Prescriptivists seem to be troubled by the advent of new and innovative ECM verbs. First, a little background. ECM stands for Extraneous Case Marking, and applies to verbs like "believe" or "expect" which take a CP complement (CP = Complementizer Phrase; in standard prescriptivist grammar essentially any complete clause) but assign accusative case to the subject of that clause. To quote my syntax teacher's example, "Max expects Maria to word letters carefully." In this example we have what is essentially a complete clause as the complement of "expects" (with the exception of the infinitive verb "to word", but that's outside the scope of this post). "Maria" is clearly the subject. Yet if we replace "Maria" with a pronoun, we're going to choose "her", not "she". This means that the NP in subject position of the complement clause is being assigned accusative case. How the heck is this possible? "Expect" is an ECM verb! It can assign case across a CP boundary (something verbs generally aren't supposed to be able to do).
Nowadays, though, it seems that lowly prepositions are taking CP complements (or has this always been the case?). Many of us have heard or uttered something like "I was surprised by them winning the race". Prescriptively, of course, this is "wrong". It should be "I was surprised by their winning the race", where "their winning the race" is a NP versus the CP of "them winning the race". Clearly there's something going on here, though, because plenty of people say things with this structure. My wager would probably be on the analysis of "be surprised by s.t." as a single verb, and then giving that verb ECM marking. Try as I might I can't think of very many good examples of this construction, even though I hear it all the time, so I may post a follow up later.
Jerome Stueart interview (pt. 3)
4 years ago