Friday, April 15, 2022

While We Were Sleeping

Again, language change happening under our noses. Around 1950, most people would have said that the past tense of dive is dived. Now dove is more common.  This is perhaps under the influence of so much time in autos and drive/drove, ride/rode. Language change often moves in the direction of assembling similar-sounding words under similar rules.* We used to prefer to use sneaked at the past tense of sneak, but now mostly use snuck. Even more recently, the use of sank for the past tense of sink is giving way to sunk, even from official news sources supposedly relying on one or other of the manuals of style.

There are regional variations in how quickly these are happening, but they seem to be happening throughout America.  I don't know about Canada and Australia. Also, these forms existed before 1950, but were not dominant.

I think of dived as something old-fashioned and believe I have always preferred dove. But snuck sounds slangy to me and I would still use the other form. I use sunk only with the "helper" verbs of "was sunk," "had sunk," etc - that is, as a past participle.  At least, I think that's what I do.  Sometimes when things are undergoing change we find that we have begun intermittently switched over without noticing. I sink, I sank, I have sunk is what I believe I invariably say.

Once a form is accepted as preferred, it is long before it is called incorrect.  It will be marked archaic instead. The forms that get called incorrect are the rural, the provincial or regional, and the new. Old forms just slowly slip away without our fully noticing, like a celebrity who dies at 96 and we say "Oh, I thought he had died years ago."

*Could got an l in its spelling for no reason except that it looks and sounds like should and would. No older form or root for it had the l.


Ribro90 said...

I'm a Kiwi, from New Zealand and the past tense of sink has always been sunk. I read quite a bit but have never heard that usage of sank. We would say the Bismarck sank but that gives no clue to why it sank. We would also say it was sunk by the British Navy.
You can say we sank the Bismarck, but not the Bismarck was sank.
You can also say we sunk the Bismarck, English is weird with the nuances of what means what and how we express ourselves.

Ribro90 said...

Ok, again from the Antipodes,'dove' with a long 'o' sound has been a past tense of dive, as opposed to dove with a 'u' sound for the bird. We say duhve for the bird if you accept Homers pronunciation of 'duh'.
So you can dive into a subject, but both past tenses, dove and dived sound weird to me and I'd probably avoid them.
For the actual diving into a pool I'd probably use dived apart from the times when I dove into the pool

Assistant Village Idiot said...

It's the long 'o' for dove I was referring to for the action. Duhv would be the bird here also.

There is some difference between whether something sank because of a leak or was sunk by another actor here as well, but it has been changing thoughout my lifetime. It might be in NZ as well, if you notice that younger people are so consistently slipping into a different usage that it can't just be that they are all wrong and sloppy.

These things are often hard for a single observer to tell, because of how we were raised and what younger people we are in contact with now. In my case I have reasons why I would have a more conservative pronunciation and reasons why my younger contacts might as well. I am told that listening to immigrant children can tell you a lot, as they will be picking up what is in the air among other children rather than older usages. Makes sense, but I don't know if that's actually true.

Grim said...

Dr. Seuss gave a conjugation of “stink, stank, stunk.” That’s coherent with your sense that ‘sank’ is past tense (‘the ship sank over there by the sandbar’) vs past perfect (‘every ship that went down in this harbor has sunk by the sandbar’).

Korora said...

The Norman French loanword "strive" was at some point remodeled as a strong verb.

Texan99 said...

I've always said "sank" and "shrank," but for some decades now I've noticed it's disappearing. It would sound odd to me to say "I sunk to my knees" instead of "I sank to my knees." But obviously in popular culture it's "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids."

"Snuck" is definitely colloquial or comic still, isn't it? Maybe not for long.

In Texas, at least, it's quite common for people to switch the preterite and perfect tenses. They'll say "I sung the tune" as well as "I had sang it." It's not random, it's consistent.

Something else that's disappearing is "might" as the past tense of "may." I would never say "If he hadn't seen the stop sign he may have been T-boned at that intersection"--I'd say "he might have been." "May have been" implies that either event may have happened, and we haven't found out which yet, as if we saw him enter the intersection, but we don't yet have a report on whether he made it through safely: he "may have" gotten into serious trouble, for all we know. "Might have been" implies that one outcome was possible at first, but didn't in fact occur: he might have been killed, but thank goodness he came out all right in the end.

"Who" and "whom" are almost completely lost, as is the use of "me" in the objective, as in "between him and me." As recently as my own childhood, you'd rarely have seen "between you and I" in in any respectable written source in which a professional editor had a meaningful role. This is what comes of not making the little whippersnappers diagram sentences or study languages that are more explicit about cases. It's all going to Hades/Gehenna/Sheol in a handbasket, and none of these kids will stay off my lawn. Or at least they wouldn't if I had a lawn instead of an alligator pond out front.

"Would have" is shifting, too. I'd never say "if he would have gone," I'd say "if he had gone," but I'm becoming a small minority in my dotage.