Here is something that I have been thinking about for 30 years or so, with very little to show for it. Stuff like these sentences: (in all of these examples, take the “he” and “his” to refer to the “nobody”‘s)
This squib (the first for this blog) is of the popular “Do-it-yourself-theory” category. I have several hunches as to what might be going on, but I also think that it will take a dissertation or two to really get a handle on this baby, which I hereby urge that you go ahead and do!
(1) Nobody talked to his sister. ≥
(2) Nobody’s sister talked to him.
(3) I talked to nobody about his sister. >
(4) ??I talked to nobody’s sister about him.
(5) ?*I talked about nobody to his sister. >
(6) *I talked about nobody’s sister to him.
(7) What nobody said was that he was angry. ≥
(8) *That he was angry is what nobody said.
(9)a. What nobody would say in the queen’s presence is that he was angry. ≥
b. ?That he was angry is what nobody would say in the queen’s presence.
c.**That nobody was angry is what he said in the queen’s presence.
(10) Nobody was surprised (≥ (?)at the fact) that he had been followed.
(11) Nobody went, [did they / > ??did he]?
(12) [Everybody / >? Nobody] started screaming and said that he had been