LINGUIST List 10.127

Thu Jan 28 1999

Sum: Contractions in English

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Alan Smith, Summary on contractions in English

Message 1: Summary on contractions in English

Date: Wed, 27 Jan 1999 19:03:25 +0000
From: Alan Smith <>
Subject: Summary on contractions in English

Three weeks ago I posted a message on the LINGUIST list asking for
references to quantitative research on contractions in English. I would
like to thank the following for their replies:

Elly van Gelderen
Dick Hudson
Yishai Tobin
James Walker

The main studies in the variationist paradigm seem to be as follows:

Labov, W. (1969) "Contraction, deletion and inherent variability of the
English copula." Language 45: 715-62.

McElhinny, B. (1993) "Copula and auxiliary contraction in the speech of
white Americans." American Speech 68(4): 371-99.

Fasold, R. W. and Y. Nakano (1996) Contraction and deletion in AAVE: creole
history and relationship to Euro-American English. In Towards a social
science of language: variation and change in language and society (Vol. 1).
G. R. Guy, C. Feagin, D. Schiffrin and J. Baugh (ed.). Amsterdam:
Benjamins: 373-396.

Walker, J. A. and M. E. Meechan. The Decreolization of Canadian English:
copula contraction and prosody. (To appear in CLA proceedings)

Walker, J. A. Rephrasing the copula: contraction and zero in early American
English. (To appear in S. Poplack (ed.), The English History of African
American English. Oxford: Blackwell.

Other works of interest include:

Kayne, Richard 1997 "The English Complementizer _of_. JCGL 1: 43-54.
Gelderen, Elly van 1997 "Structures of Tense and Aspect", Linguistic Analysis
27: 3-4 (1997)

Gelderen, Elly van 1998. "The Grammaticalization of `have'", talk to ICEHL.

Hudson, R. A. (1997) "The rise of auxiliary do: verb non-raising or
category-strengthening." Transactions of the Philological Society 95(1):

Brainerd, B. (1989) "The contractions of not: a historical note." Journal
of English Linguistics 22(2): 176-196.

Tobin, Y. (1994) Invariance, markedness and distinctive feature analysis: a
contrastive study of sign systems in English and Hebrew. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

All of the corpus-based studies I have seen so far are concerned with the
similarity between contractions in English and copula deletion in AAVE and
English-based creoles (following Labov's work in the 1960s). Walker and
Meechan's study offers an explanation of these similarities based on
prosodic constraints (rather than the syntactic factors that are normally

I was rather surprised that there are apparently no studies concerned with
contractions as a phenomenon in its own right and no sociolinguistic
studies taking account of different speaker variables and speech contexts.
In addition, as far as I'm aware, no corpus-based studies of contractions
have been carried out in British English. 

Of the non-variationist work, Tobin's is particularly interesting in that
it offers a challenge to the commonly held assumption that contractions and
'full' forms are exact synonyms. Clearly, there is a lot more to
contractions than meets the eye.

Alan Smith

Alan Smith,
School of Modern Languages, Dept of French,
University of Newcastle upon Tyne
Tel: (0191) 222 7441
Fax: (0191) 222 5442
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