LINGUIST List 7.986

Fri Jul 5 1996

Sum: "not (just) REAL sick"

Editor for this issue: Ljuba Veselinova <>


  1. Charles Rowe, sum: not (just) REAL sick

Message 1: sum: not (just) REAL sick

Date: Thu, 04 Jul 1996 20:05:01 EDT
From: Charles Rowe <>
Subject: sum: not (just) REAL sick

First of all, thanks to Susanne Borgwaldt, who sent me a correction
of the German equivalent. It should be:

Er ist halt nicht sehr krank.

I have now casually asked several informants how they would interpret
the sentence in question. Three informants were from eastern North
Carolina; one was from the Foothills (Piedmont) of NC; one spent most
of his life in the DC area. I present their interpretations in that
order. I asked them: "What does this sentence mean?"

'He's not just REAL sick."

a) "...means that a person does not have a serious life-threatening

b,c) "Both of us have decided that it means that he is somewhat sick
but not very, eg, minor illness."

d) "...means that he's ill; more than just a sniffle, but not ready
for the hospital."

e) "It means he's about to die!"

The distribution of these judgements leads me to believe that the
interpretation that I had originally offered (ie, essentially
corresponding to a-d) is indeed a Southernism. The (b) informant added
that he believes the construction is a Southernism, because
northerners had teased him when he used it.

Although all the Southern informants were North Carolinians, I do not
believe that the construction (or its interpretation) is restricted to
this area, because I am fairly sure that most such isoglosses in the
US cross state boundaries. More localized variant may obtain, of
course, but I hope to have controlled for this somewhat in using the
Piedmont informant.

It would be interesting to find out precisely where this isogloss
lies--especially its western boundary.

Charlie Rowe
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