VI: 2007-08
Upstate Pronunciations. Gotta have at least one weird-pronunciation post; they’re always popular. Don’t forget, Shawangunk is “Shongum”!
Modulo. Very educational.
Pace. Over a hundred comments on this inoffensive little word!
Etymology in Proust. This complaint/query got some amazingly thoughtful and thought-provoking comments.
More Translation Wars. In which I complain about Pevear and Volokhonsky (and Sam Tanenhaus of the NYT).
Normal. A complex word history.
Carrick. An obscure word produced a great discussion, worth it just to learn about the brilliant Boodberg, who destroyed all his manuscripts.
Proust: The Summing Up. First off, the book is too damn long.
Pushkin and Nabokov. Bathrobe found this detailed analysis tedious, but I remain unrepentant.
Chakobsa. The secret language of Circassian hunters, with much useful and entertaining discussion.


  1. Don’t know what day is best for saying congrats and thank you, so I’ll just choose this one…thanks for being here all these years, and here’s to many more!

  2. It’s commenters like you who keep me going, and thank you for leaving a message on this lonely post!

  3. Yes. Although it’s been said many times, many ways: thank you Languagehat.
    Now, I have a question, or rather AJP posed a question elsewhere–
    incidentally, it occurred to me to ask during the five minutes it took me to type that verb, why are there no pro-verbs, only pronouns
    and I thought that rather than just reply to him with some lame pun about proverbs I would turn the question over to you and your varied readers. In more detail:
    Personal pronouns serve as stand-ins for nouns or noun phrases. They can save you a little time and space, since they are generally shorter than the things they stand for. Are there languages that offer similar labor-saving stand-ins for verbs or verb phrases?
    1. I don’t mean to imply that economy is the only advantage of pronouns.
    2. I am half expecting that someone will point to some sense I am failing to think of in which English can be said to offer “labor-saving stand-ins for verbs or verb phrases”.

  4. Empty, your expectation is fulfilled. Do is a pro-verb in “He can’t see how discussions on blogs can possibly help to clarify one’s own thinking, but I do.”

  5. Thanks, John. Certainly “do” does some of that.
    By the way, I think that “do” stands for “can” in your example, which for me is a little fishy. Or maybe it stands for “see”. Either way, I don’t think this is the best example.
    But this pro-verb isn’t nearly as flexible as a pronoun, is it? Crown’s example was something like “I have no objection to anthropomorphizing squirrels; what I mind is anthropomorphizing God as a white man with a white beard.” It seems to me that in most cases there is no routine way of avoiding the repetition of a verb. But then, the more I look at it, the same seems to apply to nouns, too. Hmmm …

  6. dearieme says

    “like” has become a pro-verb among the air-headed classes. As in: I’m like see you tomorrow.

  7. As I understand it, “I’m like ‘see you tomorrow'” means “I said ‘see you tomorrow'”.
    But, dearieme, I don’t think that’s what you mean. I am guessing that you are saying that some people say “I’m like see you tomorrow” where you or I would say “I’ll see you tomorrow” or “I’m gonna see you tomorrow”. I have not observed this myself, but if that’s what you mean then I think that this ‘like’ is an auxiliary verb or a modal verb–not what I meant by “pro-verb”.

  8. marie-lucie says

    Pronouns are far more common than “pro-verbs” because it is much more common to have to refer to several actions by or on the same person (using a pronoun to avoid having to repeat the noun referring to the person), than to the same action repeated by several persons (in which case a plural form of the verb makes it unnecessary to use a “pro-verb”. In most cases, if it is necessary to repeat a verb, it is replaced by another verb with a very general meaning, such as do.
    (I used examples of personal pronouns, but there are other pronouns replacing nouns or phrases indicating location, time, etc: there, then, etc).

  9. Trond Engen says

    I thought I was alone in claiming that words like then and there are pronouns.

  10. Bathrobe says

    JC is right, ‘do’ is usually regarded pro-verb in English. The other device is omission.
    He can’t see how discussions on blogs can possibly help to clarify one’s own thinking, but I can [see how discussions on blogs can possibly help to clarify one’s own thinking].
    As you can see, not only the verb but the entire sentence is omitted as understood, so it’s not a pro-verb function in the sense that you’re looking for.
    I haven’t got the foggiest idea what you’re talking about and neither do you [have the foggiest idea what you’re talking about].
    Again, ‘do’ in a sense stands in for the whole lot, although the grammar is clearly not simply a substitution, given that you could say the whole sentence using both the ‘do’ and ‘know what you’re talking about’ at the same time.
    I kicked him in the balls and she in the stomach. This is omission of the verb alone which satisfies your condition of being a pro-verb, but is quite painful grammatically (in fact I would say almost ungrammatical). Note the different meaning from I kicked him in the balls and her in the stomach, which is much better grammatically.
    All in all, I think the idea of just replacing the verb in a structure is a much less ‘natural’ and straightforward operation linguistically than replacing a noun. A verb takes only so many arguments and replacing them with placeholders seems a reasonably straightforward (maybe even ‘instinctive’ in some sense) thing to do. In fact, it’s hard to regard ‘I’ and ‘you’ as substitutions for nouns at all. Grammatically speaking, ‘I love you’ can’t seriously be seen as substituting pronouns for nouns in, say, ‘Bathrobe loves Ø’ — just an example, calm down! They are two different sentences.
    On the other hand, just replacing the verb and leaving all the nominals intact is more like an operation in formal logic and harder to carry off in normal (spoken) language. The more normal route seems to be to use a pro-form (‘do’ or omission) for the entire predicate — which is possibly why the ‘subject-predicate’ formulation of sentence structure sprang into being in the first place.
    Just musing here. I’m sure marie-lucie could give a more coherent explanation.

