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I hear "use them legs" a lot at the sport practice. I doesn't sound like proper English to me. What makes it valid?

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    It's not Standard English - it's used in several dialects/regional varieties of English. Here in the UK I would associate this with some varieties from the North of England, but there are probably other places in the world where you might hear this. Where do you practice your sport? Which country? Which town/city?
    – Billy Kerr
    Apr 18 at 22:49
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    Mainly that people use it. Apr 19 at 8:46
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    I can't stop myself from interpreting "Use them legs" as "Use them, your legs"
    – Stef
    Apr 19 at 14:52
  • What makes it valid is that everyone around the speaker refrains from picking the speaker up and throwing them in the nearest river. It's terrible English. But it's also very, very common to hear things like that. Sometimes it's artistic. In the movie "Zootopia" we hear Nick the Fox say, "In Zootopia, anyone can be anything. And these guys? They be naked." The poor English of the last sentence in that quote is an intentional foil of the use of the verb "to be" in the first sentence.
    – JBH
    Apr 21 at 20:45
  • @JBBH: "It's terrible English": no, it's just non-standard English. You must be dreadfully old-fashioned.
    – TonyK
    Apr 21 at 21:04

2 Answers 2

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It is non-standard. So you are right, it isn't "proper" English.

It has some dialect uses (in certain regional variants of British English, in Appalachian English, and Caribbean, possibly more) and has examples going over 200 years (so it isn't a modern mistake).

Learners should accept such non-standard dialects, but generally learners should not try to emulate. It would appear to be a simple mistake if used by a non-native.

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    -1 Regional dialects are not mistakes nor improper, the 'standard' is just the dialect for the group the ruling classes come from. Apr 19 at 10:36
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    Non-standard, this is a technical term. Certain dialects are labelled as "standard" They are widely understood even by speakers of other dialects. Most speakers of non-standard dialects are also capable of diglossia, shifting from a regional dialect to the standard one.
    – James K
    Apr 19 at 11:19
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    Thus learners should focus on speaking one of these "standard" dialects. By doing so they access 1) good dictionaries and grammar guides in the dialect. 2) The maximum speaker community and 3) No judgements from natives speakers that they are making a mistake through ignorance. It is important on ELL to identify non-standard English and a disservice to learners to suggest all dialects have the same wide acceptance.
    – James K
    Apr 19 at 11:19
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    But more advanced learners should also be aware of non-standard and dialect forms. Learners who are living in the UK or USA will begin to incorporate local dialect terms into their speech "naturally" by language acquisition.
    – James K
    Apr 19 at 11:22
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    That's a very clear explanation and I appreciate it. Learning a language includes understanding how you will be understood by other speakers of the language. Language a robotic process with strictly delineated "right" and "wrong" forms, but there are norms, and deviation from a norm is a signal. You probably only want to do it if you're confident about what signal you're sending.
    – hobbs
    Apr 19 at 16:35
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As others have noted, "them" functions as an adjectival (or determiner) in some dialects. M-W specifically notes that this usage is "nonstandard":

nonstandard
: THOSE —> used chiefly in nonstandard speech and for humorous effect

Here is an example from dialogue that contains plenty of apparently dialectal speech:

“Mr. Linden,” she said as he passed, “them children of yours want more care than they get. . . . I says it’s a shame, Silas Linden, the way them children is treated.” (Arthur Conan Doyle, The Land of Mist, A. L. Burt, 1926, chapter xi)

Note that this is not the only object-form pronoun that is sometimes used adjectivally. For example, "me" can be used instead of "my" in various dialects.

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    My father, born 1920, was fond of singing an American song, 'Dem Bones', which I think is (rightly) not sung much these days. Apr 19 at 7:52
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    This use of them will immediately identify the speaker's class and/or educational background. That said, it's not surprising to hear its use in a sports' context like football (soccer).
    – Lambie
    Apr 19 at 12:36
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    I says, them dialogue examples is good.
    – Stef
    Apr 19 at 14:48
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    @Showsni - my comment was written in ignorance. I had assumed it was a white-written song written in mockery of African-American speech patterns, and (at best) patronising. I now find that it was written 'in the 1920s by the great African-American author and songwriter James Weldon Johnson to give motivational oomph to the Old Testament tale of Ezekiel at a time when spirituals were a powerful binding force among black Americans.' (The Economist). I apologise for my ignorance. Apr 20 at 15:29
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    @Showsni - in my (partial) defence, my father, who sang the song, was an out-and-out old-fashioned racist. He also watched approvingly the deplorable BBC TV show, 'The Black and White Minstrel Show' on which the song 'Dem Bones' was a regular item. I guess that affected my view. There is a Youtube audio clip of the B&W Minstrels doing that song (with an image of the deplorable album cover). That show is now infamous for its use of 'blackface' performers. As TV Tropes says, 'you can probably see the issue here.' Apr 20 at 21:55

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