Tim Parks writes an article in the NYRblog about the ultimate dull conformity of all world novels, as commented on here and here, and postulates a future in which each individual language’s idiomatic charm will be lost. – Like all such speculatives trends, Obooki imagines it is nothing; but that is not why the article interests us. – No, why we find it interesting is Parks’ first line:
Not all writers share the same sense of whom they are writing for.
Grammatically correct, or not?
Now I know what you’re thinking. This line should clearly be re-written as:
Not all writers share the same sense of for whom they are writing.
But leaving apart such simple Latinate solutions, it brings up a question which had been nagging on Obooki’s mind since our last painful excursion into correct English usage, although as it happens not quite in its classical Obookian form.
Here is the question: does “whom” in this sentence depend on the preposition “of” or does it depend on the preposition “for”? – Now, ok: as it happens (and this is why we don’t find it classical), it doesn’t really much matter, since both “of” and “for” take the accusative (i.e. “whom”). (Which doesn’t explain why the sentence sounds so dreadful, but…).
Parks, one sentence further on, provides his own answer to this question, for he says:
there are clearly periods of history when … authors’ perceptions of who their readers are change
There we go: “whom”, in the first sentence, must have been dependent on “for”, since now that we have the same construction which finds “who” in the nominative in the relative clause (is in apposition to “their readers”), suddenly the relative clause dominates and “who” becomes nominative.
I have a suspicion this is true. My thought is actually this: that “of” doesn’t as it were govern “who” at all, but governs the entire relative clause, as one might once (or Obooki, with his strange attempts at punctuation, might even yet now) have written perhaps:
Not all writers share the same sense of, whom they are writing for.
(Yes, “blocks of language” are Obooki’s thing).
The fact that the first sentence sounds dreadful (at least, to my ear) and any writer of distinction – any master of his own language’s idiom – should have circumvented it (the easiest way in English, it seems to me, is either a) restructure the sentence so that it never arises, or b) replace “who” with an apposite noun (e.g. “the audience”) where case suddenly isn’t an issue) is perhaps just a reflection of the gentle obliteration of “whom” from our language (it shall not be missed!), and also a nagging doubt that we can’t in this context substitute the usual genitive “whose” for “of whom”.
Anyway, I didn’t think it was a good way to start a newspaper article.
(I see he also goes for “1960’s”.)