We moved to CA from Norfolk, VA as children. Our parents and grandparents are college educated yet we four all said “amn’t,” to the shock of our CA neighbors. We no longer say it but I wondered why we all said this in 1967. All I can find in an online search is that they use it in Ireland and Scotland. Of note: My second and 3rd generation Irish parents from Boston and St. Louis did not use it. Is it common in southern Virginia?

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    Though not very often, and not very well. The most likely thing is that this was a family usage that persisted and was possibly unexceptionable in your home town, but not in the one you moved to. There are several million idioms and special usages in English, and each has its own unique history. Most of these are never studied. – John Lawler Apr 11 at 16:24
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    I've only heard this used (and occasionally used it myself) in a jocular sense. – Hot Licks Apr 26 at 19:02

In modern usage, amn't as primarily Scottish and Irish, but according to the OED, it appears to have been more widespread in the past, falling out of use as shifts in vowel patterns made it more difficult to pronounce than an't or ain't. The OED lists a number of forms of am with a negative particle, many remaining in current dialectical use. To focus on the amt / amn't variants, these include the following, along with the centuries they have been known to be in use:

  • 16 amt
  • 16–17 (19– U.S. (nonstandard)) amn't
  • English regional (west midlands and northern)
    • 18 ammot (Yorkshire)
    • 18– amma (Shropshire)
    • 18– ammad (Shropshire)
    • 18– amna
    • 18– amnad (Shropshire)
    • 18– amn't
    • 18– am't
    • 19– amment
    • 19– ammet
    • 19– amno (north-west midlands)
  • Scottish 18 amnin
    • 18 ym-n'
    • 19– amna
    • 19– amnae
    • 19– amn't
  • Irish English
    • 18 am'n't
    • 18 imin't (northern)
    • 19– amnae (northern)
    • 19– amn't.

(For some background on why aren't supplanted amn't, an't, and ain't in standard English, see Why "ain't I" and "aren't I" instead of "amn't I"?).

The U.S. experienced mass immigration of Irish in the 19th century, including around a million and a half Scotch-Irish (i.e. Ulster Scots) who settled in large numbers in Virginia and the Carolinas. It may very well be that your family preserved this usage for several generations after immigration, and that others did as well in their community, at least enough that it was not seen as unusual.

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