In Defence of the Nominative Me


In many registers of spoken English, it has become acceptable usage to say “me and you did this,” etc, that is, using “me,” typically the accusative or dative form of “I,” in the nominative, though only when there is more than one subject. It is rarely said “me did this,” because these rules tend to make themselves, so that “me” can only occur in the nominative case when there’s more than one subject.

A not-so-fun consequence of changes in the rules of language is that many people tend to assume that the world is falling to pieces because people don’t talk like them any more, etc. The nominative me, I think, has had one of the roughest treatments in this regard. Alongside the general misunderstanding that language stays the same throughout eternity and should not be meddled with, is the more specific misunderstanding in this case that says that the nominative me is not only a novum (though I would mention “methinks,” which originated as a dative — “it seems to me” — and later acted something like a nominative attached to a verb), but that it is ruled out simply because it only makes sense with multiple subjects. That is, as I said above, it is much less common across the different Englishes to say “me did this.” Therefore, the critics say, neither is “me and you did this” acceptable.

While I don’t think the second objection needs to be addressed at all–I differ from the critics in that language rules are set by usage, not fiat–for the sake of dialogue, I would point to another accepted use of the accusative-dative for the nominative in English that is policed not nearly as much, usually only in formal writing, if that. That is in the context of a comparison, using words like “than” or “like.” For example, it now accepted widespread to say “he cooks toast better than me,” as opposed to “he cooks toast better than I” (though that still crops up, but might sound forced in certain registers). Even better, “nobody cooks toast as well as us,” I am guessing, is preferred almost 100% of the time to “nobody cooks toast as well as we,” which is actually “correct” if these critics were consistent, because people rarely say “us cook toast” in place of “we cook toast.” This last point might be further argued that it is better to say “nobody cooks toast as well as we do.” But, I hope that by this point you’ve seen the unnecessity of it all.

I could further point to “whom,” our dative-accusative for “who,” which is on its way out, and words that have already long gone, for example, dative and accusative forms of personal names and other nouns (we still have the genitive, usually indicated with the ‘s). There is no need to create an arbitrary rule (the nominative me could only be used as such if it could form a singular subject as well as one of multiple subject). And unless you are following a specific style guide that requires adherence to particular rules for the sake of clarity, etc (and which should be updated at least annually to account for changes in formal registers, and also which are to be contested), there’s no need to complain.


Follow-up on the Clod-God Split in NZE

This is a follow-up of my earlier post, The Possibility of Rhyming ‘Clod’ and ‘God’, in which I claimed there was a split between the words “clod” and “god” in NZ English, as many other Englishes pronounce them with the same vowel length. Since then I have had replies ranging from “That’s not how I say it,” so that I have learnt of NZE speakers who do not differentiate between vowel length in the two words, to “That’s how I say it too,” so that I have found at least one speaker of Australian English (Adelaide) who makes the same distinction. I’m sure that’s reasonably widespread and would be interested in seeing some hard data.

Moreover, I just met the Otago University linguist, Dr. Simon Overall, in the tearoom and asked him for his opinion. He first of all affirmed that he could hear the distinction in NZE, and second of all informed me of another distinction that he had noticed, that between add and Dad, where add takes the short and Dad the longer vowel in NZE. Other rhyming words I can think of also take the short vowel, such as clad and had, and yet others the longer, such as sadmad, and bad!

This means that the role that the following consonant plays is diminished, whereas in my earlier post I had assumed that words that shared the same consonant endings generally had the same vowel length. Other factors are at work. Dr. Overall suggested that the trend may have something to do with frequency of usage. More frequently used words are more likely to experience an elongated pronunciation. Looking at some of the words on RhymeZone, I’m wondering if in this case it has something to do with word class. Of the words I recognise, I tend to pronounce nouns and adjectives with a longer vowel than verbs. One exception may be ad, though I can’t seem to figure out if I pronounce it with a long or short vowel, or either, context dependent. Some words change in different forms too. I pronounce grad with a long vowel but graduate (noun) and graduate (verb) both with a short vowel in the first syllable, albeit with different final syllables. However, I pronounce mad with a long vowel, as well as its repetition in constructions and words like madman and Mad Hatter.

