STRANGE DATIVES.

Here’s the start of Mark Liberman’s latest post at the Log:

Yesterday, Daniel Mahaffey wrote to ask about his friend’s “unusual indirect object sentences”. Thus after backing into a dog in a crowded kitchen, she said “I nearly stepped on me a dog”.
Daniel reasons that this is analogous to the benefactive pronouns in standard written English phrases like “I wrote him a song”, or in widespread vernacular examples like “I wrote me a song” (where the standard version would be “wrote myself a song”).
But, as Daniel observes, a couple of things are different in this case. First, analogous examples in (what we might call) the standard vernacular would put the pronoun before rather than after an intransitive preposition: “I stacked me up some firewood”, not “I stacked up me some firewood”. Second, in “… stepped on me a dog”, the pronoun me has a looser semantic connection to the verb than typical benefactives — it doesn’t refer to a beneficiary, recipient, or purpose of the action, instead apparently adding just a vague sense of interest or involvement. This may be why “…stepped me on a dog” seems (if anything) even odder to me than “…stepped on me a dog”.
But wait, there’s more. Daniel notes that his friend (who is from SE Georgia) also says things like “I need to go look for me a dress” or “I’m going to the mall to shop for me a dress”.. In these examples, the placement of the pronoun seems even more surprising, since for is a transitive preposition expressing an argument of look or shop — here “a dress” — and me is thus inside a prepositional phrase, not just on the wrong side of a particle.

The post continues with further analysis and parallels from Latin, and the comment thread adds Greek, Romance, and Slavic; I urge you to go there and investigate further. What I want to stress here is the value of the descriptive as opposed to the prescriptive approach in terms of enrichment of one’s mental life; the prescriptivist looks at sentences like that and simply says “That’s wrong, here’s how you should say it,” whereas the descriptivist says “That’s very interesting, I wonder what it can tell me about language and how people use it?” An open mind is a good thing.
Update. See now the guest post by Larry Horn (author of “‘I love me some him’: The landscape of non-argument datives”) at the Log.

Comments

  1. I forget the technical terminology, but it just sounds like he’s treating two-part separable verbs as inseparable verbs: “step-on”, “look-for”. Irt still sounds weird as hell.
    I really hate the recent style where hip educated people say, usually concessively, “Sometimes I love me some X, but…..” in a sort of imitation hillbillyspeak.

  2. j. del col says:

    “I nearly stomped me a dog” would be much more appropriate.

  3. An observation (if I may ?) on ‘[T]he prescriptivist looks at sentences like that and simply says “That’s wrong, here’s how you should say it,” whereas the descriptivist says “That’s very interesting, I wonder what it can tell me about language and how people use it?”‘
    As someone who has always had prescriptivist (and even, dare I say, proscriptivist) leanings, I feel you do prescriptivists an injustice by suggesting that their reaction would be simply “That’s wrong, here’s how you should say it”. Far more likely, in my opinion, would be the response “That feels wrong to me : let’s attempt to analyse the utterance and see if we can work out /why/ it feels wrong; if we can, then perhaps it /is/ wrong, and we can then look at ways of reformulating it so as to make it conform to the traditional rules of grammar.”.

  4. If a native speaker of a language has no problem saying something, you really can’t call it wrong.

  5. Far more likely, in my opinion, would be the response “That feels wrong to me : let’s attempt to analyse the utterance and see if we can work out /why/ it feels wrong; if we can, then perhaps it /is/ wrong, and we can then look at ways of reformulating it so as to make it conform to the traditional rules of grammar.”.
    I would be considerably happier if that were, in fact, far more likely, but having read a great deal of prescriptivist prose in my time, I must disagree; in my experience, that kind of “soft” prescriptivism is vanishingly rare. I’m glad you exhibit it, though.

  6. Charles Perry says:

    I’ve always had the feeling that this usage was an Irishism. “My fence fell down on me” is a classic “Irish bull.”

  7. Jeeze, I’m terrified – I wouldn’t bet anything at all on the various timelines – j. de col might’ve said what s/he said before I muttered something on LL. Not that it matters much. As I’ve continued to think about all the examples cited, I’ve convinced myself (not worth much really) that phrasal verbs are at the root of the enigma. Please – more opinions?

  8. jeff del col says:

    On second thought, “I done nearly stomped me a dog. or “I nearly done stomped me a dog.” might be even better.

