Edward Sapir (18841939). Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. 1921.
folk makes no apology. Whom did you see? might do for an epitaph, but Who did you see? is the natural form for an eager inquiry. It is of course the uncontrolled speech of the folk to which we must look for advance information as to the general linguistic movement. It is safe to prophesy that within a couple of hundred years from to-day not even the most learned jurist will be saying Whom did you see? By that time the whom will be as delightfully archaic as the Elizabethan his for its.11 No logical or historical argument will avail to save this hapless whom. The demonstration I:me=he:him=who:whom will be convincing in theory and will go unheeded in practice.
Even now we may go so far as to say that the majority of us are secretly wishing they could say Who did you see? It would be a weight off their unconscious minds if some divine authority, overruling the lifted finger of the pedagogue, gave them carte blanche. But we cannot too frankly anticipate the drift and maintain caste. We must affect ignorance of whither we are going and rest content with our mental conflictuncomfortable conscious acceptance of the whom, unconscious desire for the who.12 Meanwhile
Note 11. Its was at one time as impertinent a departure as the who of Who did you see? It forced itself into English because the old cleavage between masculine, feminine, and neuter was being slowly and powerfully supplemented by a new one between thing-class and animate-class. The latter classification proved too vital to allow usage to couple males and things (his) as against females (her). The form its had to be created on the analogy of words like mans, to satisfy the growing form feeling. The drift was strong enough to sanction a grammatical blunder. [back]
Note 12. Psychoanalysts will recognize the mechanism. The mechanisms of repression of impulse and of its symptomatic symbolization can be illustrated in the most unexpected corners of individual and group psychology. A more general psychology than Freuds will eventually prove them to be as applicable to the groping for abstract form, the logical or esthetic ordering of experience, as to the life of the fundamental instincts. [back]