Linguistics Colloquium: Lisa Green (UMass Amherst)

OCT 12, 2017 | 4:15 PM TO 6:00 PM



The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue




October 12, 2017: 4:15 PM-6:00 PM




Lisa Green (UMass Amherst) presents: Variation, Development, and Copulas in African American English


The copula has been one of the most explored morphosyntactic markers in African American English (AAE) from the perspective of historical origins and linguistic constraints on its distribution. Labov’s (1969) study laid the groundwork for research on AAE copula variation, and in subsequent research, preceding and following grammatical environments continued to be analyzed in an effort to determine influence on the occurrence of contracted (’s) and zero (Ø) variants (e.g., Baugh 1980; Holm 1984; Rickford, Ball, Blake 1991; Rickford 1996; Weldon 1996; Winford 1992). In later research, analyses were extended beyond the preceding and following grammatical environments. For instance, Walker (2000) analyzed the distribution of forms of the copula in terms of prosodic phrasing and argued that contracted forms were more likely to occur as a means of reducing the prosodic complexity of a preceding phrase. Becker (2000) argued that distributional analysis of categorical constraints confirmed that zero copula production in AAE is syntactic, not phonological. Research on the copula in child AAE has been based on claims about the preceding and following grammatical environments in adult AAE although there has been some limited syntactic/semantic analysis of copular constructions in developing AAE (e.g., Benedicto, Abdulkarim, Garrett, Johnson, and Seymour 1998; Green, Wyatt, and Lopez 2007).

In this paper, I continue the discussion of the AAE copula within the broader context of a range of copular constructions in the linguistic system, in which I also consider markers such as aspectual be (beasp) (2) and go copula (3):


1.     Those stores Øcop all together.

‘Those stores are all together’

2.     Those stores be all together.

‘Those stores are generally all together’

3.     There go those stores all together.

‘There are those stores all together’


Moving toward a description of the AAE copula system, I address questions such as the following: 


a)     To what extent are becop and beasp the same or different forms?

b)     What accounts for the overlap in meaning of becop and beasp sentences?

c)     Why does becop have variable forms (including Ø) but beasp and go-copula do not?


Finally, I discuss patterns in development of AAE copulas in child AAE based on data from elicitation tasks and spontaneous speech samples.


All are welcome!  

Refreshments to follow in room 7400