Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login
amazon logo
More Info


New from Oxford University Press!

ad

The Language Hoax

By John H. McWhorter

The Language Hoax "argues that that all humans process life the same way, regardless of their language."


New from Cambridge University Press!

ad

Language and Development in Africa

By H. Ekkehard Wolff

Language and Development in Africa "discusses the resourcefulness of languages, both local and global, in view of the ongoing transformation of African societies as much as for economic development.. "


The LINGUIST List is dedicated to providing information on language and language analysis, and to providing the discipline of linguistics with the infrastructure necessary to function in the digital world. LINGUIST is a free resource, run by linguistics students and faculty, and supported primarily by your donations. Please support LINGUIST List during the 2016 Fund Drive.

Summary Details


Query:   for Query 11.190:"a couple" vs "a couple of"
Author:  Tom Fitzsimmons
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Historical Linguistics
Phonology
Syntax
Typology
Lexicography

Summary:   I POSTED A QUESTION RECENTLY, ASKING IF ANYONE ELSE HAD NOTICED THAT PEOPLE IN SOME STATES OF AMERICA WERE SAYING SENTENCES LIKE: ''I HAVE A COUPLE LINES LEFT'' INSTEAD OF ''I HAVE A COUPLE OF LINES LEFT.'' I HAD HEARD THE ''A COUPLE'' TERM MOSTLY IN NORTH DAKOTA AND MINNESOTA AND THOUGHT IT MIGHT HAVE ORIGINATED IN THOSE PLACES AND SPREAD WITH OUT-MIGRATION TO PLACES LIKE CALIFORNIA AND WASHINGTON.

I WAS ALWAYS SURPRISED TO HEAR PEOPLE USING ''A COUPLE'' INSTEAD OF ''A COUPLE OF'' AND THOUGHT IT WAS A RESULT OF A LOCAL USAGE, LAZINESS OR IGNORANCE OF GRAMMAR. THE RESPONSES HAVE BEEN A REAL EDUCATION FOR ME, SHOWING THAT THE ''A COUPLE'' FORM IS WIDESPREAD AND COMMON. THERE WERE TWO RESPONDENTS WHO PRESENTED THE HYPOTHESIS THAT ''A COUPLE'' IS ONE MORE IN THE LIST OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE INDEFINITE TERMS. THAT SEEMS TO ME TO BE A POSITIVELY BRILLIANT INSIGHT.

I AM ORGANIZING THE RESPONSES BY THE POSITION THE TAKE OR TE HYPOTHESIS THEY TAKE. THE POSITION OR HYPOTHESIS IS SUMMARIZED IN ANGLE BRACKETS, <<...>>, AT THE HEAD OF THE GROUPED RESPONSES. THE RESPONSES RANGE FROM THOSE WHO USE EITHER OF THE FORMS THEMSELVES AND SEE NOTHING WRONG WITH THE ''A COUPLE'' FORM, TO THOSE WHO HAVE SEEN BOTH AND THINK THERE IS A NEW INDEFINITE QUANTITY WORD COMING INTO BEING IN AMERICAN (AND CANADIAN?) ENGLISH.

WHERE I HAVE ANY COMMENTS, I HAVE THEM IN SQUARE BRACKETS, FOLLOWED BY MY INITIALS [... . T.J.F.]

PLEASE PARDON ANY LIBERTIES I HAVE TAKEN WITH OMITTING LINES BETWEEN THE RESPONDENTS ORIGINAL PARAGRAPHS: I DID THAT TO MAKE IT PLAIN THAT A RESPONSE WAS FROM A SINGLE PERSON.

TOM FITZSIMMONS.


**********

<>

**********
''THIS DOESN'T SURPRISE ME. IN DUTCH, IT'S 'EEN PAAR DINGEN', SIMILAR IN GERMAN. AND 'PAAR' DOES NOT SUGGEST TWO, BUT RATHER A COUPLE OF, A FEW.''

''THE ''COUPLE'' POINT YOU MENTION REALLY DOES SOUND LIKE INFLUENCE FROM A GERMAN SUBSTRATE, DOESN'T IT? (EIN PAAR ZEILEN) -- FROM MY SKIMPY KNOWLEDGE OF N. AMERICAN SETTLEMENT PATTERNS, THE STATES YOU MENTION SOUND LIKE ONES WHERE THERE MIGHT HAVE BEEN A FAIR NUMBER OF GERMAN SPEAKING IMMIGRANTS (MORE SCANDINAVIANS, I SUPPOSE -- BUT FOR ALL I KNOW SCANDINAVIAN LANGUAGES MAY HAVE THE SAME PATTERN).'' [NORTH DAKOTA HAS MANY 'GERMANS FROM RUSSIA' IN THE CENTRAL TO WESTERN PART OF THE STATE AND MANY SCANDINAVIANS IN THE EASTERN
PART. T.J.F.]

