Me First!: The Use of Personal Pronouns in Canadian English Katarina Fischer, Jenny Kenmir, Natalie Poirier Queen’s University Introduction We all learned those grammar rules in middle-school English class: “It’s ‘Sally and I went shopping’, not ‘Sally and me went shopping’. Do we follow these rules later in life, or do we conform to the incorrect uses that are all too common in spoken language? Part B: Percentage of Incorrect Responses 90 80 70 Objective Number of Incorrect Responses 60 In English, specific pronouns perform different functions within the sentence. Personal pronouns are restricted to their respective subject (e.g. I love ice cream) and object (e.g. Megan loves me) positions. The form of almost all personal pronouns in English (excluding 2nd person singular and plural, ‘you’) varies depending on whether the pronoun is acting as subject or object (e.g. ‘I’ vs. ‘me’). We noticed that it is common for Canadians to confuse the use of these personal pronouns, especially those of the 1st person singular (e.g. ‘I’ vs. ‘me’). The goal of our study is to look at this phenomenon in greater depth – to examine the context in which it occurs and the plausible causes . 1. Native Canadian English speakers are more likely to confuse subject and object pronouns (specifically 1st person singular) when there are multiple subjects or objects. • Results of Part B: o NS, ≤5 and 6-11 speakers all consistently answered incorrectly questions 3, 11, 12 and 15 (see Fig. 5), which the 12+ consistently answered correctly (see Fig. 1). This supports Hypothesis 1, 2 & 3 . o Many chose the incorrect pronoun when it occurred in a list in subject position (e.g.. question 7 (see Fig. 5)), however only the majority of 12+ chose the correct pronoun when it occurred in a list in object position (e.g.. question 15). (see Fig. 1) This supports Hypothesis 1. 50 Native Under 5 40 6 - 11 Over 12 30 20 10 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Question • Results of Part C: o The majority in all groups preferred the form “x and I” in subject position. (see Fig. 2) o The majority of the 12+ group chose the correct pronoun in object position. The NS and ≤5 consistently chose the wrong pronoun (‘I’) when in object position. The 6-11 fall somewhere in between. (see Fig. 3 & 4). This shows that the longer you have been learning English, the more likely you are to reflect the patterns of a native speaker. This supports ……… …. Hypothesis 2 & 3. Figure 1: Results from Part B of survey, depicting percentage of incorrect responses (where ungrammatical pronoun was chosen) by group. Subjects Study Details Hypotheses Results and Analysis For our study, we composed a survey comprised of: • Part A: background questions on speaker variables (e.g. proficiency in CE, age of acquisition, etc.) • Part B: 15 fill-in-the-blank questions (see Fig. 5) • Part C: 3 questions testing respondents’ use, preference, and ranking of 4 different sentences, as well as whether or not they have heard each usage. The survey was distributed to both native and non-native speakers of CE at Queen’s University. Subjects were divided into 4 groups based on the age at which they started learning English: • native speakers (NS) - 57 respondents • 5 years and under (≤5) - 6 respondents • 6-11 years (6-11) - 14 respondents • 12 years and older (12+) - 12 respondents Survey Excerpt 3. Jenny told Sara and _____ the secret. (mine, I, my, me) 7. ______, Jake and Trevor passed the football. (he, his, theirs, him) 11. Dylan and _____ went running. (his, he, theirs, him) 12. Practices had been scheduled for Natalie and _____ (my, mine, I, me) 15.The midterm was easy for Kat, Nat and _____. (I, mine, me, my) Figure 5: Example questions from Part B of survey (all are instances of multiple subjects/objects). Preference for Pronoun in Object Position after a Verb 80 70 When forced to place the pronoun for the 1st person singular at the beginning of a list of multiple subjects/objects, native Canadian English speakers will select the object pronoun (‘me’). However, in all other cases, speakers are more likely to use the subject pronoun (‘I’), and place it after all other subjects/objects. Preference for Pronoun in Subject Position Preference for Pronoun in Object Position after a Preposition 120 80 100 50 60 Native Speakers Under 5 6 - 11 40 40 Native Speakers Under 5 30 6 - 11 20 Over 12 20 10 A "I and Dave went .to the store" B C D "Dave and me went to "Me and Dave went to "Dave and I went to the the store." the store." store." Sentence 0 A B "The secret stays "The secret stays between Maggie and between Maggie and me." I." C "The secret stays between me and Maggie." D "The secret stays between I and Maggie." Sentence Figure 2: Results from Part C, Question 1, depicting preference of sentences. Native Speakers 30 Under 5 20 6 - 11 10 Over 12 Figure 4: Results from Part C, Question 3, depicting preference of sentences. Over 12 0 40 A B C D "Andrew called me " Andrew called I and "Andrew called Jane "Andrew called Jane and Jane." Jane." and me." and I." Sentence 60 80 50 0 70 Percentage 3. Native speakers of Canadian English (CE) are more likely to make this mistake than are speakers of English as a Second Language (ESL). This may be due to the fact that ESL speakers have more recently acquired the grammatical rules of English and are therefore more likely to adhere to them. Percentage 2. Percentage 60 Figure 3: Results from Part C, Question 2, depicting preference of sentences. Conclusion All groups chose the correct pronoun when it occurred on its own. However, the presence of multiple subjects/objects, the order of subjects/objects (e.g. they preferred ‘me’ over ‘I’ at the beginning of a list of multiple subjects/objects), and the age at which CE was first acquired, increases the possibility for confusion of pronoun usage. We predict that this loss of case distinction between subject and object pronouns in the spoken language will continue. This would impact acquisition of CE as a Second Language.