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Baring the Grammatical Underbelly of a Hypercorrection

One of the most egregious cases of hypercorrection (hyperurbanism) in contemporary English on both sides of the Atlantic is the failure of speakers and writers to use the objective case of personal pronouns after prepositions. This is what is at stake when one hears an educated speaker of American English, a female Time magazine writer, uttering in an interview (NPR, “Morning Edition,” January 10, 2014) the solecism “between she and Ben Bernanke” (speaking of Janet Yellen, the Chairwoman-Designate of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System). Is there an explanation?

Perhaps the substitution of the subjective case for the normative objective here is a sign of the prominence that the speaker has assigned to the person designated by the pronoun in this sentence, in the specific context of its juxtaposition to the name of a male. The use of the correct pronoun her in this context would have lowered the importance that the speaker wishes to insinuate of Yellen as compared to Bernanke, given that the former is being elevated to the rank of the latter. The objective case is hierarchically not as highly-valued as the subjective, since subject is always necessarily more germane than object. Hence placing the normative objective case form her in initial position in the syndetic phrase between A and B would have devalued  the referent (A) vis-à-vis its counterpart (B) in the binomial portion of the phrase. The subjective case form of the personal pronoun, while flying in the face of its grammatical position after a preposition, restores and foregrounds the importance of the actual person denoted deictically. In other words, here person trumps case in the teeth of the resultant ungrammaticality.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

One Response to “Baring the Grammatical Underbelly of a Hypercorrection”

  • Brandi Lyons says:

    Interesting. It never occurred to me that the objective case is hierarchically of lower value than the subjective, but you are right.

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