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In some folk songs, such as Woody Guthrie's "Hard Traveling" and Townes Van Zandt's "Poncho and Lefty," the word "knowed" is used as the past tense of "know."

To what extent and in which dialects has "knowed" actually been used? I find it interesting because common irregulars tend to be well conserved over time (like go→went, is→was, etc), so I'm wondering under what conditions "knowed" would have, uh, arised.

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    I've seen this used for Appalachian and "hillbilly" dialects, but I don't know if it's real or fake.
    – Hot Licks
    May 17, 2022 at 22:12
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    Oh, arised good. Yes, I'd say rural, minimal education, nothing past the little red schoolhouse. May 17, 2022 at 22:37
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    It's the regular past tense of know, which is usually irregular. But these choices vary, like the past tense of dive, which is regular some places and irregular others. There isn't one single "dialect" where all the oddities one notices in others' speech come from. There are millions of idiolects, each unique, occasionally coalescing around social groups; but social groups are fickle and changeable. May 18, 2022 at 1:10
  • Sure, but the fact that the word is extremely uncommon (try googling for organic usage), combined with the fact that it seems to pop up in folk music and is uttered by the Sheriff in "No Country For Old Men" suggests that its usage is more common in rural American speech. I'm trying to characterize that more precisely—fickle and changeable though social groups may be. May 18, 2022 at 1:42
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    Some progress on this is possible by using ngram, which at least gives some clues. For example, google.co.uk/books/edition/Hearings/… suggests the usage may be found in Louisiana. But this would be a huge job and would still miss non-written usage, leaving the answer open to a lot of opinion unless someone here has done a substantial academic study on dialect distribution.
    – Anton
    May 28, 2022 at 6:57

1 Answer 1

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John Lawler commented:

It's the regular past tense of know, which is usually irregular. But these choices vary, like the past tense of dive, which is regular some places and irregular others. There isn't one single "dialect" where all the oddities one notices in others' speech come from. There are millions of idiolects, each unique, occasionally coalescing around social groups; but social groups are fickle and changeable.

As well as a follow up in comment:

It's present in speech, and not that uncommon. Google and other language databases cover printed sources, not spoken language, and not socioeconomic speech groups. Plus language in songs is consciously rural and archaic, often incorrectly so -- people imitate how they think other people talk, but they don't bother to ask the people who they think talk that way first. – John Lawler May 18, 2022 at 3:04

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  • All the above is true but it must also be said there is a class component to this. Those who are educated would not generally use it. So, a sheriff in a small southern town would not use it but the guy he arrests for drunk and disorderly conduct might.
    – Lambie
    Jan 27 at 14:24
  • @Lambie I've said this before, but: please cite your sources for these sorts of sociolinguistic facts. You need to provide evidence for the claim that there are differences by social class and education level, since one's own intuitions on such matters can be unreliable.
    – alphabet
    Jan 27 at 14:56
  • I'm afraid I disagree with that. Most grammar/semantic issues are about what people internalize so even those studying these phenomena would have to locate them in certain speech communities. You don't learn these forms at school: you learn them from the speech communities (family, care givers) in which you grew up. And my comment is not out of keeping with what the dear departed John Lawler said in this posted answer.
    – Lambie
    Jan 28 at 14:27
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    @Lambie The issue is that your personal observations of your community may not generalize very well. The way that "educated" and "less educated" people talk varies immensely by region, race, age, etc. and the language itself changes over time. (One example: negative concord, as in "I didn't say nothing," has historically been seen as uneducated, but I'm pretty sure this is no longer the case; a lot of very well-educated people I know use it in certain restricted contexts.)
    – alphabet
    Jan 28 at 18:05
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    @Lambie It's in the comments on the question: english.stackexchange.com/questions/589033/…
    – alphabet
    Jan 29 at 16:08

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