“I’m going shop”: Preposition dropping in British youth dialects

Slide1There’s a new trend on the streets of London, and it’s not anything you can wear. It’s a fashion for dropping prepositions.

If you listen to a group of teenagers on the streets of, say, Hackney or Haringey you might catch someone utter a phrase like “I’m going shop” or “I’m coming pub” – something that to many people’s ears would sound totally ungrammatical.

In Standard British English, the verb “to go” is intransitive. That is, it takes an indirect object, via a preposition like “to”, in phrases like “I’m going to the shop” and “I’m walking to the office”. However, in this new form, “to go” looks like its transitive positioned as it is next to a direct object. Both the preposition and the determiner are dropped leaving just the verb and the bare noun – simply: “I’m going shop”.

If you want to know who’s dropping prepositions like this, social media is a good place to look. When I put the phrase “I’m going shop” into Google (on 3 February) it returned 7 genuine examples: 3 from Twitter, and 4 from other social media forums: uk.answers.yahoo.co.uk, footballforums.net and reptileforums.net (whatever that is).

The first hit was from a Twitter user in London.

“Ok I’m going shop!!!! Chocolate and pickled onion monster munch!!! #onthis #munchies” (tweeted June 2013)

The next two, were from Twitter users in London and Leicester (a city 2 hours up the road):

I’m going shop to buy junk then I’m gonna watch loads of films” (October 2012)
“[…] I’m going shop rite now for a wispa gold. […]” (November 2009)

Notice that in the first tweet, the “to” in the infinitive “to buy” is retained; only the proposition associated with the verb “to go” is dropped. Notice too how “I’m going shop” contrasts with the reduced construction involving the auxiliary verb “to go” (“I’m gonna watch”).

I found plenty of other examples using similar Google searches, including:

“Dad I’m going pub can I have some money… […]” (May 2013)
I’m going town now so I can get the Luas back to yours if that suits” (June 2013)
“[…] spice island? That right next to Katie’s, I’m going Katie’s aunties in Kent for a BBQ haha, surprised your not going venue!!(December 2012)
“Looks like I’m going Brighton.. Got 3 hours to get my shit together..” (May 2011)

Although the noun is usually rendered in its bare form (“shop” not “the shop”), I did find some examples of “I’m going the shop”, such as this from a Twitter user in Liverpool:

I’m going the shop. It’s a whole 20 seconds away. Wish me luck.” (August 2011)

And the pattern seems to work for other verbs of movement. For example, I found this result for “I’m coming pub”:

“[…] I’m not going out but I’m coming Pub!!xxxxx” (Jan 2013)

There are plenty more examples (put “I’m going shop” directly into the search bar in Twitter and you’ll get hundreds). Even so, based on the evidence here you might argue that these are examples of ‘text speak’, or that they’re just the result of hurried typing.

But these are forms that young people are genuinely using in speech, and that researchers are already beginning to record.

Sociolinguists from universities in London and Paris are currently carrying out a comparative study of ‘Multicultural London English (MLE)’ and ‘Multicultural Paris French (MPF)’ – language varieties, common among youth speakers in the two capitals, which are heavily influenced by the languages of local ethnic minority speakers (particularly Afro-Caribbeans in London and North Africans in Paris). As part of the study, the researchers are recording hundreds of hours of speech, by urban speakers of all ages, to try and analyse the novel linguistic features of MLE and MPF – features like the preposition dropping in “I’m going shop”, which don’t appear in more traditional dialects.

It’s not clear exactly what’s happening with “I’m going shop”, but preposition dropping is certainly not a new feature in English. For example, “to” is pretty commonly dropped in phrases like “she gave it (to) him”, and researchers have studied the same phenomenon in sentences like “the ozone layer prevents radiation (from) reaching the earth”. At least for some speakers, “because” has recently become a preposition itself as a result of preposition dropping in phrases like “because (of) grammar”.

If it’s anything like these cases “to” might remain optional for a long time, in phrases like “I’m going (to) the shop”, for speakers of MLE. Or, perhaps the verb “to go” will become rigidly transitive, going the way of the verb “to write” in American English (where it’s “writing someone” as opposed to the “writing to someone” of British English). In this case, you might expect to hear derived (question) forms like “which pub are you going?” (instead of “which pub are you going to?”) – though I couldn’t find any examples online.

Either way, the most obvious driving force for this latest linguistic innovation is economy: that is, the removal of redundancy for reduction in effort. In other words, if you don’t need to articulate the preposition to be understood, why bother at all?

MLE has been studied as a youth dialect. It’s too early to say how far it will spread, and to what extent it will take over from more traditional dialects like Cockney. The big question is how many novel forms like “I’m going shop” might be taken up by other age groups, and other speech communities in London and elsewhere. If such preposition dropping is copied by others, given enough time, it could one day become a feature of Standard Englishes in Britain and beyond – just one more step along the endless path of language change.

Now, there’s food for thought. I’m going shop.

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10 thoughts on ““I’m going shop”: Preposition dropping in British youth dialects

  1. I would say that shop and pub, rather than dropping prepositions, have become prepositions without objects, on the CGEL view that prepositions, subordinating conjunctions, and short adverbs are all the same part of speech with lexical distinctions about which ones take NPs, which take clauses, and which take zero. In Australian English, bush is used the same way: “He headed bush last week”.

    Note that American English cannot say “She gave it him”, but only “She gave it to him” or “She gave him it” (more probable with a full NP than a pronoun). This may be AmE conservatism.

  2. Hi, just to say that adult members of my family (North London) were using this construction in speech at least 25 years ago. ‘I’m going bingo’, ‘He’s going football’ etc were all pretty common. I don’t know whether they actually used this in writing, too, but it was certainly characteristic of speech.

    • It’s by no means just a London thing. I admit to dropping “to the” after certain verbs (go, come, and probably some others that aren’t immediately obvious). While I live in London now I spent most of my life in the West Country. My feelings on the matter are that it’s just a matter of simple expediency. It can be quite difficult to get your tongue around “to the” so why not get rid of them in everyday speech? It’s not as if people won’t understand what you’re saying because of your non-standard sentence structure.

      Seeing it in print does grate on me a bit as it looks lazy — but it’s interesting to see that it’s being adopted on a small scale on Twitter, which is probably the closest that you can get to informal conversation without opening your mouth.

  3. I see the possibility of preposition-doing, but another possibility is -ing dropping. “I’m going shopping” could have been the original form (though that seems problematic for the “I’m going bingo” example). Perhaps there are multiple sources and processes for the new form.

  4. Might it not have something to do with the increasing exposure to English users from other countries who have an inferior grasp of the English or French language? After all, children in London are heavily influenced by the Afro Caribbean accent.

    • Hi Kate. Certainly researchers studying Multicultural London English (and other ‘multiethnolects’ in Germany and other Northern European cities) have postulated that certain features are a result of ‘group second language acquisition’ – i.e. children picking up linguistic features from their parents, who might have learned English as a second language. This could include preposition dropping like this. That said, ‘I’m going shop’ etc. does seem to be a feature of other English dialects (e.g. East Midlands, Australia), and you can never discount the possibility of internal innovations. It could be there are a variety of sources.

  5. Some of these constructions sounds more like a written form of Definite Article Reduction which is a common and old feature of loads of Northern English dialects. Especially that Leicester tweet, which has DAR in the regiolect. I would wonder if the DAR London tweets were not made by Northern transplants, or else were typing errors.

    “I’m going the shop” might be a London thing, but “I’m going shop” is markedly Northern. Neither of these strike me as new.

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