Nonstandard English Explorations Part II

Posted 26 January, 2018 by Alicia in Language / 0 Comments  


Welcome to the second post in the series! See Part I here.

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 have encountered in real life or film (if I am remembering correctly, of course).

  • “hopefully” as a sentence adverb (e.g. “Hopefully it will rain tomorrow” instead of “He looked at her hopefully”)

This usage is very common so I wouldn’t call it Nonstandard per se; maybe it’s something that’s becoming more accepted now by even the most staunch* supporters of Old Grammar (as I like to call it as of now). Naturally, it’s not just this adverb that gets used this way. (In fact, now I’m even questioning “naturally.”)

  • Double negatives equaling a negative (e.g. “I don’t want no food right now”), sometimes triple negatives (e.g. “Don’t nobody go there no more”)

You hear these a lot in vernacular English. I sometimes catch myself thinking like this when I’ve been exposed to a lot of it recently. (Most frequently with “ain’t,” I think.)

  • “Ain’t”

Speak of the devil…This is one of the most common ones on this list. Everybody knows of “ain’t.” Such a versatile term, too…It can mean “doesn’t,” “don’t,” “haven’t,” “hasn’t,” etc.

  • For reflexives: Using the possessive form + self model (e.g. “hisself” instead of “himself,” “theirselves” instead of “themselves” n.b. the last one I haven’t encountered) or adding -own- making it “hisownself” or “my own self”

I admit, I rarely hear these if at all. I have come across “hisself” but probably mostly in writing. I have heard “theirselves” (instead of the intended “themselves”) from Standard English speakers (as opposed to an actual part of a vernacular). I have not heard of the last example with -own-.

  • Using the modal “fixin’ to” to express future time

Disclaimer: I currently live in the South. Of course I’ve heard this. True, it’s more common the farther you get from big urban cities, but it’s prevalent nonetheless.

  • African American Vernacular English: using “be” to mark a habitual action (e.g. He be sleeping a lot these days), using “done” to mark a completed action (e.g. I done ate), using “BIN” (caps to indicate emphasis) to mark remote perfect aspect (e.g. “I BIN studied” for “I studied a while ago”), deleting “are” in second person (e.g. “You [are] cool”), deleting “is” in the third person (e.g. “He gonna do that tomorrow”)

I don’t hear too much AAVE, despite living in a city where it is probably the majority vernacular, but when I do hear it, it is full of these usages. I hear all of them except BIN pretty frequently. I don’t think I’ve heard BIN at all.

  • -in’ ending instead of -ing ending

Again, I live in the South. This is quite common. I do this myself sometimes, actually. I’ve always done it though, despite only living in the South for the past several years. This is a more widespread usage.

  • Not pronouncing the letter r in some cases (for instance in the Northeast US; it is standard in British English, the RP dialect)

Yes, when I travel to the NE or see anyone from the NE on TV I hear this accent a lot. It’s quite addicting and I love listening to it. I like to think that when I move to the NE I’ll have one of these accents.

  • Possessive “me”

This one always makes me think of the Irish/Scottish, and less frequently the English. I don’t think I’ve heard it naturally anywhere in the US, but I do hear it in TV and movies. (I specifically remember a Harry Potter example…)

  • “Da” instead of “the” in some contexts

This is another one that frequently is associated with AAVE, but I hear it a lot with ESL or EFL speakers. Even when it’s not the /d/ sound exactly, it sounds like it is sometimes…For instance, in French class I would hear my professor say it like that and I was always curious why before I learned that they say their /th/ like /t/. With the rest of the accent it just sounds like “du.” (But not the French pronunciation of “du” which is more like “due.” The “u” sound I’m talking about is the same as in “put.” I’m trying really hard not to resort to the IPA here because I know that most people don’t know it! Wait, that gives me a post idea…)

*Fun note: I actually spelled this <stanch> at first before looking it up in the dictionary. According to M-W, my original spelling is a less-commonly used variation of staunch, so I was using a bit of Nonstandard English myself there. How cool!

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.) Stay tuned for more examples that I come across!




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