"baby mama" does not mean what they thought it means

David Bergdahl dlbrgdhl at GMAIL.COM
Wed Apr 30 20:57:50 UTC 2008

In short, "baby mama" is exactly like "baby carriage."

On Wed, Apr 30, 2008 at 4:35 PM, Arnold M. Zwicky <zwicky at csli.stanford.edu>

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Arnold M. Zwicky" <zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: "baby mama" does not mean what they thought it means
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Apr 30, 2008, at 7:56 AM, Marc Velasco wrote:
> > So it seems semantically settled.
> >
> > But what about construction?
> >
> > Baby mama is derived from the possessive "baby's mama" no?
> well, it corresponds to standard "baby's mama".  there's probably
> nothing to be gained by seeing  a possessor NP like "baby" in "baby
> mama" as synchronically derived from possessor NP+'s.  you could just
> as easily argue that the derivation goes in the opposite direction,
> with possessor NP+'s derived from bare possessor NP by the addition of
> a suffix.  what i think is the right way to compare the grammars is
> just to see them as having different ways for expressing a syntactic
> relationship -- in this case, the relationship between an NP
> determiner and the head N of the whole NP (= NP + N).
> the standard possessor marking is *explicit*, with an explicit mark on
> the dependent constituent; this is in an important sense *redundant*,
> since the relationship between the possessor and the head is already
> conveyed by their combination within a larger NP and by their
> ordering.  bare possessor marking is *implicit*, with only structure/
> ordering as a sign of the relationship.  (alternation between explicit
> and implicit marking is found all over language.  yes, i have yet
> another Language Log posting in preparation on the phenomenon.)
> sometimes one language variety has explicit marking for a certain
> relationship where another variety has implicit marking for that
> relationship.  sometimes both schemes of marking for that relationship
> are alternatives within a variety.
> you can't predict what the sociolinguistic status of the explicitly
> and implicitly marked variants will be in these cases.  for english
> possessor NPs, the explicit variant is standard and the implicit
> variant non-standard, but things are different in other cases, and
> there are even cases where the variants don't seem to be distinguished
> sociolinguistically, but simply have different virtues for the
> purposes of language production and/or perception (see the gigantic
> literature on "that" ~ zero alternations in complement and relative
> clauses).
> seeing these things as just a choice of variant (between varieties or
> within varieties) allows you escape from the nasty concomitants of
> seeing one variant as derived from the other, in particular the
> attribution of psychological reality to the derivational process.  if
> you see non-standard variants as derived from standard ones (by
> deletion, in the possessor determiner case), then you can end up
> believing that non-standard speakers actually have the standard
> variants in their heads but fail to produce them through some sort of
> fault in production (laziness is often cited).  (derivational
> terminology often hangs on, though, even for people who very much do
> not subscribe to the psychological reality of derivation.  i, for
> example, am a scholar of "auxiliary reduction" in english, and i'm
> sort of stuck with the term, even though i don't treat contracted, or
> clitic, auxiliaries as literally reductions of the full forms.)
> > Are there similar terms with like construction, where a possessive has
> > been dropped to create something like a compound word?
> bare possessors are widespread in a number of non-standard english
> varieties, including AAVE and some rural british dialects.  they've
> been studied pretty extensively in AAVE.  "baby mama" is just an
> instance of this wider phenomenon which happens to have become
> formulaic, specialized in meaning and use.
> NPs with bare possessor determiners only happen to resemble compound
> nouns; they are not compounds.  if you speak a variety with bare
> possessors, then "my mama chair" is ambiguous, between a structure
> with a  noun-noun compound in it ("my [mama chair]"), shared with
> standard english ("This is my mama chair; I sit in it to nurse the
> baby"), and a determiner-head structure "[my mama] chair" that
> corresponds to standard english "my mama's chair". (the two structures
> are usually associated with different accent patterns, by the way.)
> >
> > Is there a name for this grammatical construction?
> no fixed term that's generally used, so far as i can tell: "genitive -
> s omission" and variants of this (all incorporating derivational
> terminology), "unmarked possessive" and other variants, etc.
> arnold
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list