Tuesday, 9 April 2019

That's that

I have referred many times to the problems thrown up by the relative adjective/pronoun that.
Incidentally, this relative  that, though spelt the same as the subordinating conjunction, is phonologically distinct as it's always pronounced /ðæt/: examples – "I want thAt one"; "Don't give me thAt"), with the vowel never reduced to /ə/. The subordinating conjunction is often reduced to /ðət/: examples – "She told me that she had gone" (/ðət/) but "She told me that (/ðæt/) she had gone, not why".  My guess is that the /ðət/ form is the more often used, and that the chief exception is when there's contrastive ...
Ho-ho. The infernal machine has given that word a red underline, and helpfully suggested I might mean contraceptive.
...stress (as in my second example). Machine-generated speech often gets this wrong. The latest example I've noticed  was in the first of the new series of Ability.
I've  mentioned the which/that controversy here :
<grammar_point importance="negligible" skip="yes, if you value your sanity" status="shibboleth"> 
Suppose I have two lawn mowers. The green one is in the shed and the red one ... is in the garage. Woe betide you if you refer to the green one as 'the mower which is in the shed'. However, you will have Mrs Thistlebottom*'s blessing if you say 'The red mower, which is newer, is in the garage.' 
And earlier I had written here about the grammatical inflexibility, as a relative, of THAT in contrast to WHO and WHICH:
The mower that is in the garage is red 
The mower thats power source is petrol... 
The mower on that you can sit while mowing...
To sum it up, here's a table: (I'm not proud of the layout, but still...)

Case     THAT     WHO     WHICH   
Subject         that    who    which   
Object         that    whom
(with or without preposition)
 (with or without preposition)
Possessive           whose   whose
(a rather old fashioned-sounding borrowing from WHO; most speakers today – especially younger ones – say of which)     
This area of syntactical inflexibility  causes much grief. One can forgive Paul McCartney for "this cold and hungry world in which we live in"; in fact for years I gave him the benefit of the doubt and heard it as "... in which we're livin'". But people with a more thoughtful (if less creative) approach to the language are often left with egg on their faces. In a recent BBC News interview Jacob Rees-Mogg said (right at the start of that recording, about 14 seconds in) that "the EU should be careful for what it wishes for".
When I first heard it on the radio I thought he had just changed horses in mid-stream; the linguist's word for this is anacoluthon (mentioned before in early posts, here for example: the song I  mentioned in the last para of that post starts like this: [to the tune of Anna*, of course] 
Ana... [backing vocals continue: "...coluthon"] 
Is when a sentence starts one way
But then it begins to stray; 
You start out with one sentence structure 
But it's really different 
In the end  
[Some critics may notice that "structure" and "different" don't rhyme; delivery of this non-rhyme is a matter of performance: a degree of self-editing may be suggested.]
). He started out with the Mrs Thistlebottom version ("for what it wishes"), realized it sounded prissy, and went for the more demotic "what it wishes for"; so that what he said was "be careful f... (thinks: "no, that sounds like a caricature of an Old-Etonian prig") what it wishes for". 
But on a second hearing (recycled on the TV news) I decided my initial generosity of spirit was misplaced; he just got it wrong.
Enough for now.


* Incidentally, the attribution of the song to "J.P. McCartney" on that clip is wrong. This track was on the Beatles' first album, before they had settled on their default setting of <all-songs-home-grown>. In fact the idea of singers writing their own songs was so out of the ordinary that the pop media of the early '60s were full of the word "self-penned", new to me at the time (although, as so often with suspected neologisms, it had a long history before the 1960s – more than 100 years, according to Merriam-Webster). Some of their promotional literature at the time gushed  that Lennon and McCartney had written enough new material to keep them in the charts until 1975!!! (HD: as Wikipedia might say, "citation needed").

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