  9. “Phrasal verb” is the term I was looking for. I’m not really sure, though, because what the guy said doesn’t seem right for phrasal verbs either.
    I beat up some jerk.
    I beat me up some jerk. (OK, probably)
    I beat up me some jerk. (Same problem as Mahaffey’s example).
    I threw up the soup.
    I threw me up the soup. (Dubious?)
    I threw up me the soup. (Unintelligible?)
    So the guy seems both to be making a verb-preposition combination into a phrasal verb, and then making the phrasal verb inseparable.

  10. mollymooly says:

    “My fence fell down on me” is a classic “Irish bull.”
    I wouldn’t call that an “Irish bull”; it’s like “I’m after having my dinner”, an Irish structure liable to misinterpretation in other dialects. An Irish bull is something like “Priests run in that family” or “and there it was, gone”, where the phrasing is slightly ridiculous but the meaning is clear.
    The “dative of interest” is supposed to be commoner in Ireland, right enough. It does use “on”, as in the TV-melodramatic “don’t die on me”. Possibly “to tell on someone” is similar.
    How would those suffering from non-Hibernicity react to the utterance “you ate the last biscuit on me!”?
    In any case, “I nearly stepped on me a dog” does not conform to the relevant pattern, since the “on” clearly links to the preceding verb rather than (or, just possibly, as well as) to the following pronoun.

  11. Used in this way, the “two word verbs”, as I have seen “phrasal verbs” referred to in textbooks, just don’t sound right.
    Reminds me of reflexive verbs in Spanish, example: gustarse “like”. “I like English” is “Me gusta inglés”, literally, “English pleases me”. Making a verb reflexive can also indicate emotion or change the meaning of the verb.

  12. How would those suffering from non-Hibernicity react to the utterance “you ate the last biscuit on me!”?
    To this regular American it’s not particularly startling. It is reminiscent of such completely non-startling expressions as “you pulled a fast one on me” or “don’t sneak out on me” or “he played a trick on me”.

  13. “He went and died on me” is perfectly normal to me, though I recognize it as dialect. I will say it myself in the right context.
    “He done went and died on me” is too much, though. I’m not sure that it’s even possible; it may mix two non-standard forms which aren’t seen together.

  14. David Marjanović says:

    MECHANIC: SOMEBODY SET UP US
    THE BOMB.
    Sorry, couldn’t resist. Back to the topic: English gets rid of the Standard Average European “emphatic dative” and can only stand the existence of that gaping hole for a few hundred years before it frantically tries to somehow fill it in with the help of almost random pronouns and weird constructions. =8-)

  15. Тэрлэг says:

    He went and died on me
    I would regard this as colloquial, not dialect.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    Crap. Some Adam or other beat me to it at 10:36 am on the LL thread.
    Well, I suppose great minds think alike.

  17. michael farris says:

    Without looking up all the solutions offered at language log, it seems kind of obvious what’s going on.
    I stepped on a dog. + on me (on being the unmarked ‘unexpected’ dative)
    He’s treating ‘stepped on’ as a verb plus prepositional phrase rather than a phrasal verb.
    This gives two consecutive prepositional phrases with the same preposition.
    on the dog + on me
    What could be easier than deleting the second preposition and putting the pronoun in the normal indirect object location (before the direct object).
    on a dog + on me = on me a dog
    note the similarity:
    bought me a dog
    on me a dog
    The same goes for the other two exmaples
    “I need to go look for me a dress”
    “I’m going to the mall to shop for me a dress”
    in both these cases
    for a dress + for me = for me a dress

