Sabriya Fisher--Dissertation Proposal Defense

Jun 29, 2015 at - | The Linguistics Lab; 3810 Walnut Street (in the second-floor classroom)

*Title:* Variation and Change in Past Tense Negation in AAVE

*Supervisor:* William Labov

This proposed dissertation examines the extension of /ain’t /to past tense contexts where it varies with negative /do-/support (/didn’t/)//in African American Vernacular English (AAVE) (e.g., /Well, he didn’t do much, and I ain’t neither/, Labov et al. 1968). Through a corpus study, I demonstrate an increase in the use of /ain’t /at the expense of /didn’t/ in apparent time, led by adolescents with limited contact with speakers of Mainstream American English (MAE). The corpus study also allows two hypotheses on the origin of the use of /ain’t /in this new environment to be evaluated. The first hypothesis argues that it developed from a phonetic reduction of /didn’t /to [int], which subsequently converged with other instances of /ain’t/. The second proposes that it extended from the use of /ain’t /in present perfect contexts (where it varies with /haven’t/) due to semantic overlap between the present perfect and the simple past.

      Another related goal of the proposed dissertation will be to tease apart the relationship between /ain’t, /tense-marking on main verbs following /ain’t /(e.g., /She ain’t want /vs. /She ain’t wanted/), and the tense-aspect meaning of the sentence (simple past vs. present perfect). Preliminary corpus results show a significant tendency for main verbs to appear in their base form (/want/) following /ain’t /in sentences with simple past meaning. There is also a significant tendency for main verbs to appear in their preterit form (/wanted/) following /ain’t /in sentences with present perfect meaning. However, variation in main verb tense-marking can be found in both paradigms (i.e., 18.3% preterit forms in sentences with simple past meaning and 16.3% base forms in sentences with present perfect meaning). Thus the proposed dissertation includes an experiment designed to test whether participants use main verb morphology to interpret the tense-aspect meaning of a sentence. Additionally, the development of variation in main verb marking over time will be examined in relation to both hypotheses on the origin of the extension of /ain't /to past tense contexts.