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Yale study reveals unusual regional grammar usage

Yale study reveals unusual regional grammar usage

“This glass needs washed”

You’ve seen the maps delineating the largely regional usage of words like “y’all” versus “you guys.” But what about the more subtle differences in English usage?

Yale’s Grammatical Diversity Project produced some rather fascinated results. The study “examines syntactic differences among local varieties spoken by considerably smaller numbers of people.” Digging far deeper into the grammar usage among regions within the same state, the study documents, “minimal differences among varieties of English spoken in North America.”

According to one of the researchers, the goal was not to look for grammatical inaccuracies or judge language usage, but to catalogue regional variations. For example, in many parts of New England, people will say “so don’t I” to mean “so do I,” he explained. The study also explores generational differences in the usage of words like, “so.” Among younger people, and particularly in New York and California, “so” is used to convey drama. For example, “I was so tired last night, I couldn’t keep my eyes open.”

Want to see what people are saying in your state? Click on the markers on the map.

[h/t The Daily Mail]

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Sammy Finkelman | April 21, 2015 at 10:54 am

All of these examples are ungrammatical, and totally unheard of, too, except for

I was so tired last night, I couldn’t keep my eyes open.”

So, there, does not mean anything drammatical, but has a similar meaning to “very”

There word “that” is left out.

It’s a shortening of:

I was so tired last night, [that] I couldn’t keep my eyes open.”

First the phrase was split, like an infinitive is split, (and when an infinitive is split sometimes, adverbs or, in this case, adjectives or adverbial or adjectival phrases, are put in the middle) and later the word “that” was dropped.

It’s basically

“so tired that

It could also be things like:

“It took so long that

And this is not something just from New York. It’s old.

Oh! Susanna I come from Alabama with my banjo on my knee,
I’m going to Louisiana, my true love for to see.
It rained all night the day I left, the weather it was dry
The sun so hot I froze to death, Susanna, don’t you cry

    Sammy Finkelman in reply to Sammy Finkelman. | April 21, 2015 at 11:07 am

    That weather report sounds like it could have bene delivered by Brian Williams, of NBC News, at the time of Hurricane Katrina.

    However, it was written by Stephen Foster before the Civil War, and published in 1848. He was in Cincinati, Ohio, when he wrote that, and grew up in different parts of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, although many of his songs tried to sound southern.

    My 2015 New Year’s resolution is to not split my infinitives.

      JimMtnViewCaUSA in reply to windbag. | April 21, 2015 at 3:24 pm

      “Up with this, I will not put”.
      That’ll larn ’em: don’t be ending your sentence with a preposition.

    I’m kind of hoping that all of Sammy’s own grammatical errors were deliberate, kind of a tongue-in-cheek meta-commentary on the issue, but I’m not so sure.

    Radegunda in reply to Sammy Finkelman. | April 21, 2015 at 1:36 pm

    Indeed, that “so tired” example doesn’t sound like a regional oddity at all, but just an instance of a suppressed (implicit) “that,” which is very common in writing as well as speech.

nordic_prince | April 21, 2015 at 10:54 am

It should oughta be no surprise that there’d be regional grammar differences.

Such differences, however, are descriptive and not prescriptive ~

NC Mountain Girl | April 21, 2015 at 11:04 am

There I saw an interactive site a couple if years back. A person would answer a few multiple choice questions about what something was called or who they would say something. They site would than say where the person was from. It was pretty accurate.

I love word, word-play, regional accents, and regional idioms. I’ve fretted we may become too homogenized in our spoken language, and lose some of the rich texture that is America in that process.

Happily, being people, we seem to be finding ways to resist that. To me, there are very few things that reflect democracy more faithfully than our language and the way we co-opt words from other languages, chose to speak or write, and how we invent entirely new terms. I LOVE all that!