  18. I think “I nearly stepped me on a dog” is the less odd version, in that it sounds more like it contains a differently-formed “myself”, that is, an indirect object intensifying the subject’s action: “Tired as I was, I got me on a bus and nearly stepped me on a dog.”
    As Daniel points out, Daniel’s friend’s “I nearly stepped on me a dog” sounds more like a differently-formed “myself” that migrated into a prepositional phrase; that is, if the “on” takes the “me”, you’d need another one for the “a dog”: “I nearly stepped on me on a dog”, making the first “on” hard to interpret. In other words, Daniel’s friend is saying ‘I nearly stepped my own foot on a dog’, except that the “my own foot” changed spoken places with “on”.
    A small data-collector: does the friend write “stepped me on a dog”? or “stepped on me a dog”? The difference being between an otiose indirect object and an otiose indirect object crowding into a prepositional phrase, respectively.
    -
    Daniel’s other friend is doing something different, as Daniel seems (to me) to be saying.
    Either a) the “for” is distributive, acting as both indirect-object form-er and as phrasal-verb preposition: “I’m looking/shopping for [me + a dress]“, = “I’m looking/shopping (1) for me [not for Mary] (2) for a dress [not for a purse]“; or b) there’s a missing “for” (in the prescriptivist penalty box for having claimed to be representing the numeral ’4′?).
    This word order is what feels odd to me, because, especially with the beneficient “for”, (2) is usually the information closer to the verb than (1): “I’m looking/shopping for a dress for Mary … no, that’s a lie- actually, it’s for me”.
    I don’t think it’s useful for language describers to blur the distinction between the indirect-object “to/for”s (which are only used depending on word order) and prepositional “to/for”s (always adverbially shepherding their objects), unless, as Daniel’s interest seems to point towards, the existence of this confusion is actually what one is wondering about.
    -
    Daniel’s observations imply, as Mark reports them, that this micro-migration of an indirect object into a prepositional phrase is a regionally normal aspect of sentence formation. Is this effect intended, and if it is, do other Georgians/Floridians bear it out?

  19. I see I’ve cross-posted some of the same analysis as Michael F.
    I’d add (to Michael’s discussion) that the “+ on me” in fact does precede the object of the/a “on”, so that the “me” is interpolative. In other words, it’s “on me +“, as Daniel records the expression- either a) missing an “on” (which preserves the hard-to-interpret “on me” phrase), or b) with “me” having migrated into the “on the dog” phrase.
    -
    And, again, the “for” is easier ‘to distribute’ because it’s actually normal (I’m trying not to say ‘correct’ . . .) with both “me” and “a dress”- so the order of “me” and “a dress” is less problematic than in the ‘to step on’ case.

  20. John E., ‘to step on’ is a phrasal verb, whether in the Newhampshirean-transgressive version (= ‘to tread on’, ‘to crush podally’) or the tamer mere-locative version (= ‘to put a foot where it’s normal for feet to go’).
    You could comfortably interpose an adverb between “step” and “on”, but they do go ‘together’ before, say, other prepositional phrases: “He stepped on the grass under the blue sky on Wednesday.” A prepositional phrase between “stepped” and “on” in this sentence would modify the ‘stepping’: “He stepped with a prance on the grass.”- here, you might even prefer “onto”, if you meant ‘from off of something else’.
    For learners of English as a foreign language, phrasal verbs are a formidable mass of detail– almost opaquely murkily so. One way of spotting someone unusually ‘good at’ picking up English is how comfortable they are with- how little resistance they put up to- grasping (and remembering, if they see/hear it) the difference between, say, ‘to step on’, ‘to step onto’, ‘to step up’, ‘to step up to’, and so on and on.

  21. step on the dog
    step over the dog
    step past the dog
    step around the dog
    Since you can build a series of sentences with different prepositions which vary according to the normal use of the preposition, it doesn’t seem to me that this is unambiguously a phrasal verb.

  22. michael farris says:

    I’d say that phrasal verbs and verbs plus prepositional phrases aren’t discrete categories. There are examples that clearly fit in one or the other and others that are ambiguous to a greater or lesser degree.

  23. I think Michael F. is right here; it’s quite often a smeared line between [verb] + [(adverbial) prepositional phrase] and [verb + preposition] + [object], this latter being the form of a “phrasal verb”.
    Look at ‘to step on’:
    “I stepped on a bug.” There’s nothing idiomatic about this sentence (except in so philosophically far as every meaning of every word is an “idiom”). If you know the literal or most basic meaning of ‘to step’ and ‘on’, they’re simply, or as ‘simply’ as language gets, sequentially meaningful: what did I do? I stepped; where? on a bug.
    But:
    “Don’t step on a punchline!” Now, the literal (is ‘material’ better?) meaning of ‘to step’ and ‘on’ can’t be added together to make present the sentence’s meaning- not without the mind’s metaphor-cobbling (or -tinkering) activity.
    Now:
    “I stepped on a dog.” Does this statement mean your foot transferred much of your weight onto a dog’s ribcage? Or that you barely pressed on a dog’s spine- tripped over it, really, or more likely, kicked it? Or that you stomped on its tail?
    There’s a handful of ways of stepping on something, and, it seems to me, some, or much, of the time, you’ll not use the [verb + preposition + object] group in a plainly literal way (“I stepped on an ember ’til it stopped burning.”).
    Phrasal verb is a way of grasping that there’s a variety of meanings that some particular grouping {verb + preposition + object} has, starting with and stemming from, but not limited to, the sequence of the words’ most literal meanings.
    ‘to step on something’ is metaphorical, where step + on is one idea separate from whatever thing, often enough to consider the ‘to step on’ part a phrasal verb, as I understand things.

