William Labov
Current Papers

To read on line and/or print out:

How I got into linguistics, and what I got out of it.. A short biographical account of my relation to the field of linguistics, originally written for a Penn student publication on how people arrived at their chosen fields in 1987. Recently revised and brought up to date.

ResyllabificationA paper originally given at the Symposium on Language Variation and Linguistic Theory at Nijmegen in 1995, revised for the Penn Colloqium in 1997. It takes up the use of resyllabification as an explanation of the effect of the following segment on -t,d deletion, as proposed by Guy, Reynolds, Kiparsky and others. Through the study of natural misunderstandings and a varbrul analysis of one extended data base, it shows that resyllabification is a real but rare phenomenon in English, which could not explain the observed distributions. The explanation for these constraints may lie in the area of perception rather than the production of speech.

Some further steps in narrative analysis. In 1997, The Journal of Narrative and Life History will put a special quadruple issue on the 30trh anniversary of "Narrative analysis" of Labov and Waletzky published in 1967. The issue will contain the original article, some 40 contributions of researchers on narrative who have used this framework, and this new paper by myself.

Testimony on "Ebonics"given January 23rd 1997before the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The Organization of Dialect Diversity in North America. Given at ICSLP4 in Philadelphia, October 9, 1996. This paper summarizes the current findings of the Telsur project and the Phonological Atlas of North America , as they apply to the field of speech recognition. It includes national maps of the cot/caught merger, the pin/pen merger, and three measures of the progress of the Northern Cities Shift and the Southern Shift in the United States.

 Can Reading Failure be Reversed? A Linguistic Approach to the Question . This paper was published in 1995 in a volume edited by Gadsden and Wagner on Literacy Among African-American Youth, and may be of some help in clarifying the issues raised by the current controversy about the Ebonics decision of the Oakland school board. It reviews the history of efforts to apply knowledge of African-American Vernacular English [AAVE] to improve reading and writing in the early grades. It includes a summary of the linguistic features of AAVE, and puts forward a number of concrete suggestions on how educational programs can take this knowledge into account. It also contains a fairly detailed account of the Bridge program of Simpkins, Holt & Simpkins which was the most successful effort to move children in a step-by-step fashion from the vernacular level to standard English. Download this paper.

Academic Ignorance and Black Intelligence. This is a slightly abridged version of "The logic of non-standard English," prepared for the Atlantic Monthly in June 1972. It argued the case that AAVE was a fully formed languge with all the capacity necessary for logical thought, and that the conclusions of the "deficit model" that black children had no language were based on unscientific and biased methods. It is reprinted in the electronic version of The Atlantic Unbound.

Coexistent Systems in African-American English . In S. Mufwene, J. Rickford, J. Baugh & G/ Bailey (eds.). The Structure of African-American English . London: Routledge.  Pp. 110-153. This paper, dedicated to the memory of Beryl Bailey, presents the view that a sub-set of the T-M-A particles of AAVE have developed as a separate component of the grammar, with syntactic properties distinct from the General English component , and that the recently elaborated semantics of AAVE mood and aspect are a product of this parallel and heterogeneous development.

When intuitions fail. CLS 32: Papers from the Parasession on Theory and Data in Linguistics 32:76-106. A further explorations of the issues raised in What is a Linguistic Fact? of 1975. This paper reviews the general principles for the use of intuitions with insights added by Schütze 1996 and Bard, Robertson and Sorace 1996. It then reports some extreme cases of mismatch of intuitions and behavior in the grammar of AAVE, and in the phonology of near mergers in Swedish and Philadelphia English. The paper concludes with an effort to summarize the general conditions that lead to the failure of intuitions.