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I heard this phrasing in an episode of a TV show, but I can't remember what for the life of me. I just remember how weird it sounded, because no one else talked like that in the series?

It was a white character in a rural setting, if that helps. A criminal henchman. Is there an area or something where "You wants I..." is commonplace?

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    Sounds like a pseudo-old-timey affectation of some kind of Midlands/North England accent to me, but I don’t know if something like this would actually occur there. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 28 '18 at 16:31
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    They don't use dialectologists to check the accents in Hollywood. If it sounds good to the director, that's a wrap. Sorting out accents is a job for a professional. – John Lawler Dec 28 '18 at 16:37
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    It sounds ersatz to me. By themselves those instances of "you wants" and "I should" are probably available in various AmE dialects, but they don't sound like they go together. – Robusto Dec 28 '18 at 16:39
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    Exactly. This is how some Hollywood actor interprets how he believes Italian-Americans living in New York City talk. (But maybe they do. Wha'd I know?) – cobaltduck Dec 28 '18 at 16:39
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    ...of course, if it's an American setting, most likely it's not a dialectal usage at all - just someone who doesn't actually speak English very well (or a careless scriptwriter). – FumbleFingers Dec 28 '18 at 18:03
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I'm not sure about that "wants," but "you want I should ___" is probably originally from either German or Yiddish. However, today, it's very common (perhaps even more common) to hear this construction used by Mafiosi in movies and television shows. I.e. it's become associated with (a cliché, broad caricature of) Italian-Americans.

"You want I should" is a calque of the German du willst dass ich soll and of the Yiddish וועלן איך זאָלן/veln ikh zoln (someone with better Yiddish is encouraged to correct that). In other words, a German or Yiddish speaker might naively make a word for word translation of du willst dass ich soll/וועלן איך זאָלן into English and say "you want I should." This is non-standard, but intelligible, or close enough to the standard English that its use was common.

As to which immigrant group is really responsible for the phrase's familiarity, it's hard to say. The large German migration predates the large Jewish migration of the late 19th century and we do see an increase in the recorded uses of "want I should" around the time of the German immigration: "What's the history behind the phrase 'you want I should'?"

However, given Yiddish performers' influence on popular culture, and Jewish immigrants' presence in urban centers (like New York, whose dialect is probably the most closely associated with "you want I should"), my gut tells me that it was the Yiddish calque, rather than the German one, that made a lasting impression on American English.


Other discussions on the subject:
"You want I should ask him?", Language Log
"You want I should", xkcd
"You want I should", Linguaphiles

  • I don’t know if it actually is so or not, but there’s no reason it shouldn’t also be a feature of Italo-American. The Romance languages mandatorily use subjunctive complement clauses as the object of verbs of desire when the subject is different from the matrix subject (i.e., “I want that you be” instead of “I want you to be”), and should is a common-enough way to express the subjunctive in English. More common in BrE than AmE, granted, but not unknown in AmE either. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 28 '18 at 21:50
  • @JanusBahsJacquet, that's a fair point. I don't know Italian at all, so can't comment on this. I suppose I would be a little surprised to learn that the phrase had evolved convergently in Italian-American and Yiddish-American, but it's not impossible to imagine. I'll do a little research, or at least update my answer to hedge my bet a little. – Juhasz Dec 28 '18 at 22:24

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