November 11, 2004

Blaustein with a Linguistic Baedeker

At Language Log, Arnold Zwicky catches one David Blaustein describing an author (Keith Banner) as awash in the "curious grammar" of Ohio when all Banner is doing is using working-class and colloquial speech that's not particularly regional at all. Zwicky has an interesting theory to account for this. My only contribution (aside from the post title) is to confirm Zwicky's statement that the bits of Ohio dialect that Banner doesn't use are found outside of Ohio.

The two things that the American Dialect Society cites are want/need + past participle ("This shirt needs washed") and positive "anymore" ("Gas is really expensive anymore"). The first one is the second thing that anyone will cite when discussing Pittsburghese, after "yinz" as second person plural, and positive "anymore" is also quite common.

(Incidentally, the reason "This shirt needs washed" is frequently cited as an example of this construction is that "wash" is pronounced "worshed" in Pittsburghese--leading me to think it's probably also pronounced the same way in the South/Eastern Ohio dialect the ADS folk cited.)

Elsewhere at LL, Mark Liberman cites James McGreevey's use of "the courage to be open about whom I was." Liberman thinks that in this construction "whom" is being treated as the object of "about" but I'm not so sure. "Whom I was" construction is used in place of "who I was" seemingly regardless of what came before. In particular, in

I lost the person whom I was and the more time goes by, the more I believe that the person I was is lost to me forever now

there's nothing for "whom" to be the object of. So I think the occasional substitution of "whom I was" for "who I was" might be symptomatic of overall confusion about use of "whom" rather than anything so orderly as treating "whom" as an object of a nearby thing that takes objects.

(Incidentally, if you use the common rule of substituting "she" for "who" and "her" for "whom" and seeing which sounds better, you should say "whom I was." No one says "It was I.")

Posted by Matt Weiner at November 11, 2004 02:45 PM

What does "Gas is really expensive anymore" mean? Does it mean gas is expensive and didn't used to be? Or that it is expensive and has been for a while? Or that it is and will stay that way in the future?

Normally I'm not too bad at parsing various dialects of English - it's my vocabulary that is normally lousy. But here I know all the words and can't figure out how they are being put together.

Posted by: Brian Weatherson at November 11, 2004 03:12 PM

Brian's first paraphrase is correct. Generally you can substitute "nowadays" for "anymore" in this construction.

As for McGreevy's valedictory address, I think that he used "whom" because it immediately followed a preposition and he (or someone) felt that the more natural "who" was incorrect.

Posted by: Matt's mom at November 12, 2004 07:21 AM

I thought it might be nice to ask Blaustein, so I went to his review ( It mentions that Banner is a West Virginia native. So he might [might could?] be using features of WV speech. Prolly alls Blaustein means is, I don't hear this in San Francisco, or Boston, or wherever. Face it, Matt: you're a flyover person.

Posted by: Matt's mom at November 12, 2004 07:35 AM

I'm not positive that "Gas is expensive anymore" means that gas is expensive and didn't used to be--it could just mean that gas is now expensive and implicate that it didn't used to be. Mom's right, in any case, that substituting "nowadays" usually works.

In a way "Gas is expensive anymore" is the contrary of "Gas isn't expensive anymore" which means--I think it's not just an implicature--that gas used to be expensive and now isn't.

(Incidentally, does anyone else here have trouble negating "used to"? Sometimes I think "didn't useta" would be safest.)

I kinda doubt that Banner is using any special features of WV speech either (bad on him if he is, since the stories are set in Ohio). One hypothesis that isn't ruled out is that Banner somehow captures the special cadence of Ohio speech without using many syntactic features that are peculiar to the region. Anyone know anything about the special cadences of Ohio speech?

Posted by: Matt Weiner at November 12, 2004 10:53 AM