The Possibility of Rhyming “Clod” and “God”

Image from Pixabay

Moltmann is fond of quoting a couplet penned by Robert Browning in the nineteenth century. It reads:

For the loving worm within its clod
Were diviner than a loveless God

The first time I read this, however, I was confused. In what world do clod and God rhyme? Possibly in the world of nineteenth century England, and likely in living dialects today. For example, I noticed last night when my wife was watching “Call the Midwife,” in season six which is set in the sixties, that one of the characters pronounced God with the same vowel sound as that of clod. The OED lists the vowel sounds in each as identical: in British and American /klɒd/ and /klɑd/, and /ɡɒd/ and /ɡɑd/.

But in the NZ English I know and love, this is not the case. A related difference is recognised by the US Merriam Webster, which has \ˈkläd\ and then  \ˈgäd\, but also \ˈgȯd\ as a secondary pronunciation. According to their pronunciation guide, ä designates the bother and cot vowel, whereas ȯ the saw, gnaw, and caught vowel. But neither does this apply to NZ English, expect in cases where “gawd” is used, which if anything indicates a pronunciation not typical in NZ English. While I don’t have any formal linguistic training–so that my interpretation might not be spot on here–I understand the difference in clod and God in NZ English to be one of vowel length. The vowel is slightly longer in God in the same sense as park is not pronounced identical to puk. A better example:

Don’t put the spanner beside the bonnet;
Put it on it.

The vowel sound in bonnet and on is the same as that of clod in NZ English. Yet because I have added italics for emphasis in this couplet, a couplet that would otherwise likely rhyme, the vowel sound in bonnet differs from that of on. The latter is lengthened, similar to the way that clod differs in pronunciation from God in NZ English. There are other words like this too. As far as my ears are concerned, Todd and rod, body and shoddy, lot and bot, rock and hock, doff and Hasselhoff, dodge and lodge, for example, take the short vowel, whereas hog and bog, and scone (as a noun but not as a verb) take the long vowel. The special significance of clod and God is that they share the same final consonant but differ in their vowel length.

Some questions follow:

  1. Is this the NZ English that you know and love, or does Browning’s couplet rhyme for you? If you are not a speaker of NZ English and they yet don’t rhyme then I would especially love to hear from you.
  2. Under what historical circumstances did this change take place? My guess is that liturgical or everyday reverential pronunciation of God contributed to the lengthening of its vowel sound. But that’s just a guess. In reality I have no idea. It is notable that the plural gods for me does not either rhyme with clods. If the liturgical thesis is correct then the pronunciation of the singular God would have been transferred to the plural as well.

New Zealand English 4


This is the fourth post in a series on Hay, Maclagan, and Gordon’s New Zealand English.

In the fourth chapter, the authors explore NZE vocabulary and related discourse features. Already in the 1679 visit of James Cook to Aotearoa (New Zealand), Māori words such as pā were adopted into the English language. Up until about 1860 though, NZE stopped most of its borrowing from Māori. It wasn’t until the 1970s that new borrowings began again on a larger scale. Māori loanwords can be sorted into three categories: flora and fauna (tōtara and kiwi), society and culture (haka and marae), and proper nouns (mostly place names, such as Whakatāne). (Unfortunately the authors do not use macrons, which I have inserted here. This is perhaps due to how they are represented in NZE, but this does not account for increasing recognition of macrons on the part of speakers of NZE). From the 1970s onwards, new words like Aotearoawaka, and tangata whenua.

