zero plurals?

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Tue Oct 28 14:33:38 UTC 2008

from the NYT, 27 October 2008, "Democrats in Steel Country See Skin
Color, and Beyond It" by Michael Powell, p. 1, about retired
steelworker Nick Piroli and his opinion of Barack Obama:

"I'm no racist, but I'm not crazy about him either," Mr. Piroli said,
"I don't know, maybe 'cause he's black."

Mr. Piroli, 77, winces at himself.  "We was raised and worked with the
black, the Serb," he said.  "It was a regular league of nations.  And
the economy now, it's terrible."

"I've got to vote for him," he said finally.


it's the "with the black, the Serb".  this *could* be read as having a
definite singular used for generic reference ("The Frenchman is a
lover of wine", understood as referring to Frenchmen in general).  but
"raised and worked with the black, the Serb" (with this
interpretation) strikes me as awfully high style, discordant with the
non-standard verb form "was" in "we was".  but maybe i'm wrong about
the status of generic definite singulars in working-class speech in
Aliquippa, Pa.

or they could be zero plurals.


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