**********

<>

**********
''I SAY BOTH, AND THE OF-LESS FORM IS QUITE COMMON WHERE I AM FROM (SEATTLE, WASHINGTON STATE). IS THE OF-LESS FORM UNHEARD OF IN IRELAND?'' [I'VE NEVER HEARD OR SEEN IT HERE IN IRELAND, ALTHOUGH I'VE ONLY BEEN HERE 3 YEARS AS A TRANSPLANTED YANK. T.J.F.]

''I'M FROM SEATTLE AND I GET BOTH FORMS JUST FINE. ('I'D LIKE A COUPLE COOKIES' SOUNDS A LITTLE BETTER TO ME THAN 'I'D LIKE A COUPLE OF COOKIES'.)'' [THOUSANDS OF NORTH DAKOTANS HAVE MIGRATED TO WASHINGTON STATE! T.J.F.]

''I AM A 49-YEAR-OLD NATIVE SPEAKER OF WEST COAST US ENGLISH. I HAVE VISITED MINNESOTA ONCE, FOR TWO WEEKS. I'VE NEVER BEEN TO NORTH DAKOTA, I'VE BEEN TO IOWA ONCE FOR LESS THAN A DAY. I USUALLY SAY 'COUPLE OF' RATHER THAN 'COUPLE', BUT NOT ALWAYS. I DOUBT THAT I WOULD EVEN NOTICE THE LACK OF 'OF' IN ALL BUT THE MOST FORMAL SPEECH.''

''I DON'T BELIEVE THAT USING 'A COUPLE' FOR 'A COUPLE OF' IS REGIONAL IN THE U.S. I AM FROM MASSACHUSETTS AND LIVED IN CALIFORNIA FOR YEARS; I HAVE HEARD IT IN BOTH PLACES AND USE IT MYSELF. I DO ONLY USE IT IN SPEECH - I CONSIDER IT MORE INFORMAL THAN 'A COUPLE OF.'

''I'M FROM THE HOOSAC VALLEY IN W. MASS AND WE SAY E.G. 'I HAVE A COUPLE APPLES LEFT' ETC. ALL THE TIME! IT MIGHT NOT BE A DIALECT THING...''

''THIS PHENOMENON IS NOT LIMITED TO THE STATES YOU NAMED. I DON'T KNOW HOW OLD IT MIGHT BE. I'M A LIFELONG RESIDENT OF THE NORTHEASTERN USA, AND I HEAR BOTH VERSIONS, AND I SAY BOTH MYSELF. I COULDN'T TELL YOU WHICH I SAY MORE OFTEN.''

''I HAVE LIVED IN THE UPSTATE AREA OF NEW YORK ALL OF MY LIFE AND WENT TO COLLEGE ABOUT 10 MINS. FROM WHERE I GREW UP. I CAN TELL YOU THAT FROM KNOWING MY REGIONS DIALECT QUITE WELL, MANY PEOPLE IN MY AREA ALSO SAY 'A COUPLE LINES LEFT', BUT MORE OFTEN IT'S SPOKEN
PHONETICALLY AS 'A COUPLE A LINES LEFT', WHERE BOTH 'A' S IN THE SENTENCE WOULD BE PRONOUNCED AS A SCHWA SOUND.''

''I NOTICED YOUR QUESTION THE OTHER DAY ON LINGGUIST REGARDING 'A COUPLE' VERSUS 'A COUPLE OF' AND WANTED TO LET YOU KNOW THAT BOTH ARE FREELY USED EASILY AS FAR EAST AS MICHIGAN, WHERE I WAS RAISED AND STUDY NOW. I ASKED AROUND, AND NOBODY SEEMS TO HAVE ANY TROUBLE WITH SENTENCES LIKE YOUR 'THERE ARE A COUPLE LINES LEFT TO FINISH.' AND PRODUCE THEM OFTEN. IN CASUAL SITUATIONS (E.G. 'THERE ARE A COUPLE BEERS/POPS IN THE FRIDGE.') THE 'COUPLE OF' FORM SOUNDS REALLY STILTED, AND MY INTUITION ON THIS WAS CONFIRMED BY SEVERAL OTHERS. I GUESS I DIDN'T REALIZE THIS WAS AN UNUSUAL FORM, OR IS THE PHENOMENON LESS LIMITED THAN YOU ORIGINALLY THOUGHT?''

''ACTUALLY, I'M FROM NE OHIO AND EITHER IS ACCEPTABLE. THE INCLUSION OF ''OF'' IS SLIGHTLY MORE FORMAL.''


''I CAN SAY 'A COUPLE' TOO, AS WELL AS 'A COUPLE OF'. I'M FROM CANADA.''


