Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Slight Flaw

Commenter AJD raises an important cautionary note about the premise of my Unscientific Positive 'Anymore' Survey (UPAS), namely that many people who use positive 'anymore' insist they don't. I was aware of this fact in the back of my mind (I allude to it in my very first post), and while I think this adds to the unscientificness of my survey, it doesn't ruin it outright. Since I'm interested in finding where positive 'anymore' isn't, I don't really have another viable option than to flat-out ask people if they think it sounds reasonable, and take a 'no' as an indication that they don't use it, even though they might. What else am I going to do, an exhaustive corpus study? Please - that's for people who want meaningful results!

Anyways, the data is trickling in, so I've got that going for me, which is nice. While I'm typing, I wanted to mention a phenomenon I've only noticed in the last few years (not that that entails it's a recent phenomenon) that puzzles me slightly. Some people say things like "Since I am six years old" to mean "Ever since I was six years old," not "Because I am currently six years old." I feel like I've heard this both in Chicago and New York, and for a while I seemed to hear it only from African Americans, but then I heard it from non-African Americans too, but overall I haven't encountered it often enough to get a sense for its respective geographic, social and economic distribution. Is there a term for this? Has it been studied? Is it even noteworthy? I think it's interesting, especially since English is somewhat idiosyncratic when it comes to sequence of tense. In any case, I'd like to know more.

9 comments:

Queenie said...

wait! don't give up! AJD-- don't be a playa hata. (just kidding, AJD.)

it's true that people will reject positive anymore even though they produce it. HOWEVER-- you can be more confident in positive responses: that if they accept it, they probably really do use it. so your data will be meaningful at least in that respect. people reject things for all sorts of reasons, like they may not like the word "sure" in there. it's hard to be sure why people find things bad, and it may not be for the reason you anticipated.

and, as you say, it's unscientific anyhow! if this will help you sleep at night, then carry on!

now... how to find western suburbanites. i wish i could be of more help... come to think of it, i do know a guy from aurora...

AJD said...

A technique recommended by Bill Labov—which you can't use here, since you've already discussed the meaning of positive anymore, but it bears mentioning anyway—is to ask people not only whether they think it's grammatical, but also whether they know what it means. It turns out that people who legitimately don't have positive anymore in their grammar usually guess the wrong meaning when you ask them—so if someone says they don't have positive anymore, but correctly construes it as meaning 'nowadays', chances are they have it in their grammar after all.

V Smoothe said...

I first noticed that use of "since," a few years ago, but when I tried to discuss it with people, everyone rolled their eyes and informed me that it wasn't bizarre at all. Except that none of them actually say it. I think I didn't explain it well or something.

I can remember when I first heard it, though, or at least when it first registered. The usage is featured in 2 consecutive episodes of 3rd season Sex and the City, Episode 3-15 Hot Child in the City (aired 24 Sept 2000) and Episode 3-16 Frenemies (aired 1 Oct 2000). In the first, a teenager at her Bat Mitzvah says "I've been giving blow jobs since I'm twelve." In the second, Miranda informs Carrie that she hasn't been stood up for a date "since I'm 27." The episodes were not written by the same person. 3-15 is attributed to Allan Heinberg, and 3-16 to Jenny Bicks. I have no idea where either of them is from, and I already feel like a complete loser for looking up the episode titles, so I won't dig for any more information about the writers.

Ben said...

AJD -

That's an excellent technique. I'm not sure how to implement it online, but when I start asking around I'll use it - thanks!

V-Smoothe -

So I'm guessing you're 70501, eh? How'd you find me, and did you know it was me from the get-go, or did you figure it out later?

You know, now that you mention it, I remember those very lines from Sex and the City - just shows you how much fine television can teach you.

V Smoothe said...

Ben -

Yeah, I'm 70501. I clicked over here from Language Hat. After reading a few posts, I was pretty sure it was you. My suspicions were confirmed after I scrolled through your archives a little and read your March 3 post about singing with accents, which I recall talking to you about many years ago. Although now I see that I could have just clicked the MySpace link.

Queenie said...

totally useless comments here:

if i were acting and someone gave me that line, i would try to change it to "since i was 27". it may or may not be relevant that cynthia nixon is from NY and i'm not. i have no idea really. nevertheless, my sources tell me a lot of people use that construction in montreal.

re: methodology. i think my "male-over 60-chicagoan"'s reaction was telling-- he tried to change "is" to "isn't" and then said "but yes it is (expensive)!" so yes, he would be someone who didn't know what PA meant. but his female counterpart, i think, understood the sentence ok once i repeated it a couple of times-- she just didn't understand why PA was on there. so we (ok, you=ben) have to figure out how to work within the confines of the inter-web. hmm...

thinking, thinking. hmm...

Ben said...

Queenie/Corrinie,

Interestingly enough, I think your reaction to the "since I'm 27" line fits our emerging methodological ideas: rather than simply saying, "No, I don't say that," or "That seems weird to me," your instinct was to try to resolve it into something you consider normal. Same with your informant's response to PA (and thanks for hipping me to that abbreviation - it'll defnitely save me some time). In short, I see nothing 'totally useless' about your comments. Maybe I oughta reread them more carefully to find the useless bits.

V Smoove,

If you flip through my old posts you'll probably find more than a few monologues I've inflicted upon you.

Perry said...

I have seen those episodes of Sex and the City numerous times, and again yesterday, so I finally decided to look for an answer to this same question. Im glad I'm not the only one frustrated by it but I guess its just a New Yorker thing- maybe? It just seems so odd and incorrect to me, but I have no choice but to respect anything that is associated with Sex and the City.

maitresse said...

it's definitely not a New Yorker thing. I was born and raised in NY and no one ever, ever said "since I am" instead of "since I was."

I just heard Anthony Bourdain say the "since I am" construction in his "New York" episode of "No Reservations" and that, in addition to those bizarre SATC moments, led me to google the grammaticality of that phrase. If I had to guess, I would say the expression "since I am" came into use because "since I was" feels awkward and gauche. Nevertheless, "was" is the usage I would stand by.