Edward Sapir (18841939). Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. 1921.
is fairly clear.19 In any event, it is not too much to say that there is a strong drift towards the restriction of the inflected possessive forms to animate nouns and pronouns.
How is it with the alternation of subjective and objective in the pronoun? Granted that whom is a weak sister, that the two cases have been leveled in you (in it, that, and what they were never distinct, so far as we can tell20), and that her as an objective is a trifle weak because of its formal identity with the possessive her, is there any reason to doubt the vitality of such alternations as I see the man and the man sees me? Surely the distinction between subjective I and objective me, between subjective he and objective him, and correspondingly for other personal pronouns, belongs to the very core of the language. We can throw whom to the dogs, somehow make shift to do without an its, but to level I and me to a single casewould that not be to un-English our language beyond recognition? There is no drift toward such horrors as Me see him or I see he. True, the phonetic disparity between I and me, he and him, we and us, has been too great for any serious possibility of form leveling. It does not follow that the case distinction as such is still vital. One of the most insidious peculiarities of a linguistic drift is that where it cannot destroy what lies in its way it renders it innocuous by washing the old significance out of it. It turns its very enemies to its own uses. This brings us to the second of the major drifts, the tendency to fixed position
Note 19. Should its eventually drop out, it will have had a curious history. It will have played the rôle of a stop-gap between his in its non-personal use (see footnote 11, page 167) and the later analytic of it. [back]
Note 20. Except in so far as that has absorbed other functions than such as originally belonged to it. It was only a nominative-accusative neuter to begin with. [back]