Here is Joachim van Gelder’s first “Testing Prescriptivism” blogpost:
Stephen Fry has hosted – with generous helpings of his usual charm and panache – the annual British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards ceremony for the past 11 years. During the 2014 edition of the show, he humourously commented on the acceptance speeches of David O. Russell and Jeff Pope, after they had just won the awards for Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay, respectively.
As soon as David O. Russell had delivered a speech in which he complimented his actors, Stephen retook the stage and made the following correction: “David, it’s a writing award. I think what you meant was not ‘who it was a great privilege to work with’ but ‘with whom it was a great privilege to work’. Never mind.” Not much later, Jeff Pope suffered a similar reprimand after thanking his producer, who, Pope said, “brought Steve [Coogan] and I together.” Stephen immediately explained that it should be “brought Steve and me together” instead.
Stephen was, of course, joking – half-joking, at the very least. He is a pedant no more, after all. Still, did the phrases uttered by David O. Russell and Jeff Pope actually contain grammatical errors? Opinions are divided on the issue, and the answer you will get is likely to depend on who you ask.
Sticklers will say that the pronouns I, he, she, we, they, and who (and whoever and whosoever by extension) require a different form when they occur in object position. That is, Stephen Fry tells me, him, her, us, or them whom he likes. *He certainly doesn’t tell I. *Nor does he tell we. The phrases uttered by David O. Russell and Jeff Pope contain errors, sticklers will say, by the same token. The pronouns in their utterances do not occur in the subject position, but look as if they do, and must therefore be changed.
Linguists would probably argue that it is all up to the native speakers of the language. If many or most people feel that phrases such as the ones I have been discussing do not present an issue, then such phrases are, to state the obvious, acceptable, and should be considered as such. It is for the same reason that utterances like It’s me are acceptable and have actually become the norm, while sticklers may insist on It is I because the I/me element is a subject complement, which requires the nominative case, i.e., I.
What do you think? Does it simply come down to stylistic choices and personal preference? Or do the sticklers – and Stephen Fry in particular – have a point?