Thursday, January 26, 2006

people who say "we was"

As a grammarian, linguist, and especially English teacher, this kind of language coming from a native speaker is supposed to make me cringe. On the contrary, however, I've always been a little fascinated by it. There are a number of similar grammatical constructions, "I seen" and "ain't" being other examples, that make you wonder what people are thinking. I've heard English teachers rail against "ignorance" or "inability to conjugate a verb," as if the use of these forms is somehow caused by simply not knowing "right" from "wrong"... but I don't buy it.

My theory is that we all were in English class in about third grade when it was enforced rigorously. We were taught what was "right" and what was "wrong" and the teacher gave it his/her best to banish such forms, at least from the classroom. And with some success. We were all there; we all heard the teacher; most of us did what the teacher wanted. Some of us actually became the teacher, but that's another story. The ones who reverted to their dialect immediately after leaving class are the ones we're discussing now. They did it on purpose. They knew that that set them apart from the ones who bought into it. They knew the dialect was marked, and they took it on anyway.

There are cases in which ignorance plays a factor, but in a nice wide swath of cases like the ones above, it doesn't. "Not knowing" is not possible, for most native speakers.


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