Monday, April 13, 2009

doubly-filled COMPisms

In today's NYT there's an article about a recent speech Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas made at a Washington dinner. In it he mentioned his fascination with such conveniences as the dishwasher. Quoting from the article:

"'I have to admit,' he said, 'that I’m one of those people that still thinks the dishwasher is a miracle. What a device! And I have to admit that because I think that way, I like to load it. I like to look in and see how that dishes were magically cleaned.'

The last clause looked to me to be an example of a doubly-filled COMP phenomenon, which are supposedly no longer grammatical in modern English. Then I realized this may have been an instance of faulty transcription on someone's part; what Justice Thomas likely said was "... see how the dishes were magically cleaned."

But a little googling revealed, aside from hits from older English texts, some examples of true doubly-filled COMPisms from modern spoken English, including this one you can read and hear here:

"You can see how that it changes."

Also ...

"I hope you find out why that it got like that."

... and a true gem:

"How do you tell someone when that they shouldn't be there??"

It shouldn't surprise us that syntactic phenomena that were productive in the standard until quite recently should still be flying under the radar in the spoken language (especially regional dialects), but I found these examples intriguing.

Image above is from here.


Joe said...

Oh, that's a pretty widespread feature of southern varieties of US English. I don't do them much, but they don't sound bad to me and they were common when I was growing up.

Does Gullah have them, I wonder?

Mark Louden said...

Very interesting, thanks for the comment. My hunch is that this is likely also found in modern British dialects. Good question about Gullah. I think doubly-filled COMP constructions are found in at least some creoles, so it wouldn't be surprising, then, if Gullah had them too.

Anonymous said...

So the word is still out on whether Thomas said that or it was a typo?

John Cowan said...

When I saw that "the word is still out" in Anonymous's comment above, I thought "What an odd mixture of 'the jury is still out' and something like 'let the word go out'!"

There are 1320 ghits for "the word is still out", far less than for either of the other two, so I suspect it is a blend that's just beginning to take hold.

Mark Louden said...

In regard to Anonymous's question, I don't know that there's a recording of Thomas's remarks available to check whether there was a transcription error not. I figured that's what had happened when I rendered the possible doubly-filled COMPism into standard English: "I like to look in and see how dishes were magically cleaned." This sounded odder to me than "... how the dishes were ...", so that's when I assumed the transcript was wrong. It's a plausible error, given the phonetic enviroment: the vowel in "that" would reduce to something like the schwa in "the" and the final dental would assimilate to the initial dental in "dishes".

Jessica said...

It's interesting that the doubly filled Comp is grammatical in some dialects. As my dialect doesn't have that, it's confusing to me what statement is actually being made when you have a question word and a "that" next to each other.

Could someone who speaks with this feature please clarify:

If someone says, "You can see how that it changes" is that equivalent to "you can see how (ie. the way) it changes" or "you can see that (ie. the fact that) it changes"? Or are these meanings merged for speakers of this dialect?

The Ridger, FCD said...

"how that" = "the way that", at least where I come from (E. Tennessee)

Mark Louden said...

My sense is that the "that" in doubly filled COMP structures in any language that allows them is there for purely syntactic reasons (as the head of the CP) and that the word in the specifier position (e.g., a wh-word like "how") contributes the semantic content.