Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Between You and I: Please, be I's friend!

edited 11/4/19
In America everybody is of the opinion that he has no social superiors, since all men are equal, but he does not admit that he has no social inferiors... -- Bertrand Russell

I had an elementary public school teacher, call her Miss Taylor, who insisted that the correct way to pronounce the word "piano" was pee-ah-no.[1] She gave up trying to "correct" our normal pronunciation, pee-an-o, after many of my classmates began parodying it with such pronunciations as "bahnahnah", "run, rahn, run", "sit, saht, saht", "Mahs-ah-chu-sets". Or, using a popular song lyric, "If I didn't cahr".
Still, Miss Taylor was a good teacher, kindly, interesting and informative. She no doubt acted so as to prepare us to "climb up in the Cold War World," socially, if not so much economically. Had she lived into this 21st Century, however, she might have shaken her head sadly at the many linguistic traditions of "standard" English that have succumbed to an apparently historically uninformed pursuit of status.

Why does status matter? It opens or maintains pathways to wealth and deference. How does one acquire status? Through wealth, inherited or earned, random good fortune, or celebrity. What is somewhat perplexing is that people who already have above average status due to their having higher than average wealth, celebrity, academic degrees, social position, governmental office, or judicial position, appear to have abandoned distinctions of English grammar that, formerly, not even members of the "lower" classes seldom would have abused.

I have heard PhD's (even in the Liberal Arts) say such things as "This will be my wife and I's third visit to Cambridge this year." Not only academics, punctilious in so many a smaller detail, but major media and governmental spokespersons, overcorrect what should be formulated "between you and me" into "between you and I", as if "me" were some kind of dialectal aberration.

So, too, we not infrequently hear "This is a gift for you and we." Have I, him, her, us, them become taboo words? What is going on here? Is every or just any novelty an improvement? (Or, perhaps, a random manifestation of a need to belong?)

For more examples and to pursue this issue, see The Case for Case

Cordially, EGR

Footnote and Comment

[1] Academic Formalities: Just Making Teacher Clones?

Comment: For more on Grammatical Case, you might begin your inquiry on Wikipedia which has a good presentation with explained examples in many different languages.