The Creole Origins of African American Vernacular English: Evidence from copula absence



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8.3.3. Creole similarities. The earliest discussion of Creole/AAVE similarities with respect to copula absence was that of B. Bailey (1965), who schematically compared the systems of nonverbal predication in Standard English (SE), Jamaican Creole (JC, through her native intuitions), and AAVE (as exemplified by Duke, the narrator in The Cool World), and concluded (p. 46) that there was a "deep structural relationship" between JC and AAVE, although not "an identical development of the systems." In particular, while SE requires an inflected form of be in all nonverbal predications, in AAVE such predicates are used without any copula, and JC "has a more complicated system, with zero before adjectives, an obligatory a before nominals, and a de which is often deleted before locatives" (ibid.). Although Bailey's claim that AAVE had no underlying copula was an idealization--as every quantitative study of spoken AAVE has shown--her paper was valuable for demonstrating that the nature of the following grammatical environment critically determined the realization of the copula in creoles, and for suggesting that comparisons between AAVE and creoles on this dimension might be important for the creole hypothesis.

Stewart (1969) extended Bailey's argument by postulating a hypothesis about the development of copula absence in Gullah, spoken off the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia, based on diachronic evidence. Earlier recorded forms of Gullah showed da as an obligatory copula both before predicate nominals (parallel to a in JC), and before unmarked verbs, so that Dem da fish meant both 'They are fish' and "They are fishing" (p. 244). However, da +V then decreolized to Ø Ving, while da +NP was retained for equation, and later relexified to iz + NP. Subsequently, as Stewart went on to argue (although not in precisely these terms), iz was variably introduced in __Ving environments, and zero was variably introduced in __NP environments. But the fact that zero was diachronically introduced in continuative verbal (__Ving) environments earlier than it was in nominal (__NP) environments explained why copula absence was today more common in the verbal than in the nominal environments, both in mesolectal Gullah and--if the same decreolizing process were assumed--in AAVE. 22

This line of argument--that decreolizing changes happen in a certain order, keyed to environment, and that the order of those changes could explain synchronic variability--was to become a mainstay of research involving comparisons between AAVE and pidgins or creoles. Fasold (1976:80-81) extended Stewart's stages, and Bickerton (1971, 1972) unearthed evidence of similar decreolizing processes in Guyanese Creole (GC), noting that such processes could have produced the synchronic copula absence statistics in AAVE:

There are three Guyanese copula-type verbs: a (equative), de (locative), Ø (attributive). These are now replaced by inflected be, the first two in that order, and fairly completely, the third much more slowly and spasmodically, . . . It follows that, in the mesolect, deleted copula is found oftenest with gon, not quite so often with -ing forms, less often with predicate adjectives, yet more infrequently with locatives, and least of all with predicate NPs--which corresponds exactly with Labov's [1969] findings for Black English [AAVE]! Indeed, these findings are quite explicable on our assumption that rule changes in Black English have, in the past, followed the same course and sequence as have those in Guyanese speech; if be insertion took place first in ___NP environments, it would by now be mandatory or almost so for some speakers, while for some, be insertion before __gonna might not yet have even begun. (Bickerton 1971:491)

Despite the quantitativist wording of this extract, Bickerton relied on qualitative implicational patterns for his conclusions rather than quantitative data like Labov's. Moreover, his subsequent (1986:226) argumentation that creole continua form "backwards," beginning with the acrolect, then the mesolect and basilect, suggests that he may no longer subscribe to the kind of decreolizing scenario sketched above.

Edwards (1980:301) did have quantitative data, which showed that in mesolectal GC, copula absence was higher before a following adjective (93%, 14/15) than before NP (0%, 0/8), as in AAVE. But the data were from a short sample from one speaker, and the sample sizes were small. The locative environment, for instance, contained only one token, so it could not be considered in the variation analysis.

The first substantive quantitative data on copula absence in a creole was provided in Day's (1973) study of Hawaiian Creole English (HCE). Day's results--shown in table 7--are rarely if ever cited in discussions of the creole origin of AAVE, but curiously so, since, apart from the equivalence of __NP and __Loc and a relatively high __NP absence rate, the relative frequency of copula absence by following grammatical environment in HCE matches that found for AAVE in data from New York (the Thunderbirds, Labov 1972a:86, table 3.2), and Los Angeles (Baugh 1979). 23




__NP

__Locative

__Adjective

__Verb(+ing)

HCE (n)

63% (321)

62% (130)

72% (235)

94% (372)

Table 7: Copula absence in Hawaiian Creole English (HCE) by following grammatical environment (adapted from Day 1973, table 9, p. 111; Ns in parentheses)

Holm's (1976, 1984) analyses of Jamaican Creole (JC) and Gullah data in DeCamp (1960) and Turner (1949) respectively provided the first substantive statistics on copula absence in the Caribbean creoles. As table 8 shows, copula absence was lower in both varieties before __NP or __Loc than before __Adj (this is referred to as the "high adj" creole pattern). Baugh's (1979, 1980) separation of the __Loc and __Adj environments in his LA data and in Labov et al's (1968) NYC Cobras data allowed us to see how strikingly JC and Gullah paralleled AAVE with respect to the ordering of these three environments.