    “Gas is expensive anymore.”
    My wife’s family was, and she is, from Iowa. They employ the quoted usage, which grates on my ears. Over the decades I have stopped being hostile to it, having occasionally heard it from people outside my wife’s family. While I use the word “anymore,” it is usually in the context of a negative, something like: “We don’t hear that song much anymore.” The quoted usage has “anymore” in a positive context. There probably is a better explanation for why the quoted usage sounds odd.

      Sammy Finkelman in reply to Rick. | April 21, 2015 at 12:13 pm

      “Gas is expensive anymore.”

      I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean!!

      Is it:

      Gas is [not] expensive anymore


      Gas is [no longer cheap} expensive anymore.

        My quest for domestic tranquility led me to understand the usage, which formerly sounded to me like fingernails on a chalk board.
        You can understand the usage by substituting the words “these days” for the word “anymore.”

    Radegunda in reply to Ragspierre. | April 21, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    Who’s the crab apple who gave a down-vote to regional variety?

      Someone has a crush on Rags – the compulsive downtwinkling is the internet equivalent of the playground “please-notice-me” tug of the pigtail or friendly shove.

        Ragspierre in reply to Amy in FL. | April 21, 2015 at 4:26 pm

        d’Oderant (and, yes!, there is such a thing as an “oderant”) once proclaimed in very clear terms his mission was to discredit me.

        Which I took as a high…though perverse…compliment.

        “They hate me. They really, really hate me!”

        (sighs contentedly…)

    JackRussellTerrierist in reply to Ragspierre. | April 22, 2015 at 7:17 pm

    I’m so like, you know, like from California that moving to East TN has been so, you know, like wow like totally an eye-opener that I cain’t hardly unnerstan folks in these har parts no way ceptin’ the city folk.

JimMtnViewCaUSA | April 21, 2015 at 11:38 am

I grew up in Michigan. As most people know the MidWest is the place in America where people speak with no accent. 🙂

But I did notice that our neighboring Illini (Illinoisans?), while they had no accent, did have an interesting verbal trick. They would drop the last word or phrase from a sentence. “We’re going to the store. Do you want to go with?” Instead of “go with us”.

    Sammy Finkelman in reply to JimMtnViewCaUSA. | April 21, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    People from Michigan really should be “Michiganers” but that, if you place the accent on the last syllable, or ths second syllable, instead of the third or penultimate one, sounds like a well known Yiddish word for crazy people that made its weay a little bit into English, so they all called Michiganders.

    People from Illinois, by the way, In Abraham Lincoln’s time, used to be known as “suckers” and it was the Sucker State.

    But it must have acquired a different meaning later. Maybe P.T. Barnum had something to do with that, when he said there’s somebody, who never saw this exhibit, born in Illinois every minute, or something like that.

    We’re pragmatic to a pithy point as in “da Bears” or “da Bulls” or “da Hawks” or “da Sox” or “da Cubs(!?)”. That’s all you need to know. No more.

    Oh, and don’t forget, “Wayne’s World” that epitome of etymological epiphany was filmed in Aurora, Illinois, dude, and contains a plethora of pithy Garth-isms such as “If she were a president, she’d be Babe-raham Lincoln.”

Most of these “dialects” are the result of illiteracy. Some are from plain carelessness or laziness.

What about useless filler words? Too many young people use “like” throughout their speech. Like, you know, to basically say things that, like, seem important to the person speaking but, like, aren’t.

    Sammy Finkelman in reply to rokiloki. | April 21, 2015 at 11:59 am

    “like” means that what you are about to say isn’t exactly what you want to say, but you don’t have the words.

    Alternative to “like:

    “you know”

    Like, you know, to basically say things that, like, seem important to the person speaking but, like, aren’t.

    In that sentence you used both “like” and “you know” at one point (the start of the sentence) because you were using “like” to actually mean “like!”

    Sanddog in reply to rokiloki. | April 21, 2015 at 2:27 pm

    You’ve never studied language, have you?

