Speculative fiction writer, translator, and editor



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Syntactic properties of the construction “I can’t”

Online communities bring together people from a variety of different speech communities, providing an unprecedented forum for language contact and the transfer and creation of linguistic forms. New vocabulary and new catchphrases easily become mimetic and spread far and quickly. While the origins of some phrases can be traced to a specific event or instance, other phrases have much murkier origins, and some are rooted in forms that are already part of spoken discourse.
On the popular blogging platform Tumblr, one phrase in particular has become particularly mimetic and popular: I can’t, or, in some cases, cannot even. The usage of this phrase is usually limited to exclamations that invoke particularly intense emotion, and the phrases themselves can be used in isolation grammatically[.]


…I will be focusing on just the phrases I can’t and cannot even. These phrases are syntactically interesting because, under the mainstream grammar of American English (and possibly other Englishes), they should be ungrammatical.

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