__NP

__Locative

__Adjective

__Verb(+ing)

__gon(na)

GULLAH

11%

22%

62%

28%

88%

JAMAICAN

22%

17%

66%

17%

32%

Table 8: Copula absence in GULLAH and JC by following grammatical environment (adapted from Holm 1984, table 2, p 293)

However, as Holm himself observed (1976:5, 1984:293-4), the low __Ving percentage of copula absence in Gullah and the low __Ving and __gon(na) percentages in Jamaican ran counter to the copula absence pattern of AAVE, which was typically NP < Loc < Adj de and a were being included in the counts for __Ving and __gonna in the creole data when they should not have been, since they are not feasible alternants of zero and inflected be in those environments (*dem de/a waakin and *dem de gon waak). When such variants were eliminated, the percentages of copula absence in both environments climbed to the relative positions they occupy (at the top of the following environment hierarchy) in AAVE. This was true both in the DeCamp data set originally examined by Holm (Rickford 1996), shown as "Jamaican, revised" in figure 1 above, and in a new data set, from two old Jamaicans, examined by Rickford (1991c). 24 The copula absence percentages for both JC data sets are given in table 9. 25






__NP

__Locative

__Adjective

__Verb(+ing)

__gwain

JC (1960)

28% (68)

18% (40)

81% (48)

86% (21)

100% (25)

JC (1991)

4% (48)

28% (32)

59% (58)

58% (43)

93% (14)

Table 9: Copula absence in two JC data sets by following grammatical environment (adapted from Rickford 1996:363, table 3, and Rickford 1991c, table 4)

Copula absence data for two different sets of Barbadian speakers were also provided by Rickford and Blake (1990) and Rickford (1992b), and while these differed from each other in the relative orderings of __Loc and __Adj (see table 10), they both exemplified the basic copula absence pattern of AAVE. As noted elsewhere (Rickford et al 1991:121, table 7) , copula absence is higher in __Loc environments than in __Adj environments in some AAVE data sets, but lower in others. Of all the following grammatical environments for copula absence, these two environments show the greatest variability in their relative ordering.






__NP

__Locative

__Adjective

__Verb(+ing)

__gwain

1980s (N=522)

.08

.54

.42

.65

.77

1991 data

.07 (94)

.52 (45)

.71 (104)

.89 (86)

1.00 (44)

Table 10: Copula absence in two Barbadian data sets by following grammatical environment (adapted from Rickford and Blake 1990, table 3, and Rickford 1992b, table 3)

Singler's (1991b, 1993) work on Non-Settler Liberian English (NSLE), a continuum ranging from a highly pidginized basilect to a Liberian Standard English acrolect, was important not only for providing the first quantitative data on copula absence in an African pidgin or creole, but also for suggesting (1991b:155) that the basilectal copulas (locative de, nominal invariant be) were not replaced directly by is in decreolization (as in Model A, figure 2), 26 but through an intermediate zero stage (Model B, figure 2). Guyanese mesolectal data in Bickerton (1973:652-655) had provided similar indications.






MODEL A







MODEL B







Basilect




Mesolect




Basilect




Mesolect




Acrolect

LOC

de

-->

is

LOC

de

-->

Ø

-->

is

NP

be

-->

is

NP

be

-->

Ø

-->

is

ADJ

Ø

-->

is

ADJ

Ø

-->

Ø

-->

is

Figure 2: Two models of decreolization and copula distribution in Non Settler Liberian English (adapted from Singler 1991b:155)

Whereas Model A predicts higher rates of mesolectal copula absence before adjectives than before locatives and nominals, Model B predicts comparable (high) rates for all three environments in the mesolect. Another way of stating it (Singler 1991b:156) is that preadjectival copula absence should be high in the basilect and mesolect and low in the acrolect, while prenominal and prelocative copula absence should be low in both the basilect and acrolect (although the copula is instantiated by different forms at each pole) and high in the mesolect. This is illustrated by the outputs of individual NSLE speakers in table 11. If we apply this prediction to the kinds of Caribbean data sets considered in this paper, it also appears to hold true, especially with respect to the orderings of __Loc and __Adj: in more basilectal data sets, like the Gullah and Jamaican data in tables 6 and 7, copula absence is higher before __Adj than __Loc; but in more mesolectal data sets, like the Barbadian and Trinidadian data in tables 8 and 10 (the latter below), copula absence is higher before __Loc than __Adj. 27






