Esther Spaanderman is the last of my students who owes us her blogposts. Here is the first one:
A while ago, I studied periphrastic do in the letters of John Adams (1735-1826), the second president of the United States. As I was interested in colonial lag, I compared a selection of Adams’ letters to letters by a British contemporary, Horace Walpole (1717-1797). Walpole has already been the subject of other posts in this blog.
One of the linguistic differences I observed in the writings of Walpole and Adams concerns the spelling of the contraction of do not. Adams consistently used a contracted form, whereas Walpole rarely did so. The sample of the Adams correspondence I analysed contained eighteen instances of a contraction of do not, but spelled as dont. In Walpole’s correspondence I found only two instances of the contraction, spelled don’t. According to the OED, the form without the apostrophe has been in use since the 1700s, though from the 1800s onwards it came to be was regarded as non-standard. As for don’t, the OED indicated that this form, which is now the standard, has been in use since 1600.
I noticed in the OED entry on do is that the quotations with dont mostly appear in American sources. One quotation from 1670, for example, is from the Rhode Island Historical Society Collections, and another from the Journal and letters, 1767–1774 by the American Philip Vickers Fithian. This made me wonder whether dont might be somehow associated with early American English. So far, I have been unable to find any evidence for this assumption, but perhaps readers of this blog can help me here. So please let me know if you have ever come across dont (without the apostrophe) in Early or Late Modern English texts. Would it indeed be possible that dont is more common in American texts? Please leave a comment.