Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Changing Standard American English

I've been running informal polls on FB over the past few days, asking people to self-report on which of these English sentences sound "correct" or "incorrect" to them.

I have often went to school late.
Once the park closed, we snuck into the children's playground.
Anymore, we just watch Netflix, with movies so expensive.
Lory drove Dave and I to school this morning.
That's the book I told you about. 
Who left their shoes in the stairway? 

Mostly I'm doing it for fun, although I'm also interested (as always) in American dialects and American usage.

I had a hypothesis that people under 40 would be more likely to accept these new grammatical forms as standard English. This hypothesis did not prove out. Instead, the difference in attitude seems to correlate with education levels, and especially whether a person is an English major / English professor or not.

Though not in the way you might expect -- those who have gotten a degree in English, and especially those that have done graduate work in linguistics or grammar, seem far more accepting of these new forms than those who have degrees in other areas, or in some cases no degree at all (yet).

Vehemence about the new forms did not often arise, which is encouraging. (I was expecting a lot more pushback, since I know from past experience that grammar is indeed a subject many people feel strongly about.) And many people gave me samples of these forms in action -- my favorite comes from one of my ex-students, who is doing graduate work herself now. I am quoting her comment, because it is so wonderful:

(Name withheld): I have heard this construction regularly since I was a tiny baby in north Georgia. My dad uses it all the time, but it seems to always function as part of an if/then statement of sorts. An example: "We used to could count on the cows to come to the barn for dinner, but anymore we have to wander down there and herd their lazy asses up."

The biggest push-back on the last example -- Who left their shoes on the stairway? -- came not, as I was expecting, to the singular "their," but to the word "stairway." Apparently people just say "stairs" now.

What about y'all? How do you feel about these constructions? Any you'd never use? Any that sound fine to you?

[NB: You can see the FB posts at the links below:

I have often went to school late.
Once the park closed, we snuck into the children's playground.
Anymore, we just watch Netflix, with movies so expensive.
Lory drove Dave and I to school this morning.
That's the book I told you about
Who left their shoes in the stairway? ]


Bardiac said...

I have often went to school late.--this sounds wrong to me.
Once the park closed, we snuck into the children's playground.--this sounds fine to me.
Anymore, we just watch Netflix, with movies so expensive.--the anymore sounds regional to me, very Midwestern, but fine as a regional thing.
Lory drove Dave and I to school this morning.--this sounds wrong to me, but recognizable.
That's the book I told you about. --sounds pervectly fine to me.
Who left their shoes in the stairway? --I thought of the "their" as potentially problematic, but not with changing usage. I'm neutral about stairway vs stairs.

Contingent Cassandra said...

My reactions are the same as Bardiac's, except that I don't have a regional association with that use of "anymore" (just a sense that it probably *is* regional,and not of my region -- which is MidAtlantic/upper south, with some time spent in New England, FWIW). I probably lean toward "stairway" or even "staircase," myself, when referring to the area, but also use "stairs." I think it depends on context.

And I've been deliberately using "their" as a gender-neutral pronoun when speaking since I started teaching, though I still encourage other workarounds in formal writing (unless, of course, referring to a person who has requested they/their pronouns, but that's a relatively new phenomenon to me -- probably first encountered <5 years ago. I've spent a lot longer considering how to get rid of the supposedly generic he/his, which I don't think actually registers as gender-neutral for most of us. This desire has been reinforced over the years by my students' tendency to refer to the authors of articles, etc., as "he," even when the author has a name that is generally considered female).

Nicoleandmaggie said...

I have friends who do some of the ones that grate on me (the “anymore” is a regionalism that bugs me even though I know it is a regionalism— not midwestern though, southern including parts of SoCal!). The “and I” instead of “and me” is a class marker since elementary school teachers train that out of people in higher income districts.

Harry East said...

My approach to grammar is largely aesthetic... although I am also not American... but anyway...

"I have often went to school late." Sounds and looks wrong to me. Delete often. Replace went with gone. Meaning is entirely ambiguous because I am not sure which substitution to make.

"Once the park closed, we snuck into the children's playground." I was thinking the objection was into rather than onto. Snuck seems entirely normal to me. Sneaked just doesn't sound right in most cases. Quite surprised to discover this was an Americanism when you consider burned versus burnt, learned versus learnt, spoiled versus spoilt... I mostly use t versions.

"Anymore, we just watch Netflix, with movies so expensive." Very strange to me. Not sure I'd understand someone who used this construction verbally without having to ask. I'd replace anymore with now and switch the places of anymore/now and "with movies..." around.

"Lory drove Dave and I to school this morning." This sounds balanced. You change Lory to, e.g., Bill and it sounds off.

"That's the book I told you about. " I don't see why this one is wrong/non-standard?

"Who left their shoes in the stairway? " Were you saying it's "meant" to be Whom? I don't understand the point about the singular their. Anyway, if you want to change it to stairs it should also be on. This one sounds natural to me.

delagar said...

I put up a couple new ones yesterday -- this is an on-going project.

(1) Elvis feel terribly about missing class.

(2) Having loved the book for years, the movie was disappointing.

(3) But I didn't really want to go.

Almost all my respondents said (1) was not standard English, and a couple could even explain what was wrong with it.

About 75% said (2) was wrong. Only a few could figure out what was wrong about it, though.

Several said they wouldn't say (3) but the reasons they gave had very little to do with starting a sentence with a conjunction.

Everyone is urging me to continue this project. Apparently, people love talking about grammar.

Or maybe that's just my friends group. :D

Harry East: "That's the book I told you about" is wrong according to strict prescriptivists because the sentence ends in a preposition. But that's an invented rule, created by grammarians in the 17th century based on the silly claim that because the word preposition means "pre-position" that the preposition *always* has to come before its object.

The "problem" with "Who left their shoes in the stairway?" is that the antecedent of "their" is "Who" which is obviously singular in this sentence. According to strict prescriptivists, again, we can't have a plural pronoun referring back to a singular antecedent.'

But the plural pronoun with the singular subject has long been in use in English -- Shakespeare does it, Chaucer does it, almost all writers do it -- so this too is a terrible rule.

Bardiac said...

I hear the "anymore" construction in the upper Midwest (Wisconsin) and in folks from Indiana.

Of the new ones>

Neither 1 nor 2 sounds right to me. #2 I would say is a dangling verbal or dangling modifier. The agent of the verbal "having" should be the subject of the sentence. Eg. Having loved the book, Anne bought the sequel. Or something.

For me, #3 is fine. I have no problem starting a sentence with a conjunction. But it would feel weird if there weren't another sentence in front of it that it was contrasting with. (see!)