One of the groups I sang with Saturday night was a country and bluegrass group whose leader jokingly told me, “You better speak Southern if you want to sing with us.” I told him, “I might could do that,” in my best Appalachian twang, and got in. Today my Tennessean officemate unconsciously used the same construction, so I started wondering where it came from.
I researched the usage and found the following great article by Tom King about might could:
The use of so-called “double modal” constructions is quite common in the
South and Southwest. I come from Dallas originally, and such
constructions as you have cited are common there in everyday speech, and
they serve a real linguistic purpose: modal forms such as ‘could’ and
‘should’ are ambiguous in Modern English, as they have both an
indicative and a subjunctive sense. For example, “I could come” can mean
either “I was able to come” (past indicative of ‘can’) or “I would be
able to come” (subjunctive). In German, the two forms are distinct:
“ich konnte kommen” vs. “ich koennte kommen”. The use of double modal
constructions with ‘may’ or ‘might’ serves to reintroduce this
distinction. Thus, for a Southerner, “I might could come” or “I may
could come” carry the subjunctive meaning, whereas “I could come” is
only indicative in meaning….
The use of double
modals in Southern American English fills a gap in Standard English
grammar, namely the loss of inflectional distinction in English between
indicative and subjunctive modals. Dialect or regional forms are often
more progressive in gap-filling than is a standard language. Consider
the sad case of ‘you’, which is ambiguous in Standard English between
singular and plural meanings. Here the regional forms have been quite
productive: “y’all” in the South (***only plural!!!!***) or similar
In other words, twang loud and twang proud.
Today’s holiday recording is a new one, a serendipitous iTunes Music Store find. Who knew that James Brown had recorded not one, but two holiday albums of original Christmas songs? Fortunately, someone saw fit to reissue the stuff on one disc, the Christmas Collection.
So does the world really need another Christmas album full of holiday chestnuts, even from the Hardest Working Man in Show Business? Fortunately James Brown was too smart to waste an opportunity to write great soul music. Most of the tunes are originals, with such super funk material as “Go Power at Christmas Time,” a Motown-flavored soul number; “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto,” in which James Brown simultaneously hits the holiday theme while pulling at the social conscience; and the slow jams “Merry Christmas Baby” and “Merry Christmas, I Love You.” Other standouts include “Santa Claus is Definitely Here to Stay,” the fabulous six and a half minute slow burn of “Let’s Make Christmas Mean Something This Year,” and the gorgeous cover of “The Christmas Song.” If the strings get a little strong at times, it just sounds like they got swept up by the excitement along with everyone else. A new favorite antidote to the six thousandth playing of “White Christmas.”
Incidentally, for an example of Christmas music by soul artists that just didn’t work out, check out this twofer collection of Christmas albums by Jackie Wilson and Al Green. Oh boy, what a stanker. Wilson badly wants to be singing opera but succeeds only in singing cheese. And the Reverend Green is in good voice, but is smothered by his early-80s backing band, or rather backing tracks. Yes, it sounds like someone went into Circuit City and grabbed every cheap keyboard and drum machine they could find. Skip it.
I almost forgot: my second annual EMP performance went great. I sang tons of backup, including backing up one of the group managers on “My Girl” (he did it with Motown style—actually having been a performing musician at one time; he and his group even opened for the Righteous Brothers once); also backup on a few newgrass/country songs and a classic rock set including “Tumbling Dice” and “The Weight.” “Little Wing” was solid, though there was a little confusion about the song structure at the beginning leading to a 96 bar intro instead of a 64 bar one. But my vocals were actually OK, and I think I finally exorcised some of the Sting influence, taking it a little bit more in my own style. It was a great evening but too short.
The best part was probably coming home to find, even after four hours, that our dogs had kept each other company and weren’t freaked out by our absence. The joys of puppy parenthood…