Nonstandard English Explorations Part I

Posted 23 January, 2018 by Alicia in Language / 0 Comments  


Hello everyone! I’m starting a new thing where I talk about examples of Nonstandard English because I always find it interesting to see how people speak in areas that I’m not as familiar with. Quick reminder: I am definitely of the belief that Nonstandard English is just as valid as Standard English and no part of this post is meant to demean different uses of language.

These examples come from one of my old textbooks for the class Introduction to the Study of Languages. It is called How English Works: A Linguistic Introduction by Anne Curzan and Michael Adams. I have reviewed it on the blog here. Today I am going to give some examples of Nonstandard English from the book that I haven’t encountered in real life or film (to the best of my knowledge).

  • “ask” pronounced “aks”

This was I think the first example they gave and they talked about it at length. I have heard this used as an example elsewhere but I don’t think I’ve heard anyone use it in real life genuinely.

  • “he think” instead of “he thinks,” “they thinks” instead of “they think”

I’m sure this is common in a lot of dialects, but while I’ve heard of some other examples common to these dialects, this one is quite unfamiliar to me.

  • Double modal verbs (e.g.  “might could” or “may can”)

I believe the book said this was one that could be found in southern dialects, and while I currently live in the South (and have for a while), I guess I’m just not south enough to hear this. Maybe it’s the Deep South. Have any of you heard this?

  • Deleting relative pronouns in restrictive clauses when they function grammatically as subjects of the subordinate clauses (e.g. “The student [who] disrupts the class will get sent to the office”)

I’ve definitely heard of deleted pronouns in other cases, but this was given as an unusual but still extant example. For instance, I’ve heard things like “I gave her some of the cake [that] I made.”

  • Appalachian speakers using present tense verbs instead of past tense (e.g. “She give it to me a while ago” instead of “She gave it to me a while ago”), saying “He drug” instead of “he dragged,” saying “she throwed” instead of “she threw,” a- as a prefix (e.g. “go a-walkin’”)

I don’t think I’ve ever heard any Appalachians speak (or if they did it wasn’t with this sort of dialect), so that would explain why these are so unfamiliar. The first example actually reminds me that in some other Eastern languages (Chinese maybe?) they don’t have past tense and do use time markers (e.g. yesterday) instead. Please let me know if this sounds familiar to you. As for the second example, I feel like children who would normally speak Standard English could say things like this as well before they learn all the regular and irregular past tense verbs. I had a friend in 4th grade (in California) who would constantly say “brang” instead of “brought” but I don’t think that was a dialect. And with the third example, I may have heard that in television at some point, but never in real life. It’s something I vaguely recognise though.

  • African American English: “get over on” = take advantage of, “some” as an intensifier like “very” (e.g. He is some tall), “steady” to describe an action carried out in an intense, consistent, and continuous manner (e.g. “Her mouth is steady runnin’”)

I have heard a lot of AAE, but never these examples. They’re really neat and useful.

Let me know if you are familiar with any of these examples! (And note where you hear/heard them, and obviously let me know if you say them yourself.) Later this week I’ll bring some up that I am actually familiar with.




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