Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Creeping ergativity in English

Once again, I heard Rick Kogan on the radio. It's like a habit or something. Anyway, one of his guests said something like this (and I wish I could remember the exact quote, but it was like this).
Both me and her went to work.
I'm going to guess that in reading you wanted to * this. And indeed, if it hadn't been "me and her" this would pass muster. Tense is right. General arrangement of constituents is right. Case marking on the pronouns is wrong. Or is it? Here are some more examples.
*Me went to work.
*Her went to work.
I would bet that even the radio guest would reject that. I also suspect that this would be considered wrong too.
*Us went to work.
I also seriously doubt that this would pass muster too.
*Me and him saw the dog.
EDIT: Or maybe it would in non-standard varieties of English. Now that I think of it, I can't think of a situation where "me and him" is so outrageously wrong that you can't use it. So much for the notion of ergativity in English. Because…

But here my lack of corpus fails me, and I don't have a recent speech example. I'm not even sure that my native-speaker intuition will help me here. I wish it did. I'd love to be able to show that this is ergativity creeping in to English.

It looks like it is sensitive to pronouns, which would be the only place Ergativity could rear its head in English anyway, but not any old pronouns. It looks like it needs to be a compound subject with a first or third person (probably singular) in one of the subject slots. I also have a strong suspicion that it is sensitive to conjunctions.

Throw this into the just another thesis idea category.