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From the opening chapter of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest:

I creep along the wall quiet as dust in my canvas shoes, but they got special sensitive equipment detects my fear and they all look up, all three at once, eyes glittering out of the black faces like the hard glitter of radio tubes out of the back of an old radio.

Please could you explain conjugation of the verb detects? Why not detecting? Does it mean (that) detects? If so, is such a preposition omission idiomatic?

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It is certainly not grammatical English.

I suspect the intention of the author was to replicate the less than entirely literate forms that such an individual might have used.

The addition of two words would make the entire passage grammatical - a have in front of got, and a which in front of detects.

  • +1 To add to your interpretation, the sentence is from the beginning of the book and this passage has been described as being surrealistic. The character is under the influence of drugs. See this literary study. – Laure May 3 '17 at 9:44
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    +1 Both reducing have got to bare got and omitting the subject relativizer are quite common in US speech; they're not so much "illiterate" as casual ellipsis. – StoneyB on hiatus May 3 '17 at 10:41
  • @StoneyB Yes. I did read Mark Twain in my youth. Slightly different to the elisions of a London taxi-driver, but would it be an exaggeration to describe them as "less than entirely literate"? – WS2 May 3 '17 at 11:18
  • @WS2 Well, they're both in my idiolect; but I've sort of passed through Standard English and come out on the far side. – StoneyB on hiatus May 3 '17 at 12:24
  • Well, it is grammatical in the dialect it's written in. It's just not standard English. So you could say it's ungrammatical in standard English ... – Araucaria - Not here any more. May 3 '17 at 15:08

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