In some videos, movies, or films, you may have heard some characters or people use the phrase “this here (something)” or “that there (something)”, probably to portray a more country or old-style atmosphere. However, occasionally, I have heard instances where phrases like this are spoken in perhaps some places in America. So this got me curious, do the words “here” and “there” play any function in phrases like “this here” and “that there”?
Before we speculate on these functions, we should take a look at the intended meaning of “this here” and “that there”. It seems that these phrases carry the notion of “this” and “that” respectively, and these are commonly referred to as demonstrative adjectives or pronouns. Looking back at “this here” and “that there”, we could interpret this as a measure of how close a thing is to a speaker, and probably an emphasis on this distance. After all, “this” and “these” imply nearness to the speaker, so the “here” element is already built in. “That” and “those” imply distance from the speaker, so the “there” element is built in.
But does this mean that the extra emphasis on this distance is functionally redundant? In fact, the use of “this here” and “that there” has been stereotypically treated as backwards and worse still, uneducated by some speakers of standard English.
However, looking over into Swedish, we find a similar structure used to express the notions of “this” and “that”. That is, den här and den där respectively, for the singular common grammatical gender. This translates to, you guessed it, “this here” and “that there” You see, Swedish demonstrative adjectives have less precision in defining proximity and specification of an object compared to what we see in English. “Här” and “där” thus aids this specification, lending the meaning of “here” and “there” respectively.
But does this mean that a Swedish influence was involved in these English expressions?
Well, not quite. In fact, historical accounts have mentioned some rather negative connotations regarding the use of such expressions in English, which may have discouraged its entry into English conversations to some extent. For instance, English essayist and poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge complained in the mid-19th century that uneducated British speakers were committing the same misdemeanor. And in a treatise on grammar in the Encyclopaedia Metropolitana: Or, Universal Dictionary of Knowledge (1845), Coleridge criticized the redoubling of word elements “for the sake of emphasis, which is a habit common to barbarous nations, and to the illiterate in all countries.” Yeah, that is a rather crass remark to make especially if it were made now in the 21st century.
More leads point towards the Oxford English Dictionary, which suggests that the phrase “this here” has been part of the English language since the 14th century, which could suggest a possible Germanic origin or influence, but fell increasingly out of favour over time.
In any case, it seems that a combination of various discriminatory or prejudicial connotations the use of these phrases carries has contributed to the present-day interpretation as “rustic” or “backwards”. While rarely mentioned today, in films, however, this has been used to portray a rather country setting or that of antiquity, or a stereotypical image of the Kansas countryside in the 1930s. How it entered English, though, remains a relative mystery, but still is an interesting feature of English.