May 14, 2007

A phenomenon in which I'm starting to believe in

The fact is, I didn't really believe in the redundant prepositions ("A note of dignity or austerity", 5/3/2007). We're talking about examples like "some issues to which this newspaper often propagates on", or "the table to which a column belong to". Deep down, I figured that these were textual hypercorrections, stuck in to add "a note of dignity or austerity", or perhaps artifacts of the editing process, where someone adds a preposition at one end of a relative clause and forgets to remove the preposition that was already there at the other end.

Readers reminded me about Paul McCartney's "world in which which we live in"; but I'd always heard that as "world in which we're livin'". Other readers sent me a sprinkling of examples from the web; but I reckoned that those might be hypercorrections or editing errors.

It was harder to come to terms with the long list of historical examples, from David Denison and Nuria Yáñez-Bouza ("Back to the future, redundant preposition department", 5/4/2007), showing that this pattern has been around for a millennium. Their citations convinced me, intellectually, that there's something deep in the grammatical DNA of English that engenders such examples. But I still half-way believed that it's all been due to people getting confused by the process of writing and re-writing.

The thing is, there are a lot of examples on the web, including quite a few that are simple enough that the "getting confused" theory seems less likely:

Kevin Lawhon is a strong believer in supporting the community in which he lives in.
He likes the fact that the streets in which he lives in are so peaceful ...
... felt boots or shoes of birch bark or wooden clogs depending on the area in which he lives in.
... I see Louise as a product of the neurotic, ruthless environment in which she lives in.
But Bissell said Belichick created the situation in which he finds himself in ...
... betting on Florida State to beat Notre Dame, a game in which he played in and FSU eventually lost.
... a whiny teenage girl who can't make sense of the the "crrrrrrrrraaaaaaaaaazy" world in which she lives in.
Bloggers can give information about the city in which they live in or about which they blog.
The proportion of people in each class is dependent upon the place in which they live in.
Motorola and Neotel are committed to building the communities in which they operate in ...
The following individuals have been required by OCGA 42-1-12 to register with the Sheriffs Office in which they reside in ...
she wanted only to understand the world in which she lived in and to stimulate our thinking and acting in the present.
... pubs were described by the street name in which they were in and later still (around 1850) a street name and number was used.

And on Saturday, in a story on Martin Ramirez broadcast by NPR's Weekend All Things Considered, in a quote from Victor Zamudio-Taylor, "a scholar and curator based in Mexico City", I heard:

Much like Frida Kahlo, his art is a form of survival and of therapy. It's a form of making sense of the world in which he lives in.

This is spoken, so the textual re-editing story doesn't apply. He was speaking clearly, and there's no background music, so an ambiguity like "we're livin'" and "we live in" isn't available. There's no evidence of a speech error. You can listen for yourself, but it sounds to me as if this is absolutely what he wanted to say, the way he wanted to say it:

And the ATC producers didn't consider editing this out, which I suppose they would have done if they heard it as a significant mis-speaking.

So I'm coming around, just as I did for "such the". It's a form of making sense of the world in which I live in.

Posted by Mark Liberman at May 14, 2007 06:05 AM