Reply to Godfrey

I don’t have the room here to demonstrate how languages balance themselves when some form is “lost” i.e. becomes moribund and eventually dies out. I’m sure people lamented the loss of the “mo” “more” distinction but who misses it now? Would we say English is impoverished b/c it’s no longer extant?

Has French “lost” something b/c some of its tenses are no longer used in speech? There the perfect tense – passe compose – has completely taken over the perfective aspect function. How is the Sp perfect taking over the function of the preterite essentially different from the pluperfect taking over from the simple past in English?

Further, the specific reference was to a phenomenon found in some regions where Af-Am Vernacular English is spoken and then only in narratives, I believe. Therefore, its use is restricted. To paraphrase from Lisa Green’s African-American English: A Linguistic Introduction p. 93, Summary of Past Marking table:

Simple past e.g. drunk = time before the presnt i.e. event culminates before now.

Preterite had e.g. had drunk = time before the present, often used in narrative contexts i.e. event culminates before now.

Re how such changes spread. Wm Labov has done a lot of research in this area. The media have little effect on our language use. The way languages change (I would recommend Jean Aitchison’s Language Change: Progress or Decay?) is a chink or niche appears in the language providing an opening for change. Several variants fill it until one “catches on”; the process of catching on seems to depend on influenctial individuals WITHIN THE SOCIAL GROUP. Apparently, people do not regard media personalities as being in their social group.

The use of the simple past of SE, “went” for the past participle is not a fad. Such variation has been going on in English for hundreds of years. Certain verbs have never settled down and even dictionaries are forced to give several variants. Look up “wake” & “awaken” for an example.

The idea that educators can do something about language change has been disproved hundreds upon hundreds of times. Even prestigious academies for language “purity” have little effect. The most teachers can do is mark wrong any usage they disapprove of…. and that will vary tremendously from teacher to teacher, thus confusing students. One teacher in every high school will stand out as the harridan and harrier concerning correct usage. I just saw it in a school with 12 teachers!

Your choice of words, Godfrey, reveals the mind-set these discussions rest in: ’battles’. “Correct” usage has been shown more times than we can count to depend on a number of factors and most people simply do not have the time, patience or knowledge to sort it all out. Even dictionary panels cannot do more than have a vote. If the “correctness” is so clear and obvious, or, as people say, is so necessary for “clear and precise communication”, why can’t a panel of expert word users quickly reach a verdict?

A further remark on choice of words: you mention, as do so many who object to recognizing variety in language, that Rickford could not have reached eminence in his field without a command of SE (his native language is Surinam Creole, I believe), as if anyone is recommending that students never go beyond their home language. No one recommends that for anyone, ever. We all expect little kids to begin speaking a kind of classroom English which evolves into SE as they grow up. Where you or anyone else gets the notion that I or anyone doesn’t think people need to learn SE is just beyond me. Recognizing non-standard forms as legitimate for their context is NOT the same as granting them status as acceptable in the Language of Wider Communication or SE. The table in Green’s book on p. 93 indicates the richness of past marking in AAVE. To recognize that and value that implies in no way that Af-Am should not be able to communicate in SE or LWC as well.

This is in response to Godfrey’s post on flteach

Subject: Re: In defense of FEWER now: had went

>Allow me to talk turkey. I hope that “I had went” never becomes the norm

>because something in the language would definitely be lost if pluperfect

>forms signifying actions anterior a stated past tense were to be eroded. I

>think that it would be essentially different from the Preterite to Perfect

>shift in Spanish.


>The way it spreads is through television and the media where we sometimes

>notice the Past Participle “went” replacing “gone”. It may become some sort

>of a fad but I would hope that educators would be proactive and not just

>shrug theiur shoulders (as “wait and see” implies).


>As to whether I would want to “insist that young children and immigrants in

>LOTE classes not use it, condemning them to stand apart from other

>speakers”, I would say that once it became really acceptable there would be

>no choice, the battle would have already been lost.