__Adj

__Loc

__NP

Basilect (Gedeh Goldminer, n=100)

92%

23%

20%

Mesolect (Charlie, n=100)

100%

100%

93%

Acrolect (Richard, n=60)

13%

0%

5%

Table 11: Copula absence among basilectal, mesolectal and Acrolectal speakers of Non-Settler Liberian English (adapted from Singler 1991b, table 19, p. 156)

Another creole data set for which quantitative data on copula absence have recently become available is Trinidadian (TC, Winford 1992a), which, like Barbadian, has the advantage of being a mesolectal variety well-suited to comparisons with AAVE (ibid., p. 29). Winford first provides vernacular data from peer-group recordings (some surreptitious) with Working Class (WC) and Lower Middle Class (LMC) subjects. Copula absence in such data is very high (see top row of table 12)--suggesting that the copula is underlyingly absent in all but nominal environments--but it still resembles the AAVE pattern, this time with__Loc higher than __Adj: 28 Copula absence in the individual interviews (Table 12, second row) is much lower overall, and much more similar in its absolute values to the frequencies reported by Labov et al (1968) for the NYC Jets; and with the exception of an anomalous __goin percentage which may be attributed to limited data, the relative values are also more similar to those of AAVE. 29 On the basis of this and other evidence, Winford concludes (p. 49): "In view of the startling similarity of all these patterns of use, there would appear to be little reason to reject the view that the BEV [AAVE] copula system owes its origin to a process of decreolization similar to that observable in the creole continua of the Caribbean." That process is sketched by him, in an expansion of Singler's Model B, as in figure 3. 30






__NP

__Adjective

__Locative

__Verb+ing

__goin

Group sessions

1% (489)

79% (208)

90% (108)

94% (678)

97% (39)

Interviews

1% (280)

30% (175)

53% (66)

70% (275)

50% (14)

Table 12: Copula (am, is, are) absence in Trinidadian Creole by following grammatical environment (adapted from Winford 1992, table 6, p. 34)




Basilect




Lower Mesolect




Upper Mesolect




Acrolect

NP

a

-->

Invariant is

-->

is/forms of be

-->

Inflect. be

ADJ

Ø

-->

Ø

-->

Ø/forms of be

-->

Inflect. be

LOC

de

-->

Ø

-->

Ø/forms of be

-->

Inflect. be

Progressive

a V

-->

Ø V+in

-->

(be) V+in

-->

be V+in

Future

a go V

-->

Ø goin +V

-->

(be) goin to V

-->

be goin to V

Figure 3: Model of decreolization in the Caribbean English Creole copula system (adapted from Winford 1992a, figure 6, p. 48)

Overall, if one simply compares the quantitative patterns of copula absence by following environment in the creole varieties and in AAVE, one is struck by the parallels between them (with one or two exceptions), and it is this parallelism which has provided one of the main planks for the hypothesis that AAVE might have been the diachronic outcome of a decreolization or variation process similar to that synchronically evidenced in the Caribbean, the Sea Islands, and Liberia. 31 But there are two sorts of challenges which one might pose to these comparisons between creole (primarily Caribbean) varieties and AAVE.

The first are general, theoretical challenges. Mufwene (personal communication) has suggested, for instance, that the comparisons might be typologically insightful but diachronically inconclusive because of the absence of a demonstrated sociohistorical connection between the Caribbean varieties and AAVE. However, recent evidence (see Rickford 1997) that Caribbean slaves constituted a substantial portion of the founding Black populations in several American colonies helps to provide the missing link. Mufwene (ibid.) has also suggested that one must first prove that the continuum variability in Trinidadian, Guyanese, and other Caribbean varieties can be attributed to decreolization (here meaning the replacement and loss of basilectal creole features over time) before suggesting that the parallels between these and AAVE argue for prior decreolization in AAVE. But even if one assumes that mesolectal variability of the current Caribbean type was present from the earliest periods of Black/White contact (Alleyne 1971) and was NOT the product of (qualitative) decreolization, the similarities between the Caribbean and African American speech communities in the United States would still support the possibility that the latter were subject to creole influences. One reason for this is that the mesolects, even if present from the start, are still creole-related. Another is that the extent and patterning of copula absence in African American speech communities are unparalleled among the British populations from which Africans acquired their English, so that we cannot assume the direct transmission and smooth acquisition process which the alternative dialectologist position requires. A final theoretical issue, raised by Don Winford (personal communication), is whether we can treat copula absence as a uniquely creole feature rather than a general feature of untutored second language learning or substratal influence in language shift. Winford (forthcoming) points to the incidence of copula absence in South African Indian English (Mesthrie 1992:67-70) and other New Englishes. However, the patterns of non-phonological copula absence by following grammatical environment in South African Indian English [SAIE} are quite different from those in AAVE and the creoles. In the SAIE basilect, copula absence is highest (33%) before __NP, and lower before __Adj (15%) and __Prepositional Phrase (11%); in the mesolect and acrolect it is nonexistent (Mesthrie 1992:50, table 2.6). Whether similar differences would show up in other ESL varieites, and the extent to which we can draw a firm line between second language acquisition/shift and pidinization/creolization (cf. Andersen 1983) remains to be determined. At present, the typological similarities and sociohistorical links between AAVE and the Caribbean/West African creoles suggests strongly to me that they were subject to similar creolizing (if not decreolizing) influences.

