"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"I Seen You Do It!"

Today, on our walk to school, my son started to grumble a bit about some kids in his class who don't use "proper" grammar ("not that I do all the time, Dad!") and use words like "ain't" and say "seen" instead of "saw."

I asked why it mattered to him.  He couldn't really say.  I asked him if he thought it made a difference at all.  He said it mattered in school.  How?  "They'll get test questions wrong."

"But you understand what they're saying, right?  I mean, you're not confused by their grammar, right?"

Guess not, he said.

Is "I saw you" different than "I seen you?" I asked?

He didn't know but he thought it was.

Well it is I guess, but only if used with "have" or "had".

So, "I saw you" is tied to a specific time event--"I saw you yesterday" for example.  And so it IS different than "I have seen you" as this does not imply a specific time event and rather generalizes the time of possible occurrence (or occurrences as the number of times is also not specific).

BUT it is not different, really, to say "I saw you yesterday" and "I seen you yesterday."  They say the same thing.

We simply do not use that form of the verb that way "properly."  It is "wrong" but it does not fail to communicate the same thing.

What does it mean then to say that this form of speech is improper?  It means that we will class you by your usage as "poorly educated" or the "product" of a poorly educated home.

My son then observed that these particular kids used grammatically correct speech for added emphasis.

Accusatory--"You took my cookie!"
Response--"I did not!" (emphatically spoken)

Why, he asked, do they use proper grammar in this way?  (I suppose he meant why did they not use a contraction.)

A good question.  I don't know.  Because the emphasis and the assertion of innocence require a clear and unindictable phrasing.  Perhaps it is understood that they're defense be emphatically "respected" and conventionally proper to provide it with a kind of offended credibility.

As you can imagine, my son had stopped listening to me.

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