Re: [xmca] Silly Offshoots and Dropped Subjects

From: Ed Wall <ewall who-is-at>
Date: Thu Jan 03 2008 - 17:18:14 PST


    Thank you for the thinking (and Andy and others, by the way)
which, of course, offers up its own thanks.

Ed Wall

> I think your correspondant Dr. Sawchuck misunderstood the "silly
>offshoot" on terms of endearment. Actually, it was never attached to
>the discussion of your paper; it originated in my response to eric's
>visible discomfort--which I fully understand and even share---at
>addressing eminent scholars who participate on this list by their
>given names.
> I'm afraid this too is by way of a silly offshoot. My apologies in
>advance to Dr. Sawchuck and anyone else who might be offended.
> You remember that the silly offshoot on "thank you" had to do with
>why people say "Thank you in advance". Nobody ever really answered
>this question, but I thought about it for a few days and I think I
>came up with
> a) a plausible answer, and (more interestingly)
> b) two even more intractable questions, namely:
> i) What is the grammatical subject of 'Thank you'?
> ii) Why can't we say "Thank you a lot" in English?
> I shall make my answers to i) and ii) as implausible as possible,
>or at least as implausible as likely.
> If you ask somebody on the street for directions and they give
>them to you and you say "Thank you" then they are perfectly likely
>to say "You're welcome" or "Not at all" (if they are British). But
>if you go into a store and buy something and you pay with a ten
>pound(dollar) note(bill) and they give you change and you say "Thank
>you", then it would be presumptuous, even impudent, for the cashier
>to say "You're welcome".
> It's tempting to say that the difference in welcoming has to do
>with whether someone is REALLY doing you a favor or not, and in fact
>I have read accounts by linguists that take this line. I think the
>line is untenable: it assumes we all agree on what an important
>favor is, and that that importance remains constant over time and
>across widely variant conditions of need, and (worse) it obscures
>the more relevant factor of whether or not a person performing a
>service is being paid.
> An even more relevant factor (it seems to me) is TIME. A man walks
>into a pet shop and buys a parrot. He pays with a ten pound note and
>receives his change:
> MAN: Thank you.
> CASHIER: Not at all.
> MAN: No, really. Thanks very much.
> CASHIER: It was nothing.
> MAN: It was not nothing. It was nearly twenty-three pence.
>Twenty-two to be exact. Thank you...a lot.
> CASHIER: Thank you a lot?
> MAN BEHIND THE MAN: Look, mate! We haven't got all day!
> The same problem arises in e-mail, particularly now that the
>receipt and reading of e-mails is complicated by spam filters and
>spam and other constraints on time and in-boxes. Normally, we thank
>people for responses to queries on XMCA. But do we have to
>acknowledge the thanks?
> In Korea, I often do, because the persons who thank me are highly
>respected members of the academic community and might feel slighted
>if I did not acknowledge the thanks. It's for this reason, I think,
>that Korean academics tend to avoid e-mail, particularly when favors
>are involved. In fact, they tend to avoid asking favors, because
>favors always require prompt repayment in kind or in dinners, and
>when they do ask them, it is almost always in person or at least
>over the phone, where thanks can be given and acknowledged without
>further written work.
> Now, does this time explanation explain why we drop the subject in
>"Thank you"? I think it does. It's tempting to see "thank you" as
>constructed along the same lines as "Bless you" or "Damn you", where
>the implied subject is God ("May God...") and the verb is in the
>subjunctive mood (and therefore takes neither person nor tense).
> But it seems to me more likely that "Thank you" is constructed
>along the same lines as "See you!" or "Love ya!" in which the verb
>is in the first person singular declarative mood, and the implied
>subject, that is, "I", is simply dropped to save time (it's
>unstressed and appears at the droppable beginning of the sentence
> This elision of the subject also extends to much of the predicate
>in the case of "(I give you) thanks". I was thinking that this might
>even explain why we don't say "thank you a lot" (though of course we
>DO say "thanks a lot" and "thanks very much" and even "thank you
>very much").
> Despite the adverbial posmodification ("a lot" and "very much")
>"thanks" seems to be a NOUN rather than a verb in the third person
>singular. How to explain the adverbial tails?
> Here's the improbable bit. It seems to me that "thanks a lot" and
>"thanks very much" are VERTICAL constructions. Like this:
> CASHIER: Sure.
> MAN: A lot!
> CASHIER: No problem.
> MAN: Thanks.
> MAN: Very much!
> CASHIER: Awright, awready! Next!
> (There's actually an aria rather like this scene in Rossini's "Il
>Barbieri de Seviglia", where Don Bartolo receives "gioia e pace,
>pace e gioia" for the hand of Rosina at exasperating length from a
>disguised rival. Don Bartolo discovers that his pro-forma
>expostulations of "gracia" and "bien obligato" merely prolong the
>unwanted exchange...)
> This vertical construction would explain the "s" on the end of
>"thanks" and the close proximity of the adverb--they are different
>utterances but they have become juxtaposed through time-saving.
> Is this a silly offshoot? Oh, I suppose it is; the hapless
>ex-parrot has probably long since joined the choir invisible. But
>vertical constructions and horizontal constructions are really at
>the heart of how grammar emerges from discourse--and they are just
>one more example of the power of LSV's genetic law.
> Expressions like "Thank you in advance" emerge first as
>intertextual exchanges that go on too long, and only later are
>collapsed into intra-textual phrases. Isn't this the same way that
>relations between mental functions in different minds are collapsed
>into relations within minds?
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
> PS:
> For the non-natives on the list, I hasten to add that I'm only
>talking about American and British English. According to Google,
> 1. Thank you very much. 15,600,000 hits
> 2. Thanks a lot. 5,190,000 hits
> 3. Thanks very much. 2,670,000 hits
> 4. Thank you a lot. 123,000 hits
> A lot of #4s seem to be speakers of English as foreign language.
>According to Practical English Usage, 2005, #4 is not acceptable in
>British English.
> dk
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Received on Thu Jan 3 17:22 PST 2008

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