The second set of challenges to creole/AAVE comparisons has to do with queries about details. If one asks, for instance, WHY the AAVE patterns should be as they are, given the creole patterns, or WHY the mesolectal creole patterns are as they are, given the basilectal creole system, the answers are not always clear-cut. 32 In particular Mufwene (1992) has raised the following challenges to the creole similarities evidence:

(a) Why does AAVE typically show non-negligible percentages of copula absence before nominals (e.g. 23% is absence for NYC Thunderbirds), given that the creoles typically have a copula (a in GC and JC, da in Gullah) rather than zero before __NP ?

(b) Why is copula absence in AAVE lower before adjectival predicates than in progressive and future constructions, given that none of these contexts requires a copula in the creoles? 33

(c) Why is copula absence in AAVE not consistently or significantly higher before __Adj than before __Loc, given that, in the creoles, adjectives are like stative verbs and never require a copula, while locatives (optionally) take a copula (de)? This question was raised as well by Poplack and Tagliamonte (1991:322-323).

Winford (1992a:48-9) dismisses these questions by noting that Mufwene, Poplack and Tagliamonte presuppose direct influence from the basilect,while it is the mesolectal copula systems which provide the "proper reference points" for AAVE. This response is certainly valid, particularly in regards to (c), where, as suggested by Singler (1991b), the creole locative copula (de) is replaced by zero in the mesolect en route to the acrolectal use of is. This means that in the stage immediately prior to the upper mesolect or near acrolect represented by modern AAVE, adjectival and locative predicates are NOT distinguished in terms of the copula they require, and one would not therefore expect consistent or significant differences between them in terms of copula absence. It is significant that, as noted in this paper, mesolectal samples that are closer to the basilect--like the Jamaican Creole samples analyzed by Holm (1984) and Rickford (1991c, 1996)--DO show the "high __Adj" zero copula pattern (relative to __Loc) which Mufwene, Poplack and Tagliamonte all expect. These are the varieties which could be expected to show the influence of the creole basilect distinction along the lines Holm (1984:298) hypothesized. 34 As we go further away from the basilect, however, into mid-mesolectal varieties like TC, or upper mesolectal/near acrolectal varieties like Samaná, ANSE, and AAVE, we find minimal copula absence differences between __Adj and __Loc, and more fluctuation in their relative ordering, suggesting that the "high adj" pattern of the basilect is not a major influence. There are some cases in which copula absence for __Loc is significantly higher (20% or more) than it is for __Adj, for instance, by .42 in the cases of the ex-slaves in the second row of table 3 above, by 29% and 48% in the case of Albert and Slim in the LSE data of table 6, by 23% in the case of the individual TC data in table 12, and by .34 in the case of Baugh's (1979:189) data for are absence in Los Angeles. But in general, when copula absence for __Loc is higher than it is for __Adj, it is minimally so, for instance, by .04 in the Samaná data in table 4, by .03 in ANSE, table 5, by .12 in the 1980s Barbadian data, table 10, by .11 in the TC group data, table 12, by 3% in the Detroit WC data (Wolfram 1969:172), by .01 and .06 in the Texas adult and child data respectively (Bailey and Maynor 1987:457), by .02 and .05 in the East Palo data, depending on whether one uses Straight Deletion or Labov Deletion methods respectively (Rickford et al 1991:117).

