I recently stumbled on a song with the questionable grammar ‘the way I are’. (Any resemblance to ‘the way we were’ in my last post is purely coincidental.) If this is part of any recognised variety of English, I haven’t encountered it before. In searching for more information, I found another song with the same grammar, and those two appear to be the only occurrences on the internet, so I must conclude that it’s not part of any recognised variety of English which has ever been posted on the internet. The first few pages of search results were references to one or other of these songs, then came ‘about 897,000,000′ results of one, two, three or all of those words in some combination or order.
One writer wrote ”Cause I like you just the way you are … Can you handle me the way I are?’, the other ‘Don’t matter who you are, just love me the way I are’. This is not a ‘mistake’, because both writers chose to do it, and I’m sure they’re aware that it’s ‘wrong’. For every other verb in English than be, you and I are followed the same verb form: ”Cause I like you just the way you eat … Can you handle me the way I eat?’ or ‘Don’t matter who you eat, just love me the way I eat‘. (Sorry, I’ve still got eating pizzas on my mind from two posts ago. (There are increasingly risqué and indeed outright rude alternative verbs.))
Nigel Butterley’s anthem Surrexit Dominus sets a poem by the Scottish priest and poet William Dunbar, who lived in the late 15th and early 16th century. In the published score, the words are rendered in modern spelling, for the benefit of the singers, but I have the original poem in a book of Christian poetry I bought some time ago (don’t know where, don’t know when). It’s interesting to see what’s changed and what hasn’t in 500 years of English.
One Sunday morning many years ago a choir was rehearsing the hymn ‘Blessed city, heavenly Salem’. It had just sung the first two lines of the second verse – ‘From celestial realms descending, Bridal glory round her shed’ – when there came a soft guffaw from one of the altos. She had (jokingly, I’m sure) taken the meaning as ‘Bridal glory (round (her shed))’, instead of the intended (I’m sure) ‘Bridal glory (round her) (shed)’. The first four lines, in full, from the hymnbook we were using, are ‘From celestial realms descending, Bridal glory round her shed, To his presence, decked with jewels, By her Lord shall she be led’. (Other translations exist.)
There are several reasons for the ambiguity. The ‘deep structure’ is ‘God sheds bridal glory round her’. This leads to ‘Bridal glory is shed round her (by God)’, which is a complete sentence, and then to ‘Bridal glory shed round her’, which is not a complete sentence and which can exist only alongside a noun or pronoun in order to describe it, in this case ‘she’ (the heavenly city). In standard word order, the those four lines are: ‘She – descending from celestial realms, with bridal glory shed round her, and decked with jewels – shall be led by her Lord to his presence.’ (Now you know why I’m not a poet!)