  24. My idea is that with usage certain verb-prep combinations become lexicized as a standard combination. For example, “throw up”, which no longer needs an object at all. “I’m going to throw up me a pizza” doesn’t work only because throwing up something isn’t normally an intention or a goal. Perhaps some sort of stunt man, comedian, or fakir might use that expression, though even that’s far fetched.

  25. I think “step on” fails the crucial phrasal verb test: you wouldn’t say “I stepped it on”, only “I stepped on it”.
    ps – “stomp”, for me, has purpose that “step on” doesn’t, so “I nearly stepped on a dog” and “I nearly stomped (on) a dog” aren’t really interchangeable.

  26. Azar classifies phrasal verbs as “separable” and “nonseparable”. Nonseparable verbs include call on, get over, run into, get on (a bus, etc.), get off (a bus, etc.), get in (a car, etc.), get out of (a car, etc.). Separable phrasal verbs include figure out, hand in, hand out, look up, make up, pick up, put down, put off, put on, take off, ….

  27. David Marjanović says:

    I think “I nearly stepped me on a dog” is the less odd version

    Definitely. That’s a kind of emphatic dative that is just barely not possible in German.

    For learners of English as a foreign language, phrasal verbs are a formidable mass of detail– almost opaquely murkily so.

    Except if you come from German (or, I suppose, any other Germanic language). Then the only question becomes which ones are inseparable in which circumstances. :-) “Blow up” being a horrible example.

  28. David, why is blow up horrible? It’s been bothering me for days. You blow up something or you blow something up, just like with German trennbare Verben.

  29. marie-lucie says:

    For learners of English as a foreign language, phrasal verbs are a formidable mass of detail– almost opaquely murkily so. One way of spotting someone unusually ‘good at’ picking up English is how comfortable they are with- how little resistance they put up to- grasping (and remembering, if they see/hear it) the difference between, say, ‘to step on’, ‘to step onto’, ‘to step up’, ‘to step up to’, and so on and on.
    Phrasal verbs were the single most, I wouldn’t say difficult, but disorienting thing I experienced when first encountering English. But once you get the hang of it (which did not take me too long), the creative possibilities are amazing.

  30. You blow up something or you blow something up, just like with German trennbare Verben.
    Nope. Er bläst den Luftballon auf means “he’s blowing up the balloon”, whereas er bläst auf den Luftballon means “he’s blowing on the balloon”.
    Maybe you’re thinking of something like the following. In proper literary German, you would write er bläst den Luftballon, den ihm seine Frau jeden Abend auf den kleinen Mahagonitisch im Flur in unmittelbarer Nähe der Haustür als Übungsgegenstand für den nachfolgenden Begrüßungskuß zwischen ihnen hinlegt, auf (he is blowing up the balloon that his wife lays out for him every evening on the small mahogany table in the corridor in the immediate vicinity of the entrance door, and that he uses to practice the kiss of greeting between them that is to follow).
    I sometimes find this kind of “proper” maximizing-the-distance annoying, although (as I have explained once before) in actual practice there is no problem. Once you hear bläst and Luftballon, you are (unconsciously) pretty sure that auf is coming at some point, because aufblasen is what you do to a balloon.
    That’s not how everyday folk speak, though. The sentence itself is overladen and contrived, but if it were to be said on the street, it would start like this: er bläst den Luftballon auf, den ihm seine Frau jeden Abend ….
    Certain pedantic, fly-wing-pulling writers work this “properness” for all it’s worth, to torment readers. If the husband in the example is not blowing up the balloon, then nicht auf occurs at the very end of the sentence, suddenly inverting what you may have thought the writer was conveying as you read it. A good writer will not do that, but instead write er bläst den Luftballon nicht auf, den seine Frau …. I haven’t convinced the Establishment yet, but I’m working on it. Sloterdijk never overdoes it, but Ulrich Beck for instance sometimes does (Beck, a sociologist, has a vivid, polemic style that I like, so I live with the little annoyances. I just read two of his books).

