September 24, 2007

"I'll be done drive": ungrammatical in any dialect?

Patrik Jonsson's recent article "The Southern Drawl: Is It Spreading?", ABC News, 9/22/2007, starts this way:

True story: A North Carolina teacher gave an example to his class of a statement by the school's football coach: "I'll be done drove there by 3 o'clock." Now, the teacher said, give the correct future perfect tense of that sentence. A boy's hand shot up. "I'll be done drive," he said proudly.

As a Yankee, I can believe that in some parts of the American South, some people say things like "I('ll) be done drove". I recall this Muddy Waters lyric:

Well, now it ain't no use to you rambling, when your baby don't want you to ramble around
Yes, now it ain't no use to you rambling, when your baby don't want you to ramble around
Well keep on rambling, she be done drove on out of this town

And internet search turns up this bit of oral history:

Oh, when they'd be throwing out those hymns, them old, good hymns, when you'd be down at the bottom of the hill trying to get that dust off your feet to get your shoes on, because you'd be done walked there barefoot.

And this quotation from a web forum:

Plus I don\'t know if you hear the little digs, but from a female point of view, I be done dragged her little ass off to the ladies\' and we would have had a talk ...

But I'm also pretty sure that "be done drove/walked/dragged/etc." is limited to certain regions and classes. Here's the reaction of a woman born and raised near Dallas:

Gosh, no, it sounds like something a hick would say. <snort>

And to a woman from Wichita Falls, the whole thing sounds so outlandish that she she interpreted "done" as a full verb form meaning "finished", rather than as a marker of perfect aspect:

I can state with confidence that there are no hicks in Wichita Falls who would say such a strange and un-English thing. In fact, I'll go further and say that "I'll be done..." would not be uttered in the city limits of Wichita Falls by someone who was born there. "I'll be finished..." is OK, and "I'll be through..." is OK, but I actually thought that "I'll be done..." was a *Yankee* thing.

Hah! In accordance with my view that this is a Yankee thing, you will note that the story is set in *North* Carolina.

To which the Dallasite responded

Yeah, and I swear I can hear this in one of those strange Maine accents...

And I haven't found anyone yet, from any part of this great nation of ours, who can interpret "I'll be done drive" as anything other than the punch line of a joke. If you disagree, please let me know.

[Update: more here.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at September 24, 2007 08:33 PM