Grammatical categories of the verb in African-American Vernacular English

Elizabeth Dayton, University of Pennsylvania


Be2, done, bedone, been done, stressed BIN, unstressed bin, and had are elements of the African American Vernacular English (AAVE) system of tense, aspect, and mood-modality. Although the grammatical meanings of these elements, as individual items, has received much attention, the ways in which these elements are systematically related to each other has yet to be explored. This dissertation focuses on the analysis of 3,610 tokens of these items collected in the African American Speech community in Philadelphia. Within a framework which allows for change and development, it examines the meanings of these elements, as individual items, through the syntagmatic relations which they enter; it examines the system which they form through the investigation of their paradigmatic relations. Thus, it builds the case for the extension of multivariate analysis to the creation of grammatical categories on the paradigmatic axis and the analysis of variable meanings of grammatical elements on the syntagmatic axis. In general, it was found that stativity is a semantic element of be2, but that iterativity is not. Be2-ing signals imperfective (unboundedness), a finding compatible with the development of be2-ing as a habitual marker. Done spans two grammatical categories, perfective and perfect. Be2-ing and done form an aspectual system. Both bedone, with modal and aspectual uses, and BIN, with modal and relative tense uses, are strongly conditioned by the social interactional contexts in which they occur. Had has properties of both a lexical and a grammatical item. Implications for creole origins, particularly with respect to been done, BIN, and bin were explored. The items, all of which are either positive polarity or strongly favored in affirmative contexts, make up an auxiliary system used by insiders to vernacular African American culture. In that the items of this system are nondeictic for tense, this system calls into question the role of an obligatory tense marker in AAVE, a divergence from other dialects of English.

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Recommended Citation

Dayton, Elizabeth, "Grammatical categories of the verb in African-American Vernacular English" (1996). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9712915.