No matter how jaded I think I’ve gotten, no matter how sure I am that I’ve seen it all, something is bound to come along to throw me for a loop. This time it’s Lucy Ferriss’s latest Lingua Franca post. I’ve long been accustomed to hearing things like “He gave it to John and I”; I used to make the common mistake of thinking it was hypercorrection before it was explained to me that it was a special case of coordinate construction (see Philipp S. Angermeyer and John Victor Singler, “The case for politeness: Pronoun variation in co-ordinate NPs in object position in English,” Language Variation and Change 15, July 2003, pp 171-209; abstract). But Ferriss takes us all the way down the slippery slope from that to Colin Powell’s “I’ll be voting for he and for Vice President Joe Biden” to… well, I’ll let her tell it:
Which brings us to this week. Although I’ve given examples from public figures, my attention on a daily basis goes to my students. And for reasons I haven’t investigated, this past week I received two student stories with new examples of the nominative pronoun used in the objective position. The first wrote, “I didn’t think I was in love with he, but I couldn’t be sure.” The second wrote, “For they, it wasn’t that important.” No coordinator in either example. And then, at a social gathering, I overheard a woman say, “She gave it to I—I mean to me—oh, I don’t know any more.”
I never in a million years would have guessed that native speakers of English, in my lifetime, would be confused as to whether to say “She gave it to I” or “She gave it to me.” Language change can happen fast!
(I think we can take it as read that this is not acceptable English and will not be acceptable English in the foreseeable future; I realize many readers of this post will have the automatic bristling “see, it’s all going to hell” reaction, but frankly that’s not a very interesting reaction even if it’s harmless and inevitable.)