24

In books I often see characters speak "me" instead of "my":

  • I saw it with me own eyes.
  • I'm going to the bathroom to wash me hands.

What English is this?

26

I can't speak to its accuracy, particularly since it doesn't even merit inclusion in the overlong Hiberno-English page over at Wiki, but in North American books, shows, and movies it's a standard marker for old-country Irish.

Bill Conner, The Preacher:

"That's me Pa all right," she said, "the Irish blood takes over and he says the first thing that comes to mind. He means no offense..."

The Luck of the Irish:

Some Kid: Hey. It's that guy with the beard.
Kyle: That's me grandda.
Grandda: Kyle, it's not our way to be tellin' the whole world all about us.

Irish Jam:

Please don't leave. Me dad left me. Don't you leave me, too.

Aaron Shepard, The Giant's Wife:

Narrator 1: Many years ago in the north of Ireland, there lived a giant named Fin MacCool.
Fin: (proudly, to audience) That's me name!

Martin McDonagh, The Cripple of Inishmaan:

Johnny: Me mammy's fine, so she is, despite me best efforts.
Eileen: Are you still trying to kill your mammy with the drink, Johnny Pateen?
Johnny: I am but it's no use. A fortune in booze that bitch has cost me over the years. She'll never go. (Pause.) Well now, I have me eggs, I've told you me two pieces of news. I suppose that's me business finished here for the day.

  • 16
    or a "pirate" dialect. – Woodrow Barlow Apr 24 '17 at 19:53
  • It could also be considered Scottish. – 0112 Apr 24 '17 at 23:09
  • 9
    @WoodrowBarlow -- "pirate" dialect dates only from the 1950 film adaptation of Treasure Island. Robert Newton's memorable performance as Long John Silver fixed in the public mind his strong West Country accent as the way pirates talked. Since many mariners from the Age of Sail did hail from the south and southwest of Britain, it's not hugely unreasonable, but there is no historical basis for the belief. – Malvolio Apr 25 '17 at 3:16
  • @0112 I'm not saying you're wrong since apparently it's actually more common in "the North" (i.e., central Britain), but afaik in North American sources it's not used to mark "Scottish" accents but "Irish" ones. – lly Apr 25 '17 at 3:31
  • 1
    Either, depending on emphasis. If the choices are taking my car or walking, I'd say "I'll take ma car" with the 'a' almost silent, close to just saying "m' car". If the choice is to take my car or your car, I could say "I'll take maah car", putting emphasis on the "aah" – Darren H Apr 26 '17 at 5:04
9

The exampled usage of me in your sentences occurs in some regional English (the country) areas where

me = my

and can be interchangeable. For example, in Cockney (East London) rhyming slang

Cheers me old china.
thanks mate

The rhyming is due to "china plate" and "mate" (meaning friend) making the rhyme.

The usage has continued over many years where regional dialect forms part of one's identity.

Another expression is

That would be some of me.
I want some of that.

Which can be said when looking at something desirable.

The usage is very old, in The Winter's Tale Shakespeare uses

"me thoughts, I did recoil"

and in Richard III

"methought that Glouster stumbled"

  • 9
    "Methought"/"methinks" is slightly different, in that it has survived to this day (and I mean outside of dialects where "shiver me timbers" kind of talk is common anyway) as an idiom of sorts, although its origins may indeed be the same. – Lightness Races in Orbit Apr 24 '17 at 19:32
  • @BoundaryImposition: in fact, it comes from a sort of impersonal construction, where "thinks" means "seems". So the meaning is "it seems to me that Glouster stumbled". – siride Apr 24 '17 at 20:56
  • Which regions still use me this way? – Joe Apr 24 '17 at 21:42
  • @Joe: All over the North – Lightness Races in Orbit Apr 24 '17 at 21:54
  • That is to say the North of England,but not as far as Scotland. – Peter Apr 25 '17 at 3:43
2

There seems to be much confusion here. First, my is a possessive adjective (not a pronoun). Second, my is written as me only to indicate a common pronunication (used in fast speech): it's easier to say It's me mother than It's my mother. To argue that it's a difference of dialect, you'd need to explain the reversion to standard English when the word is emphasised e.g. It's my book (not It's me book).

  • 4
    I upvoted for the point about stress, but it's by no means settled that "my" is an adjective. Many linguists argue that it is not. Aside from coming before the modified noun, it doesn't behave much like an adjective elsewise: it cannot be modified by "very" (no "a very my book") and it can't be coordinated with an adjective (no "*a my and good book"). Those are things that an adjective would be expected to be able to do. – sumelic Apr 25 '17 at 13:10
  • Meanwhile, possessive words like "my/me/their" behave like pronouns in that they can substitute for noun phrases (this is more relevant for the third-person words), assuming we consider genitive phrases to be noun phrases: "the students' books" > "their books". – sumelic Apr 25 '17 at 13:12
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    Whether you think it's easier to pronounce my as me is a dialect issue. I'm from the US (native speaker) and have never heard a native AmE speaker pronounce it that way. We might in casual speech say something like muh for my but anything like me would sound very odd (except on September 19). – 1006a Apr 25 '17 at 15:05
2

Fairly prevalent in the north of England. There may be two places to look. Norse was more of an influence in the North so compare it to Nordic tongues.

English also had something called the great vowel shift which after centuries still isn't complete in the North: see the pronunciation 'neet' for 'night' and 'reet' for 'right'.

0

Interesting that in the romance languages the English my is me or mi. So maybe the use of me instead of my comes from that rather than laziness or ignorance of how to speak standard English.

We had the influence of Latin through the church and the Norman invasion

  • Plausible, but can you support this? – Davo Jun 6 at 12:00
-2

Me, instead of my, as a possessive, is non-standard English and is used widely throughout the UK, largely among the less educated. It falls into the same category as using 'them' instead of 'those' and 'hisself' instead of 'himself'. Those learning English as a second language should steer clear of it!

  • 5
    I don't believe for a second it's "largely" used among the less educated. There are many, many British regional dialects that use it, and I know plenty of well-educated people who have retained their strong accents. You don't have to take elocution lessons in RP these days to be considered well-educated. – Muzer Apr 25 '17 at 10:00
  • @Muzer Although I agree that RP doesn't fully correlate with education I still make unconscious judgements based on how someone talks. I am aware this makes me a horrible person... – AndyT Apr 25 '17 at 10:18
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    @Muzer (and Andy) I've edited the comments here to keep things constructive. Certain dialects are commonly associated with a lack of education, even though that perception (like most stereotypes) is demonstrably incorrect. While I think it could have been stated better, it's not bad advice for a learner to avoid those dialects. I think this answer could be improved by saying that it sounds to some like it's uneducated instead of stating that the people who use that language are uneducated. – ColleenV Apr 26 '17 at 14:51

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