Contractions vs. full forms...

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Apr 4 15:27:11 UTC 2002

At 5:59 AM -0500 4/4/02, Douglas G. Wilson wrote:
>>Can anyone direct me toward research concerning the grammaticality of
>>contracted forms vs. full forms?  For example:
>>There's two white cars in my yard.  vs. *There is two white cars in my yard.
>>?I suggest that you're early tomorrow. vs. *I suggest that you are early
>>Of course these are non-standard for "There are two white cars..." and "I
>>suggest that you be..." but the contracted forms are also acceptable to my
>>(and alot of people's) ears while the full forms are not.  So, yeah, has
>>anyone worked on this before?
>I don't know. But I can make a personal/idiosyncratic remark, as I happened
>to think about this very thing today.
>The second example above ("I suggest that you're ...") is not cogent in my
>own case; I'd be as likely/unlikely to use "you are" here as "you're" (I

I agree with these judgments; for me, "There's two cars" is fine,
"There is two cars" is impossible, and I get no difference between "I
suggest that you're/you are early" (both are possible with indicative
force, neither is possible with "subjunctive" force, where I have to
have "be").

>(2) "Am I not stupid" versus "Aren't/ain't I stupid": "amn't" is awkward
>(to me) phonetically ("raiment" is not: notionally /mnt/ versus /m at nt/, I
I don't think it's phonetic.  How do you pronounce "lamentation"?  Or
"I *AM* in town"?  Rather, it's grammatical:  there's a gap in the
paradigm here for most speakers, although Irish English does have
"amn't" as the relevant contraction--or rather, as Arnold has
co-shown (Zwicky & Pullum 1983, Cliticization vs. Inflection:
English _n't_, Language 59: 502-13), as the inflected negative form.
I've heard the theory--and I can't vouch for it--that historically
"amn't" shifted phonologically to "ain't", which then generalized
across the paradigm, but when "ain't" was avoided because of the
prescriptive edict against the "illogical" use of the first person
form for second and third person copulas, the "correct" use of
first-person "ain't" was tarred with the same brush, whence the gap.
(To complicate matters, many varieties of English have filled this
gap by generalizing "aren't", but only in inverted contexts:  Aren't
I stupid?  *No, I aren't".)


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