‘I playing’ and ‘I am play’

During the week one of my classes had the topic of ‘Staying Healthy in the Modern World’. Although there were examples in the textbook at city, country, continental and global levels, most of the examples, and the statements produced by the students, were at the personal level, starting with ‘I eat …’, ‘I drink …’ and ‘I play …’. Along the way, both in written and spoken work, several students produced sentences in the patterns ‘I playing …’ and ‘I am play …’.

It is safe to say that ‘I playing …’ and ‘I am play …’ are simply not part of standard English. The Corpus of Contemporary American English contains 13 examples of ‘I playing’, but 10 of these are in the form of questions: ‘am I playing …?’ / ‘what part am I playing …?’ / ‘why I am playing …?’ /  ‘what was I playing …?’, and the remaining three might be charitably classified as slips of the tongue in speech: ‘I remember doing an interview once, and it was when I playing a sociopath …”, “Bob Taylor and I played brothers. Bob Taylor and I playing brothers”, and “But his head’s so fucked up by all those years of I playing God that he really thinks he created the heavens and the earth”. It has no examples of ‘I am play’.

The British National Corpus contains six examples of ‘I playing’, generally in line with the COCA results: “Aren’t I playing …?”, “What part am I playing …?”, ‘What the hell am I playing at?’, ‘There was I playing so well …’, ‘am I playing some deep game?’ and the highly idiosyncratic “Don’t know well sometimes I playing like and this girl, Oh that’s stupid doing all this and, you know and she just like …”. Likewise, it has no examples of “I am play”.

The question is: “Where do second language students get these non-standard or even non-existent patterns?”. Students have not been exposed to any examples in text or speech by native speaker of English, and any exposure to examples by second language speakers must be few and far between.


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