Sunday, June 15, 2008

Allowed doing

The trampoline in our backyard is quite a magnet for the local kids. Over the last few nice weekends we've had up to nine of them here all at the same time. It's a lot of fun, but as you might imagine, it engenders a good deal of conflict as well. Soon enough, some of the kids get bossy and start making up rules. The weird thing is, they all (including mine) say you're not allowed ~ing.

We usually use Japanese in the house, so my English isn't really that much of a model for them. When they're with other kids, though, I'll often rephrase this kind of thing (e.g., Oh, so he's not allowed to ~.) But then, of course, I begin to wonder: is allowed ~ing a common form that I've just missed out on?

Not according to the BYU American Corpus of English. There are at least 12,685 hits for allowed to ~ and only 53 for allowed ~ing. When you look at the context for allowed ~ing, you'll see that they're all past tense (e.g., the company allowed smoking on the premises), while allowed to ~ is the past participle in a passive construction. The local kids' expression sounds even weirder when you put it in the active voice (e.g., I don't allow Darren doing that.)

Is this just a local microdialect? Is it a kid thing? Any ideas.


Anonymous said...
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Q Higuchi said...

Extremely interesting! I think there is a syntactic blend going on there, involving at least three factors:

(1) The 'Doing X is not allowed' construction, which is perfectly normal.

(2) The fact that someone is doing the very act (whatever that is) right there, for which the -ing form is quite appropriate.

(3) The common (truncated) phrase that kids commonly use, namely 'You're not allowed'; so the actual use may be more like 'Hey, you are not allowed, doing X ...', where the -ing phrase is just hanging there, in a (pseudo-)participial construction fashion.

Having said that, I must admit that 'I don't allow Darren doing that' is quite a stretch. But then, languages do stretch, don't they ...

Thanks for an interesting entry,

Q Higuchi

Rob said...

I was just reading through your archive and was overjoyed to see that someone, somewhere, wrote about this phenomenon. I have one friend here who always forms such phrases as "allowed ~ing." She also uses "needs ~ed" instead of "needs to be ~ed," which my amateur brain feels like is related. She's from a fairly rural area of Ohio, in the states.

Brett said...

Hi, Rob

Glad you liked it. I think the needs ~ed is also idiomatic in the UK, if I recall correctly.