Nonstandard Agreement in Standard English: The Social Perception of Agreement Variation under Existential there

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University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics
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Hilton, Katherine

When using existential constructions to introduce plural NPs (e.g., there are dishes in the sink), speakers have the option of using a plural or singular form of the verb. In other words, speakers can use agreeing (plural) or non-agreeing (singular) forms of the verb when the NP is plural. Previous research reveals that non-agreement under existential there is the norm, even in standard varieties of spoken English. Speakers use non-agreeing forms, such as there’s or there is, in roughly two-thirds of all tokens with plural NPs. This is striking, because other forms of non-agreement are relatively uncommon in standard varieties of spoken English. There is mounting evidence, though, that the two present tense non-agreeing forms there is + NPpl and there’s + NPpl are neither syntactically nor sociolinguistically equivalent. While the full verb non-agreeing form there is NPpl seems to be socially distributed like a stable, stigmatized variant, the cliticized non-agreeing form there’s + NPpl appears to be widespread and relatively free of social stigma. In this paper, I investigate whether there’s + NPpl and there is + NPpl constitute distinct sociolinguistic variants by testing how listeners socially evaluate the speakers who use them. The results of this perception study demonstrate that there’s + NPpl is much less socially stigmatized than there is + NPpl, and it is almost identical to the standard agreeing form there are + NPpl in how it influences social perceptions.

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