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I just barely got here
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2010/02/11
9:53am
bsbkeller
Madison, WI
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“I just barely got here.” I used to hear my high school students say this when I taught in Austin, TX. The word “barely” was used to emphasizes that the speaker arrived *just now*. I had never heard this growing up in northern NY and we moved to Wisconsin about three years ago and I haven’t heard it since. This week a friend of mine updated her status on facebook saying something like “So-and-so just realized she hasn’t heard ‘I just barely got here’ since she moved from California.” So I know this happens in California as well. I am a Spanish speaker and most of my students who used “barely” this way were growing up in households where Spanish was spoken. Is it possible that this use of “barely” has come from a non-exact translation of acabar or apenas and has since been incorporated into English? The idea that Spanish is involved also seems reasonable since the two places that I know of where this happens are Texas and California. Am I on the right track here?

2010/02/12
8:46am
torpeau
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I think I have heard “barely” used this way all my life – a WASP hosehold. I would have guessed it was a Southernism.

2010/02/12
12:01pm
Glenn
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Seems very familiar and natural to me, too. I have lived in the Philadelphia / New York area nearly all of my life. My family heritage is mixed European stock, although my childhood neighborhood was ethnically diverse. The just is optional: I barely got here would mean the same thing to me.

2010/02/12
1:21pm
bsbkeller
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torpeau and Glenn, you both seem to suggest that although this sounds natural you are unsure about having heard this. torpeau, you wrote “I think I have heard” and Glenn you said “Seems very familiar.” I heard this at least once a day in Austin and my friend heard it all the time in central Cali. Are we talking about the same broad usage or is this just something that doesn’t sound all that strange to either of you?

2010/02/13
1:29pm
perditechno
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“I barely made it here” makes sense, but “I just barely got here” doesn’t sound right. “Barely” describes a struggle – maybe traffic or time constraint, but not the timing itself. You can say “I barely made it here this morning” in the afternoon to describe your experience, but you can’t say “I just barely got here this morning.” So I think the person used the word “barely” incorrectly.

2010/02/13
2:18pm
Glenn
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bsbkeller said:

torpeau and Glenn, you both seem to suggest that although this sounds natural you are unsure about having heard this. torpeau, you wrote “I think I have heard” and Glenn you said “Seems very familiar.” I heard this at least once a day in Austin and my friend heard it all the time in central Cali. Are we talking about the same broad usage or is this just something that doesn’t sound all that strange to either of you?


I can’t recall a specific situation. It is something I hear very commonly, and I would use myself.

I barely opened the front door, when the phone started ringing.

I may be using the word barely incorrectly, but I am a native speaker, and it seems I am in good company.

2010/02/13
4:39pm
bsbkeller
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perditechno said:

“I barely made it here” makes sense, but “I just barely got here” doesn’t sound right. “Barely” describes a struggle – maybe traffic or time constraint, but not the timing itself. You can say “I barely made it here this morning” in the afternoon to describe your experience, but you can’t say “I just barely got here this morning.” So I think the person used the word “barely” incorrectly.


perditechno, I’m not so much interested in whether saying “I just barely got here” to mean “I arrived just now” is correct or not. Though it sounds strange to me too, the reality is that it is commonly used in that way by some people in some places. I am primarily interested in how “barely” came to be used this way and where is it common to find it used in that sense.

2013/02/17
9:40pm
LAteacher
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I teach middle school English at a public school in South Los Angeles (a.k.a. South Central) where the majority of students are of Mexican, Salvadoran, or Guatemalan descent and speak Spanish at home.  I have a lot of language pet peeves, but fortunately for my sense of patience, I’m also nearly fluent in Spanish, so can usually figure out the origin of certain recurring mistakes I see when reading my students’ papers.  However, the question of why so many Latino/as say “I barely got here” when they in fact mean “I just got here” has been puzzling me my whole teaching career, and it was only now that I thought to do a Google search to see if I could find an answer.  This is my first post here.

 

I still don’t really have an answer, but it sounded like the posters above were curious to know where this usage of “barely” is common.  I can say with certainty that using “barely” (commonly pronounced as “burly”) to mean “just” is absolutely the norm amongst Chicano/as and other Latinoamericans in Southern California, at least.  Some of the African-American children I work with have also picked up this usage, though I’m fairly sure that this is the result of the changing demographics in many areas that used to have African-American majorities; in other words, Spanish and Spanglish have become the norm in many California inner cities by this point.  Interestingly, though, I can’t recall ever hearing it out of the mouth of someone who grew up in a predominantly white or Asian neighborhood (as I did).  I have also never heard my father, who is 100% Mexican-American, use “barely” in this way, but he did go to school in a city where the vast majority of students/teachers were white.  Anyway, I imagine this difference in language styles is probably more pronounced in Los Angeles, as we unfortunately live in a very racially segregated city.  There is a brief article the Los Angeles Times did on Chicano English here: http://articles.latimes.com/2011/oct/24/local/la-me-eastla-accent-20111025     It’s not a scholarly source, per se, but still might be enlightening to some.