  31. I said above

    er bläst auf den Luftballon means “he’s blowing on the balloon”

    The accusative in auf den Luftballon makes the German clear, but my “blowing on the balloon” is possibly ambiguous. Someone might think I meant like “blowing on the trumpet”. I should have written “blowing onto the balloon”. It’s a strange thing to do, but that’s life.
    The surrealistic “play on a balloon” as if it were a trumpet, would be er bläst auf dem Luftballon (notice the dative, as in er bläst auf der Trompete).

  32. It’s when you’ve eaten the whole pizza with the whole gallon of mint chip ice cream that you really throw up you a pizza. In chunks. Eheu fugaces — Not!

  33. I, too, thought of ‘balloon’, Grumbly Stu, but in a different way: “He blew up the balloon- until it blew up in his face.”
    Cool- like with inflate and explode, when ‘blow’ and ‘up’ are next to each other, the former is a transitive phrasal verb and gets a direct object, while the latter is (here) intransitive.
    But if you say, “He blew the balloon up,” is it still a party balloon, or a small handful of cat toys?
    -
    “Disorienting” is good, marie-lucie.
    -
    That’s quite a technicolor yawn you threw yourself up, John C.

  34. But if you say, “He blew the balloon up,” is it still a party balloon, or a small handful of cat toys?
    That’s funny, hadn’t thought of it quite like that. I can get almost the same ambiguity in German with in die Luft pusten:
    1) (Er blies den Luftballon auf, und dann) pustete ihn in die Luft (he inflated the balloon, and then blew it away into the air)
    2) (Er blies zu fest in den Luftballon, und dadurch) pustete ihn in die Luft (he blew too hard into the balloon, and so exploded it)
    2) contains a pun on in die Luft jagen (to blow up = destroy by exploding). The cats react differently in each case:
    1.a) Die Katzen setzten sich vor Entsetzen (the cats sat down in dismay)
    2.a) Die Katzen fetzten sich über die Fetzen (the cats fought over the shreds)

  35. David Marjanović says:

    Maybe you’re thinking of something like the following. In proper literary German, you would write [...]

    LOL! You probably wouldn’t, but you could; it’s fully grammatical.
    So, however, is the alternative. I’m not aware of any prescriptivist preferring either.

    (Er blies den Luftballon auf, und dann) pustete ihn

    Word order: (Er blies den Luftballon auf, und) pustete ihn (dann)… The rules know no exceptions: verb first in questions, verb second in independent clauses, verb third in dependent clauses that have denn in the first slot, verb last in all other dependent clauses.
    BTW, pusten is a Germany-only word.
    Sich abfetzen is regional youthspeak for ROTFL, as is sich abhauen… non-reflexive abhauen is a dysphemism for fleeing, like French se déguerpir

  36. The rules know no exceptions: verb first in questions …
    Wir gebärden uns ein wenig preskriptivistisch heute, junger Mann! Es war nicht meine Absicht, Habilitationssyntax zu vermitteln, bis auf das lange, dämliche Beispiel.
    Beachte, daß dann und dadurch am Ende der eingeklammerten Ausdrücke stehen. Diese habe ich bloß zur Erläuterung vorangestellt (daher die Klammern) – künstlich und leicht regelwidrig zwar, was die Position von dann und dadurch angeht. Aber so, habe ich gemeint, kann der geneigte nicht-Deutsche die Unterschiede in den möglichen Bedeutungen von pustete in die Luft leichter nachvollziehen.
    Abgesehen davon, ist die von mir verwendete Wortstellung umgangssprachlich unauffällig. Ich glaube kaum, daß wir es hier mit regionalen Unterschieden zu tun haben, die dir nicht geläufig wären – oder so unerträglich sind, daß du sie in Bausch und Bogen verdammen müßtest. Sicherlich sprichst auch du manchmal nachlässiger, als du schreibst – aber das wird stark davon beeinflußt, mit wem du verkehrst. Vielleicht bin ich klassenübergreifender unterwegs. :-) Im Schriftverkehr muß ich jedenfalls deswegen höllisch aufpassen.
    Wo wir grad beim Thema sind – wie könnte man einen sprachlichen Steckbrief für dich formulieren? Ich habe noch immer nicht so richtig verstanden, ob deine Sprachmuster vorwiegend österreichisch oder bayerisch, oder etwas anderes sind.

