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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

168                The Loom of Language
and ih came from The \Jie probably came from the Old English
demonstrative seo (that) /ft was a later innovation The 1611 edition of
the English Bible uses 7/w ior things and males This pronoun is a good
example of analogical extension The fiist person to use it was an
Italian in 1598 Englishmen adopted it during the seventeenth century
Though personal pronouns have retained more of the old flexions
than any other class of English words, and therefore account for a large
proportion of common errors of English speech catalogued in the
grammar books used thirty years ago, we now use only seventeen to
do the work of thn ty-livc distinct forms m Old English In one way,
the use of the pronouns is still changing Throughout the English-
speaking world, people commonly use they in speech to avoid invidious
sex discrimination, or the roundabout expression he or she. Similarly,
them is common m speech for him or her, and their for his or her. Prob-
ably the written language will soon assimilate the practice, and gram-
marians will then say that they> thern9 and their arc common gender
singular., as well as plural forms of the third person.
We can aheady foresee changes which must come, even if rational
arguments ior language-planning produce no effect Headmasters and
headmistresses no longer bother so much about whether we should say
the committee meets and the committee disagree, whether we need be more
circumspect than Shakespeare about when we use who or whomf whether
it is low-bred to say these sort and these kind, whether it h useful to pre-
serve a niche for the archaic dual-plural distinction by insisting on the
comparative better in preference to the superlative ben of the two, or
whether it is improper to use me in preference to the "possessive adjec-
tive** when we say* do you object to my khsing you?
The conventions of syntax change continually by the process of
analogical extension We use word forms because we are accustomed
to use them m a similar situation Thus our first impulse is to use were
for was in the sentence, a large group of children was watting at the
clinic. Whatever old-fashioned grammarians may say about the correct
use of was and were when the subject is the "collective" noun group*
most of us yield to the force of habit and use were for the simple reason
that it is usual for were to follow children. Since we get used to saying
know rather than knows after youy most of us say none of you know3
unless we have time for a grammatical post-mortem on the aggluti-
native contraction not one - none. So we may be quite certain that
everyone will soon look on none of you knows as pedantic archaism*
Habits formed in this way give us some insight into the meaningless