 

As a side note, although I consider my English skills above-average, I hope to find that this is a forum of open-minded people who are not on here to rail about how so many people “don’t know proper English”.  I could write volumes on my personal discomfort with telling children they talk “wrong”–I feel this is a form of language discrimination and I have no desire to perpetuate the idea in my students that that which comes from European roots is always superior to that which comes from elsewhere.  For this reason, I avoid the terms “standard English” and “proper English” in my dealings with them.  In short, I stick to telling them that my job is to help them master what I call “academic English” since they are already so good at what I call colloquial English.  I just say there’s a time and place for all sorts of speaking.

2013/02/17
10:02pm
LAteacher
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I’m back already.  I noticed the LA Times link above didn’t work, but it’s Google-able if you’re interested.  In the meantime, I think I’ve found our answer–it goes back to the multiple meanings of the word “apenas” in Spanish.  Thank you, PBS.  I should have looked this up sooner. 

 

http://www.pbs.org/speak/seatosea/americanvarieties/chicano/

2013/02/19
6:20am
Glenn
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I read the part of the article relevant to barely. It does cite that this use of barely is not unique to Spanish-influenced English. While this use of barely is comfortably part of my dialect, the Spanish influence doesn’t make a lot of sense. Still, I would not use barely as prolifically as described in the article, so something significant is clearly going on in that dialect.

My point is to warn that this use does not universally point to a Spanish-influenced dialect.

2013/02/19
9:14am
Robert
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My experience is this: when ‘barely’ is used in the sense of time (as different from such as a struggle- perditechno’s point above), there is always a link (either explicit or implied) to another event:  barely opened the front door, when the phone started ringing.

The use of ‘barely’ as ‘recently’,  without any link to another event, is quite unfamiliar to me. Am I wrong to think that is what distinguishes the Chicano dialect?

2013/02/19
10:39am
Glenn
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Robert, I think you are right that, for the most part, it is used in explicit reference to another event. In my (non-Chicano) dialect, the connection to another event can, on occasion, be pretty obscure or abstract.

[My wife] You’re home!
[Me] I barely got here.

[My boss] Why haven’t you sent that report yet?
[Me] I barely booted my computer.

2013/02/19
10:46am
bsbkeller
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Robert, I think that’s right. To me, when ‘barely’ is used to refer to a short period of time it is interchangeable with ‘no sooner’ or ‘hardly’, both of which require another event for comparison. ‘No sooner had I done X than Y occurred.’ or ‘I had hardly done X when Y.’ Whereas, when I heard students use ‘I just barely got here’ the intended meaning was ‘I arrived just now.’ This latter use is the one that was unfamiliar to me and that inspired the original post.

Thanks for the link, LAteacher. The PBS link gives other examples: ‘I barely broke my leg.’ where the intended meaning is that I just recently broke my leg and ‘Don’t leave, you barely got here!’ to mean you just got here.

The link with Spanish and apenas makes sense because apenas can be used in both ways. For example, ‘Apenas había cerrado la puerta cuando…’ means ‘I had just closed the door when…’ and ‘Apenas llegué.’ means ‘I just arrived.’ The translation of the first would be in line with ‘barely’, whereas the second, would lead directly to ‘I just barely got here.’ if someone were to assume that English ‘barely’ = Spanish ‘apenas’.

2013/03/30
4:11pm
jock123
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“I just barely got here” would be perfectly familiar to a British English speaker, so I don’t know that it is neccessarily a calque/ Spanish thing going on.
When I listened to the show in fact I wasn’t actually certain what issue about it was being raised, as it sounds so natural – “barely” is an emphasiser, and “hardly” could be used in the same way.
Could the students be being taught British English, perhaps?

2013/04/10
4:00am
tdewein
Texas
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I moved to San Antonio a few years back and have noticed a few odd usages such as barely getting here.  Rather than getting out of the car, locals get “off” the car.  They also “tell” questions rather than asking them.  One more and I’ll stop… “turn off” the candle?  Yikes!  Never a dull moment or is it “barely” a dull moment?

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