  37. Sich abfetzen habe ich im Rheinland nie gehört, glaube ich, nur sich fetzen. Die Formulierung mit ab kommt mir irgendwie “süddeutsch” vor.
    Wenn pusten nur in Deutschland verwendet wird, wie würde man etwa in Österreich sich die Haare aus dem Gesicht pusten ausdrücken, oder die Suppe ist noch zu heiß; puste mal! (Dudenbeispiele)?

  38. marie-lucie says:

    French se déguerpir…
    There is (or was) no se with the verb déguerpir. Perhaps you mean se tailler. I am sure there are other colloquial verbs using se for this meaning (more formally s’enfuir).

  39. David Marjanović says:

    Oops, yes, I just noticed: déguerpir without se. Thanks. When will I finally learn to go to bed instead of commenting in the middle of the night.
    ============================
    I can translate the following on request.
    ============================

    Abgesehen davon, ist die von mir verwendete Wortstellung umgangssprachlich unauffällig.

    Wundert mich sehr, kann ich aber in Wirklichkeit gar nicht beurteilen, weil südlich vom (!) Weißwurstäquator die Mitvergangenheit ausgestorben ist (außer von sein und wollen, mit wolltet als der Ausnahme von der Ausnahme). In der Gegenwart kenne ich tatsächlich niemand, der so redet. In der Vergangenheit… und hat ihn dann [...] gepustet.

    Sicherlich sprichst auch du manchmal nachlässiger, als du schreibst

    [nɐjɒ̈ˈʀen̩tʊɐ̯ɪˈʏvɐhäʊ̯ptˌɒ̈nd̥ɐs]… [vɒ̈sˌhɒ̈stn̩lɛ̞i̯çg̊ːˈläʊb̥t]… =8-)
    Ich habe kein Kontinuum Basilekt-Mesolekt-Akrolekt, sondern strikte Dichoglossie zwischen Dialekt und Schriftsprache. Das heißt jetzt nicht, dass ich in Mitvergangenheit und beiden Konjunktiven spräche, wenn ich in einer Situation bin, wo ich nach der Schrift reden muss, oder dass es mir nicht manchmal zu blöd ist, in einem Blogkommentar den Genitiv zu verwenden, aber es bleibt immer noch ein großer Abstand, nämlich der zwischen “natürlich” und “künstlich”. Die Schriftsprache ist nicht in jedem Sinn des Wortes meine Muttersprache.
    Aber was hier wichtig ist, ist, dass mein Dialekt keine andere Wortreihenfolge hat. “Und dann pustete ihn” löst bei mir eine does not compute-Reaktion aus.
    (Entzifferung: “Naja, reden tu ich überhaupt anders… was hast du leicht [also: denn] geglaubt?”)

    wie würde man etwa in Österreich [...] ausdrücken

    Mit blasen. Bis hin zur Pusteblume, die eine Blasblume ist.

    Ich habe noch immer nicht so richtig verstanden, ob deine Sprachmuster vorwiegend österreichisch oder bayerisch, oder etwas anderes sind.

    Bin aus Linz, mit 11 nach Wien übersiedelt, habe aber den dortigen Mesolekt (den der Großteil meiner Generation als Muttersprache hat) immer als fremd empfunden und nie nachgeahmt. War noch nie in Bayern, außer auf dem Münchner Bahnhof (und 2 Wochen in Solnhofen… aber das ist ja Franken).