At the same time, appealing to the mesolect does not answer all the relevant questions, partly because our understanding of the variation paths and processes in copula variability is not complete. With respect to question (a), for instance, it certainly seems to be the case that the Caribbean creoles abhor copula absence in nominal environments to an extent that AAVE and its immediate congeners do not; compare the prenominal copula absence statistics for TC (1%, table 12 above) and Barbadian (.07, .08, table 10) with those for Samaná (.41, top row, table 4), ANSE (.31, table 5) and AAVE in NYC (.23 T'Birds, .32 Jets) and East Palo Alto (.27 or .29, Rickford et al 1991:117). Although we do find comparably high prenominal copula absence figures for some of the Creole data sets (28% JC, table 9, 32%-43% LSE, table 6 , 20%-93% NSLE, table 11), it must be admitted that we simply do not know WHY these differences exist. Some of them may be due to statistical fluctuations due to limited data, particularly in analyses based on the speech of one individual, but we need more study to determine in which varieties and why a basilectal copula goes to zero before being replaced by inflected forms of be (as in Singler's model B, figure 2 above), and in which varieties and why a basilectal copula is directly replaced by a non-basilectal copula (as in Winford's model, figure 3). At present we cannot say definitively which of these decreolization paths AAVE followed, although the LSE-based Model B seems more promising. 35

It should also be admitted that we don't have a watertight answer to Mufwene's question b, about why __Ving and __gon(na) consistently show higher copula absence rates than __Adj. Winford's (1992a:56, fn 17) answer to this is that the former two are actually auxiliary environments, subject to stronger constraints against copula insertion than copulative __adj, since "suffixal -ing and future gon(na) are tense aspect markers which require no be support." This raises some interesting issues, but essentially restates the question. For in the basilect, adjectival, progressive and future environments are all auxiliary environments (to the extent that adjectives behave like stative verbs in the basilect), and the question of how decreolization proceeds in each of these environments and ends up distinguishing them, is, in my opinion, far from settled. Considering only the future environment, for instance, is the starting point indeed a go +V, as Winford's model (figure 3 above) suggests? What of basilectal go + V, whose alternation with a go +V (paralleling SE variation between non-prospective will V and prospective is going to V) has never been systematically studied by anyone? For Holm (1984:298), AAVE gonna is a descendant of creole go, itself "a calque for a protocreole preverbal marker indicating irrealis [go? sa?] which was never preceded by any copula-like particle." But go as a strictly copula-less auxiliary varies in the continuum with forms like gon and will, which never require a copula. If AAVE gonna is the product of decreolization, it is likely indeed to have come from a go + V, as Winford hypothesizes, but it is likely to have had some influence from the copula-free go + V and gon +V, because of their phonological and semantic similarities, and this might explain the very high rates of copula absence before __gon(na) in AAVE and __gwine or ___goin tu in the mesolectal creole varieties. 36

In any case, the relationship between go and gon on the one hand, and gwine and goin tu in the creoles deserves further study, much as the relationship between gon and gonna in AAVE does. Rickford and Blake (1990:261) report preliminary evidence that "gon as in "He gon tell" shows a higher proportion of copula absence than gonna, as in in "He's gonna tell"), and Winford (1992a:55, fn 8) asks whether these two forms are equally accomodating of auxiliary be, given that go in TC and gon in GC never take be, while gwain and goin tu in both varieties do take be. When we have a clearer idea of the synchronic variation and diachronic evolution of these future markers in the creoles and in AAVE, we will have, I believe, a surer answer to Mufwene's question.

One other demurral which must be raised in relation to the creole similarities evidence is that if we consider preceding grammatical environment--in particular, the effect of an NP vs pronoun subject--there is not as much parallelism between the creoles and AAVE. Fewer studies of creoles report data on this environment than for following grammatical environment, but table 13 summarizes the available evidence from Barbadian, Jamaican and Trinidadian, compared with several varieties of AAVE, and with Samaná and ANSE. The first thing to note is that the relation between an NP and a Personal Pronoun subject is absolutely regular in AAVE: the latter favors copula absence more than the former does, by substantial margins (20% - 43%). By contrast, in three of the creole data sets (Barbadian, 1980s, Jamaican, and plural NPs vs pronouns in LSE), the ordering is reversed, with a nominal subject favoring copula absence more than a pronoun subject; in the case of the LSE and Barbadian 1980s data sets, the margins are substantial (.38, .65). In the other creole data sets, the Pro > NP ordering does hold, but the margins are smaller than in the AAVE data sets, and in the case of the Barbadian 1991 data, virtually non-existent. This is bad news for the creole hypothesis, but the data for Samaná and ANSE provide little comfort for the dialectologist position either, since in these varieties an NP subject favors copula absence more strongly than most personal pronoun subjects, and a lot more than comparable NP subjects in AAVE. 37 I don't think we have worked enough on this aspect of copula absence to be able to say why the subject effect obtains and why it seems to vary so significantly in varieties other than AAVE, 38 but the data in table 13 do help to restrain the enthusiasm which creolists and dialectologists usually express about creole/AAVE similarities and differences on the basis of evidence from following grammatical environment alone.






