Saturday, September 07, 2013

“Me and My Friend” : Another Rule Bites the Dust

“It’s Sunday evening and me and my friend Ruth feel like walking.” This was the first sentence in a front-page article I found in this week’s “West Side Spirit,” a weekly neighborhood paper written about and by generally educated and informed Upper West Siders in New York.

As the article unfolded, it was clear that this sentence was not intended to be dialect or deliberately slang-y; it was a serious article, a thought piece about the fallen World Trade Center and the Freedom Tower that is rising in its place. The author’s use of “me and my friend Ruth” (yes, devoid of commas, too) was simply his natural language, the same one my own 20-something children often use among their peers.

I’ve been hearing this kind of talk for years. Between the late 1990s and well into the 2000s (and probably yesterday), I typically corrected my young and later teenaged children when they said things like, “Me and James are going uptown;” I forced them to say the standard English, “James and I are going uptown,” before they actually did go uptown. I was not being a grammar snob – just a mom who wanted her children to know how to speak the language that would most help them get a good job and not be considered illiterate at the interview.

Well, them days is over: the writer of the article and that sentence, a man named Adam Berlin, actually teaches writing at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Mr. Berlin’s use of that phrase stood out to me as a sign that the language is changing. It was like hearing President Obama say, “with Michelle and I” (as I noted in a February 2009 blog).

When there is no more social stigma to a particular grammar usage, the fight is pretty much gone; what remains is a certain lengthy transition period – for instance, most Baby Boomers and I will be taking the traditional standard to our graves. (Me and my friends just don’t talk like that!)

And though the writings of one teacher do not immediately constitute an entire generational change, this seems like an example of an established linguistic theory of language change -- like a verbal stone dropped into a river that ripples outward. This particular change has been coming for pretty much my whole life; yet, though baby boomers and Gen Xers rebelled about certain things (the Vietnam War, civil rights, nukes, whales etc.), we pretty much accepted being corrected on that particular grammatical point.

Grammar changes are coming rapidly these days. Since starting this blog seven years ago this month, I have modified my stance on two other big grammar changes that I have come to accept, rather than struggle to uphold: “lie vs lay,” (blog post Sept. 2012), for which there is now no real distinction between the two; and then with the above-mentioned, standard grammarian’s long-decried “with her and I (or other such combinations), which would traditionally have been “with her and me.”

Me and you are probably wondering what will be next.