Sunday, August 26, 2007

The toilet of yours

Today, my 3-year old say to my mom, "*I'm going to the toilet of yours." It struck me that this would be grammatical (though somewhat inappropriate) if she had just changed the to this. I wonder why.

I'll have to look into it, but we're heading down to the public poor right now. In the meantime, if anyone has an answer, feel free to post it.


Ollock said...

That actually sounds grammatical to me as is -- though slightly odd.

RickS said...

I don't think it actually is ungrammatical, just awkward in the way typical of children. When you need to emphasize a particular X using "this", the standard formulation "your X" is forced to the PP construction "this X of yours" because possessive pronouns can't be modified or combined with other determiners (*"this your X"/*"your this X"). The same rule applies to "the", so "the X of yours" should be grammatical. It's just uncommon to use "the" in such utterances, maybe because it's more or less the default determiner.

There might be examples where "the X of yours" would sound perfectly grammatical, such as where "the" carried emphasis ("THE toilet of yours"), though I'm having trouble coming up with a convincing one.

Brett said...

Well, there's nothing at all resembling it in the British National Corpus. On the other hand, there are 83 instances of "this nn* of yours", though they are not all relevant.

The case I was thinking of was when the constructions suggests some amount of doubt as in these examples from the BNC:

1 G04 All right, then, tell me what it was this friend of yours had me do for him, and I'll tell you whether
2 HTW Abwehr pulled me out." "And this friend of yours in Wapping, this Ryan --; I wonder what happened to him
3 HW8 's the problem?" "It was this friend of yours who turned up this afternoon. He was ever so rude, I

There also seems to be some connection with the 'this' in jokes and stories (e.g., "so this toilet walks into a bar and asks for a job.")

The Ridger, FCD said...

I believe it's because "the" and "your" are the same level of determiner. "This/That" isn't - "this X of yours" says that you have more than one X, in fact that's the purpose of the construction, to allow for ... damn, it's too early in the morning and I don't have my books; I can't remember the terms! ... It allows you to modify "your": an old friend of yours != your old friend, for instance. But "the" doesn't function like "this" or "an" and so it can't be paired with "your" this way.

Ben Zimmer said...

Interesting observation... Note also that "La Cosa Nostra" is invariably translated as "This Thing of Ours" even though "The Thing of Ours" would be closer to the Italian (it's not "Questa Cosa Nostra" after all).