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Ask-A-Linguist Message Details

Subject: Alternative Grammars
Question: Asked ''Who ate the cake?'', many people might answer ''Me and him.'', and look upon ''He and I.'' as pretentious. These same people, however, would ridicule you for saying ''Me ate the cake.''. Thus we have some evidence of a ''folk grammar'', if you will, with no small intolerance of infractions. My question is, to what extent are such grammars similar across languages, geographical regions, and historical times? Has anyone ever described systematics in them? Has anyone ever theorized about their origin?
Reply: In addition to what my colleagues have said, the non-standard grammars DO have their own grammar rules. This is why "Me ate cake" is wrong - it vilates the grammar for these dialects. A more interesting example is the split infinitive. Standrd English grammar dictates to never split an infinitive (that is "never to split an infinitive"), yet English speakers do so all the time. As in: "to boldly go" "to quickly go" "to never go" In many cases, the split infinitive sounds "more natural" (or more gramatically correct) to English speakers. But not all adverbs can split an infinitive. For instance "to however go" sounds quite strange to native speakers. Thus spoken English has unwritten grammatical rules that speakers must acquire in order to be considered fluent in that dialect. Similalrly African American speakers can probably distinguish an actual native speaker from someone doing a bad imitation of their dialect. The imitator is violating the grammatical rules internalized by the native speakers. Hope this clarifies your question more. Cheers Elizabeth
Reply From: Elizabeth J Pyatt      click here to access email
Date: 23-May-2006
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Alternative Grammars    James L Fidelholtz     (23-May-2006)
  2. Re: Alternative Grammars    Joseph F Foster     (23-May-2006)
  3. Re: Alternative Grammars    Herbert Frederic Stahlke     (23-May-2006)

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