9. The individual & group in earlier AAE

9. The individual & group in
earlier AAE
Primary issues
1. Role of intracommunity individual
variation in earlier AAE
2. Role of individual variation in small,
historically isolated communities
Different approaches to variation:
• Homogeneity asumption – speakers who
are sociologically similar are assumed to
be linguistically similar, data presented as
if speakers are a homogeneous group
• Dynamic paradigm – internally consistent
isolects differ for one or more variables,
each speaker may command several
isolects, individual behavior is of linguistic
Problems with
homogeneity assumption
• Linguistic variation may not correlate with
sociological variation
• Community homogeneity does not
necessarily correlate with linguistic
• Dense social networks do not necessarily
have normative effect on linguistic
Some facts of variation:
• Variant forms can be tolerated within a
small community over a long period of
• A clique may be socially cohesive without
being linguistically cohesive
Discussion point:
• “An examination of individual variation can
have significant import for reconstructing
the earlier state of AAVE and for
understanding the role of speakers from
enclave communities in our assessment of
its historical development.”
Sample of Elderly AAE speakers
• 11 Hyde Co residents born between 1896
& 1920
• Sociologically very homogeneous group
• Should indicate language of mid 1800s
• Diagnostic variables: rhoticity, syllablecoda consonant cluster reduction, vowels,
verbal –s concord, copula absence, past
tense be leveling to was & weren’t
• Pronunciation of post-vocalic r
– EurAm speech in region uses post-vocalic r
– AAVE is largely r-less, regardless of location
– Elderly Hyde Co AfAms have less r-lessness
than in AAVE, but show large range of
variation (8-93%)
• Nuclear (sir, hurt)
• Stress coda (car, port)
• Unstressed (mother, letter)
consonant cluster reduction
• A hallmark feature of AAVE: wes en (west
end), col out (cold out)
• Elderly AfAm speakers have this feature,
but show a range of variation
• EurAm Hyde Countians don’t have this
Vowel system
• There is a fairly uniform overall pattern,
but some variation
• Elderly AfAm vowels seem more aligned
with EurAm OuterBanks pronunciation
than with prototypical AAVE vowels
Verbal –s concord
• 3pl –s attachement: The dogs barks
– This is a local feature
– Elderly AfAm usage ranges 0-50%
• 3sg –s absence: The dog bark
– This is an AAVE feature
– Elderly AfAm usage ranges 30-100%
Verbal –s concord, cont’d
• Elderly AfAms in Hyde Co distinguish
themselves from EurAm cohorts by using 3sg
absence, but may share 3pl –s attachment
• Speakers with highest 3sg –s absence are
among those with lowest levels of 3pl –s
• Some speakers simply have lower overall use of
–s verbal marking
• Others may be attaching –s in all environments,
regardless of subject
Copula absence
• Found only among AfAms in Hyde Co
• Is deletion is less common – some
speakers don’t have it
• Are deletion is used by all speakers, but
great variation in numbers
Past tense leveling
• Leveling to was in positive – AAVE norm –
all elderly AfAm speakers have this feature
• Leveling to weren’t in negative – a EurAm
regionalism – some elderly AfAm speakers
have this feature, some don’t
• Considerable individual variation
Patterns of correlation
• The following features are positively
– r-lessness
– 3sg –s absence
– Copula absence
• All of these are features of AAVE
• There is an inverse relationship between
local dialect features and features of AAVE
What have we learned
about earlier AAVE?
• Considerable intragroup variation even
within long-standing stable insular enclave
• Uniformity with respect to core AAVE
features: 3sg –s absence, copula
absence, post-vocalic loss of r, consonant
cluster reduction
• We can posit that this core set of features
was established by mid 1800s
Discussion point
• Insularity did not breed homogeneity within
the AfAm community, nor did it result in
complete convergence with the dialect of
the EurAm community.

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