability of this holy tongue of ours, let's revert to English at the time of Beowulf!


We can't fix all mistakes at once. But we can fix some of them gradually. Using the pronouns correctly with the verb "be" is a good place to begin. We don't need to go back to English of the time of Beowulf for that. Although going back could certainly help. The better one stands on the roots of the language the better he holds up the branches.

It's obvious that today we have the word "adder." If someone came to me and said "nadder" referring to a snake, I would look them with confusion written across my face. The word is not "nadder" — and the automatic spellcheck on my Google Chrome browser catches "nadder" and asks me to change it to "dander," "adder," etc. It's not a word in today's English, no matter if it originated as a mistake or if it was uttered by God himself. It's not a word that ANYONE uses, so it has no appearance or use in our language, though it may have appeared that way in the past. What a terrible argument for language preservation.


Arguing for spelling a word with its correct first letter is a terrible argument for language preservation? I don't see how you see it that way. If we go by your approach, if the same thing happened with nose, many of us would be calling our noses "oses" today! The n of nadder is still present in the evidence of the majority of English's life on earth (Old English næddre, Middle English naddre) and the evidence of the cognates in other Germanic languages (Old Saxon nadra, Old High German natara, German natter, Old Norse nathra, Gothic nadrs). There is even a cognate in Latin, natrix, and Old Irish nathir. The fact that the loss of n was a mistake to begin with is enough, but those things just give us more reason why to spell it correctly with "n".


If we have to preserve the word "nadder" because it existed at some point in the past, then we should be speaking with "thou" and "ye," and we should restore the letters ð (eth), þ (thorn) and ƿ (wynn), which dropped out of English long ago.


Using different letters are not at all the same as failing to spell an n-word with an n. They still express the sound "th" and "w". But the word adder doesn't express the "n" anymore, the letter that is the first and in being the first is the most important sound of the word.

The lack of "Thou" and "ye" in modern English indeed is great shame. Those are two of the most important members of the pronoun-family and yet we hardly ever use them anymore. It is like having ten fingers and only using seven. Why not use all of them? And what is the virtue of continuing not to use all of them?

It may be wellnigh impossible to to restore them in everydaily English, but it is not at all impossible to restore them in some of our literature and poetry.



We went wrong somewhere when we didn't put the language in stone and keep it from shifting, so it would be wrong for us to continue our mistakes — after all, "[t]oday or 50 years hence, it shall be a mistake."


I don't think we went wrong in not putting the language in stone. But I do think we are going wrong when we treat mistakes (such as "It is me" and "adder" for nadder) as if they are "in stone" just because most people use them.
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby Essorant » Thu May 28, 2009 6:10 pm

So if some changes in grammar don't result in incorrect grammar but other changes do, how do you determine whether to label something as correct or incorrect?


If it uses a word/wordform incorrectly (such as "me" where "I" should be) then it is incorrect grammar. It is not much more complex than that.
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby modus.irrealis » Thu May 28, 2009 6:20 pm

Essorant wrote:If it uses a word/wordform incorrectly (such as "me" where "I" should be) then it is incorrect grammar. It is not much more complex than that.

But what determines whether you're using a word incorrectly? Or in this case specifically, why do you think "me" is being used where "I" should be, but you don't think "is" is being used where "am" should be? I don't see what standard you're applying.
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Re: Question about English Grammar

Postby Essorant » Fri May 29, 2009 5:59 am

modus.irrealis wrote:
Essorant wrote:If it uses a word/wordform incorrectly (such as "me" where "I" should be) then it is incorrect grammar. It is not much more complex than that.

But what determines whether you're using a word incorrectly? Or in this case specifically, why do you think "me" is being used where "I" should be, but you don't think "is" is being used where "am" should be? I don't see what standard you're applying.


The roots and the history of the language determine it. It never was otherwise. "Be" is not the kind of word that turns "I" into "me" and surely you know that. "I" (instead of "me") belongs in the sentence because it follows the copula (not a transitive verb). "Is" (not "am") belongs in the sentence because the subject of the sentence is "it" not "I".
Essorant
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