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Recently, I discovered the following sentence in a Terry Pratchett book (which was not a typing error, since it appeared several times):

I sees what he's doing.

Presumably, the wrong usage of the third person form for the first person is some kind of slang, right? Where does it originate?

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It's just affected speech. Pratchett does this often to imply a character is not formally educated and is probably lower class. – Matt E. Эллен Aug 15 '12 at 9:26
up vote 4 down vote accepted

According to Wikipedia, Pratchett has spent much of his life in the southwestern part of England, growing up in Buckinghamshire, and living in Somerset and Wiltshire. The use of -s in many verb forms (and not just in the 3rd person singular) is a dialect feature in this region.

Peter Trudgill writes in Dialects:

The grammatical rule for present-tense verb forms in the Berkshire dialect is obviously not the same as the one in Standard English. As you can see, Berkshire verb forms have the present-tense -s for all persons. The verbs go like this:

            Singular         Plural
1st person  I sings          we sings
2nd person  you sings        you sings
3rd person  he/she/it sings  they sings

Present-tense verb forms like this are part of the grammatical structure of dialects in many areas of southwestern England and South Wales, as well as other areas.

Like many regional dialects in England, this feature is well along the process of being displaced by the dialect of London and the southeast, but hangs on in the more remote and rural areas.

Pratchett doesn't have a well-worked-out system of dialects in his Discworld novels. Instead, he applies a variety of features somewhat haphazardly to indicate that a character speaks a non-standard dialect. Here are some examples of characters from widely separated parts of the Discworld demonstrating this grammatical feature:

Wintersmith — Granny Weatherwax — ‘I hopes I sees you in good health.’

Small Gods — unnamed Omnian — ‘Listen, I knows a square when I sees one!’

Snuff — Willikins — ‘I knows a bad one when I sees them.’

Interesting Times — Cohen the Barbarian — ‘I knows a wizard when I sees one!’

Pratchett's other techniques for indicating non-standard dialect include eye dialect:

Monstrous Regiment — Sergeant Jackrum — ‘This, my lads, is what we call a real orientation lectchoor...’

G dropping:

Guards! Guards! — Sergeant Colon — ‘We’re jus’ goin’ down, goin’ down—’

And H dropping:

Thief of Time — unnamed dwarf — ‘Sign ’ere, where it says “Sign ’Ere”.’

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Thanks for the comprehensive answer - this forces me to shift the right answer. – Alexander Rühl Aug 16 '12 at 12:06
+1 for the great answer. I figured it might be an English dialect, since Pratchett is English and I read most of his characters with British accents (the first thing I looked for was along the lines of "calls 'em as I sees 'em, guvna"). I wasn't sure if it'd be regional or class-based (I just went with the first thing I came across). Excellent digging to actually pin down an origin and adding additional references in Discworld! – Zairja Aug 16 '12 at 12:56

As already stated, this is affected speech used to show that a character is uneducated or lower-class and therefore unfamiliar with the rules of grammar.

Pratchett utilizes similar affectations with hith Igorth who talk with a lithp (his Igors who talk with a lisp).

As to where and when one may actually come across this speech in the real world, it is found (among many other places) in the writing of Rev. George Hall who recorded the lore and family history of English Roma (British Romany), also known as gypsies. However, I'm not sure whether the character in question would fall into this category or not. It may also be modeled after the speech of a pikey (note this is a pejorative).

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Hard to say for sure, but it strikes me as the stereotyped speech pattern of an uneducated African American from somewhere around the 1970's or before. (That speech stereotype wouldn't be expected today.)

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See Gollum’s speech. He wasn’t an African American. – tchrist Aug 15 '12 at 12:56
Fair enough. Perhaps simply "uneducated". – Bob Aug 15 '12 at 13:00

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