  11. Well, m-l was in there before I even finished typing my response! And much more succinct, too!

  12. Bathrobe says

    I err. I kicked him in the balls and she in the stomach omits not only the verb ‘kicked’ but also the pronoun ‘him’. It’s impossible to say I kicked him in the balls and she him in the stomach’, which would be pure verb dropping. I kicked him in the balls and she did him in the stomach is likewise unacceptable.

  13. Oops, bad italic placement there. Should have been:
    It’s impossible to say I kicked him in the balls and she him in the stomach, which would be pure verb dropping.

  14. Blow me down! Thanks for this, Ø, and for all your answers.
    Birdbath points out some problems with substituting ‘do’ for a another verb, do you linguists know whether ‘pro-verbs’ are better used in other languages?
    I didn’t mean to highjack this post, I haven’t even read the links yet.

  15. Yes, I was too hasty when I wrote “personal pronouns”: third-person personal pronouns are the only ones in question here, and other pronouns such as that and (if you count them as pronouns) when and where should be included.

  16. Gou Tongzhi says

    Indeed, LanguageHat, thank you for a decade of erudition and rationality on the web. This site really ought to be required reading in all universities around the world – not just for the fascinating academic content, but as an example of how to write impassioned yet entirely reasonable arguments.

  17. Thank you! I’m glad I waited until I was, well, let’s say “of mature age” before I started blogging, because in my green youth I often let my passions get the better of my reason even when I thought I was being reasonable.

  18. marie-lucie says

    Trond: I thought I was alone in claiming that words like then and there are pronouns.
    Well, this is a little tricky, because they are commonly regarded as adverbs. But they replace adverbs and prepositional phrases, so they could be called “pronominal adverbs” or “adverbial pronouns”. I don’t know what Pullum & Huddleston’s monumental grammar of English says.
    Ø : pronouns such as “that” and (if you count them as pronouns) “when” and “where” should be included.
    That (in one of its functions) is a pronoun, able to replace a noun phrase or a whole sentence (“I know that“). When and where can be called “interrogative pronouns” (the traditional term) or simply “WH-words”, a name which avoids the question of their actual nature!
    Bathrobe: I love you vs Bathrobe loves X
    I and you behave like noun-phrases, and therefore they can be said to “replace” nouns, or rather names (a subclass of nouns). Small children still acquiring language will say Susie love MommyI rather than I love you, since I is especially difficult for them.
    Pragmatically, I and you (or equivalents) are different from other pronouns since their referents change with every turn of every encounter: the speaking one vs the listening one.
    Bathrobe: You can’t do X, but I can.
    What is omitted is not just a verb, nor an entire sentence, but a verb phrase (= verb + arguments following the verb). When there is an auxiliary in the sentence (can, must, etc), the auxiliary stays, since (according to Chomskyan grammar) it is not a member either of the initial noun phrase (replaceable by a personal pronoun) or the verb phrase. Where there is no auxiliary (eg can) in the complete sentence, the verb phrase of the incomplete one can be replaced by do, which acts both as a verb in its own right and as a default auxiliary where required by English structure (where an auxiliary is obligatory in interrogative and negative sentences, and default do is optional for emphasis in declarative ones).
    When only the verb of the verb phrase is omitted in the repetition, along with its subject noun phrase, it is not replaced, as in: I took Kenny to the daycare and Susie to the zoo.
    Things do become more problematic when the omitted verb has more than one argument, as in Bathrobe’s examples.
    It’s impossible to say “I kicked him in the balls and she him in the stomach”, which would be pure verb dropping.
    Yes, because you can’t just “drop” the verb, you have to drop the parts of the original verb phrase that remain the same, so you must drop him.
    “I kicked him in the balls and she did him in the stomach” is likewise unacceptable.
    Yes, because any form of do replaces the whole verb phrase, not just the verb.
    If you drop kicked him (which is only a part of the verb phrase) then you get the other example: I kicked him in the balls and she in the stomach, which is problematic for a different reason : formally, this sentence should be OK, but I think that the problem here is that in in the [body part], the (acting as a default possessive) is assumed to indicate a part of the person referred to by the preceding personal pronoun, whether him or she. Kicked him in the balls is unambiguous, but in the stomach after she inclines the reader towards the interpretation that the stomach belongs to she rather than to the previously mentioned him, an interpretation precluded by the nominative she. The reader is left confused (at least for a while) about what is going on in the second half of the sentence. With different words, the same sentence structure is unambiguous, as in He saw him at the zoo and she at the theatre, since the here is not interpretable as possessive.

  19. If you drop kicked him
    I misread this as “if you drop-kicked him”, seemingly a football expression, and couldn’t make head or tail of the meaning of the rest of the sentence, but was impressed by m-l’s use of it anyway.

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