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LINGUIST List 18.251

Wed Jan 24 2007

Diss: Morphology/Socioling: Mittelstaedt: 'Auxiliary Verb Leveling ...'

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        1.    Jennifer Mittelstaedt, Auxiliary Verb Leveling and Morphological Theory: The case of Smith Island English

Message 1: Auxiliary Verb Leveling and Morphological Theory: The case of Smith Island English
Date: 24-Jan-2007
From: Jennifer Mittelstaedt <jhmpdx.edu>
Subject: Auxiliary Verb Leveling and Morphological Theory: The case of Smith Island English

Institution: Georgetown University
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2006

Author: Jennifer Hilde Mittelstaedt

Dissertation Title: Auxiliary Verb Leveling and Morphological Theory: The case of Smith Island English

Linguistic Field(s): Morphology

Subject Language(s): English (eng)

Dissertation Director:
Natalie Schilling-Estes

Dissertation Abstract:

This dissertation investigates leveling in the auxiliary verb system of a
moribund variety of English spoken on Smith Island, Maryland. Leveling is
a process by which one form takes over others in a paradigm, resulting in
partial or total syncretism. Previous research (e.g. Schilling-Estes and
Wolfram 1999; Parrott 2001) has investigated various aspects of language
change in progress in Smith Island English (SIE), including a morphological
process, leveling to 'weren't', taking place in the context of contracted
negation. (Attested examples include 'Ma weren't doing no laughing' and 'I
weren't very old.') Schilling-Estes (2000, 2002) demonstrates that
'weren't' leveling is progressing to near-categorical status for the
youngest generation of Smith Islanders. The present study uses data from
sociolinguistic interviews with twenty-nine Smith Islanders across four
generations to see whether similar leveling patterns occur elsewhere in the
auxiliary verb system.

Findings show that present tense auxiliary BE, HAVE, and DO are also
leveling in this variety, to ain't (BE & HAVE) and don't (DO). These data
also support Schilling-Estes' research regarding 'weren't' leveling in SIE
(2000, 2002). It is concluded that 'weren't' leveling is part of a general
shift in the auxiliary verb system, in which contracted -n't forms are no
longer being analyzed as agreement markers, but simply negation markers.
The youngest islanders use leveled forms almost categorically. Degree of
orientation to Smith Island is shown to be a statistically significant
extra-linguistic factor, with speakers most strongly oriented to the island
displaying the highest rates of leveling.

In addition to sociolinguistic analyses, this dissertation addresses the
theoretical nature of leveling with contracted negation. Two recent
analyses of leveling consistent with the Separationist model of Distributed
Morphology are considered (Adger & Smith 2005; Mittelstaedt & Parrott 2002,
Parrott 2006). A framework allowing for an additional lexical item for
leveled forms within Adger & Smith's Minimalist framework accounts for the
possibility of leveling in a restricted context. This dissertation
provides an example of how variation data can used to address relevant
theoretical questions.

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