“What” refers only to inanimate objects or abstractions. Unlike other relative pronouns, “what” takes no antecedent. Why? Because “what” replaces “that which,” where the indefinite pronoun “that” is the antecedent of “which.
I only bring this up because I often see “what” in place of “that” and seriously thought only people in Minnesota and parts of the South did it. It reminds me I should expose myself to the speech patterns of more people, and not just in text, because it’s clear that a lot of us don’t write how we speak – well, I do, but I’m not “a lot of us”.
(As an aside: D says “irregardless,” and when talking about presidential elections, he says “electorial”. I can’t correct him because it’s a waste of breath. It’s been eleven years after all, and nothing short of a brain injury is going to make him change.)
It’s probably an aspect of technical writing that I just don’t encounter, as I as was taught MLA Format many moons ago, and haven’t bothered to update my training like my professor expressly demanded we do every few years. It’s foreign to me and a little charming, but only because it’s a novelty.
I can only think of one person who uses it and because we rarely speak in any format that’s not a text message, I can’t tell whether or not it’s part of his natural speech pattern.
Out with it – do you use “what” in place of “that” and why?