Incorrect use of 'What' for 'That' .?. Regional Dialects

-K2-

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Unfortunately, this question google is having trouble with. Does anyone recall where the word 'what' was incorrectly used for 'that' due to a regional dialect? I could swear that you would hear it used in old movies when they're trying to portray a Bronx/Queens/Brooklyn dialect. Here is an example:

A horse went by what was running very fast.
The car what I bought was a lemon.
The dog had a tail what would wag all the time.

Does that ring any bells with anyone?

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TheDustyZebra

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I would say that's more of a southern thing -- I know it appears in several of Jerry Clower's comedy routines, and I'm pretty sure it's in Andy Griffith too.
 

-K2-

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I would say that's more of a southern thing -- I know it appears in several of Jerry Clower's comedy routines, and I'm pretty sure it's in Andy Griffith too.

Hmm... That same remark was just made on another forum I frequent (regarding southern). For some reason I keep thinking I heard it used in old B&W movies about inner-city New York slums and 'working class' neighborhoods. Thanks for the input! I'll alter my searches and see what comes up.

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-K2-

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A common mis-usage in England for a long time.
Ernie Wise would talk of 'the play wot I wrote.' in almost every show.

Would you elaborate on that a bit please? The long-used mis-use, specifically. I did find this thread during my search: Usage of *what* for *that* or *than* in BrE

Although my searches were more 'American' focused, it does make me wonder if it is an 'economic class' misuse or stereotype. Also, where/how I'm considering applying its use, British-English would influence the users as much as American, Canadian and Caribbean dialects and creoles.

I'll look up that reference (Ernie Wise, 'the play wot I wrote'). Thanks for your input!

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farntfar

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I don't know if you know of the comedy duo Morecambe and Wise, who were very popular in Britain from the 60s (maybe before) until the mid 80s (when Eric Morecambe died).


Anyway they had a pretty regular presence on british television throughout that period. Their Christmas specials were especially loved.

They would have many of the great and the good on their shows as guests, either from the acting professions (TV, film, music or theatre), politics.

Ernie professed to be a great playwrite and was very smug about it. The plays were in fact just sketches, usually based on famous books or plays like Wuthering Heights or Dracula or the death of Julius Ceasar. The musicians were ridiculed in other ways. (André Previn conducting the Royal Philharmonic, with Eric Morecambe playing the lead pianist in Grieg's piano concerto by Grieg (sic) is a classic and you should watch that one.

Anyway the point was that Ernie Wise professed to be a great literary giant, yet constantly spoke to the theatrical greats about what an honour it was for them to perform in "the play wot I wrote".
It was just extracting the michael from poor grammar use, of course.

But anyway it was common, certainly in the east end of London where I was working in the 70s, for people to use what instead of that. like: "Are you gonna pay me that fiver what you owe me?"

I would suggest that it's usage is certainly not limited to such a short time frame or to the east end.
 
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Graymalkin

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I definitely recall it being part of the working class cockney patter from some old b&w british films.
Norfolk also rings a vague bell...
Mayhap 'tis actually a vestigial 'correct' grammar what evolved into that which we recognise today.
@farntfar don't forget Angela Ripon!
 

picklematrix

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People in the west Midlands use that one every once in a while.
Don't recall it being used in movies or anything, though maybe its popped up in a Guy Richie film or something.
 

-K2-

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@farntfar @Graymalkin @picklematrix @Vladd67 ; Thanks for your input on this.

Unfamiliar with all things British, would any of you care to elaborate regarding what particular groups, classes, etc. of folks used the term? IOW, was it simply a regional thing, or did social/economic-class or educational level determine the likelihood of its use? I ask regarding my work in that if they were upper s/e/e-class it would not then apply, but, if from one lower, the likelihood improves.

Thanks!

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Unfamiliar with all things British, would any of you care to elaborate regarding what particular groups, classes, etc. of folks used the term?
That is an incredibly difficult thing to answer because in the UK and Ireland dialects, regional use of words and regional uses of grammar vary much more when compared to somewhere like the US. There is a vast amount of variation over a small area, even just 10 or 20 miles away.

This New York Time quiz may give you some idea of the complexity: The British-Irish Dialect Quiz

I would say that the use of "what" for "that" probably did go to the US with settlers from the UK but I can't help you on which region, except to say that I haven't heard it used in the North East or Scotland. Which would tend to mean that those saying Midlands, Southern England and East Anglia are probably right. Ernie Wise was born in Wexham in Buckinghamshire if that helps at all.
 

The Judge

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I doubt it's regional, in England at least. But it is incorrect grammar as you say rightly say -- which is where Ernie's "play what I wrote" gains so much comedy, because it shows how ignorant he is of basic grammar yet he has delusions of being this great playwright. Hence, it could be used by anyone, but it's main use is amongst those who are ignorant of or careless in using words correctly. That is by no means limited to an underclass, but in the mouth of someone who is well-educated it would sound a wrong note unless he/she is doing it in order to affect the speech patterns of someone else, either deliberately or from a need to seem to fit in. (Eton is a famous public -- ie very posh and fee-paying in UK terms -- school, but it's not unusual to hear the Eton-educated speaking in a kind of Mockney -- fake Cockney -- trying to disguise their origins.)
 

