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According to the British Library site, the use of nonstandard forms of past tense expressions like “we was” are common in some English dialects

The verb 'to be' has two simple past forms in Standard English - I/he/she/it was and you/we/they were. Apart from the special case of you, the distinction is, therefore, between singular was and plural were.

In some regional dialects, however, this pattern is not observed. In some parts of the country, speakers use was throughout, while speakers elsewhere use were exclusively. There are also dialects where the two different forms are used for the opposite function - singular were and plural was.

Usage examples are not hard to find in print:

1) What we was after was a couple of noble big di'monds as big as hazel-nuts, which everybody was running to see. We was dressed up fine, and ... - From Tom Sawyer, Detective by Mark Twain

2) And we was in the lifeboat —I'd say about nine days. While we was in the lifeboat a German submarine surfaced. That's why I thought we might've got torpedoed too. - From Merchant Marine Survivors of World War II: Oral Histories of Cargo

3) We was on the come up. We all brought cars with the money we had stashed and the money we was making off the coke we was moving. - From Lust, Money, Envy

but probably the more memorable usage was by George Harrison in the song titled When we was fab.

Questions:

1) where in the UK is this dialectal usage present?

2) what is the origin of this usage? An old usage survived from Middle English for instance?

3) is the above usage present also in dialectal forms of AmE?

  • Hello! English specific questions should be asked at English Language & Usage. – curiousdannii Nov 13 '18 at 11:16
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    I'm voting to leave this open because it is about Linguistics; it's asking about the history &or dialectology of a particular construction. – Wilson Nov 13 '18 at 11:50
  • @curiousdannii: I remember seeing this question posted at ELU earlier, but it was deleted: english.stackexchange.com/questions/472657/… – sumelic Nov 13 '18 at 16:39
  • @sumelic - yes, I was “advised” to post here. If the question is off-topic also here...I really don’t know where to post it. – user240918 Nov 13 '18 at 16:49
  • It's ontopic at ELU but you do have do your own research first. – curiousdannii Nov 13 '18 at 22:15
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1) where in the UK is this dialectal usage present?

I think mostly in the South-East; Kent, London, etc.

2) what is the origin of this usage? An old usage survived from Middle English for instance?

Nope, older forms of English regularly distinguish plural and singular forms in the verb conjugation paradigm.

It is the grammaticalisation cycle taking its course. Because the pronoun is obligatory, a verb conjugation is redundant. So a language will tend to remove it, especially if the phonetic difference is slight. This has not only happened in English though! In the closely related languages, Afrikaans and Norwegian, this process has completed, and verbs simply are not conjugated, even in the standard language.

3) is the above usage present also in dialectal forms of AmE?

Certainly. For example, AAVE has this feature. And who knows, maybe the process will continue, and eventually be standard in English as well.

  • (There are a few Norwegian dialects which do feature conjugation; these are generally moribund though) – Wilson Nov 13 '18 at 11:53

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