Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

In Southern US English, adverb forms are almost always replaced by their adjective forms. For example:

The journey was awful long.
He's running real fast.
He ran to the store quick.
He plays tennis good.

This seems something unique to Southern US English. What dynamic is there in that region that has resulted in this loss of a distinct adverb and adjective?

share|improve this question
3  
I think you'll find that some of these, anyway, are much more widespread than Southern US; and that many of them go back a long time, to before there were prescriptive grammarians telling people that an adverb and an adjective had to be different in English. –  Colin Fine Oct 12 '11 at 9:49
    
Really? I wouldn't expect to hear them (outside of a very informal context, perhaps one where someone is purposely imitating Southern US English) in too many other places of the anglosphere. –  Jez Oct 12 '11 at 9:52
2  
If you want to speak well of a footballer in the UK, you don’t say ‘My goodness, he played with such skill and panache.’ No, what you say is, ‘The boy done good.’ –  Barrie England Oct 12 '11 at 11:13
2  
"Awfu'" as an intensifier is well-known in Scotland –  Colin Fine Oct 12 '11 at 11:56
4  
'Why' questions are so hard...it sounds like you're looking for a cause/effect and usually language change is all about fashion (except for maybe phonology). But it still sounds like you're trying to get the answer "they do it cuz them suth'ners er dumb". –  Mitch Oct 12 '11 at 13:39
show 5 more comments

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

"Real" and "awful" as intensifiers go back a real long time, and are much further widespread than the U.S. South. See this ngram. With respect to these particular terms, I imagine people in the South speak English just as good as anywhere else.

real/really fast, awful/awfully bad

For "ran quick", you might actually have a valid complaint, since Ngrams shows "quickly" is much more common. But one example isn't good evidence of a general trend towards adverb loss.

share|improve this answer
    
In another example, Google search shows that wicked, as an intensifier, seems to be used just around as often as wickedly, and I associate neither of these with the South. And the British say bloody rather than bloodily (except when talking about actual blood). I don't think you can argue the the South is unique in using adjectives as intensifiers, and I don't even know whether this should be considered bad grammar. –  Peter Shor Oct 19 '11 at 13:06
3  
To my New England ear, wicked as an intensifier is an adverb. When someone says that was wicked, I can’t help but wait for the other shoe to drop. Though it’s not universal: wicked old man is an old man who is wicked (cruel), but wicked old dude is probably a dude who is wicked (very) old. Wickedly isn’t used in the same way at all. –  Jon Purdy Jan 9 '12 at 16:47
    
@Jon: Looking at Ngrams, "wickedly cold," for example, is used nearly as often as "wicked cold". But I totally agree that those people using "wickedly" as an intensifier can't be from New England. After having lived here nearly a decade, it sounds wrong to me, too. –  Peter Shor Jan 10 '12 at 5:01
add comment

For whatever reason, Southern speech has kept many old forms. The use of flat adverbs was once more common than it is now. So it's not a case of Southerners (and others as well) abandoning the -ly but rather a case of preserving the non-ly form!

"Old John of Gaunt is grievous sick, my lord" — King Richard II, Act I, Sc. IV.

"the weather was so violent hot ... the weather being excessive hot ... extreme hot ... the sea went dreadful high. - Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe

Common uses of flat adverbs:
Stay close to me.
Drive slow.
Think different.
Hang tough.
Do right.
pitch black
mighty fine
I sure hope ...
Drive safe.
The batter drove the ball the deep.
He tried to go deep with that pass.
Quick, take the shot!

share|improve this answer
1  
This is interesting - do you have further references on this? –  Marcin Jan 9 '12 at 16:45
    
+1: But I don't think "pitch black" counts. Pitch is a noun, not an adjective, so this is an expression with a noun followed by a color, just like "coal black", "blood red", "sky blue" or "sea green". –  Peter Shor Jan 10 '12 at 12:11
    
@Marcin It's all from memory over the years. I'v read many times that some grammar and speech patterns are still in use in the South. For byspel, it's common to hear the l in walk, talk, palm, psalm, almond pronounced. Yu'r more likely to hear the aspirated h like hit or 'it for it. The old dativ pronoun usage for reflexiv instead of the reflexiv pronoun ... I bought me a hamburger rather than I bought myself a hamburger. The a- forefast (prefix) is heard more. Reckon is a well used verb in the South. As we talked about here, flat adverbs. I'v even heard ye up in the mountains. –  AnWulf Jan 17 '12 at 6:11
add comment

"Good" as adverb is widespread even if it is seen as an error in many places. I've come across it countless times and I'm not in the South. Also, it's arguable that the "-ly" suffix is redundant since the word order usually lets you infer that these words are adverbs and not adjectives. So just as my daughter, who is still learning to talk, naturally decides to use adjective words as adverbs, it seems natural that this sort of thing would be common. My intuition tells me that this sort of speech is associated with people/regions who are or were historically less educated, such as farmers (who spent more time farming than reading, for example). I have certainly heard this kind of speech in rural Ontario but don't hear it as much in urban Ontario. I don't have any hard evidence to back this up.

share|improve this answer
    
I see much potential for ambiguity without separate adverbs, actually, so I totally disagree about the redundancy. One of the most (sadly) widespread ones, "he did good", is a thoroughly ambiguous phrase which can be closer to "he did well", or to "he did good deeds". –  Jez Oct 12 '11 at 13:09
3  
It can be ambiguous but often the context is enough. "Did you see how fast Jez ran?" "Yeah, he did good." Soooo many sentences are ambiguous without context. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Oct 12 '11 at 13:23
    
Ah, but did Jez do well in his endeavours by running fast, or was his running fast in itself a good deed, because he was being sponsored to run fast for charity (or something)? –  Jez Oct 12 '11 at 13:55
2  
I don't think that your second interpretation is likely or common without further context. And in either case it could mean BOTH meanings simultaneously, which might make this usage MORE useful rather than less. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Oct 12 '11 at 14:20
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.