AAVE query

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Apr 30 00:33:41 UTC 2006

At 9:07 AM -0700 4/29/06, Arnold M. Zwicky wrote:
>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.
>>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.
Actually, there's an interesting paper by Haj Ross in the 1975 volume
_Syntax and Semantics 3: Speech Acts_ called, I believe, "Where to do
things with words", that deals with unexpected inversion of embedded
questions in Bayonne, NJ English (and related dialects).  Ross cites
George Lakoff's intuitions, wherein embedded questions that are used
to actually constitute indirect speech act questions invert (at least
optionally), while those that aren't don't.  So "I told her where
{the bathroom is/*is the bathroom}" vs. "I asked her where is the
bathroom".  This is a different issue from non-inversion in main
clause questions, of course.  Then there's the acquisition stuff,
which indicates that "why" questions like those above are generally
less likely to invert for younger children (of various dialects) than
other wh- questions.


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