Reply to Ellen Prince on "bees"

John Myhill john at RESEARCH.HAIFA.AC.IL
Wed Apr 9 05:38:51 UTC 1997

My original point about possible influence from AAVE regarded Tom's observation,
which made not statement at all about the personal background of the person
involved (escept I have concluded from the preceding discussed that s/he was
not black and not a young child). Even if this person was not literally (or
figuratively) black, this does not mean that this usage is not ultimately due
to contact with AAVE--as Ellen points out, there are innumerable cases like this
(how many fellow children of the 60's know that in the 1940's 'groovy' was
restricted to black people? In the late 1970's my brother consistently said
'let's book' meaning 'let's go/boogie/split'--'book' in this usage is
indisputably a black invention (popular among blacks maybe 5 years before)
my brother had zero black friends at the time and was completely unaware
that it had been a 'black' word. To check the case Tom heard, it would be
necessary to investigate the personal background of the person who said it,

where s/he heard it from, where THAT person heard it from, etc. I would
guess that this is likely to lead to AAVE eventually because the usage
sounds so much like AAVE.

The cases Matt is talking about seem to me different. Firstly, some of them
are about young children, where I would suppose some general
account would be most likely (although it would of course be a good idea to
check if the babysitter from Italy gave some second-language errors in this
regard). The cases among adults where these are limited to volitional
predicates sound different from the AAVE 'be/s', and unlike anything I am
aware of in North American sociolinguistics (which by no means suggests
that I don't believe Matt, just that this hasn't been reported, although
sociolinguistics have been searching North America for white people who
have  invariant BE for 30 years without finding anything more that a few
very old rural southerners (Guy Bailey's work). You ought to tell
dialectologists about this, Matt. But first, maybe make sure this isn't
really the same phenonemon (or a variant) of the invariant AAVE usage.

However, Matt's observation and Tom's do not necessary have to have the
same explanation. Before rushing to speculate on universalist accounts of
this, it would be a good idea to consider accounts which are more
down-to-earth and
testable, like dialect contact.    John

>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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