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American Speech 20.1 (2002) 32-69

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At the Intersection of Regional and Social Dialects:
The Case of Like + Past Participle in American English

Thomas E. Murray
Kansas State University

Beth Lee Simon
Indiana University/Purdue University, Fort Wayne


WE RECENTLY PUBLISHED an article in American Speech in which we discussed want + past participle (V-en), as in The baby wants picked up and The cat wants fed (Murray and Simon 1999). In that article, itself a sequel to an essay on need + V-en (The car needs washed, Your hair needs trimmed; see Frazer, Murray, and Simon 1996), we noted that Quirk et al. (1985, 464-64, 593, 1187, and esp. 1207) characterize want and need as having many syntactic properties in common, particularly as volitional verbs that can take object + V-en complementation. We went on to say that, again according to Quirk et al., the only other such volitional verb in English is like, then wondered whether like + V-en exists as a viable construction for any speakers (?The cat likes fed, ?The baby likes picked up). At that time we had found a few informants who reported that like + V-en "almost sounds okay" in some sentences, but none who could confirm actually using it (see Murray and Simon 1999, 163 n. 5). We now return to like + V-en and consider its regional and social boundaries in American English—and because those boundaries are in part the product of the construction's ethnic origins, we will broach that topic as well. 1


The construction like + V-en has received even less attention in the literature on American English than need + V-en and want + V-en. In fact, though we searched widely, we were unable to discover like + V-en ever recorded in print: it appears in no grammar or dictionary; in no collection of Americanisms, regionalisms, unconventional English, or slang; in no historical account of the language; in no usage handbook or other how-to manual for speech or writing; in no issue of American Speech, Dialect Notes, or Publication [End Page 32] of the American Dialect Society; and in no other dialectological or sociolinguistic description of any regional variety of American English, including the several published components of the Linguistic Atlas. It also occurs in none of the corpora of the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE 1985-; Joan Hall, pers. com., 7 Oct. 1999), the Atlas of North American English (ANAE 2002; Sherry Ash, pers. com., 10 Oct. 1999), or Michael Montgomery and Joseph Hall's forthcoming Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English (pers. com., 28 Oct.1999). 2 In short, like + V-en appears to have thus far escaped the attention of every dialectologist, sociolinguist, lexicographer, and other watcher of the language. 3


Our first attestation for like + V-en occurred on the morning of 20 December 1998 and was serendipitous. Murray's daughter, born the previous evening, was nestled in her mother's arms when one of the nurses who had assisted with the delivery walked into the hospital room. Seeing the satisfied look on the child's face, the nurse said, "Ah, she really likes cuddled. Most newborns do." Murray, also in the room but unsure of what he had just heard, asked the nurse to repeat it. "Oh," she replied, in a louder and completely unselfconscious voice, "I was just saying that newborn babies like cuddled. It reminds them of being in the womb." Murray learned later that the nurse, a white female in her early 50s, had been born and raised in Cochocton, Ohio, about 100 miles west of Pittsburgh.

That same afternoon, Murray visited the nurse in the neonatal nursery and asked her to complete a brief questionnaire regarding her opinions and use of need + V-en, want + V-en, and like + V-en. About halfway through, she paused long enough to tell a colleague who had just entered the room, "Cindy, this one just woke up and probably wants fed...


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pp. 32-69
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Archived 2005
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