Speaker Series: Lisa Green

Feb 26, 2015 at - | IRCS Conference Room

Inversion in African American English: When Negation Isn’t Enough


Lisa Green

University of Massachusetts Amherst


Multiple negative elements in African American English (AAE), which receive a negative concord interpretation, have been argued to emphasize negation. However, negative concord (1) alone is no more emphatic than single negation (2):


1. Nobody didn’t want to ride the bus.

2. Nobody wanted to ride the bus.


Negative concord alone does not emphasize negation, but other strategies are used in AAE for emphatic negation. For instance, negation can be stressed by negative modification with N-words, such as no, nothing, and nowhere, as in (3).


3. A: That girl ate all his beans.

B: That girl didn’t eat all his beans nothing.



4. A: She going to the mall.

B: She ain’t/not going nowhere.

‘She’s not going TO THE MALL’


Another strategy for emphasizing negation in AAE is inversion. Declarative Negative Auxiliary Inversion (NAI) structures in AAE, as well as in other varieties of American English (e.g., Alabama English, Appalachian English, West Texas English), have received a fair amount of attention (Feagin 1979; Foreman 2004; Green 2002, 2011a; Labov 1972; Labov, Cohen, Robins, and Lewis 1968; Martin 1992; Parrott 2000; Sells, Rickford, and Wasow 1996; Tortura and den Dikken 2010; White-Sustaíta 2010; Wolfram and Christian 1976); however, questions still remain about them, especially about whether the negated auxiliary actually undergoes To to Co movement. The canonical NAI constructions are characterized by an initial negated auxiliary followed by a negative indefinite DP, which together receive a negative concord interpretation:


5. DIDN’T NOBODY want to ride the bus.

'Not a single person wanted to ride the bus’


The analysis of NAI constructions in this paper, like previous analyses, considers the positions of the negated auxiliary and negative indefinite DP, but it differs from other studies by exploring the relationship between the structural positions of the initial elements and pragmatic meaning of NAI. I pursue the claim that the preposed negative signals an absolute negation reading of the indefinite DP or a strong domain reading in which there are no exceptions in the domain. As such, the negative focus reading of the inverted construction in (5) differs from the reading of the non-inverted structure in (1). I analyze NAI as resulting from a preposed negated auxiliary that is attracted to Co by a NEGATIVE FOCUS ([NegFoc]) feature. I consider the CP-system in AAE in light of research on the cartography of syntactic structures (Rizzi 2004), especially in relation to discourse and the structural positions of CP elements in ForceP and FocusP. Finally, I explore questions about the late acquisition of negative inversion in child AAE from the perspective of the proposed analysis.