Overheard, certainly not understood.

While on playground duty (yep…this is a 6-12 school, and all of the students have recess) I overheard a student say the following:

“I’se doin’ it right now, ain’t nobody not said nothin’ ’bout none dat yet”.

Now, let’s break down that beast of a quintuple negative:

I is doing it right now, is not nobody not said nothing about none of that yet

So, not and nobody cancel out, the second not and nothing cancel out…what the student was trying to say was, in fact:

I am doing it right now, no one has said anything about it to this point.


Ah, clearly spoken English.


10 thoughts on “Overheard, certainly not understood.

  1. I’m sorry, but don’t you realize there’s more than one variety of English spoken in the US and that its grammar is not identical to yours?

    • I understand that different people speak the language differently, but you have to know that there is correct and incorrect grammar. I’m really not sure what point you are trying to make…that we should allow people to speak the way they see fit, disregarding the rules of written and spoken grammar?

      • Yes, we should absolutely allow people to speak the way they see fit.

        The student is speaking, like most of the people you mock on this blog, what’s referred to by linguists as black vernacular english (and a host of other names). It’s a dialect, like Southern English, Cockney, Jamaican english, etc., and like all dialects it has an internally consistent set of grammatical precedents. This student spoke clearly and was doubtless well understood by the person he was speaking to (and you understood what he meant, too), and so it’s more than disingenuous for you to imply that he’s an idiot for conversing in a language that he grew up hearing and that his peers speak.

        Are you under the impression that black people are simply making this up as they go along? That every sentence has to be parsed apart, like you make a big show of doing here, before its semantic meaning can be understood? That they walk around failing to effectively communicate with each other all day simply because they are too lazy, or too stupid, to learn “real” grammar?

        If you’re going to make the case that your particular brand of nit-picky, conservative Standard English is the best english of all, and that the entire english community should learn and speak it, then you’re going to have to provide some real arguments. But this is a debate people who study language intensively have not been able to settle despite decades of inquiry and intellectual discussion. In any case I assure you it is not obvious to your students why your arbitrary linguistic prescriptions are superior to theirs, and it comes off as dare I say childish to see you belittle them.

        Lastly, the case of “that beast of a quintuple negative”; here the student is giving an intensifying effect to his sentence (a property of multiple negatives common to many languages and dialects), to get across the sense that he has heard nothing whatsoever on the subject in question. By adding semantically unnecessary words (in other words by taking extra time to say something) he is also conveying a sense of weight and importance to what he’s saying. Your translation is in my opinion not entirely correct. A better one would be “I’m doing it right now. Absolutely no one has said anything at all about it yet.”

    • I understand what JJC is saying, too, but students in our society need to learn standard English. I avoid saying “proper” English when I teach, but I do try to teach my students that there is a time and a place for everything. They’ll have to learn to switch between their dialect and standard English to succeed.

    • First off I don’t care where you are in AMERICA grammar is grammar. And there is only one proper form. Double negative’s are not okay in any sense. If you are by any chance a teacher JJC I would like to wager your received your degree from a non-accredited online school.

  2. This post is very disturbing. While browsing your blog, I thought you were funny. But if you do not understand that
    a) as per comment above, American English has several dialects, all of which have the same standing when it comes to informal conversation (as long as the conversation takes place within a community that understands/speaks it, obviously…speaking Ebonics to an elderly Jewish person makes conversation hard indeed)
    b) the kid you *overheard* was having an informal conversation with his peers on the playground

    you lack not only the common sense the absence of which you are criticizing, but also the minimal understanding of logics that should be required from those to whom we entrust our kids.

    • YOUR CHILDREN WILL NEVER MAKE IT IN THE WORLD IF THEY HAVE YET TO GRASP THE CONCEPT OF PROPER ENGLISH!!!!! You can not coddle youth because of where they come from. When you are a teacher you are to set an example not to encourage poor parenting or peer skills they have learned in the community.

  3. Wow, English was one of my worst subjects. I struggled through it each year and even I recognize the need for standardization. The idea that there are several dialects to me is a load of c… In every region of the US what is taught to every child? The same standard of English. That leads me to believe that yes, the different dialects are being made up as they go.

  4. Come now, leave the Ebonics-speaking Sha-nae-naes, Shaneekwas, and Jamaals alone. They are perfectly content to declare themselves virtually unemployable in their quest to retain the right to speak their “dialect” without the derision of the PROPER-speaking citizenry. Personally, I would rather listen to nails running down a chalkboard than to be forced to listening to two ignorant, uneducated fools mush-mouth their way through a “conversation”. But, whatever floats your boat. You be talkin’ dat stuff how’s and about you be wantin’ to. You don’t be gettin’ it? Axe sumbudy.

    More jobs for the rest of us.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s