NP ___

Personal Pro___

Other Pro___

Barbadian, 1980s data (Rickford and Blake 1990, p. 267)a

.84

.19

.45

Barbadian, 1991 data (Rickford 1992b:192)

.48

.52




Jamaican (Rickford 1996:369)a

.70

.60

.23

Trinidadian group sessions (Winford 1992a:34)b

.42 / .46

.49 / .60 / .64

.39

Liberian Settler English, Albert & Slim (Singler 1991b:145)a, f

.43 / .89

.24 / .51 / .51

.22 / -- / .63

AAVE, NYC T-Birds, zero is (Labov 1972a:84)c

12% / 42%

51% / 60%




AAVE, NYC Cobras, zero is (Labov 1972a:84)c

18% / 42%

51% / 60%




AAVE, NYC Jets, zero is (Labov 1972a:84)c

18% / 27%

61% / 58%




AAVE, Detroit WC (Wolfram 1969:170)d

30% / 18%

63% / 41%




AAVE, East Palo Alto (Rickford et al 1991)a, e

.42 / (.54)

.62 / (.51)

.46 / (.44)

Samaná (Poplack & Sankoff 1987:307)f

.81

.06 / .28 / .90

.06 / .43 / .53

ANSE (Poplack & Tagliamonte 1991:321)f

.89

.16 / .52 / .91

.29 / -- / .37

Table 13: Copula absence by preceding grammatical environment in Caribbean Creoles, AAVE, and other varieties of New World Black English [Add Hannah, Blake data for Samana and Bajan?]

Notes:

a "Other pronouns" includes forms like "this, there" and "somebody."

b NP figures are for Sing NP/Plural NP respectively; Personal pro figures are for I / he, she / we,you,they respectively; Other Pro figures are for it,what,that subjects.

c First figure in each column = single or individual style; second figure is for group style.

d First figure in each column = Lower Working Class; second figure = Upper Working Class

e First figure in each column = Straight Deletion; second figure = Labov Deletion (parentheses indicate Labov Deletion results were insignificant for this factor group)

f Personal pro figures are for I / he,she / we,you,they respectively; Other Pro figures are for it,what,that / them,those,these,this / here,there,where respectively.

8.3.4. African language similarities. The case for African substratum influence on AAVE copula usage--via an intermediate creole stage--is most strongly associated with Holm (1976, 1984), although it must be acknowledged that both Berdan (1975) and Dennis and Scott (1975) had presented similar arguments and evidence earlier, and that Alleyne (1980) and DeBose and Faraclas (1993) have presented other relevant data. The starting point for all arguments of this type is that AAVE copula absence statistically distinguishes between nominal, adjectival, locative and verbal predicates (in terms of the different frequencies of zero in each, attested above). Standard and vernacular varieties of English provide little or no basis for this distinction (see section 8.1.3.4), insofar as they use the same form (an inflected form of be) regardless of following grammatical environment. But English-based creoles and a number of West African languages do, insofar as they employ different copula forms (including zero) in these different environments. Holm (1984:297), drawing on Rowlands (1969), sketched the relevant facts for Yoruba, a language which was a part of the African American substratum:

___V: Yoruba n is a preverbal marker of the progressive aspect corresponding roughly to English IS going, WERE going (Rowlands 1969, p. 60).

__Adj: Most Yoruba adjectives are a subclass of verbs which require no copula; however some "phonoaesthetic" adjectives require the copula , . . . (Rowlands 1969, pp. 122, 155).

__Loc: Yoruba (with stylistic variant mbe) expresses existence or location, as does after the negative (Rowlands 1969, p 154).

__NP: Both and ùse are used before nouns, but is used when we are thinking of natural, in-born, permanent characteristics while ùse is used of what is accidental, acquired or temporary" (Rowlands 1969, p. 152).

