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When It Ain't Right to Use 'Ain't' in English, and When It Is

Dana Demange and Nancy Steinbach


HOST: Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC, in VOA Special English.

I'm Doug Johnson. On our show this week:

We hear music from a new CD to help hurricane victims…

Answer a question about the use of an English word…

And report about the opening of a new center that honors a champion.

Ali Center

A new museum has opened in the city of Louisville, Kentucky. It honors the life and work of former boxing champion Muhammad Ali. Bob Doughty has more.

BOB DOUGHTY: The Muhammad Ali Center opened last month, although it will not be completely finished for another year. The center was built in Louisville because it is where Muhammad Ali was born.

The center is meant to be an educational and cultural international gathering place. The six-level building is a place to learn about Muhammad Ali and to help visitors discover ways to increase understanding among people. The center is also an attempt to help the world find ways to prevent war and violence. Muhammad Ali’s wife Lonnie said the center will be a place where people can work for peace and understanding. She said her husband did not want the museum to be only about him and his boxing.

Exhibits in some areas show Ali’s boxing successes. Other areas remember the days of racial separation in the American South when the young Cassius Clay was growing up. He later became a Muslim and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. The civil rights movement of the nineteen sixties is the subject of one exhibit at the center.

Muhammad Ali has worked for many years to improve human rights, ease conflicts and provide food for the poor. The fifth level of the building is divided into six areas that show the values in Ali’s life. They include believing in yourself, giving and spirituality. Interactive experiences show how Ali stood up for what he believed. Center officials say its aim is to use Ali’s life as an example that will help visitors recognize that they too can make a difference.

Muhammad Ali is now sixty-three years old. He is battling Parkinson’s syndrome. It affects his speech and movement. Ali and his wife are considering moving back to live in Louisville so that they can spend more time at the center.


HOST: Our VOA listener question this week comes from Brazil. Joao Ademir dos Santos asks about the use of the English word “ain’t”.

The dictionary says that “ain’t” is an example of nonstandard English. Standard English follows rules of grammar and usage that people learn in school. Nonstandard English includes words or expressions that violate these rules.

“Ain’t” is an attempt to combine the words “am” and “not” in a way similar to the way that “don’t” combines the words “do” and “not.” Experts say it first appeared in English in seventeen seventy-eight. They say people in that time period also developed the use of “don’t” and “won’t.” Later, grammar experts criticized the use of “ain’t” because it was used by uneducated people.

In the nineteenth century, it was criticized because it was not a combination of two words. The meaning of “ain’t” also expanded to include “is not,” “has not” and “have not,” as in the expression “I ain’t got any.”

Grammar experts and teachers continue to criticize the use of “ain’t.” They say it is slang and should not be used in conversation. Yet sometimes it seems to be the right word to use for informal speech. It has been used in many expressions such as “You ain’t seen nothing yet,” “Say it ain’t so” and “Ain’t that the truth!” People also use it in a joking way. However, it is not used in writing unless the writer is trying to express a kind of informal relation among a group of people.

The book “Understanding English Grammar” says “ain’t” is an issue about manners, not grammar. The writer says ideas about the word would change quickly if television news reporters and the president of the United States used the word. One language expert said that teachers, news reporters and presidents do not avoid “ain’t” because it is nonstandard English. It is nonstandard English because such people do not use it.

Katrina Relief Music

HOST: The city of New Orleans, Louisiana, has influenced many musicians over the years. Now, it is time for musicians to help New Orleans. “Hurricane Relief” is a new CD that many musicians, producers and record companies came together to create. Faith Lapidus tells us more.

FAITH LAPIDUS: “Hurricane Relief: Come Together Now” is the full name of this special new CD. This collection of music includes many new and old songs. It includes many kinds of music. Some of the songs are about New Orleans. The CD is not only important for its music, however. It also represents a high level of cooperation among many people in the music industry. Their goal was to “come together” to create an album that could raise money for the victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.


That was “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton. Sixteen famous musicians took part in the recording. If you listened carefully you could hear the voices of musicians such as Ringo Starr and Mary J. Blige.

The musicians and producers who made this album did not want to earn money from it. Instead, each time the CD is purchased, almost all of the profits will go to a relief organization. These organizations include the American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity and the MusiCares Hurricane Relief Fund.

Here is “City Beneath the Sea” by Harry Connick, Junior. It describes the music, sights and sounds of New Orleans. Connick should know -- he grew up in that city.


We close with the song “Come Together Now” which was written by the actress Sharon Stone and other songwriters. More than twenty musicians such as Natalie Cole and Celine Dion came together to make this special recording. This song expresses the idea of the whole album. It tells about the importance of uniting to help people and a city in need.


HOST: I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program.

Our show was written by Dana Demange and Nancy Steinbach. Caty Weaver was our producer.

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.