September 25, 2007

"Be done" again

Yesterday I commented on a joke about a North Carolina teacher who cites the dialect form "I'll be done drove there by 3:00", and asks for the "correct" future perfect. In standard written American English, that would actually be "I will have driven there by 3:00"; but (according to the joke) a kid in the class suggests the form "I'll be done drive".

I wanted to check my outsider's intuition that "I'll be done drove" is a possible form, but limited by geography and class rather than being a general Southern States thing; and that "I'll be done drive" is a sort of morphological mash-up, only possible as a joke or a speech error. I cited some responses from Texans suggesting both geographical and class associations. In this morning's mail, Jake Voorhees explains the situation lucidly from the point of view of someone situated further to the east:

"I'll be done drive" would be ludicrous, even amongst the uneducated of the North Georgia Appalachian region. I live in North Georgia and come from a long line of Georgia lower class, and have never heard anything of the sort. More likely would be a future perfect instance, with the person saying, "I'll have done drove." "I'll be done drove" is easily conceivable, but even that is a rarer usage generally found in clans with a tradition of never going far into high school. Being relatively newly graduated from high school, with fresh, painful memories of how mixed up tenses become in the average English class, I have little doubt that "I'll be done drive" is a result of a student with a background in the traditional dialect experiencing momentary confusion on the proper form.

Or (perhaps more likely) it was a fictional construction by the jokesmith, imaging what such a student might have said.

For those who know (or are willing to learn) what perfective and resultative mean, Bill Labov added some fascinating linguistic analysis, suggesting that (at least in African-American Vernacular English) "be done" is not exactly a future perfect, but something more flexible, which "can be used to refer to inevitable consequence in past, present or future", and "is also free of any reference to a specific location in time in relation to the moment of speaking".

Yes, that is the future perfect, but there's a complication. In most future perfect uses, there's another (sometimes implicit) clause that marks the first of two successive events in the future, and the clause with "be done" or "will have" is attached to the first. But AAVE has evolved recently to permit attachment to the second, creating a resultative rather than perfective use.

It seems to be a matter of pure tense == time relations, not perfective aspect, even though "done" is involved. If anything, the sense of "inevitable consequence" in the resultative smacks of mood rather than aspect.

This is pretty well laid out in the attached section from my 1998 paper on "Co-existent systems" and in some more recent ones too. I'm also attaching a handout I found laying around from a course I taught in 89. I've got a fair amount of other data from my students' observations in the 1990s and 2000s in LING160.

On the "I'll be done drove" story, it's worth noting that there is considerable variation in the form of the participle. I think it's interesting that some non-linguists see the relation between "be done" and "will have" (you do get "I'll be done. . .").

I recommend the lucid accont in the cited section of a book chapter, which is taken from "Co-existent Sytems in African American English", pages 110-153 in S. Mufwene , J. Rickford, J. Baugh and G. Bailey (eds.), The Structure of African-American English, 1998.

Here's Bill's 1989 class handout:

L160S89.H04 Feb 2, 1989
Introduction to Sociolinguistics W. Labov, T. Morton

2. Some uses of be done.

From Baugh 1983:

(9) We be done washed all the cars by the time JoJo gets back with the cigarettes [said at a church-sponsored car wash].
(10) They be done spent my money before I even get a look at it.
(11) I'll be done killed that motherfucker if he tries to lay a hand on my kid again

From Dayton 1984:

(12) By the time he finish, we be done paid him so much I could direct. [BF 25].
(13) I don't want no silver dollars in my possession because I be done dropped ;them in the machines. [BF 25]
(14) My ice cream's gonna be done melted by the time we get there. [BF 25]
(15) So they can be done ate their lunch by the time they get there [vacation Bible school] [BF 30].
(16) I should be done lost 70 pounds by the time we get there [BF 25]
(17) We coulda be done wrote it. [BF 25]
(18) A: Where's Willy?
       B: He be d—ne left.[BM 36]
(19) That washer oughta be d—ne cut off.[watching television, talking about washing machine downstairs, BF 70].
(20) I'm gonna be done hafta went back and finished in eight years [BF 30's].
(21) The readin' of the scriptures, all that's gonna be done done. [BF 40's]
(22) If you love your enemy, they be done ate you alive in this society. [BF 36]
(23) He [a nephew] knows best not to talk back to me 'cause I be done slapped the little knock kneed thing upside the head. [BF 19]
(24) Don't do that 'cause you be done messed up your clothes! [to cousins 4,5,6 running up and down the steps, BF 17]
(25) [to a dog barking] Get outta my way or I'll be done slid you in the face! [BF 26]

[Update -- a "side note" from Dick Margulis:

A couple of weeks ago on COPYEDITING-L, Kyle McCaskill posted the following, which she has given me permission to forward to you...

"... Up until today I had never heard this usage from anyone but my husband: "I am done this book," meaning, "I have finished reading this book." He's from North Carolina, so I thought it was colloquial southern phrasing. But today I was stopped in my tracks by the same use from a New England colleague: "I am done this round of checking."

"Discussions of "done" versus "finished" aside, I might say "I am done with this round" or "I am done checking," but "I am done this [noun]" gives me hives. Has anyone else encountered it?"

A discussion ensued in which the following were contributed by other observers:

- "I'm finally done the laundry" in Kanata, Ontario

- "I am done work for today" or "You can leave when you are done dinner" in Pennsylvania German-influenced English

I'm surprised to see some of these (e.g. "I'm done work for today") raise an eyebrow, much less cause hives. I'm afraid I may have raised some rashes over the years without even knowing it (no jokes there in the back).

And Cathy Prasad writes from Houston:

As someone who grew up at least on the fringes of the South (Texas, West Virginia), I would probably not blink an eye if someone said "I'll be done drove", but I would stop to ask, "Who's driving you? Is something wrong with your truck?". I would think the standard English equivalent would be "I will have been driven".


Posted by Mark Liberman at September 25, 2007 06:55 AM