Sunday, November 19, 2006

"Thanks Lovely"--"Ask Lovely"

Is that how we would translate "Danke schön" "Bitte schön"?

On a web log I visit regularly someone left a comment regarding the amount of power produced by West Virginia coal, oil, and natural gas. She ended with "So America, you're welcome for the energy!"

For? When did you're welcome change its syntactic properties? On another day I might not have noticed this preposition. But something caused me to pause and think "which would I have said, for or to?"

Once I paused to think about it my literal side cried out "to! It's to! But there's a part of me that hears 'for' as appropriate. I wonder how I would respond if someone said "you're welcome" and I didn't know why. I'd probably ask "for what?" just as easily as "why?" But does that transfer to hearing it as "you're welcome for X"?

In that structure I find a literal paraphrase only in "I support your entitlement: I say so in reference to X." But that's an unlikely intention.

"You're welcome" has now become a parallel directive to "thank you"--both of them taking the same preposition.

I wonder if this has something to do with the tendency of people to respond to a "thank you" by repeating a "thank you" instead of offering the assurance "you're welcome."

"Thank you."
"Thank you."

So the speech act is separated from the context or subjuct of the speech act--and the relative role of the locutor/hearer to that context. What used to be I thank your for your offering and You are welcome to my offering has now become You are thanked /(regarding/for this interaction) and the simply restated You are welcomed /(regarding/for this interaction).

The new meaning of this exchange is then "Irecipient approve of this event" and "Iagent approve of this event."


  1. I have a simpler impression of the "thank you for X" phenomenon. At least in the specific example that you cited (and how I hear it in my head) it has a gently chiding tone, to be used when someone has failed to say "thank you." (Or perhaps a cheerfully obliging tone - "no need to say thank you, you're already welcome.") To point this out, you preemptively say "you're welcome," but in order to be sure your interlocutor knows what they are supposed to be thankful for, you add "for X."

    So it's simply shifting the "for X" that should have been attached to the "thank you" part of the fixed exchange. I agree that "you're welcome for X" feels unnatural as part of the "thank you/you're welcome" exchange, but standing on its own it sounds much more idiomatic to me.

  2. I'm not smart enough to say anything else, but "thank you for providing this thoughtful entry".

  3. anonymous:
    It sounds like you hear/read it as my awkward paraphrase "I support your entitlement: I say so in reference to X."

    Interesting. When phrased your way it sounds much more likely. It does sound like a process of several steps --taking the object out of the response phrase and changing its form to appropriately fit the (assumed) initial phrase.

    I suppose the minimalist school has argued more complex processes.

    wee katie:
    You're always welcome to comment and my thoughts. (How's that for a poorly distributed "to"?)

  4. Thinking on it in the shower a little later I realized that I was going along the same lines, but perhaps from a different angle. It definitely seems to me that "you're welcome" has become a fixed phrase in the same way as "thank you," so in that sense they are "parallel directives," and perhaps best rephrased as "you are thanked/you are welcomed."

    But, at least in my idiolect, "welcome" takes a "to" phrase when it's meant seriously, to distinguish an honest expression from a canned response. "Thank you for that/you're welcome to it" each sound more meaningful than plain "thank you/you're welcome". Whereas "you're welcome for that" would only occur in the absence of a "thank you," making a scale of feeling with "to" at the top (heartfelt honesty), plain stock phrases in the middle (social obligation), and "for" only out of mild irritation when the expected stock phrase hasn't come.

    Of course, your example, as I said, sounds somewhat different from how I expect to hear it, more along the lines of your "Iagent approve of this event" interpretation. What I expect rephrases more like "Iagent disapprove of youRecipient not stating your approval of this event." So I guess it's not really simpler, as such.

  5. Ah yes. I see the nuance of your point. I guess I was thinking that the entire phrase has changed semantically but you're claiming that it's only in the context of "mild irritation" (or kind rebuke?) that the phrase appropriately takes a 'for'.

    So would it be specifically the reference to the unsaid 'thank you' that allows the 'for'?

    I can see that possibility. At this point we'll have to collect some data to see if it plays out.

    I wonder how common this characteristic of an idiolect is likely to be.


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