AAVE query

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Sat Apr 29 16:07:11 UTC 2006

On Apr 27, 2006, at 12:28 PM, William Salmon wrote:

>> Some of my students use "What that is?" in asking questions.  Has
>> this been studied?  Is it regional, hip-prestige, or what?
>> i have asked him if he hears only this one formula, or more things of
>> the same form, like "What your name is?"
> In his (in)famous 2004 speech for the 50th anniversary of Brown v.
> Board
> of Education, Bill Cosby provides a few additional examples...
> "They're standing on the corner and they can't speak English. I can't
> even talk the way these people talk: Why you ain't, Where you is, What
> he drive, Where he stay, Where he work, Who you be..."

Sali Mufwene suggests looking at Burling 1973 (English in Black and
White), and in fact it's there (pp. 65-8), under the name "flip-
flop" (rather than Subject-Auxiliary Inversion) in questions.
Burling observes that SAI is optional (rather than obligatory) in
(non-subject) wh questions for "many black English speakers" (and,
consequently, do-support is also optional):
   Why you don't like him?
   Why they listen to me?
(Burling also observes that SAI is optional in embedded wh questions,
where it's not permitted in standard english.)

lack of SAI in wh questions is noted by Rickford 1999 (African
American Vernacular English) as one of the characteristic features of
AAVE (p. 8).  and mentioned by Green 2002 (African American English:
A Linguistic Introduction), pp. 85-7, who notes (p. 178-80) such
examples in Zora Neale Hurston's first novel (published 1934).  so
the phenomenon has been around for quite some time.

everybody notes that noninversion coexists with inversion.  nobody
says anything about who uses noninversion and in what contexts.  it's
treated as merely a common variant.

arnold, who finally got to visit his library yesterday

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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