Verbal -s in Vernacular Newfoundland English: A Combined Variationist and Formal Account of Grammatical Change

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While most studies of generalised verbal –s report the effects of the Northern Subject Rule (subject type and adjacency between the subject and the verb condition verbal –s), work on this feature in Vernacular Newfoundland English (VNE) report a lack of NSR effects. Instead, verbal –s in VNE is associated with habitual aspect and verb stativity. This paper integrates generative and variationist approaches to account for variation and change in the VNE aspect system. Quantitative results confirm a change in progress: there is a decrease in overall rate of verbal –s and a change in constraints across apparent time. Older consultants’ use of verbal –s is constrained by both habituality and stativity while the middle-aged cohort’s system involves only verb stativity. Younger consultants show a different system within which particular adverbials favor verbal –s. Formally, since both habituals and statives are imperfective, I posit that verbal –s is an imperfective marker in this variety. The linguistic change can be accounted for under Minimalism by positing a change in the featural specification of the Aspect head from one which is intrinsically specified for the imperfective feature prior to syntax to one which must be bound by an operator, in this case, quantificational adverbials.

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