Figure 4 (from Holm's 1984:305, figure 1) shows how some of these Yoruba distinctions were merged in the Caribbean English creoles and AAVE, although the four broad categories were still separated (via different forms or percentages of copula absence): 39




Figure 4. Merger of Copula Categories (from Holm 1984, figure 1, p. 305)

While the distinction between these four primary copula environments in West African languages seems likely to have influenced the development of the creole copula system, and ultimately, AAVE the patterns of AAVE copula absence, there are, as in virtually every other kind of evidence we have considered so far, considerations which argue against attaching TOO much influence to this factor. One is the fact that the match between the African language categories and the creole/AAVE categories is not perfect: the different kinds of adjectival and nominal predicates distinguished in Yoruba are not distinguished in the creoles nor in AAVE, while the creole/AAVE distinction between progressives and futures does not seem to come from Yoruba and other African languages. Furthermore, Yoruba may have had little to do with the emergence of Sranan or Jamaican. Mufwene (1992:157) and others have also argued that substratist arguments of this type do not account for variation among African languages, and would need to be supplemented by "universal selective principles" which "would explain why the features of some West African languages would have been selected over those of other languages." Holm himself (1984:296) acknowledged that copula absence in AAVE and the creoles did correspond to some of the universals of simplification (or secondlanguage acquisition) identified by Ferguson (1971), although he felt that the African substratum was more important. 40 Finally, if McWhorter (1995) is right in his suggestion that the earliest (pidgin) forms of New World Black English lacked copulas altogether, this would also reduce the likelihood of African influence (admixture) in the development of copula forms and categories in the Caribbean creoles as well as AAVE.

8.3.5. English dialect differences. The available evidence from English dialects provides support for the creolist hypothesis insofar as most English dialects outside of AAVE or creole-speaking areas do NOT show copula absence. This is particularly true of the British dialects which, according to the dialectologist hypothesis, are assumed to have influenced AAVE. Wolfram (1974:522) reports that he was unable to find evidence of copula absence in a selective search of the available records of British varieties, 41 and to the best of my knowledge, no such evidence has yet come to light. Moreover, studies of the copula in White American dialects outside of the South--for instance in New York City (Labov 1969) and in California (McElhinny 1993)--have similarly found no evidence of copula absence. Of course such dialects do show copula contraction, and Labov (1969) has argued that copula absence in AAVE is an extension of copula contraction in White vernaculars and Standard English and shows similar conditioning. However, this has been challenged on empirical and theoretical grounds (Rickford et al 1991, Mufwene 1992, McElhinny 1993).

For Southern dialects of American English, the picture is less clear. Williamson (1972) pointed to examples of copula absence in spoken and written samples of Southern White English, although she provided no quantitative evidence of their occurrence relative to contracted and full forms. Of the White Atlanta fifth graders studied by Dunlap (1974:77-79), the Upper Middle Class and Lower Middle Class never deleted the copula, while the Lower Class deleted it only 1% of the time;42 corresponding zero copula percentages for Black Atlanta fifth graders were 1% (UMB), 9% (LMB) and 27% (LB), so the difference between the two ethnic groups on this feature was qualitative, as it was also with respect to invariant habitual be (used by Blacks but not Whites). The Whites from rural Franklin County, Mississippi studied by Wolfram (1974)--primarily children and teenagers--showed considerably more are-absence (58%), but fairly limited is absence (6.5 % overall). In fact, thirty of the forty-five White informants whose speech was analyzed by Wolfram showed no is-absence at all, and those who did delete is did not show the same grammatical conditioning evidenced in studies of is absence in AAVE. For instance, although a subject pronoun did favor copula absence slightly more than a preceding Noun Phrase (15.6% vs 12.6% respectively), the difference was negligible, and in terms of following grammatical environment, the distinction was essentially a binary one, between nominal (8%) and non-nominal (16%-18%) environments (see table 14.) At the same time, the conditioning for are absence was quite similar to that reported for copula absence in AAVE, both in terms of a robust Pronoun versus Noun Phrase subject effect (64% vs 33% respectively) and in terms of the role of following grammatical environment (see table 14). In terms of is-absence, then, the difference between the White Mississippi pattern and that of AAVE was sharp, and qualitative; the are absence pattern was essentially similar, or only quantitatively different.






__NP

__Adj/Locative

__Verb+ing

__gonna

Are absence:

31% (35)

49% (218)

66% (140)

86% (69)

Is absence:

8% (65)

16% (115)

18% (40)

18% (22)

Table 14: Copula (is, are) absence in rural White Mississippi English by following grammatical environment (adapted from Wolfram 1974, tables 3 and 7, 507, 514)

This is also the case in Feagin's (1979) study of Anniston, Alabama. Feagin does not provide data on the conditioning of copula absence among her White speakers, but their overall patterns resemble those of Wolfram's Mississippi informants. For is absence, the percentages are low: 1.7% for the Upper Class, 5.8% for the Urban Working Class, and 6.8% for the Rural Working Class. For are absence, however, the figures are higher: 17.9% for the Upper Class, 35.3% for the Urban Working Class, and 56.3% for the Rural Working Class.

