Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

YOU readers do get about. The Brian Crozier, who was indeed the man that wrote to me (2 December) about whom (which he now wants abolished), has come back to Finchley from America. Another reader, Mr Nigel Scott-Miller, writes from the heart of Burradoo, New South Wales, to complain of a construction I have just used in the second sentence of this column.

'A widespread change to English in this country', writes our man in Burradoo, 'is the use of the word that instead of the former who or which, e.g. "There are many people that have given up smoking."'

Well, I do not know what has been going on in New South Wales, but the word that as a personal relative pronoun has been used continuously in England for at least 1,200 years. There is a fascinating article on it in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Our common Indo-European ancestors, it seems, did not find the need for relative pronouns, and more modern languages have borrowed relative pronouns from different areas of speech. In Latin they developed from the interrogative, as indeed do some modern English relatives: who, which, what. But another relative - that - was taken from the demonstrative pronoun that, still in use today. …

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