  40. Na ja, lassen wir uns lieber nicht darüber streiten, was als “umgangssprachlich unauffällig” zu gelten hat. Ich weiß, was du mit der Position von “dann” und “dadurch” meinst, aber wie gesagt, es war primär ein künstliches Beispiel von mir – obwohl es genug Kölner gibt, die ahnlich salopp reden.
    Mit der Zeit wird mir bei etlichen Beiträgen zu diesem Blog, und bei meinen eigenen zu linguistischen Phänomenen in Deutschland, unangenehm deutlich, wie sehr ich dazu neige, das zu verallgemeinern, was ich hauptsächlich im Köln-Bonner Raum seit 40 Jahren höre und lese, obwohl ich geschäftlich viel unterwegs bin. Dazu kommt zwar eine Menge aus den Medien, aus der Philosophie, Soziologie und Literatur der letzten 300 Jahre, aber wo soll man das alles ansiedeln? Ein richtiges Hundefrühstück. Und ich bin nun einmal in keiner linguistischen Disziplin zuhause.
    I can translate the following on request.
    Vielleicht haben die Leute ihren Spaß daran, mit den Übersetzungs-Websites zu werkeln und an den Texten herumzurätseln. Ich finde es schade, daß nicht mehr Leute außerhalb Deutschlands sich mit Deutsch befassen, ich meine vor allem mit deutscher Literatur und Philosophie im Original. Die Beschäftigung muß nicht tiefschürfend sein, aber da ist eine ganz andere Welt, die man sich erschließen kann. Ich bin froh, daß ich genug Französisch kann, um in deren ganz andere Welt zu blicken. Übersetzungen täuschen Vertrautheit vor.
    Viele werden übrigens mit deinem Beitrag auf Anhieb mehr anfangen, als ich. Ich muß gleich Basilekt, Mesolekt, Akrolekt und Mitvergangenheit nachschlagen :-(

  41. David Marjanović says:

    Mitvergangenheit = Präteritum = “Imperfekt”. Past tense.
    Acrolect, mesolect, basilect. Didn’t mean to imply any creole associations, though.

  42. Thanks, David. Duden tells me that Mitvergangenheit is (österr.). A Bavarian Deutsch in der Volksschule internet site has the following, which I find extremely hard to understand:

    Präteritum – Vergangenheit (D), Mitvergangenheit (A)
       Das Präteritum wird verwendet, wenn man von einer abgeschlossenen,
       vergangenen Handlung spricht
    Perfekt – vollendete Vergangenheit (D); Vergangenheit (A)
       Das Perfekt wird verwendet, wenn die vergangene Handlung
       für die Gegenwart von Bedeutung ist.

    Preterite – past (G), co-past (A)
       The preterite tense is used when one speaks of a terminated action in the past.
    Perfect – completed past (G), past (A)
       The perfect tense is used when the past action is important for the present.

    abgeschlossen and vollendet are in everyday speech almost indistinguishable in meaning (except that only culture-vultures and Jesus would use vollendet. He in fact preferred vollbracht in the given circumstances). But they are used here to distinguish between two very differently structured past tense forms. And what does it mean to imply that the preterite “has no importance for the present”??
    No wonder Germany has such bad Pisa results. I would have left school rather than deal with such mumbo-jumbo.

  43. I said “almost indistinguishable in meaning”, when what I mean is “not worth distinguishing”. I know there is a big-deal theological issue with “perfection”, but to my way of thinking something is perfect when it’s finished, and vice versa, and is not perfect when there’s still something that could be done, and not finished when it’s not perfect.
    Anyway, we’re dealing with materials for a German class, not for the history of medieval ideas.

  44. the present perfect: eternal return of entelechy

  45. Notice they use ‘du’, m-l.

  46. I did, David didn’t. He avoided the addressing issue – which is also an addressing skill.

  47. David Marjanović says:

    He avoided the addressing issue -

    I didn’t even notice. :-| I was just answering questions :-)

    And what does it mean to imply that the preterite “has no importance for the present”??

    They’re actually explaining the English rules. :-o
    …which would still be better than what I was taught in all seriousness (though the teacher never tried to enforce it and never even mentioned it again): that the perfect is used for events that lie farther in the past and the preterite for ones that haven’t been over for that long yet. That was completely made up (and I bet she knew it).
    The only difference in usage between these tenses is consecutio temporum (Zeitenfolge), which could (I’m guessing) have been imported wholesale from Latin: if you narrate in the preterite, you use the past perfect if you need one more level of pastness, while if you narrate in the present, you use the perfect for such cases. So, basically, the preterite ends up being used in writing, and in speaking in northern Germany (because it’s shorter), while the perfect is used in speaking in southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria (where the preterite is extinct in the dialects). I don’t know about central Germany.

  48. David Marjanović says:

    Er, “she” is the teacher.

  49. marie-lucie says:

    Notice they use ‘du’, m-l.
    So what? They were using German.