In NZE, various loanwords took on new pronunciations. Waka, for example, often rhymes with NZE rocker rather than NZE sucker. Some place names were shortened. In Canterbury, for example, many speakers of NZE refer to the Waimakariri River as the Waimak, rhyming with back. It is also common to make Māori nouns plural by adding an S to the end, whereas in Māori the plural is indicated by the preceding article or the context. We do not speak of many Māoris but many Māori. The authors note that while innovations such as this are typical of the lives of loanwords, some have also criticised these innovations as insensitive to Māori culture. This is fair and I think the authors would have done well to provide a slightly more extended comment here.

NZE has also borrowed from Australian English. Borrowings include skite (to boast, or someone who boasts), and hard case (“someone who has a big personality, may do unusual things but basically is a real laugh.”). NZers show preference for some American words over British ones: guys over fellowsmuffler over silencertruck over lorry.

It is not only from external sources that NZE has developed. Languages develop internally too. Unique internal vocabulary developments include words like freezing works, number eight wire, and sausage sizzle. Speakers of NZE show a preference for suffixing words with a -y or -ie, such as in chippy. Speakers of Aus. E. tend to suffix with an -o, such as in smoko, which has also been borrowed by NZers. Slang words include dag (“a lock of wool clotted with dry manure on the rear end of a sheep” [p.80]), cop shop (police station), and Ashvegas (Ashburton a town in Canterbury). I would be interested in learning more about the role of slang among different demographics in NZE, as I wasn’t sure how much a strong distinction could be erected between slang and other language. Although the authors don’t erect such a distinction, neither was it confronted.

Two words used frequently in discourse by some speakers of NZE are eh, more prevalent among Māori, and like, prevalent among young women but not especially unique to NZE. “Yeah, I don’t know eh.” “Like no one does that any more.”

New Zealand English 2


This is the second post in a series on Hay, Maclagan, and Gordon’s New Zealand English.

After addressing consonants and vowels, i.e., segmental features, features pertaining to a single segment in a word, the authors move on to suprasegmental features. These still concern how New Zealand English (NZE) sounds. They belong to phonetics and phonology, rather than the study of vocabulary or grammar. But these features “usually span more than one segment” (27).

First, the authors address NZE intonation. One distinctive feature of NZE intonation is the High Rising Terminal (HRT). Many speakers of NZE will raise their intonation where speakers of other Englishes would only do so when asking a question. Initially, researchers interpreted the use of HRTs in NZE as signs of uncertainty. However, recent research has shown that they are best interpreted in terms of politeness: “HRTs … do function as questions, but not questions asking for information. Rather they function as questions that are checking that the speaker really is giving the information that the listener wants, and that the listener understands what the speaker is saying” (28).

Another suprasegmental feature is stress. In English, stress often falls on certain syllables in different words and sentences. Most words will have the same syllable stressed each time and the meaning can change according to where the stress lies. We buy produce (noun) but we produce (verb) things. This stress differentiation between noun and verb is not consistent in English, though in NZE some other words seem to be merging. We have imports and we import iron. (Others, including other speakers of NZE, will say we import iron).

Finally, the English language is stress-timed. “Stressed syllables occur at approximately equal time intervals … This can be seen most clearly in poetry or nursery rhymes, where different numbers of syllables take up the same time”: The authors give the example of Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Even though there are two syllables between sat and wall, they take up the same amount of time as the single syllable between Hump and Dump. However, NZE is less stress-timed than British English, as can be seen for example in giving fuller pronunciation to syllables often unstressed in British English. This is perhaps due to the influence of Māori, which is a syllable-timed language, having roughly equal time intervals between syllables rather than between stressed syllables.

NZE also currently looks to be undergoing sound changes. The authors note a number of these but I will only address a few. The hw sound in white and which has for many NZers become simply a sound. For other NZers, the two th sounds, in words like thumb and thing on the one hand and then words like this and the on the other, are being pronounced as fs and vs, respectively. Many NZers now pronounce words like grown and thrown with two syllables, whereas in British English they rhyme with groan and throne.

