Reply to Ellen Prince on "bees"

Matthew S Dryer dryer at ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU
Wed Apr 9 02:09:11 UTC 1997

Ellen says "i've never heard that children's regularizations of irregular
verbs were accompanied by precise semantic differentiations."  But the
explanation I proposed was that children who do this are unaware that the
"be" is "Be quiet" is the same verb as the verb "is, are, etc."  Hence
what I was suggesting would not really involve regularization of an
irregular verb.

Ellen says that aave "has *precisely* the aspectual meaning in aave that
was attributed to the original token".  ("He's not crazy, he just _bees_
crazy when he's around girls.")  Perhaps.  But does aave have the property
I reported regarding the instances of this phenomenon that I have
observed, that it is restricted to predicates over which the subject has
some volitional control?  I have observed examples of the form "She beed
crazy", "I beed a good boy", "He bees quiet", but never examples of the
form "He beed hungry", "She bees asleep", or "I bees a tall boy".  Is aave
like this?

Ellen says "the argument that the speaker has no contact with aave is
pretty strange".  But I was not attempting to explain the particular token
that Tom reported but the more general instances of this phenomenon
including both the one observed by Tom and those that I have observed,
including productive instances by my son, who had limited contact with
speakers of English other than his mother, myself, and a babysitter who
was an Italian immigrant to Canada.  In particular he did not play with
other children until he was four years old, and thus had virtually no
exposure to aave, direct or indirect.  At most he might have been exposed
to it on television, but it is my impression that this feature of aave is
rarely used on television, or wasn't prior to 1987 (the year that my son
turned 4).  Furthermore, he was producing such forms in his earliest
utterances involving "be" plus volitional stative predicates.  It is quite
possible that the particular token reported by Tom did reflect influence
of aave, but that is another matter.

I append my original message about this.

Matthew Dryer

Original message:

Tom Payne notes the use of nonstandard "bees" in

"He's not crazy, he just _bees_ crazy when he's around girls."

My eldest son consistently treated "be" as a regular verb (I be, he/she
bees, I beed, etc.) distinct from the irregular verb "be" with predicates
like "quiet" and "a good boy" until he was at least four years old, and I
have occasionally heard adults, including myself (just yesterday in fact),
do similarly.  I assumed with my son that this was because during his
first few years, he heard the base form "be" in other contexts
sufficiently infrequently that he did not know that "be" was a form of the
verb "am, are, is, was were", while he often heard the form "be" in
imperative sentences with "volitional" predicates like "quiet" and "a good
boy" and heard forms like "is" and "are" sufficiently infrequently with
such predicates, that he assumed that "be" was a distinct verb with a
volitional meaning, something like "cause oneself to be", or vaguely like
"act" (cf. "he just acts crazy when he's around girls").  I do not know if
such usage is common among children, but if it is not uncommon, I suspect
that it occasionally makes its way into adult usage as well.

For these reasons, I am skeptical of Tom's suggestion "If it has the
validational force of downplaying the reality of the assertion, it might
be thought of as in the same functional domain as a subjunctive."  Rather,
for some speakers, to at least some extent, there is a distinct regular
verb "be".

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