The use of “once” in Wisconsin English, such as “Stand up once,” does not mean that the act should be performed on one occasion, but rather, the “once” is used in discourse as a way of softening a request, in the same way that one might say “please” or “won’t you?” This particular lexical item (read: ‘word’) is a direct translation of a very specific use of a German construction:
WI English: Stand once up
In Standard American English, “Steh mal auf” would be translated as “Please stand up” or “Won’t you stand up”. Additionally, “mal” has a number of different interpretations, such as the above use, but also mathematical “times”, as in “Zwei mal drei” (Two times three); to express repetition, “Ich habe das hundertmal gesagt” (I have said that a hundred times); and to mean English “once”, as in “Das hab’ ich (ein)mal gedacht” (I thought that once / I used to think that). Many German immigrants who came to Wisconsin learned English as a second language, and in such concentrated communities and in such high numbers, the English they spoke included many borrowed words and phrases. German-Americans carried over this first construction from German into English. More specifically, because German does not have a different lexical item to be used in different circumstances to be realized as “once”, “times/multiplied by”, “one time”, and “please”, German-Americans did not make a distinction between the different applications of what they used to know as a single word, “mal”.
Standard American English makes the distinction between “still” and “yet”, where “still” expresses an ongoing event, but “yet” expresses an event that has not yet begun. However, in German, there is no distinction, and the same word, “noch”, is used to express both English “yet” and “still”. Because German immigrants did not make a distinction in their native language, they did not make a distinction between English “still” and “yet”, and generalized one form for all instances. Because so many German immigrants settled in Wisconsin, speakers of Wisconsin English who were not necessarily German also incorporated this generalization into their normal speech.
Normally expressed in Standard American English as “what kind (of)” or “which type (of)”, the phrase “what for” some Wisconsin English speakers use phrases like, “What for a beer do you want?” (Standard American English: What kind of beer do you want?) This directly echoes the German construction “Was für” - literally, “what for”. Like a number of other Wisconsin English constructions, this example shows the salient influence of immigrant languages, like German, where speakers learning English used a direct translation of the construction in their mother tongue. This construction appears sporadically today.
come with/bring with
This parallels what we find in a number of different European languages, and builds on parallels in other English constructions. It appears widespread in the Midwest and beyond today. Many languages, such as German, Dutch, Yiddish, Norwegan, Swedish, and Danish, use an identical construction:
English: He’s coming along
WI Eng: He’s coming with
German: Er kommt mit
Dutch: Hij komt mee
Swedish: Han kommer med
*In the previous instances, mit, mee and med are all cognates (genetically related) to english ‘with’.