Black English: 'Cause the battle am in my hand

Flaminius

hedomodo
日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho is passed down from the 19th century in a few variations. Some of the versions written in Black English has this line; 'Cause the battle am in my hand.

I wonder what this am is intended to. Is this use of the cobular be also found in present day Black English?
 
  • Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Your patience is admirable, Flaminius!

    As far as I know, generalised am isn't used in today's African-American Vernacular English: see African-American Vernacular English - Wikipedia. But I'm far from being an expert.

    As to whether it was used in the past, you might be interested in this paper by John McWhorter: Freedom Am Won: A Linguistic Mystery.

    Overgeneralized am sounds so gratingly unnatural to a modern ear that even experts on Black English have long assumed that this usage was created by white minstrels.​
    [...]​
    But a great deal of evidence suggests that black Americans actually did use am in this way. The minstrels vastly exaggerated it, even as they savagely distorted black speech overall. [...] Historical am usage also demonstrates something counterintuitive, given the racial conflict so deeply embedded in this nation’s history: a great many of the roots of Black English reach back to the speech of rural white folk in the British Isles.​
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    I have not heard any usage similar to that where I live in the U.S. South.
     

    Flaminius

    hedomodo
    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
    Thanks so much, Loob! The thread title was the only example I had of generalised am back then. I think I thought the am implied "I won it and I still have it," but it seems to be more unmotivated after reading passages like:
    People from southwestern England, for example, as late as the 1950s said things such as “Because you’m a lot older than I.” And people in the West Midlands have been documented as saying, “We drink water when we am thirsty.”

    English doesn't stop amazing me...
     
    Top