When did you born? Birth, agency and Whorfian politicology

Wine-buff Víctor de la Serna (via Carlos Ferrero) has nailed Domecq Bodegas for an amusing slip on the otherwise impeccable site, “When did you born?” I haven’t really looked for literary or scientific evidence, and I’m pretty ignorant of non-me dialectal forms, but I’d hazard that this form is actually quite common among some groups of native and non-native English speakers. I can’t work out, though, whether the interrogative classifies the child as object (“When did your mother bear you?”) or subject (“When, ignoring your mother’s groans and your father’s tears, did you decide to leap into this dangerous world?”).

BTW, “did” doesn’t preclude the former – take this intriguing census-operative/citizen exchange from 1970s Gambia:

Q. When did you born this child?
A. “Digi”.
Q. What is “Digi”?
A. Month before “Gamo”?
Q. When was that?


For me this confusion remains in some affirmatives:

I did born blonde & light ash blonde its like a strawberry blonde which i DONT want at all i want a light pretty blonde so should i use a different dye to do after? Not only that the ash i think kinda made it like a little green weird lol. So what dye do i get to take out the strawberry look and greenish lol

However I feel on slightly safer ground in the conversation between Balu and a ghost in I Am Not Intelligent, an extremely curious novel written in Indian English by Oscarbond:

“Who are you?”
“I am Arinchar Anna, the former Chief Minister of Tamilnadu.”
“When did you born?”
“I born on 15-09-1909 in Kanchipuram…”

In various traditions future leaders take charge before they are born. Here’s Joan Baez singing the Cherry-Tree Carol:

Then up spoke Baby Jesus,
from in Mary’s womb:
“Bend down the tallest tree,
that my mother might have some.”
And bent down the tallest branch
till it touched Mary’s hand;
Cried she, “Oh look thou, Joseph,
I have cherries by command.”

Unfortunately no one seems to have studied extensively the infant utterances of superheroes and other chief ministers, and Keith Chen has more serious business at hand. But I wager that sooner or later maternity wards will fill up with a swollen sect muttering grammatical instructions to their unborn – “Say ‘I born myself’ to the nurse, and who knows where you’ll end up!” And at night missionaries of the Church of Chomsky will emerge from the shadows to bore and distract.

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