LINGUIST List 13.892

Mon Apr 1 2002

Diss: Socioling: Walker "Present Accounted For"

Editor for this issue: Karolina Owczarzak <>


  1. jamesw, Socioling: Walker "Present Accounted For: Prosody and Aspect in AAE"

Message 1: Socioling: Walker "Present Accounted For: Prosody and Aspect in AAE"

Date: Sun, 31 Mar 2002 22:07:16 +0000
From: jamesw <>
Subject: Socioling: Walker "Present Accounted For: Prosody and Aspect in AAE"

New Dissertation Abstract

Institution: University of Ottawa
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2000

Author: James Anthony Walker 

Dissertation Title: 
Present Accounted For: Prosody and Aspect in Early African American English

Linguistic Field: Sociolinguistics

Subject Language: English

Dissertation Director 1: Shana Poplack

Dissertation Abstract: 

This study reconstructs the present temporal reference system of Early
African American English (AAE) by investigating the linguistic factors
conditioning several variables within the domain of present temporal
reference in three varieties argued to be representative of Early

The first half concerns the variable contraction and deletion of the
copula, studies of which have used the following grammatical category
to ascribe a creole origin to AAE, while downplaying the equally
significant subject-type constraint. Arguing that both effects are
epiphenomena of constraints dictated by prosodic structure, I show
that the complexity of the phonological phrase constrains both
contraction and deletion across all three varieties. Thus, the early
African Americans exploited a possibility inherent in the English
language once contraction developed. 

The second half concerns verbal predication in the present temporal
reference domain, previous studies of which have focussed only on the
opposition between bare verbs and verbs marked with *s, ignoring other
morphosyntactic constructions. Expanding the analysis to the entire
present temporal reference system, I demonstrate that different
expressions of the present themselves convey different aspects: the
previously-noted finding that *s marks habitual aspect is confirmed,
but zero also marks aspect, that of duration. The progressive is used
most often with nonstative verbs, to denote durative aspect, while its
much rarer use with statives appears to reflect an older stage in its
"grammaticization". Thus, these findings largely comply with the
literature on the history and use of the progressive in

This reconstruction not only serves as further evidence in the history
of the development of AAVE, it also demonstrates the utility of
variationist analysis in resolving issues of system membership and
genetic affiliation. Combining variationist analysis with current
advances in linguistic theory, it provides linguistically meaningful
explanations of the observed variability and places it within the
context of the development of the English language.
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