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  1. #1
    sunbride is offline Newbie
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    Default T. Ray don't know nothing.

    Dear Teacher,

    'Does T. Ray know what you're doing?'
    'T. Ray don't know nothing.' These sentences are from the bestseller The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. The whole book is also a text for discussion in the present CPE exam.

    I don't understand why the writer uses 'don't' instead of 'doesn't' in the second sentence.
    It is very strange to me, while the dual negative structure is not, I have come across with it several times.
    But using 'don't' when refering to a person who is not present, I cannot explain. Would it be accepted in modern American English? Or does it have a special meaning, context, connotation? Thank you for help.

  2. #2
    TheParser is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: T. Ray don't know nothing.

    ***** NOT A TEACHER *****


    Hello,

    I have read that in the 19th century, many educated people here in the States and in the United Kingdom regularly used "don't" with the third person. Then school teachers kept beating into students' heads that the correct form should be "doesn't." So today, if a person says "He don't," that person is considered by many people to be (pardon the word) "ignorant" or "poorly educated."

    NOTES:

    1. Was that "bestseller" set in the 19th century?
    2. Does that "bestseller" describe a "poorly educated" person?
    3. From 1913 - 1921, our president was Woodrow Wilson. I have read that he regularly said in private things such as "He don't," but in public he was always careful to use "doesn't."


    James

  3. #3
    SoothingDave is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: T. Ray don't know nothing.

    The connotation is that the speaker doesn't know proper English.

    You might hear this type of construction in certain groups, but it is not acceptable for formal use.

  4. #4
    sunbride is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: T. Ray don't know nothing.

    Dear James,
    Thank you for help. The bestseller is set in the middle of the 20th century. It describes a 14 years old girl whose teacher finds her very talented, especially in literature. The author is from the Southern United States and the story takes place there, too.

    Dear ShootingDave,
    Thank you for your notes. Do you think 'don't' in the third person can be accepted at all? I mean as an 'informal' way.

  5. #5
    SoothingDave is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: T. Ray don't know nothing.

    Informally, among a peer group it is accepted. I don't talk that way, unless I am doing it for emphasis. "He don't know who he's messing with."

  6. #6
    Barb_D's Avatar
    Barb_D is offline Moderator
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    Default Re: T. Ray don't know nothing.

    You must expect that characters in fiction will speak in non-standard dialects.

    "He doesn't know anything" is standard. "He don't know nothing" is exactly what you would expect from a character who doesn't know proper grammar or who doesn't care about social conventions and using "good" English.
    Last edited by Rover_KE; 04-Oct-2012 at 18:05.
    I'm not a teacher, but I write for a living. Please don't ask me about 2nd conditionals, but I'm a safe bet for what reads well in (American) English.

  7. #7
    sunbride is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: T. Ray don't know nothing.

    To ShootingDave: your emphasis explanation seems to be the closest to what I feel from the situation in the novel. The speaker is not poorly educated and has no special dialect but someone who has to know proper grammar. In other conversations she speaks standard.

    To Barb_D: as far as I understand you imply that 'don't' with the 3rd person in some cases can be regard as a 'dialect.' I will remember that, thanks.

    I would be interested in your views about the following part of Chris Rea lyrics. The singer was born and lives in the UK:

    And on the bus there is a friend of mine
    We go way back to the scene of the crime
    We sit up front and share a cigarette
    And try to remember what we tried to forget

    He say "Do you remember?"
    He say "Do you recall?"
    I say yeah I remember, oh, I remember it all (Windy Town)

    How can you explain this "He say" instead of 'he says'? I really want to understand such grammar usage, so I am grateful for all your help.

  8. #8
    bhaisahab's Avatar
    bhaisahab is offline Moderator
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    Default Re: T. Ray don't know nothing.

    Quote Originally Posted by sunbride View Post
    To ShootingDave: your emphasis explanation seems to be the closest to what I feel from the situation in the novel. The speaker is not poorly educated and has no special dialect but someone who has to know proper grammar. In other conversations she speaks standard.

    To Barb_D: as far as I understand you imply that 'don't' with the 3rd person in some cases can be regard as a 'dialect.' I will remember that, thanks.

    I would be interested in your views about the following part of Chris Rea lyrics. The singer was born and lives in the UK:

    And on the bus there is a friend of mine
    We go way back to the scene of the crime
    We sit up front and share a cigarette
    And try to remember what we tried to forget

    He say "Do you remember?"
    He say "Do you recall?"
    I say yeah I remember, oh, I remember it all (Windy Town)

    How can you explain this "He say" instead of 'he says'? I really want to understand such grammar usage, so I am grateful for all your help.
    It is not a good idea to look for good grammar in popular songs.

  9. #9
    sunbride is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: T. Ray don't know nothing.

    To bhaisahab: But it's no reason for using 'he say' by a British singer unless it is accepted in any usage of English.
    'Says' would not be longer and can be sung as well. Does it have any common with my first quote at the beginning of the thread?

    If I listen to a Hungarian pop song (I am Hungarian), it can contain some shorter, simplier grammatical solution compared with the formal language or it can contain slang, informal or even derogative expressions, but not gramatically wrong structures. That's why I would like to understand the reason for 'he say' as well. I must think it is also correct or accepted in a way, but what way?
    Last edited by sunbride; 04-Oct-2012 at 21:03.

  10. #10
    Grumpy's Avatar
    Grumpy is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: T. Ray don't know nothing.

    Having just listened to a couple of recordings [on YouTube] of Chris Rea singing this song at different times in his career, I don't think he actually sings "He say" : I think he sings "He said". It can be difficult to pick out the difference, as he tends to cut off the last part of the word. If you look up the lyrics online, as I have also just done, they are printed as "He said".

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