July 24, 2004

All's I know is ...

The Language Log bat signal went up in the sky over Strange Doctrines yesterday, where "Tadlow Windsor II" asked:

A blog post by Stuart Buck about his daughter's declination of subject rather than verb reminded me of a generatively unrelated if phonologically similar construction I've been hearing a lot, viz., 'Alls I know is, ...' (or is it 'All's I know is, ...'?).

I'm not sure quite what to make of this. Looks like a job for Language Log.

We're always glad to be of assistance to citizenry in language-related distress. As for "all's I know is...", the linguistic superheros over at Linguist List handled this one back in 1992, when Mike Carter wrote:

Reply to Ron Smyth on "all's I know...." This looks like a contraction of "all as I know..." similar to "there's some as....." for "there are some who..."a regular feature of my childhood dialect (English, East Kent), and presumably influenced by Scandinavian, where I believe "som" can be both a relative pronoun and the equivalent of "as".

and Scott Delancey expressed a similar opinion:

_All's I know is_ would be perfectly regular in a dialect with _as_ as a relative marker (as in _Them as has, gets_) -- All as (= that) I know is. I've always assumed that this was the analysis; any reason not to think so?

Brian Teaman, on the other hand, said that for him, the contracted form was a frozen idiom without any uncontracted variant:

"Alls I know" is one feature I have in my English that doesn't seem to be common on the East Coast. I must have acquired this in Lorain, Ohio (near Cleveland) where I grew up. Others have pointed out that it struck them as unusual. I think I can credit Peter Patrick for first pointing it out to me.

As for the analysis "All as I know", alls I know is it might be a historical fact but it is not part of my understanding of the form. To me, it was always just "all" with an "s" attached. I absolutely cannot say the full form "as" in this context. And, until now, I don't think I ever wrote it down; perhaps this could be some indication that I recognized it as non-standard, or at least only a spoken form.

while Ellen Contini-Morava offered an explanation for Brian's intuitions:

on "all's I know is...": I had always heard that this was a dialect form of "all", retaining an -s originally derived from German "alles"-- no connection to the copula at all. Is it found outside of areas that were settled by German speakers?

So there's apparently a dialect in which "all's" is a special colloquial form, perhaps influenced by German alles, but the more productive (and I think more widespread pattern) is for as to be used as a substitute for that in certain contexts. Among the contexts that come to mind for me, besides the ones already cited by Mike Carter and Scott Delancy, are

I don't know as I agree.
He's the one as needs to apologize.

As for Stuart Buck's daughter's hypothesis about where English verbal inflections should go

he's want to go
it's make me happy

I agree with Tadlow Windsor II that this is a different thing entirely. And I very much doubt, by the way, that the young lady is really putting verbal endings on the subject -- it's much more plausible that she's just overgeneralizing the location of 's and 'd between subject and verb in phrases like "she's fallen" or "it's raining".

Turning back to "all's I know" and the like, it's not easy to find other examples via Google, but here's one:

( link) Them as can do has to do for them as can't. And someone has to speak up for them as has no voices.

and here's a whole little bouquet, though of artificial flowers:

Them as has, gets.
Them as ain't should have been.
Them as didn't belonged to the wrong pahty.
Them as don't care can go away.
Them as ain't , is.
Them as reads old New England proverbs is teched, I 'low.

By the way, a Google search on "all's I know" turns up the two Linguist List issues that I quoted, as the fourth and fifth items in the list returned -- use the net, Luke!


Posted by Mark Liberman at July 24, 2004 07:56 AM