Dissertation Defense: Sabriya Fisher

Jun 12, 2018 at - | Claire M. Fagin Hall, Room 218

Sabriya Fisher will be defending her dissertation: "Variation and change in past tense negation in African American English" at 1:30pm on Tuesday June 12. The defense is open to the public and will be held in Claire M. Fagin Hall Room 218. Claire M. Fagin Hall is at 418 Curie Boulevard (see map at link).


More info and the abstract can be found below.


Supervisor: William Labov
Committee: David Embick, Gillian Sankoff, Meredith Tamminga
Date & Time: Tuesday June 12, 2018 at 1:30pm
Location: Claire M. Fagin HallRoom 218

Title: Variation and Change in Past Tense Negation in African American English*

This dissertation investigates the use of /ain’t /for negation in past tense contexts in Philadelphia African American English [PhAAE]. This use of /ain’t/, which varies with /didn’t/, is a unique feature of AAE (Labov et al. 1968) and has implications for the expression of tense/aspect in the language. First, it further levels tense/aspect cues from auxiliaries in negative contexts. Second, whereas verbal complements of /didn’t /are uninflected (1a), complements of /ain’t /may either be uninflected or in preterit form (1b). This asymmetry indicates potential structural differences between /ain’t /and /didn’t/.

(1)a. They *didn’t play*yesterday.

        b. They *ain’t play(ed)* yesterday.

Consequently, this dissertation joins a quantitative study of the social and linguistic factors conditioning use of /ain’t /with a distributional investigation of its syntax and interaction with tense morphology. Toward that end, I analyze naturalistic speech data from 42 speakers in a corpus of casual conversations collected in the early 1980s from African American Philadelphians.

First, analysis of social conditioning on variation between /ain’t /and /didn’t /reveals that the use of /ain’t /in this context is a recent innovation tied to the social setting of urban Northern cities like Philadelphia. Second, an investigation of following verbal morphology indicates that the construction /ain’t/+base is preferred to /ain’t/+preterit (used only 25% of the time). Apparent time analysis reveals that /ain’t/+preterit is preferred by older speakers, suggesting that it may be an older construction. In combination with an analysis of linguistic conditioning on use of /ain’t/, specifically verbal stativy, I argue that past tense /ain’t /was reanalyzed from present perfect /ain’t/, which//varies with /haven’t/and has the same form (2).

(2)They *ain’t played*since Monday.

        “They haven’t played since Monday.”

Based on these results as well as an examination of past /vs/. perfect constructions and associated verbal forms in PhAAE, I consider the hypothesis that inflection is generated in a functional head lower than tense in /ain’t/+preterit constructions. Consequently, this dissertation demonstrates a difference in structure between /ain’t /and /didn’t /sentences and a distinction in the grammar of AAE compared to other varieties of English.