**********

<>

**********
DO THEY WRITE THIS TOO? [YES, DEFINITELY! I ALSO SEE IT ON THE INTERNET OFTEN, AND UP UNTIL GETTING ALL THESE RESPONSES, I JUST THOUGHT IT WAS A REGIONALISM AFFECTED BY GERMAN OR SCANDINAVIAN LANGUAGE HERITAGE. T.J.F.] ARE YOU SURE IT IS NOT A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN [K^P@L] AND [K^PL@] BEING SWALLOWED/ELIDED WITH THE FOLLOWING MATERIAL? WHEN I SAY ''COUPLE OF LINES'' FAST IT SOUNDS LIKE THE ''F L-'' IS MISSED- THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ''(TO) COUPLE LINES'' AND ''(A) COUPLE OF LINES'' IS LENGTHENING OF BOTH THE [L] AND THE [I]. WITH
''(A/TO) COUPLE (OF) THINGS'' THE [L] AND -TH- ARE COARTICULATED -VIZ. THE TONGUE IS FORMING THE -TH- BEFORE THE [L] IS SOUNDED AND THE DIFFERENCE IS THAT HE [@] FOR OF OCCURS DURING THIS COARTICULATION (JUST BEFORE THE RELEASE OF THE [TH]. LOOKING AT HOW PEOPLE WRITE IT
WOULD PROVIDE THE EASIEST WAY OF SEEING WHETHER THEY THINK OF IT WITH OR WITHOUT THE 'OF'. IT COULD WELL BE THAT THE 'OF' IS ON THE WAY OUT - THAT'S THE LOGICAL NEXT STEP ONCE YOU CAN NO LONGER HEAR IT.

CF. SHOULD/COULD/WOULD HAVE -> WOULD'VE -> WOULD OF -> WOULD A -> WOULD

THE LAST STEP BEING RESISTED BY THE LOSS OF TENSE/ASPECT DISTINCTION, BUT I AM PRETTY SURE I HAVE HEARD IT (IN US SPEAKERS) WITH THE PERFECTIVE SENSE, BUT I DON'T BELIEVE I'VE SEEN IT WRITTEN - THE OTHER FORMS I HAVE SEEN WRITTEN - IN FACT THE 'OF' VERSION IS HIGHLY
PREVALENT. AGAIN JUST THE FACT THAT PEOPLE MAY WRITE THEM DOESN'T MEAN THEY WON'T RECOGNIZE THEM AS WRONG ON READING THEM ('WOULD A' IS IN THAT CATEGORY). THIS 'FREQUENS' PHENOMENA OF MOVING FROM THE LESS FREQUENT WORD TO THE MORE FREQUENT WORD HAS BEEN OBSERVED IN GRAMMAR CORRECTION RESEARCH - WHEREAS THE NULL HYPOTHESIS THAT ERRORS OCCUR
INDEPENDENTLY OF THE FREQUENCY OF WORDS WOULD PREDICT THE OPPOSITE ERROR WAS MORE COMMON. THE OMISSION OF WORD SEEMS TO WORK THE SAME WAY, AND CAN BE REGARDED AS A NULL SUBSTITUTION - TO RETURN TO YOUR ORIGINAL QUESTION.''

[I AGREE THAT MANY SPEAKERS HARDLY PRONOUNCE THE ''OF'' IN ''A COUPLE OF'', BUT I THINK THAT THE FORM IS OFTEN WRITTEN ''A COUPLE'' IS STRONGLY SUGGESTIVE THAT IT IS NOT SIMPLY A GLIDE BUT IS AN INTENTIONAL DROPPING OF THE ''OF'' PART OF THE SENTENCE. T.J.F.]
**********

<>

***********
''WE SAY BECAUSE IS A NUMERAL, BUT BECAUSE PLURALIZING 'HUNDRED' MAKES IT 'NOUNIER'. THE SPEAKERS YOU OBSERVE ARE TURNING INTO A NUMERAL. POLISH SPEAKERS TURN THE ACCUSAIVE OF , WHICH IS (NASAL E), INTO A NUMERAL WHEN THEY SAY 'IN A PAIR PLACES' () RATHER THAN 'IN A PAIR OF PLACES' ().''

''I AGREE WITH YOU. I'M HEARING JUST 'A COUPLE' A LOT, AND I SUSPECT THAT I SOMETIMES SAY IT MYSELF. I SUSPECT THAT WHAT IS HAPPENING IS THAT 'COUPLE' IS COMING INTO THE ENGLISH LIST OF INDEFINITE NUMBERS, JUST BELOW 'FEW'. (I SUSPECT THAT IS JUST COMING INTO THE LANGUAGE BECAUSE I KNOW ONE PERSON ABOUT MY AGE WHO IS AN INTELLIGENT SPEAKER OF AMERICAN ENGLISH AND WHO INSISTS THAT 'COUPLE' SHOULD NOT BE USED THAT WAY; ALSO BECAUSE SOME OLDER BOOKS DON'T MENTION IT.) IF 'COUPLE' WITH THIS MEANING IS NEW IN THE LANGUAGE, I SUSPECT THAT IT IS PICKING UP THE GRAMMAR OF THE SEMANTICALLY ADJACENT WORD 'FEW'. I.E. SINCE ONE CAN SAY 'A FEW BOOKS' AND 'A COUPLE OF BOOKS', ONE CAN ALSO SAY 'A COUPLE BOOKS'. I AM 65 YEARS OLD AND A NATIVE SPEAKER OF NORTH MIDLAND AMERICAN ENGLISH.''

LL Issue: 11.202
Date Posted: 01-Feb-2000
Original Query: Read original query