Notes on PSP = PST

Follow-ups to my posting “A vernacular construction?” yesterday, about expressions like had went and had ran, non-standard counterparts to standard had gone and had run, respectively — which Ben Yagoda has characterized, misleadingly, as exemplifying vernacular constructions involving the inflectional category PST rather than the standard category PSP. Instead, I maintained, the constructions in question call for the PSP, period, but in some vernacular varieties, the PSP forms of some verbs are pronounced the same as the corresponding PST forms (while in the standard language these forms are phonologically distinct).

My posting noted that the vernaculars here extended an already very strong generalization, PSP = PST — that the PSP form is pronounced the same as the PST — so that it applies to almost all verbs, and a Facebook commenter emphasized the greater regularity of the resulting system vis-a-vis the standard array of forms. All true, but critics of non-standard varieties still manage to use these facts to disparage speakers of these varieties.

And then it occurred to me that Ben was viewing expressions like had went and had ran as if he had produced them himself, in which case they’d be inadvertent errors, substitutions of one inflectional category (PST) for another (PSP). But the expressions need to be seen from the viewpoint of the varieties they occur in — and there, they simply involve phonological realizations of the inflectional category PSP.

The virtues of PSP = PST. Or, you can’t win for losing. A Facebook correspondent G writes:

My wife uses PST = PSP often (lower class South Midlands). I like to point out that it makes the language more regular, since it levels the verb paradigm in common with regular verbs.

Yes, you’d think that would be wonderful, and that we should be celebrating the beautiful regularity of G’s wife’s system of inflectional forms. But no.

The first thing you should know about most critiques of non-standard varieties of English is that the critics attribute the features of the vernacular to ignorance: Those People should have learned the details of egfswe (established general formal standard written English, in the terms the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language uses) but for some reason — inattention, mulishness (willful rejection), whatever — have failed to do so. And then, regularization is especially to be castigated, because it’s evidence of laziness: Those People haven’t bothered to learn all the quirks and crucial irregularities of egfswe, instead relying on cheap and easy shortcuts.


Grammatical egotism/egocentrism. Travel with me now back to 2011 on this blog, and from there back to 2008-09 (and before that, to 2004), on Language Log, where we will find a plausible explanation for Ben Yagoda’s view of things like have went and have ran as exemplifying vernacular constructions involving the inflectional category PST rather than the standard category PSP.

From my 8/24/11 posting “More egotism”:

When you’re confronted with a variant that’s unfamiliar to you, especially if it puzzles you, you’re likely to reason that if you said it or wrote it, it would be an inadvertent error of some kind, so that when other people say or write it, it’s just a slip of the tongue or pen. This is what I’ve called grammatical egotism, and it’s entirely natural — but the reasoning is perniciously invalid. You might be looking at an inadvertent error, but you might just be looking at a variety of the language (possibly a non-standard variety) different from your own.

(Read about the phenomenon here, in a posting I’m not likely to improve on, with a follow-up here.)

The first link is to my LLog posting of 5/3/08 “The thin line between error and mere variation 5: getter better”:

I think we have to look at how many people, at least many educated people, tend to view the use of non-standard and unfamiliar variants, especially when these violate “rules” that can be formulated explicitly: as a failure, despite effort, to reach the expected (standard or familiar) variants. Given this view, as I said back in the fourth “thin line” posting [of 7/26/04 “…  Do I misspeak?”]:

You will … discredit reports that other people use a variant that you don’t — say, Isis (“The problem is is that I don’t speak that way”), GenXso (“I’m so not going to talk about this”), or themself (“Everybody should get themself a research project”). You’ll be inclined to treat these usages as errors, not as real linguistic variants, that is, parts of somebody’s grammar …

… Why should people think this way? My hypothesis is that instead of trying to figure out what other people might be doing, they’re using themselves as yardsticks and projecting their own systems onto others, according to the following principle:

(X for Y) If I’d say X only as a slip for Y, then other people who use X must be getting to it as a slip for Y.

Reasoning this way is entirely understandable, but it’s not even a remotely valid argument-form in general.

Somewhat more generally, what we’re looking at is a kind of “grammatical egocentrism”, the idea that

(GE) Other people’s language should be judged according to what YOU would say in the circumstances.

So, if GetterBetter [Will it getter better for you? Read this and tell me things are getter better in Iraq] would be a slip for you, it’s a slip for everyone.

(Follow-up in my 4/21/09 LLog posting “Prejudices, egocentrism, impositions, and intransigence”.)

In the case of expressions like have went and have ran, egsfwe-using critics will say that these involve the use of PST rather than PSP, because for them, went and ran are PST forms only; in their egocentrism, they fail to appreciate that for many non-standard speakers, went and ran serve as PSP forms as well as PSTs.

2 Responses to “Notes on PSP = PST”

  1. Mike McManus Says:

    “Had went” reminds me of that Schoolhouse Rock song about cheese: “When my get-up-and-go has got up and went…”

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