Disdeclined

In Czech, there are seven forms for every noun and pronoun. These different forms provide important information about the relationships between the elements of the sentence. In English, most of those forms have been weeded out over the centuries, replaced by helper words and word order conventions. We still have the possessive form and the plural, but that’s it.

Except in pronouns. Now I call the English-speaking world to action, to hasten the inevitable and beat down those who would hold our language in stasis. You don’t have to thank me, it’s what I do. Let’s put the wooden stake through the heart of ‘whom’. No ambiguity is introduced when you use ‘who’ instead, English has developed all the mechanisms to keep the sentence clear without declining the pronoun. We just don’t need whom.

While we’re at it, let’s not stop there. I, me, my — it’s time to straighten all this out. We only need one pronoun to express the first person singular. All we need is ‘me’. “Me Tarzan, you Jane” is not at all ambiguous, and even introduces an implied ‘to be’ which can come in handy. “All for me grog” is not open to alternate interpretations. All these extra pronouns running about are causing more harm than good.

Granted, getting rid of ‘my’ may be pushing things a bit much, as English still uses the possessive form. If we really want to disdecline the language, we would have to resort to using ‘of’ a lot: “the pants of Jerry”, rather than “Jerry’s pants” (in the phrase “Jerry pants” mine name comes out as an adjective). Me not quite ready for that. Before you know it people would be writing “pants o’Jerry”, and the possessive would be back, only this time an o’ prefix rather than an ‘s at the end. Even so, ‘my’ and ‘mine’ could be consolidated without any loss. It’s already happened for nouns and most other pronouns. Kiss ‘my’ goodbye, and flush ‘yours’ down the drain.

These silly pronouns are holding us back. They remain mired in days gone by, the subjects of rules that are based simply on properness, not effectiveness — all they do is prove you paid attention in school. (Ironically, one pronoun we already have shed, ‘thee’, would still be useful to reduce ambiguity. Me therefore also call for the recognition of y’all to be what ‘you’ once was.)

Me not ready to embrace this principle in me everyday writing, as, alas, there are many who would judge me based on outdated ideas of correctness. And that’s the rub, isn’t it? If me were to go it alone, me would be quickly written off as an ignorant buffoon, not a force committed to making the English language better. What can me do?

14 thoughts on “Disdeclined

  1. the sprout is entering language phase and me enjoying every minute of it. However he, and me understand most toddlers, have a predilection for “I” as opposed to “me.” For instance:
    I read book
    I touch ball
    I pet Cecil
    I like how in one swell foop he has eliminated “am” and “ing.”

  2. Those statements could all also be questions depending on the intonation.

    But seriously Jer, has a lack of beer turned you into a cookie eating monster type?

  3. Ah, but there is a need to decline pronouns, since there are cases in which case has a serious bearing on the meaning of the sentence. Consider this example:

    My husband likes golf better than I.

    My husband likes golf better than me.

    The first is merely an explanation why this couple spend their weekends pursuing separate activites. The second is grounds for divorce.

  4. *grin* Very good Carol Anne.

    Jerry, let us know when the taps are a flowing again. I doubt we can take many new world order reconstructions (deconstructions) of are already weird language!

    Me wonders where Jerry left the pants.

  5. First, Carol Anne. The ambiguity is not in the pronoun but in the use of ‘better’ to mean ‘more’. If we lost the declension, it would necessarily force greater precision in other realms as well.

    The taps are once agaiin a’burbling, and my pants are where they belong. Although it’s only a matter of time until the good folk realize that there are holes in my pants, in significant places. So far I have managed to sit modestly and not attract undue attention.

  6. The distinction of case remains, whether the adverb is “better” or “more” — you still get the difference of meaning.

  7. Ah, yes, I see. The difference is caused by another convention in English, the implied “do”. “… better than I [do]” vs. “… better than me”. If you don’t use pronouns, it is mandatory to supply the “do”: “… better than Joe does” as opposed to “… better than Joe”.

    To remove the superflouous declensions in English, pronouns would have to follow all the same conventions as the already non-declined nouns they replace.

  8. And on the subject of your youngun doing away with ‘ing’, that is also a notable difference between Czech and English. I may graduate this to an episode some day (after I check my facts), but in English we have the past perfect (I went) and the past imperfect (I was going). Imperfect is used for actions that were (or are, or will be) ongoing, whereas the perfect applies to discrete actions that are (or will be) all wrapped up.

    In English there are a lot of complex constructions that use had (he had been going) that give our Slavic friends trouble. Czech takes a fundamentally different approach. The perfect and imperfect verbs are separate. Usually (but not always) the two verbs are similar, but fundamentally “take” and “taking” are separate verbs. More vocab to remember, but conjugations get a whole lot simpler.

    Because my language lessons all started in the present, my vocabulary way by necessity imperfect. In this moment, everything is ongoing. More than once I’ve said something that would translate to “I did asking him…” because I had not learned the perfect version of “ask”.

  9. Run this one past your Czech friends:

    “John, where James had had ‘had,’ had had ‘had had.’ ‘Had had’ had had a better effect upon the teacher.”

  10. And then there are the Asian languages in which neither nouns nor verbs have any declensions at all — adjectives and adverbs do all of the work: “I run yesterday.” I have two students who are currently totally lost among all of the helping verbs and tenses.

  11. Meanwhile, back in the original case case, we have elliptical constructions in both sentences. That is because than is a subordinating conjunction, not a preposition (although it is often mistaken for one). Therefore, anything following than has to be a complete clause with a subject and a complete verb. In English, that can be accomplished with elliptical constructions in which the missing words are understood, even if they aren’t actually there.

    My husband likes golf better than I [do].

    My husband likes golf better than [he likes] me.

    If you get rid of the pronoun case, you can no longer use elliptical constructions.

    I, for one, would like to keep the efficiency permitted by elliptical constructions.

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