PST/PSP syncretism

Joel B. Levin writes (on Facebook) to wonder about the PSP bit:

… using “bit” for “bitten” (past participle of bite): is that a legitimate colloquial form (used say out here in Arizona and the wild west)? Web sites say only “bitten” is “correct”, but I ran across a news story that uses “bit” instead of “bitten” four times (following “was” or “were”).

Just seems wrong to me.

The usage is non-standard, but very very common (to the pont where H. L. Mencken thought of it, 70 years ago, as simply vernacular American): PSP bit is an instance of what I’ll call PST/PSP syncretism, in which verbs that have distinct PST and PSP in the standard language have them syncretized (collapsed) in phonological shape in some other varieties — usually with PST “taking over” PSP (I’ve never went to Chicago; The money was took from us), but occasionally the reverse (as in PST doneShe done him wrong — and seen).

I’ve posted about PST/PSP syncretism a number of times, but the big points are that (except in rare cases) it’s not an inadvertent error; and that it’s a regularization, an accommodation of English verb morphology to fit the pervasive generalization that PST and PSP are identical. So we get Was you ever bit by a dead bee? (Walter Brennan in To Have and Have Not).

[Digression: Meanwhile, BSE and PST are normally distinct phonologically, but for a class of verbs (mostly lax-vowel monosyllables ending in /t/ or /d/, they are identical (hit, cut, bid, for example). PST = BSE verbs (bare-past verbs, I’ve called them) show some tendency to extend themselves (by analogy) from the standard-English cases to new non-standard ones (like text). That’s quite different from PST/PSP syncretism (though a bare-PST form will by default have an identical PSP, hence the boring: BSE cut, PST cut, PSP cut), and it’s a topic for another posting.]

One Response to “PST/PSP syncretism”

  1. Portmanteau cleverness, plus drama kings « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] [I included so much of the text in order to get to "He would have went higher", with its PST/PSP syncretism.] […]

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