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Native North American speaker here. It's fairly common in certain British dialects to substitute "me" for "my" (Shiver me timbers) in informal speech.

My impression is that some speakers mix the two.

What are the descriptive rules for selecting between the two variants?

Specifically, I'm asking about usage of

A non-standard variant of my (particularly in British dialects) is me. (This may have its origins in the fact that in Middle English my before a consonant was pronounced [mi:], like modern English me, (while me was [me:], similar to modern may) and this was shortened to [mi] or [mɪ], as the pronouns he and we are nowadays; [hi wɒz] he was; versus [ɪt wɒz hi:] it was he. As this vowel was short, it was not subject to the Great Vowel Shift, and so emerged in modern English unchanged.)

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_personal_pronouns#Archaic_and_non-standard)

As an example, here is an excerpt from the character Daisy in Downton Abbey:

DAISY
Someone walked over me grave.

(https://scriptline.livejournal.com/43860.html)

Someone please supply a video clip of this speech pattern. I'm sure it can be found, but I can't.

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    @Josh61: I think OP refers only to the (regional) pronunciation of my as me, in which case there are no rules for it, at least within the scope of this site: perhaps Linguistics.SE could help. May 21, 2015 at 19:24
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    I can't speak for the US, but it seems to me (unstressed) my reduces to /mə/ or /mɪ/ virtually everywhere in the UK, apart from Scotland, where they're more likely to use /mæ/. The Scottish version is usually written mah, which everyone understands as nothing more than an attempt to replicate the actual sound. It's just that the more widespread versions are usually written as me in "eye dialect", causing some people to assume that represents a different actual word being used. But I agree with you - it's really just a different pronunciation for the word my. May 21, 2015 at 19:40
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    @TimLymington While people don't consciously decide how to speak, they're often consistent about how they use words, and some underlying rules can often be discerned by analyzing the patterns. It's these unconscious decisions I think he's asking about.
    – Barmar
    May 21, 2015 at 20:16
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    It’s not special, and it’s not rare. @Fumble has the right of this matter here. It is simply an alternate pronunciation, and one documented by the OED, too.
    – tchrist
    May 29, 2015 at 3:35
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    It's a non-standard usage, one which is often used in movies (at least in the US) to imply membership in the British lower-classes. It's hard to guess (from this side of the pond) whether the usage is actually common in the UK. (I certainly don't recall it being used by the few UK-born folks I've known over the years.)
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 7, 2017 at 3:43

1 Answer 1

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This is a complicated matter. There exists an unstressed form of my which, because of normal vowel reduction of unstressed syllables, is variously pronounced [mi ~ mɪ ~ mɨ ~ mə] without the normal long diphthong [mɑɪ] which you’re used to hearing.

This reduced pronunciation is often heard in the north of Britain today, but it is not strictly limited to that region; this unstressed form has existed in English as long as the language has existed. Its use has been stigmatized, but it is not wrong and it’s certainly common enough.

What arguably is wrong is to misleadingly spell it me as though it were the wrong word. It isn’t: it’s the right word, but people are writing it wrong. They’re using what we call a “spelling-pronunciation” to try to use non-standard spelling to represent dialect speech.

Wikipedia calls this a “pronunciation respelling”:

A pronunciation respelling is a regular phonetic respelling of a word that does have a standard spelling, so as to indicate the pronunciation. Pronunciation respellings are sometimes seen in dictionaries.

It’s like h-dropping in non-tonic syllables. Just because someone says “Give ’er another one” without an [h] doesn’t mean you should normally write her that way.

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  • Shouldn't you add that this pronunciation is normally found in the north of Great Britain? The writer is British and so too are the characters in Harry Potter. As an aside, I believe me mam crosses from the Irish borders. (Not sure about that)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 7, 2017 at 7:15
  • Please read @NVZ's comment to the question.
    – user140086
    Jan 7, 2017 at 9:45
  • @Mari-LouA I think that's a little too specific. I've certainly heard it used in London and other parts of Southern England. "Where's me jumper?" is a song by the Sultans of Ping FC who are apparently Irish. Something similar is also used in Caribbean (-influenced) English.
    – Chris H
    Jan 7, 2017 at 13:18
  • This is also stereotypical Pirate language. "Avast, me hearties" etc.
    – John Feltz
    Jan 7, 2017 at 13:34
  • @ChrisH my original comment was moved to here. Thought I had lost it for a moment when I saw the question had changed :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 7, 2017 at 13:46

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