Featured Linguist!

Jost Gippert: Our Featured Linguist!

"Buenos dias", "buenas noches" -- this was the first words in a foreign language I heard in my life, as a three-year old boy growing up in developing post-war Western Germany, where the first gastarbeiters had arrived from Spain. Fascinated by the strange sounds, I tried to get to know some more languages, the only opportunity being TV courses of English and French -- there was no foreign language education for pre-teen school children in Germany yet in those days. Read more

Donate Now | Visit the Fund Drive Homepage

Amount Raised:


Still Needed:


Can anyone overtake Syntax in the Subfield Challenge ?

Grad School Challenge Leader: University of Washington

Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login
amazon logo
More Info

New from Oxford University Press!


What is English? And Why Should We Care?

By: Tim William Machan

To find some answers Tim Machan explores the language's present and past, and looks ahead to its futures among the one and a half billion people who speak it. His search is fascinating and important, for definitions of English have influenced education and law in many countries and helped shape the identities of those who live in them.

New from Cambridge University Press!


Medical Writing in Early Modern English

Edited by Irma Taavitsainen and Paivi Pahta

This volume provides a new perspective on the evolution of the special language of medicine, based on the electronic corpus of Early Modern English Medical Texts, containing over two million words of medical writing from 1500 to 1700.

Summary Details

Query:   Summary on contractions in English
Author:  Alan Smith
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Morphology

Summary:   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
E-mail: alan.smith@ncl.ac.uk
Tel: (0191) 222 7441
Fax: (0191) 222 5442

LL Issue: 10.127
Date Posted: 28-Jan-1999
Original Query: Read original query


Sums main page