  50. The only difference in usage between these tenses is consecutio temporum (Zeitenfolge)
    That is exactly what I was thinking, without having the technical terms available.
    There’s a systematic detail here I sometimes still trip up on in German, not in writing but when speaking fast and carelessly. It’s more or less related to consecutio, in the sense that tenses have to be congruent in particular ways. In English I fundamentally use the pattern
    1E.1) I thought he was travelling to Munich tomorrow
    although I might rarely say
    1E.2) I thought he’s travelling to Munich tomorrow.
    In German you never use a 1E.1) pattern:
    1G.1) *ich dachte, er fuhr morgen nach München
    but rather always
    1G.2) ich dachte, er fährt morgen nach München
    It’s funny that when I slip into 1G.1) by accident while speaking, I notice it almost instantaneously, but a half-second too late to prevent. As if I were working at a production belt, and noticed just in time a bad apple that had to be sorted out. The same thing happens with my English, of course.
    It’s things like that, among many others, that have led me to regard speech and writing as being basically parole et écriture automatique, with a sorting and quality-checking station at the end of the line. The speech generator produces pretty much any kind of semantic output, of its own accord. You can roughly describe syntactic aspects of the output when it appears, but can’t predict it with precision, for the purpose of controlling it – just as you can’t do with other kinds of behavior.

  51. David Marjanović says:

    In German you never use a 1E.1) pattern:
    1G.1) *ich dachte, er fuhr morgen nach München

    I have always interpreted 1E.1) as modern for “I thought he were travelling…”. And that’s something you can (…just… barely…) say in German:
    ich dachte, er führe morgen nach München.
    However, that means you want to make explicit he won’t go there, and nobody talks like that. Not even with würde fahren instead of the deliciously irregular vowel-contorted führe.

    So what? They were using German.

    German doesn’t differ much from French in this respect.

  52. David Marjanović says:

    Importantly, no tense or consecutio temporum is involved in my example; it’s indicative vs subjunctive (“past subjunctive”, Konjunktiv II).

  53. marie-lucie says:

    (du) German doesn’t differ much from French in this respect
    Perhaps, but I am not qualified to comment on German uses.

  54. In German you never use a 1E.1) pattern:

        1G.1) *ich dachte, er fuhr morgen nach München

    I have always interpreted 1E.1) as modern for “I thought he were travelling…”. And that’s something you can (…just… barely…) say in German:

    ich dachte, er führe morgen nach München.

    However, that means you want to make explicit he won’t go there, and nobody talks like that.

    ***********
    I don’t necessarily interpret 1E.1) “I thought he was travelling” as implying that he won’t go there, or as myself raising doubts about it. In any case, “I thought he were travelling” at the beginning of a sentence does not compute. It would have to start with “if”: “If I thought he were travelling tomorrow, then …”. Glaubte ich, er führe morgen, so … .
    A slightly different example may make my point with the 1E) sentences clearer:
       2E.1) I just knew he was travelling to Munich tomorrow – a moment ago I saw the train tickets on his desk!
    The imagined background of this sentence is: “he had been denying that he planned to go to Munich, but now I have evidence to the contrary – he’s going after all, just as I thought!”. I myself might use “is travelling” in the following equivalent sentence, but it’s not my habit to talk like that (as revealed to me by introspective deployment of these sentences):
       2E.2) I just knew he’s travelling to Munich tomorrow – a moment ago I saw the train tickets on his desk!
    The natural German equivalent would be
       2G.1) Habe ich doch gewußt, daß er morgen nach München fährt – gerade sah ich die Zugfahrkarten auf seinem Schreibtisch liegen!
    To turn that into the following sentence 2G.2) would be extremely stilted, maybe even wrong. For me not to use it, it suffices to know that it sounds stilted. It even sounds wrong to me, but I’m no expert on the contents of the rule books in some Mannheim safety-vault. I claim a certain competence primarily in what one can reasonably say, what one should preferably avoid saying, and what might be more intelligible, or more elegant. or more vulgar etc. to say.
       2G.2) *Habe ich doch gewußt, daß er morgen nach München führe …
    The following does not compute, for sure:
       2G.3) *Habe ich doch gewußt, daß er morgen nach München fuhr …
    But you could say these sentences (which of course have slightly different connotations):
       2G.4) Habe ich doch gewußt, daß er nach München fahren wollte morgen …
       2G.5) Habe ich doch gewußt, daß er morgen nach München fahren würde …

  55. David Marjanović says:

    It even sounds wrong to me

    To me too.
    2G.4 has a word order that is acceptable in my dialect if you didn’t think of the morgen soon enough and add it as an afterthought, after a short pause (thinking of it soon enough is still preferred, I’d say); in the standard it’s just wrong.

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