The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

2:36pm on Saturday, 9th April, 2005:

I am, you are


Here's another piece of East Yorkshire dialect that I didn't realise was East Yorkshire dialect until I was about 12.

When someone makes an assertion and you want to contradict it, but you're unsure of your own ground, you might repeat the question. Example: suppose someone says, "My favourite English actor is Anthony Hopkins"; you could well respond, "He's Welsh, isn't he?".

OK, now focus on that bit at the end, the "isn't he?". Consider some other sentences with a similar structure: "She's tall, isn't she?"; "They're singing, aren't they?"; "Bratislava is the capital, isn't it?".

What would you put in the following: "I'm driving, <here> I?"?

Some English speakers would be unable to put a word there, resorting to re-order the sentence instead ("I'm driving, am I not?"). However, I'm betting that a good many would use the word "aren't" and think nothing of it. "I'm driving, aren't I?". What's the problem?

The thing is, this is not grammatically correct: the first-person singular form of the verb to be is am, not are. Because there isn't an easily-pronouncable abbreviated form of "am not" (ie. something like "amn't"), English speakers tend to use "aren't" instead.

In my East Yorkshire dialect, we not only use "aren't I", but "I aren't". Where other speakers would say, "I'm not going", we'd say "I aren't going". It's not that we don't understand "I'm not", it's just that we say "I aren't". We do it the whole time: the opposite of "I am" is "I aren't".

It was only when I was in a Spanish lesson at school and the teacher muttered something under his breath about how could we understand grammar when we say "I aren't" that it actually hit me there was something odd going on.

Other dialects use ain't I, and some (in Scotland and Ireland) even use amn't I. Everywhere else uses aren't I. In East Yorkshire, we just take it that little bit further with I aren't, that's all...

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Copyright © 2005 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).