>The British and French media pay much more attention to the “correct” use of

>English and French. The fact that English is an international language will

>also have an effect.on how generally “acceptable” some Americanisms will



>Just opening another can of worms,



That was in response to my earlier post:

>Subject: Re: In defense of FEWER now: had went



>> But you are assuming, Godfrey, that this usage will stay put, never become

>> general as part of the Language of Wider Communication (LWC) in the U.S.

>> Should this pluperfect catch on and become common in the language the way

>> “the house was being painted” did in the 18th century against great

>> opposition, would you want to continue to insist that young children and

>> immigrants in LOTE classes not use it, condemning them to stand apart from

>> other speakers?

>> Have I misunderstood the thrust of your post?

>> Pat Barrett >> Subject: Re: In defense of FEWER now: had went

Which was in response to his below but prefaced by my earlier post (confused yet?)

>> > Subject: was: In defense of FEWER now: had went

>> >

>> >

>> >> I was going to add that John Rickford’s study in East Palo Alto, close


>> >> his university, Stanford treats this phenomenon. I’ve been there and


>> > it

>> >> to be an enclave of speakers of Af-Am Vernacular English (BTW, thanks,

>> >> David, for using the “proper” name for this widespread dialect of

>> > English).

>> >> He documents the switch from the simple past to the pluperfect in

>> > narrative.

>> >> This is a recent development.

>> >>

>> >> This is no different from the shift from the preterit to the perfect in

>> >> Spanish and, from a movie I just watched, in Italian, too. Tenses shift

>> >> around.

>> >>

>> >> Now, since Americans as a culture tend to imitate a lot of what

>> >> African-Americans do, let’s see if this usage spreads to the general

>> >> population.

>> >> Pat Barrett >> >

>> > Sorry, we can understand the phenomenon but one need not hang around and

>> > wait

>> > to see if the usage spreads to the general population. Take it from me,

>> > John

>> > Rickford would

>> > not have attained his present position if he had not shown an


>> > mastery of English

>> > throughout High School.

>> >

>> > We need to continue to insist on forms that will permit

>> > students to “communicate in terms common to a much larger community of

>> > language speakers.”

>> >

>> > Godfrey

And it was David who started this all:

>> >> From: “David Shelly”>> >>

>> >> > “Had went” is a common usage in African American Vernacular English,

>> >> > and no doubt in other dialectical forms of the English language. It


>> >> > not standard English. Indeed, we teachers have a responsiblity to


>> >> > and teach standard English, because our students will find it

>> >> > important in a wide variety of contexts. The fact that “had went” is

>> >> > part of a dialect that is not as highly valued in society does not

>> >> > mean that it is not part of a well-developed language structure in


>> >> > own right, with its accepted communicative function among those who

>> >> > speak this dialect. Though its origins may be a matter of dispute,

>> >> > African American Vernacular English is not just a name for a pattern

>> >> > of errors; it is a complex system with its own syntax and patterns.

>> >> >

>> >> > In my mind it is important to me in dealing with African American

>> >> > students (in English) or Hispanic students (in Spanish) that I avoid

>> >> > “mistake” and “error” language in favor of “appropriate context”

>> >> > language in presenting standard forms to them, forms that will


>> >> > them to communicate in terms common to a much larger community of

>> >> > language speakers.

>> >> >

>> >> > Dave Shelly

Which was in response to Carolyn’s (aka Bunny)

>> >> > On 8/22/07, Carolyn Rubenstein

>> >> >> I cannot stand for people to use “less” instead of “fewer.” It is

>> >> such

>> >> >> an easy rule to remember! It just gets on my nerves. And yes,


>> > I

>> >> >> agree that teachers are supposed to know something about proper use

>> >> of

>> >> >> language, aren’t they? By the way, where do people get this “I had

>> >> >> went” from? Why not simply say, “I went”?

>> >> >>

>> >> >> Bunny

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