England, Drama So:
“I so have totally fuck all to do!”

Really? The “so” is the problem with that sentence?

Obligatory shout out to pidgin in Hawaii (apparently missed by this study):

Henry Hawkins | April 21, 2015 at 12:28 pm

I grew up in Detroit with a mixed Scottish/Irish accent (immigrant parents) which I’d lost by 4th grade or so (immersion), as an adult lived in Canada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas (briefly), back to OK, and now North Carolina for over thirty years.

“Och aye, lad, faith ‘n begorrah, y’all be givin’ me th’ vapors, m-f-er!”

I’d blow up any dialectic study or machine.

buckeyeminuteman | April 21, 2015 at 1:19 pm

Don’t you’uns think this country would be such a boring place, if everybody was the same?

    riverlife_callie in reply to buckeyeminuteman. | April 21, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    I’m originally from Southwestern Pennsylvania, and your use of you’uns (or yoons as pronounced there) took me back. My favorite example, when we inadvertently locked ourselves out of our hotel room, and asked a passing housekeeper to let us in: “Oh, yoons are locked out? I can leave you in.”

One of my friends from North Carolina (Ocracoke) uses the double modal construction (might could, should ought) a lot.

Then again, you might could say that many Outer Banksians have a language all their own. And we should oughta be okay with that.

    Henry Hawkins in reply to Amy in FL. | April 21, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    Heh, half of OBX-ers are transplanted Yankees. But the Outer Banks natives do have they own little thaaang.

    Ever heard a “Downeaster”, from east of Beaufort in Carteret County, NC? Oooph.

    (Beaufort NC is pronounced BOH-furt while Beaufort SC is prononuced BEE-YOU-furt. Keep it straight, people).

      NC Mountain Girl in reply to Henry Hawkins. | April 21, 2015 at 4:07 pm

      When I was still in Minnesota it was amusing to listen to the newscasters who had recently come into the area struggle with the pronunciation of local place names based on Native American or French words. The posh suburb of Wayzata is Why-ZET-a, while the upwardly mobile die to live in Edina (EE die-nah) My father, who ice fished there every winter, skipped the redundent English Lake and simply called the famous walleye destination of Lake Mille Lacs, mah-LAX.

      Here around Asheville the locals pronounce Leicester, a local community, the British way as less-ter but newcomers always want to say lie-cess-ter.

        JackRussellTerrierist in reply to NC Mountain Girl. | April 22, 2015 at 7:31 pm

        East TN transplant from entire life in CA. I can’t help but laugh inwardly when I hear somebody from these har parts try to pronounce anything Spanish, French, Italian or really from any other language.

      He says you can tell who’s local and who’s from away by the way they pronounce Manteo or Corolla.

What do you call a carbonated, flavored drink; what do you call a fixture in a public place where you can turn a knob and drink from a stream of water; and how do you pronounce “pecan”? That’s really all I need to know.

Yinz all talk funny far as I can see…

Sammy Finkelman | April 22, 2015 at 12:52 pm

Soda, water fountain and I think pea-can, but how would you pronounce Houston St in New York? (the boundary between the named and the numbered streets in Manhattan)

anninarizona | April 22, 2015 at 7:39 pm

Grew up in Texas. Zoomed in on the Midland-Odessa part of the map and checked out some of the cited usages. Based on the map and the quotations I believe we’ve conclusively determined where the largest trailer park in town is located.

My oldest son was born in SC, subesequently lived in IL, CA, VA, ME, and frequesntly visited family in MD, NJ, and WV. Plus we travelled. First day of class in his new high school in the Albany NY area the English teacher announced he could tell where anyone was from after listening to them talk. My son stood up without asking and started speaking extemporaneously. After not more then 2 minutes the teacher stopped him and asked “Where the hell are you from?” Brought much laughter from the class, and helped him fit right in with the other kids for bringing the teacher down a peg.