LINGUIST List 13.866

Thu Mar 28 2002

Diss: Socioling: Van Herk "A Message from..."

Editor for this issue: Karolina Owczarzak <>


  1. s1377209, Socioling: Van Herk "A Message from the Past: Past Temporal..."

Message 1: Socioling: Van Herk "A Message from the Past: Past Temporal..."

Date: Wed, 27 Mar 2002 10:58:01 +0000
From: s1377209 <>
Subject: Socioling: Van Herk "A Message from the Past: Past Temporal..."

New Dissertation Abstract

Institution: University of Ottawa
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2001

Author: Gerard Van Herk 

Dissertation Title: 
A Message from the Past: Past Temporal Reference in Early African
American Letters

Linguistic Field: Sociolinguistics

Subject Language: English

Dissertation Director 1: Shana Poplack

Dissertation Abstract: 

This study employs the methods of comparative and variationist
linguistics in a new data source, letters by semiliterate 19th-century
Liberian immigrants, to confirm and extend the findings of earlier
studies on the past temporal reference system of Early African
American English (AAE). In the first half of the study, the strongest
linguistic constraints on the choice of bare verb forms match
precisely those described for large-scale studies of spoken (diaspora)
Early AAE: the bare form results from consonant cluster simplification
in weak verbs, and from lexical preferences attested through the
history of English in the case of strong verbs. Conditioning factors
proposed to result from earlier creole influence on Early AAE
(anteriority, remoteness, or clause type) did not play a significant

The second half of the study concerns multiple verb forms, especially
the present perfect, described by previous studies as marginal or
non-existent in AAE. In contrast, present perfect forms in this corpus
are frequent and favoured by all the English-derived conditioning
factors tested in this study: ambiguity of temporal orientation and
relation, recent or continuing events, negation, extended time
adverbials, and "since" clauses, as well as by non-statives. This
conditioning, especially taken in concert with the variability of bare
verb forms, suggests that the present perfect has long been part of
AAE, with its rarity in other corpora due to genre-based differences
in the frequency of contexts requiring its use.

The study provides new evidence in the history of the development of
African American varieties of English, as well as demonstrating the
utility of variationist analysis in resolving problems of linguistic
system membership. Combining variationist and comparative analytical
methods, it places AAE within the context of the development of the
English language.
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue