A Survey of Verb Forms in the Eastern United States

A Survey of Verb Forms in the Eastern United States

A Survey of Verb Forms in the Eastern United States

A Survey of Verb Forms in the Eastern United States


The recent completion, in the Eastern States, of the field work for the Linguistic Atlas of the United States and Canada enables us to examine with some exactness the peculiarities of popular linguistic usage. Hans Kurath volume, A Word Geography of the Eastern United States (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1949), was the first extensive work based on this collection, and the striking nature of the results has made it highly desirable that other aspects of usage should be studied by drawing upon the same body of data. Though the Atlas materials are necessarily limited in geographical extent and in the number of informants used, they provide a systematic collection of information and make possible a factual, rather than a conjectural, type of exposition.

The present study, which confines itself to variant verb inflections, attempts to demonstrate such points as the following:

With regard to the verb, usage is rather sharply divided along social lines, more sharply than in vocabulary or in pronunciation. That is, nonstandard forms are most common among uneducated speakers in isolated communities, and are strikingly less frequent among the more highly educated. However, not even the usage of the most cultivated speakers is entirely free of such variants.

Although some nonstandard usages may well be national, or even international, in extent, a great many are clearly regional. With only a few exceptions the dissemination of these regional forms falls into the same pattern as that of the vocabulary. There are forms that are characteristic of the North (the New England settlements), the Midland (the Pennsylvania settlements), and the South (the plantation country). There are likewise forms that are characteristic of subdivisions of these areas--such as northeastern New England, the coastal South, the Virginia Piedmont, and the southern upland. This is not surprising, since grammatical forms as well as words and pronunciations are spread by migrations, by spoken and written communication within the several trade or culture areas, and by schooling and reading.

Thus the idea that there is a uniform grammar of the American "vulgate" must be abandoned. What we actually have is a variety of regional dialects, each with its own set of grammatical forms, as well as its peculiarities of pronunciation and vocabulary.

It is to be hoped that, in the present volume, the rather strict compression of data, the numerous abbreviations, and the space-saving stereotypes of expression will not conceal the intrinsic interest of the subject matter. Without much difficulty the linguist should be able to discover the materials that are pertinent to his purpose; the layman may observe many interesting grammatical changes; and even he who seeks only quaintness and humor in popular usage should be able to find these qualities.

I am deeply indebted to a number of persons for valuable aid in the preparation of this volume. Professor Hans Kurath, of the University of Michigan, not only made available to me the Linguistic Atlas collection, he also provided guidance in the methods of linguistic geography that could have come from no other person. Moreover . . .

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