was the loudest thing I ever heard

Someone asked me last night why I say "my carpets need cleaned." And it's because they do, over and beyond the fact that the carpet needs swept, but the question was about the grammar. So I replied, at length, and then I got curious about it.

Wikipedia has this:

  • like, need, or want + past participle (Murray, Frazer and Simon 1996; Tenny 1998; McElhinny 1999; Murray and Simon 1999; Montgomery 2001; Johnstone, Bhasin and Wittkofski 2002; Murray and Simon 2002; Wisnosky 2003; Johnstone and Baumgardt 2004; Johnstone, Andrus and Danielson 2006).
Examples: “Babies like cuddled”; “The car needs washed”; “The cat wants petted.”
Further explanation: More common constructions are “Babies like cuddling” or “Babies like to be cuddled”; “”The car needs washing” or “The car needs to be washed”; and “The cat wants petting” or “The cat wants to be petted.”
Geographic distribution: Found predominantly in the North Midland region, but especially in southwestern Pennsylvania (Murray, Frazer and Simon 1996; Murray and Simon 1999; Murray and Simon 2002). Need + past participle is the most common construction, followed by want + past participle, and then like + past participle. The forms are "implicationally related" to one another (Murray and Simon 2002). This means the existence of one construction in a given location entails the existence (or not) of another in that location. Here’s the implicational breakdown: where we find like + past participle, we will also necessarily find want and need + past participle; where we find want + past participle, we will also find need + past participle, but we may or may not find like + past participle; where we find need + past participle, we may or may not find want + past participle and like + past participle. Put another way, the existence of the least common construction implies the necessary existence of the two more common constructions, but the existence of the most common construction does not necessarily entail existence of the two less common constructions.

And I am pointing this out because

1) The article is wrong. It isn't just a Pittsburgh thing, it's a construction that runs all the way from central Pennsylvania to Iowa, at the very least. I don't know if it goes further west because I haven't been farther than that. It doesn't seem to go south of the Ohio River or north of the Straits. Mackinac (pronounced with an "aw," if you please.)

2) People in Chicago say "like + past participle" and I had never heard that before I moved.

2a) I was apparently less successful in banishing my dialectical (heh. Little social theory joke, there) roots than I hoped.

3) I'm intrigued by the progression here. If there's "like" there's always "want" and "need." If there's ""want" there's always "need" but not always "like." If there's "need" there may or may not be "want" or "like."

It seems like there should be a story in there somewhere.


At 4/16/2007 3:27 PM, Blogger jen said...

my partner travis talks like this!! he's from york, pennsylvania. or least he used to talk like that before i laughed at him so much that he got self-conscious and stopped.

quick quiz: if you say to me "you go buy the bread, i'll sit in the car a while" does that mean:

a) you will sit in the car for some undetermined amount of time OR

b) you will sit in the car during the time that i'm in store?

answer: for most of the country, the answer is "a." apparently, in parts of pennsylvania, the answer is "b" -- they use "a while" to mean "meanwhile" instead of "for a while/for a short period of time."

At 4/17/2007 11:51 PM, Blogger Priya said...

It just means you revolutionary lot never learnt the proper Queen's English. That's why.

On a connected, language-related, note:

I was told off today, while flunkieing, for saying "all right?" too much to a student...and for not saying "you're welcome" when they say "thank you".

Where I learnt English, "all right?" covered everything from "you may be about to die but you won't do it on my watch, will you" to "need stuff from the shop?" and so on...while Thank you was just thank you (and done).

I've never understood why, if I do something and you thank me for it, it's not finished there and then I have to welcome you for thanking me.

And you think need/like/want and pp is odd.

At 4/18/2007 12:05 PM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

I don't think it's odd. I thought it was normal, until someone said otherwise.

I think it's odd that they seem to assume a much smaller area for the dialect than actually exists. Sloppy research, that.

(And Jen, I'd assume that (b) was right. To me, 'a while' is a general term of time, unless it's paired with a specific action. Then it's that length of time. If that makes sense.

I'm not sure how much of that is due to part of my family coming from Mennonite communities in PA, though.

At 4/20/2007 12:15 PM, Anonymous serena said...

I think this whole conversation is absurd and you all need to learn proper English. **wink**

At 4/23/2007 1:30 AM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

Ha. You can't fool me. I've been to Boston. Y'all wouldn't know proper English if it ambushed you in a dark alley.


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