So here I was, sitting here with my laptop when I should’ve gone to bed. And having just finished a task of actual work, I continued to poke around on my laptop, looking around what other folks have written. And then (dude!), what catches my eye but a post on the quotative like.
As you may know, I’m all over the quotative like. So I couldn’t help but to check it out. And what’s more, I learned that there’s even a recent New York Times Magazine column on the topic. And I was like, “Woohoo! Quotative like is hitting the mainstream!”
The article’s a quick read, and generally fairly accepting of the quotative usage of like. However, I don’t entirely agree with the author’s categorization of the quotative like as a function word:
O.K., the new like is hot and it’s useful, but is it legit? Aren’t some rules of grammar or usage being broken here?
Linguists and lexicographers say no. It’s natural, they say, for words to take on new roles. In this case, a “content word” (one that means something) has become a “function word” (one that has a grammatical function but little actual meaning). Academics call the process “grammaticalization.” It’s one of the ways language changes.
I would tend to categorize the quotative “like” as a content word, not a function word. But it’s a bit tricky. But it does make me ponder the origins of the usage. I wonder if it arose from the hedge-like interjection form of “like.” You know, the one that, like, people toss in that doesn’t, like, add a lot of meaning? I can imagine an origin based on a usage like (such as) “…and then he said, like, ‘no way.'” or “I thought, like, ‘his use of that discourse marker was infelicitous in that context.'” If my hunch is right, then this would be a case of a word becoming more contentful…