I'm interested in the historical linguistics of constructions like "that's me" versus "this is she" when answering the phone. Searching online led to a Google Books peephole view of a book that describes this as happening with the transition to late modern English (Denison, English Historical Syntax). Unfortunately since I don't have other access to that particular book, I can't tell where exactly Denison's periodization places the transition to late modern English (1700? 1800?), or whether he has a theory about what process took place.

Browsing online suggests two possible theories to me. (1) This is just part of the centuries-long process through which English has been losing its case structure. (2) The emphatic pronoun, which happens to have the same form as the nonemphatic objective pronoun, became preferred. (This post on english.SE suggests this theory, but he admits he doesn't have evidence.) I suppose both 1 and 2 could be true.

To fill in the picture, it would also be interesting to know which form authors such as Jane Austen used, and whether or not there is evidence that the archaic form was consciously revived by prescriptivists after it had died, or simply survived in certain set phrases.

If one of these theories is right, how does it deal with the following? I ask "Where's the basketball team?"

*That's they over there.

?That is they over there.

To my ear, the first one sounds like nothing a native speaker would ever say, while the second one might pass. Does the lack of a contraction make it sound more emphatic (theory #2), or less formal (#1)?

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    I don't know if it's relevant, but another way 's seems to behave differently from is with respect to syntax is grammatical number in certain constructions: There's/Where's can be used before plural noun phrases for almost all speakers, although this is considered informal, while There is/Where is don't sound as good in this context. – brass tacks Dec 3 '17 at 20:06
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    I don't remember too many details, but one other thing that might be relevant is that there are also other Germanic languages that use the historical accusative case for predicates, like Danish, or in some other contexts that might be called "emphatic". There is some discussion of it here: portal.research.lu.se/ws/files/5636542/625982.pdf – brass tacks Dec 3 '17 at 20:17
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    The paper by Sigurdsson linked by sumelic references a thesis by Quinn, ir.canterbury.ac.nz/handle/10092/4850 . She has some relevant material at pp. 209ff, with examples showing Shakespeare using subjective case and Austen objective case. – Ben Crowell Dec 3 '17 at 20:59
  • Section 5 of Quinn, at the beginning of vol. 2, has some material that seems to be about emphatic pronouns, but it's technical and over my head. (I'm not a linguist.) Section 10.3, near the end of vol. 2, has some historical speculation. – Ben Crowell Dec 3 '17 at 21:18
  • I used google ngrams for comparisons such as "it is I/me," "it's I/me," "it is she/her." The objective case comes into usage around the mid- to late 17th century, especially around 1670. The obj. "it's" phrases are far more common than the "it is" ones, which may be because of formal/informal register, more frequent use of contractions when representing speech, and emphatic meaning. Some of the objective examples become much more frequent between 1960 and 2000. This may be partly because of an increase in contractions. No evidence of a prescriptivist-inspired revival of the subjective case. – Ben Crowell Dec 4 '17 at 20:33

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