a request

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Tue Dec 19 14:24:16 UTC 2006

Amy, both things are happening. The dropping of the orthographic "d" results in a nonstandard written form.

  I too was in college before I was completely sure that there was a "d" in "used to." Not only is it almost impossible to hear - and not often articulated, at that; but in my English, there's
  / s / in "used to" (as there is in the noun "use") but / z / in other kinds of "used."

  The confusion you ask about seems like a long established phenomenon to me.

  More surprising to me when I started teaching freshman comp was the translation of reduced final consonant clusters in speech into systematically misspelled plurals.
  I've had a number of students who insisted that the plural of nouns ending in -st was spelled -st, e.g., dentist/ dentist, list/ list, arrest/ arrest, etc.  At first I couldn't believe they thought this. But when I asked them to pronounce singulars and plurals they came out identically.

  The problem was easy for them to fix - in writing. They just memorized the rule. But many of them seemed to think the rule was weird and unwarranted. And of course, they kept right on reducing the clusters in speech.

  That was thirty years ago.


Amy West <medievalist at W-STS.COM> wrote:
  ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Amy West
Subject: Re: a request

Thanks, Arnold. I read this list to learn stuff, and this is one way I learn.

Given this discussion, I need to ask a follow up question:

How would you describe what's going on in this construction that I've
noticed a couple of my students using in their writing:

"I use to write very poorly, but now I write better."
"I do things differently than I use to."

Is it just dropping the -d from a standard form, or is it use of a
non-standard form?

---Amy "I ain't no linguist though sometimes I think I'd like to be one" West

>Date: Thu, 14 Dec 2006 08:32:32 -0800
>From: "Arnold M. Zwicky"
>Subject: Re: a request
>On Dec 14, 2006, at 6:48 AM, Amy West wrote:
>> I've never seen this construction before.
>> Are you sure it's not the use of the past participle? "I seen her
>> yesterday"
>a side issue, but i'd like to point out (once again) that the "seen"
>in "I seen her yesterday" is *not* a past participle; it is a (non-
>standard, but incredibly widespread) *past tense* form. for standard
>speakers, the word spelled "seen" is used only as the past participle
>of the verb "see"; for many non-standard speakers it is used as both
>the past tense and the past participle.
>similarly for non-standard past "done" in "I done it myself". and,
>in the other direction, various non-standard past participles like
>"wrote" in "I've already wrote it".
>these forms are just regularizations of anomalies in the patterns of
>inflectional forms of verbs. for all regular verbs (like "jump") and
>for a fair number of irregular ones (like "teach"), the past and past
>participle forms are phonologically identical: "jumped", "taught".
>"seen" for standard "saw" and "wrote" for standard "written", etc.
>extend this large-scale generalization to more verbs.
>the reason i pick on this little point is that talking the way amy
>did above takes the standard forms to be in some sense basic and
>talks about non-standard forms in the terms appropriate for the
>standard (rather than talking about them in their own right). this
>is something i'm going to object to on this mailing list, which
>concerns itself with varieties of english (and other languages, where
>appropriate), each as a system on its own.

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