Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Gapless Relatives

Every once in a while, I drop in to Language Log to see what is occupying the minds of some of the more energetic linguists amongst us. The posts can be quite topical and informative, such as the distinction between Myanmar and Burma. A few of the more patient contributors answer questions posed by their comparatively less educated readers. One such recent response left me completely mystified. I could not detect an answer within the answer but I did come across the phrase "gotten commoner."

Gotten commoner?

This is common 21st century English usage?

(By the way, if anyone discovers the answer to the original question within that answer, please let me know.)

(Welcome Rain in the Doorway readers!)


Hector Owen said...

As if I had readers! But thanks. I always enjoy your contributions at Althouse. Now that I have found that you have your own place on the Web, I'll be back.

If I had to try to describe "the answer to the original question within that answer," I'd be inclined to call it embarrassed parataxis (a word which I know only because I posted about it on Wednesday). In other words, the speaker has found himself trying to tie two sentences together into one, but is unable to do it on the fly, and so throws into the middle any relative linker that comes to mind, in an (unsuccessful) effort to make the sentence sound as if it had been planned in advance. If that sentence had been planned, it would have been more like "How can we provide a service that makes the consumer say, 'Wow, you really made this easier for me’?"

"Gotten commoner" is careless usage for a language professional, who you would want to say "become more common." Comparatives used to be taught in grade school, that it was clear that if there was no commonest, there wasn't any commoner. This whole paragraph is an effort to do that grammatical thing, that I'm not at all sure that I have accomplished [it].

Oh, and one more thing: "This is common 21st century English usage?" Gettin' commoner all the time.

Randal Rogers (I. Ronin) said...

Thanks for responding, Hector. That's what I was thinking but it seems the responder had other thoughts (which, whether or not they were with regard to spoken language, didn't seem any better to me than "gotten commoner"). I may some day write to him and ask for a clarification. Perhaps I am missing the whole point of language log itself, as I believe he is the organizer.

As to blog readership, unless yours is consistently smaller than the number of digits on one hand, I think I can safely say that yours is much greater than mine ;-)