29 September 2015

Negative first-person questions

Having recently encountered "Amn't I" in Irish short stories and in conversation with an Irishman, I was about to blog on the topic of "negative first-person questions" in English, but after a quick Google search and some interesting finds, I now see that all I need do is share some links. So here they are two of the best:
  • Amn’t I glad we use “amn’t” in Ireland? from Sentence first, an Irishman's blog about the English language. Excellent. The responses are also fascinating, not least on posted on 5 March 2014 by Malie who wrote: I grew up in Devon with ‘to be’ as an almost regular verb in the present tense (I be, thee best, he/she/it be (or bes), we/yous/they be) and the negative contraction is just ‘ben’t’ (or ‘bain’t), with the first-person question form being ‘ben’t I?’ often without the ‘t’ pronounced. ‘aren’t I?’ is one of those things that always trips me up a little in Standard English, ‘amn’t I?’ isn’t something I’d say but feels much…easier.
  • Amn't by Michael Quinion of World Wide Words includes a brief description of the related history of 'ain't' and 'aren't'
Note that The Story of Ain't on the Language Log is a review of a book by David Skinner. The review does not, however, say anything about the story of the contraction 'ain't'.

I note in passing that the only form I was ever aware of hearing or using in Australia for negative first-person questions is 'Aren't I?' This, despite the fact that H W Fowler, writing in 1926, commented on these contractions in A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, indicating that, for him, 'an’t' wasn’t yet extinct while 'aren’t' I didn’t yet exist.

I also note in passing that this post and these links give very short shrift to the notion often expressed by those learning English as a second language that English conjugations are very simple.

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