« It would be a great honor for my partner and I »: case deviance or enunciative progress?

Steven Shaviro remarks on an interesting grammatical phenomenon: « A grammatical thing I have been noting lately is that lots of people use « I » instead of « me » as the object of a preposition when another proper name or noun is also included. e.g.: « It would be a great honor for my partner and I » (though everyone who does this would presumably still say « it would be a great honor for me » rather than « for I » when the pronoun is by itself) ». Far from decrying the change he asks for an explanation.

Before trying to explain sociologically this evolution one must first analyse the linguistic phenomenon. Enunciative sense-making operations can and often do trump grammatical correction. From this point of view, sociological changes can drive linguistic ones, but underlying the changing grammar there are enunciative operations and values that allow or prohibit certain possibilities.

Hypothesis: in instances of deviant cases for concatenated pronouns there may be a sort of (re-)inscription of the enunciator’s viewpoint.

DEVIANT CASE

In the case of « for my partner and me » « my partner and me » form a unitary block (for example because it is an enunciative pre-construction, from the situation of enunciation or from the discursive context or from background knowledge, that we agree) whereas in « for my partner and I » there is a disjoint block signalled by the rupture of case (e.g. for emphasis or because it is surprising in some way, however small). The root value of the deviant case is that it marks the enunciative operation of re-inscribing the subject of the enunciation in the enunciative conjunctive block.

THE OPERATOR « AND »

« AND » can have quantitative or qualitative values. In a quantitative context it is simply additive or aggregative: one thing after, or with, another, in an enumeration of elements. It can also have a qualitative value of association. The two (or more) elements are not simply juxtaposed but associated more closely, as a conjoint, a unitary or homogeneous block, or partially dissociated as a disjoint or heterogeneous block. In some cases, for example if the « and » is accentuated, it can conjoin highly disparate, opposing, or even adversarial elements. In the syntagm « for my partner and I » the deviant case (use of « I » instead of « me » draws « and » toward its more qualitative value.

RE-SUBJECTIFICATION

If we examine the complete syntagm (« It would be a great honor for my partner and I ») we can note that the grammatical subject (ante-posed « it) is not the subject of the process « to be honored », We can re-write the syntagm without the impersonal or dummy subject « it »: « my partner and I would be greatly honored ». Given that nouns have no case marker in English there is no way to assign a case to « partner » morphologically, only syntactically as accusative and semantically as (conjoint) subject of the process. Thus the deviant case for « I » is a pragmatic indicator of the divergence between the syntax and the semantics of the expression and of the enunciative re-inscription of the enunciator’s role.

SOCIAL EXPLANATION

As I argued at the beginning of this post, to explain a phenomenon one must first analyse it adequately. Many negative or pessimistic explanations for the increasing frequency of this sort of deviant case come from analysing it purely in grammatical terms as an error (forgetting the governing preposition or verb due to the greater distance of the pronoun, forgetting or misapplying the rule, class-dependent mistake). From this point of view the phenomenon is worrisome, indicating a generalised dumbing down of the population and the loss of a dimension of sense.

A more positive explanation could remark that this decline of normative grammar, the increasing indifference of a large part of the population to its dictates (especially in the spoken word), may be correlated with an increasing intolerance of the priority accorded to correction over meaning. Stream-lined and variable grammar may correspond to the taking of greater liberties in order to give more primacy to the sense-making operations.

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