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The passage below is taken from Life's Little Ironies by Thomas Hardy. My question concerns "Now be we all here?". I understand that it means "Now are we all here?". The writer might have left the verb "to be" unconjugated to create a certain effect. Perhaps, he wanted his readers to see the carrier as a poorly educated man. Does this use of the verb "to be" make you think of the same thing? If not, what impression do you get?

‘Now be we all here?’ said the carrier again. They started a second time, and moved on till they were about three hundred yards out of the town, and had nearly reached the second bridge, behind which, as every native remembers, the road takes a turn and travellers by this highway disappear finally from the view of gazing burghers.

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    Closely related: Why "the powers that be"? "Be" is not unconjugated; it is an old variant plural form of the verb "to be", which survived longer in some dialects than in others. I don't know the significance of Hardy using it in this context. – sumelic Aug 20 '18 at 4:12
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    I suspect Hardy was faithfully reproducing a regional English dialect, but I can't say for sure. – Peter Shor Aug 20 '18 at 4:23
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    @PeterShor Hardy's fiction is generally set in his home region of Dorset (fictionalised as Wessex). He would be reproducing the local dialect. – Kate Bunting Aug 20 '18 at 8:10
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    Without additional context, I would interpret it as an attempt at formality. But of course in the context of that story it's likely just regional dialect. – Hot Licks Aug 21 '18 at 11:39
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Perhaps, he wanted his readers to see the carrier as a poorly educated man. Does this use of the verb "to be" make you think of the same thing? If not, what impression do you get?

Be as a conjugated form of be is a feature of several English dialects, including West Country English. I would suggest that Hardy intended the character to sound rural or perhaps 'unrefined' as a writing shortcut, rather like how someone might use all y'all to suggest someone from the American South or aye to suggest someone from Scotland. Dialectal features are a quick way for writers to add just enough to a character to 'get by' in a scene.

I think 'uneducated' is not quite the right word here, bearing in mind that as late as 1950, less than 4% of the population of the UK attended university. In 1860 (the nearest date I could find), this was less than 2% of the population. Education in any form was not mandatory until 1880 in England.

Anyway, I have rambled on a bit. Rural might be a better descriptor than uneducated in this context.

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