‘He rung the bell’ and ‘she drunk ale’ – non-standard past tense forms in traditional British dialects and on the internet

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On the basis of data from the new Freiburg English Dialect Corpus (FRED) and data from the internet, this paper investigates the use of non-standard past tense forms for a group of verbs similar in shape to (and including) drink and ring. In traditional dialect data from across Great Britain, non-standard past tense forms are highly frequent for these verbs and often even constitute the majority option. Their existence can on the one hand be traced back to historical forms. Investigations of present-day informal language as documented on the internet confirms that these non-standard forms are still in (frequent) use. Historical continuity alone does not, however, explain their extremely frequent occurrence in traditional dialect data, nor their occurrence today. In the framework of natural morphology, I propose abstract analogy as a functional principle that can be seen to work on this class of verbs, increasing overall system congruity (in the sense of Wurzel 1984, 1987) and thus stabilizing the inflectional system(s) of these dialects.

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