The next day I attended a second year linguistics class which I believe was a prerequisite for one of the classes I was in the day before. It was on Linguistic Theory & Analysis, and was the first class that really made me feel like I had probably missed most of a term, and possibly a prerequisite, too. The professor is British, with wild woolly hair and his pet gesture is to rub his hands together at the breastbone level. He's wearing old jeans and a zippered sweatshirt. He starts by reviewing something about clauses and "DP"s from last class. Based on the answers he solicits from the class, no one who was there understands it either. He draws a diagram.Xmax
Xmax --> (spec) X'
X' --> X (comp)
He states that "wh-phrases are in complementary distribution with complementizers in C," and "wh-phrases form a dependency with a gap further down the tree." From subsequent context I divine that wh-phrases are subordinate clauses such as "which I saw" "when the clock strikes" and "whether I like beets." His examples don't include anything like "whom I saw" because apparently linguists are hip to language change and prove it by eschewing moribund subordinate conjunctions.Specifier is the subject, complement the predicate or possibly a subordinate clause or both, and I think C is short for complement. He compared:
I wonder [whether [he said [he was going to take that path.]]]
I wonder [which path [he said [he was going to take.]]]
Someone could say "he said he was going to take which path" so this theory of grammar imagines that "which path" has moved from the end up to near the beginning leaving a gap. Except that they pretend that it hasn't actually moved, but exists in both places at once. You just can't hear them both. I'm serious. That's what "The specifier and the head of the projection may not be simultaneously phonologically overt," means. And that's an actual quotation from the lecture. "Grammaticians (grammaticists?) say that evidence for the movement includes echo questions like "he said he was going to take which path?" and multiple wh-questions like "who was going to take which path?" In English only one wh-phrase can occupy the head position, so we don't say "Who where what ate?" unless we are being deliberately silly, but in Romanian and all the Slavic languages except Russian, that's a perfectly acceptable way to ask questions when there is more than one thing you don't know about a situation.
This pretending you have an unpronounced copy lurking at another point in the sentence apparently helps to unify language analysis. It's part of Chomskian contrast of the deep structure and the surface structure. Sentences that mean the same thing have the same deep structure and ones that are constructed the same way have the same surface structure and you hypothesize movements and rules to relate them. I really enjoy being dumped into the middle of something and having to put together what is going on from clues and guessing. But I also enjoy stability and regularity. I should be happy anywhere, then, right?
We did more stuff with trees, specifiers and complements. The professor pointed out that verbs don't get to define anything about their subjects, but the verb can have restrictions on what kind of complements it has. Apparently the absence of object expletives and of idioms with a free object but a lexically idiosyncratic subject is evidence supporting this.
I tried to read a library book on Chomskian grammar, that promised to explain the trees, but it was dulltastically unreadable and I put it back on the shelf.
I tried to come up with an example where you could possibly be confused if someone said who when your dialect called for whom. The best I could come up with was the two distinct questions:
Who did John wrong?
Whom did John wrong?
It's not the greatest, because both the verb "to wrong" and the expression "to do someone wrong" are bordering on archaic themselves. I believe that a speaker who did not use whom would distinguish them by stress and the rhythm of the sentence:
------------------------------ (very level tone)
Who DID JOHN WRONG
/ / (rising on who and wrong)
WHO did John wrong?
When someone I expect to use whom (like a university professor or an erudite character on a television show) doesn't use it, I find it mildly distracting. But I suppose there are more people who find it distracting when the word does show up. I don't think there's a problem with different people speaking the same language and having slightly different pronoun systems, though. What do y'all think?