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I have to disagree with you there Judge because the use of it in the US seems so widespread that it must have originated from somewhere that they emigrated from. I also find it slightly offensive to be told that a dialect is an "ignorant" or a "careless" use of words, but don't think you actually meant that. The problem being that some of these dialects have grammar and structure, and use old words that are closer to Old English, Old Scots, Old Norse, Old French and Gaelic than our present language is today. Languages evolve and one just cannot say that Received Pronunciation or Queen's English is "correct." However, I do agree with you that (as that article also says) the differences are not only regional, but that "education, gender, age, ethnicity and other social variables influence speech patterns, too."
 

Ursa major

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This New York Time quiz may give you some idea of the complexity: The British-Irish Dialect Quiz
Interesting.

I took that quiz and in spite of the fact I was born in Bedfordshire, and have never lived north of the Black Country (and mostly in Dorset), it identified my dialect as being closest to Cumbria and North Yorkshire (the former being where my parents and their parents were born).

By contrast to my (apparent) dialect, my accent is nothing like those of my Cumbrian relatives.

50772
 
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-K2-

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Thanks @Dave and @The Judge @Ursa major ; All of that is very helpful.

Surprisingly, beyond regional usage, class structures, educational levels and so on, the 'Mockney/Cockney' point also bears more weight than we might initially grant it. What transcends those neat little boxes is the need for people to project their self-perceived persona, try to fit in or even bond with others that come from very different life experiences.

Though I question this fact with some here, I assume most of us were young at some point. During that maturing I expect that most people, impressed by this group or that, wanting to seem 'more/less' or different as they shape their identities, made use of slang. The whole hep/hip/cool/sick/etc. aspect seductive as we strive to be accepted and admired.

That aspect, the use of and varied reasons for slang is why this interests me and why I'm considering integrating this intentional 'misuse' of a word into the pidgin I've developed. Superficially it 'seems' like a lot of effort for a single use of a word for a fictional piece... but, when it rings familiar with some, it makes the effort appear just that much more genuine.

As a side note: Another 'rarely' used word I'm integrating (pidgin-ized), "powstabawx" for a mail post-box (mail-box), has already jogged the memories of some folks who recall their mothers or grandmothers using a word that sounded similar or the same. Their response was then to carefully scan over the lexicon looking for other words, then, true or not, 'remembering' others (though more likely faintly remembering something similar). Suddenly, in their minds, that developed pidgin becomes real.

Thanks everyone for your help!

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farntfar

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Word and idiom usage is far more mobile these days than it used to be, due to the fact that people move about the country far more than they used to. In the bigger cities, and especially London, you will here all sorts of accents and dialects. Just sit in a pub for a while and listen to the people about you. There may be a majority from the local area but by no means an excusivity. And then everyone will happily pick up expressions from each other, without any wish to mock or to pretend to be that which they aren't. The same is true of phrases from other languages.

Also, can anyone think of any old English literature, where what is used in place of that? Shakespeare, Chaucer etc?
 

farntfar

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The whole hep/hip/cool/sick/etc. aspect seductive as we strive to be accepted and admired.

This certainly isn't restricted to youth.
The old rules of grammar that I was taught at school sound extremely pretentious nowadays.
How many people really avoid split infinitives or say "To whom does this belong?" today?
 

The Judge

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I have to disagree with you there Judge because the use of it in the US seems so widespread that it must have originated from somewhere that they emigrated from. I also find it slightly offensive to be told that a dialect is an "ignorant" or a "careless" use of words, but don't think you actually meant that.
I don't know how widespread it is in the US, but that to me doesn't necessarily correlate with it coming from here initially -- after all, "quiz" is doubtless widespread but its ubiquity isn't likely to be down to the English taking it with them en masse. Do we know if there is clear evidence of "what" in this sense having been used throughout the US before ease of transmission arose through eg news media? And even if it does come from the UK originally, the fact it also appears to be widespread in England -- I've certainly heard it all my life, in the East Midlands, Kent, East Sussex and Hampshire -- to me actually argues against its being dialect, which is usually more heavily concentrated in a particular area, unless you're using "dialect" as a class-based division rather than a geographical one.

I actually checked "what" in the Online Etymology Dictionary to try and see if there was any explanation for its use as "that" in certain circumstances, and it was silent on the point, plus I checked in my own big Oxford Dictionary of English to see if it made any comment on the use or even defined it as such, but it wasn't mentioned. The latter in particular is keen to point out dialect, and the fact neither refer to it to my mind again points to its being incorrect usage of standard English, not a hangover from a time when it was considered to be correct in anyone's tongue in any area or social class. Obviously, however, if you've got evidence to the contrary, I'll bow to that.

How many people really avoid split infinitives or say "To whom does this belong?" today?
Well... *holds hands up*
 

farntfar

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:D
I'm not critisisng TJ. And I might well use it myself in certain circumstances.
But I wouldn't be surprised to have some of my friends (or even family) taking the mick if I used "to whom" to them.

The point being that the dumbing down of grammar correctness is not limited to when you are young and hip.
 
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