New Zealand English by Jennifer Hay, Margaret Maclagan, and Elizabeth Gordon


Over the holiday period I thought I’d dip into some books on New Zealand English (NZE). After Q & Eh: Questions and Answers on Language with a Kiwi Twist, I have found Hay, Maclagan and Gordon’s more formal introduction to be quite accessible to the non-specialist.

After introducing the reader to the geographical and historical context of NZE in the first chapter, the second chapter focusses on the distinctive phonetic and phonological features of NZE. (I still haven’t quite grasped the distinction between phonetics and phonology, but see the discussion here).

The authors begin with consonants in NZE. First, NZE is mostly non-rhotic, with some exceptions. That is, R is only usually pronounced before vowels. We do not pronounce it in hear but we do in hearing. Yet, we will pronounce it when the following word begins with a vowel: “I hear a mouse.” This is called a linking R. Interesting, NZers overcompensate here so that what has been called the intrusive R is also very common. Rs that would not be there in rhotic varieties of English, such as General American or Scottish Standard English, appear between words ending and beginning with vowels in NZE. “Rebecca and Megan” is often pronounced “Rebecca(R)and Megan.”

The consonant T also finds interesting expression in NZE. Where it is the final sound in a word it is often expressed with a glottal stop, i.e., the stopping sound you hear between the two syllables in “Uh-oh.” Its most famous English expression is possibly in the Cockney pronunciation of butter as “buh-uh.” In NZE though, you can often hear it at the end of words like “but.” This is not always the case though. Some may still pronounce the T, yet even those who otherwise provide a glottal stop may make something like a D sound (not exactly though) if the next word begins with a vowel: “Bu(d) I like it.” You can also hear this where the T is in the middle of a word: butter might sound like bu(dd)er, etc.

A final consonantal distinctive is the pronunciation of L in NZE. Many New Zealanders will replace it with a vowel sound, something like a W, when the L sound is on the end of a world: cool becomes coo(w). As with the T sound, this also happens sometimes in the middle of words. A famous example in NZE is milk:

The authors then move on to the distinctive vowel sounds of NZE. I will highlight some of the more well-known ones. The authors follow the system of lexical sets, typical in linguistics, that John C. Wells established in 1982. Because vowel sounds frequently change across different generations and geographical areas in the English language, Wells found it more helpful to tie sounds to particular words. Thus we talk about the START vowel, pronounced differently in both General American and the Received Pronunciation (“Queen’s English”). This vowel appears in other words such as park and market. While speakers of NZE for the most part pronounce the START vowel in a similar way to speakers of Australian English, NZE is distinctive in that it also uses it in words like dance and castle where Australians will use the TRAP vowel.

Most famous is the KIT vowel in NZE. The difference between Aus. E and NZE here is much more marked, both having seemed to have diverged in different directions from the Received Pronunciation. In NZE, words like fishbig, and systematic are pronounced with a vowel close to or even identical with the schwa, the most central position in the mouth that a vowel can take up. The schwa appears in NZE and the Received Pronunciation in words like again and sofa. Interesting the NZE DRESS vowel is closer to the KIT vowel of the Received Pronunciation and General American. NZE’s NURSE vowel is also distinctive. I will comment on it when I address dialectical variety in NZE.

Finally, the authors address NZE diphthongs. These are vowel sounds where the tongue moves from one place to another in the mouth throughout the duration of pronouncing the vowel, as opposed to monophthongs like START, KIT, and DRESS vowels. Diphthongs include vowels like FACE, MOUTH, and PRICE. Without any linguistic training, I found this section more difficult to follow.

However, I read with particular interest about the NEAR-SQUARE merger in NZE. Whereas these two vowels are pronounced differently in most other varieties of English, many NZE speakers do not differentiate between them in speaking and, without practice, would also find it difficult to differentiate between them when hearing them. The TOUR diphthong has become a monophthong for many speakers of NZE. For others, this vowel is no longer a diphthong either but instead has become two syllables.