Finally, we have data on copula absence in the speech of White folk-speakers (over seventy-five years old, with a grade school education or less) from East-Central Texas, as reported in Bailey and Maynor (1985), and compared with the data of Black folk speakers. The White folk speakers do show considerably more are absence (36%, 148/411) than is absence (2%, 26/1311), but data from Black folk speakers from the area show a similar discrimination between the two forms, although copula absence higher in both cases: is absence = 6%, 46/734, are absence = 58%, 159/274. The effect of following grammatical environment is similar for the Whites and the Blacks, too, who primarily distinguish auxiliary (__V+ing and __Gonna) and non-auxiliary environments, as shown in table 15.




__NP

__Adjective

__Locative

__Verb+ing

__gonna

Whites

2% (861)

10% (339)

8% (99)

34% (159)

54% (79)

Blacks

9% (436)

14% (209)

15% (85)

73% (92)

68% (14)

Table 15: Copula (is, are) absence among folk speakers from East-Central Texas by following grammatical environment (from Bailey and Maynor 1985, table 5, p. 210)

In sum, we find no copula absence outside of the South, but of the four Southern varieties for which we have quantitative data, at least three show copula absence patterns comparable in their rates and conditioning to those of AAVE, particularly insofar as are-absence is concerned. The fact that the British dialects whose historical antecedents were the source of Southen White dialects show no copula absence makes it extremely unlikely that this feature was inherited from them. Although it is possible that this feature was independently innovated in White Southern speech, it is more likely that, as suggested by

Wolfram (1974:524), "copula absence in white Southern speech may have been assimilated from decreolizing black speech." Thus the similarities between Southern White dialects and AAVE with respect to this feature do not work against the creolist and for the dialectologist hypothesis, as one might have assumed from the general principles outlined in the introductory section.

8.4. Summary , Concluding Remarks, Directions for research

Table 16 summarizes the quantitative data on copula absence by following grammatical environment which have been the mainstay of our discussions of the evidence provided by historical attestations, diaspora recordings, creole similarities and English dialect differences with respect to the creole origins of AAVE. What it excludes, of course, is the pros and cons raised by each of evidence and the questions which remain, topics pursued in more detail above.



It is impossible to conclude with a balance sheet of plusses and minusses which would add up to a final decision on the creole origins issue. To my mind, there is enough persuasive evidence in these data to suggest that AAVE did have some creole roots. The very fact that copula absence is widespread both in AAVE and in mesolectal creoles, but not in White Englishes outside of the American South (where it can be argued that Whites adopted the speech patterns of Blacks) strongly suggests that at lest some of the predecessors of modern AAVE arose from a restructuring process similar to that which produced the English-based creoles.The fact that the constraint hierarchy for following grammatical environment is so similar across the vareties shown in table 16 further reinforces this conclusion.43 The fact that AAVE varieties which might be considered closer to their creole origins on historical grounds (18th century varieties, Samaná) also behave more like creole varieties in some respects (for instance in permitting some deletion of first person am and/or in permitting some degree of past tense copula absence) is also a plus for the creole origins hypothesis.




__NP

__Adj

__Loc

__Ving

__Gon

HISTORICAL ATTESTATIONS

Ex-Slaves (Bailey 1987)

12%

29%

15%

71%

100%

Ex-Slaves (Poplack & Tagliamonte 1991)

.39

.27

.67

.72

.78

DIASPORA RECORDINGS

Samaná (Poplack & Sankoff 1987)

.41

.19

.23

.46

.59

Samaná (Hannah 1996)

.12

.44

.42

.89

.93

ANSE (Poplack & Tagliamonte 1991)

.31

.46

.49

.69

.73

LSE (Singler 1991b) Carolina

43%

93%

100%

97%

100%

LSE (Singler 1991b) Albert

32%

65%

94%

85%

100%

LSE (Singler 1991b) Slim

36%

43%

91%

79%

100%

CREOLE VARIETIES

Hawaiian Creole (Day 1973)

63%

72%

62%

94%

[No data]

JC 1960 (Rickford 1996)

28%

81%

18%

86%

100%

JC 1991 (Rickford 1991c)

4%

59%

28%

58%

93%

Bajan 1980s (Rickford & Blake 1990)

.08

.42

.54

.65

.77

Bajan 1991 (Rickford 1992b)

.07

.71

.52

.89

1.00

NSLE (Singler 1991b) Basil.

20%

92%

23%







NSLE (Singler 1991b) Mesol.

93%

100%

100%







NSLE (Singler 1991b) Acrol.

5%

13%

0%







Trinid. grps. (Winford 1992a)

1%

79%

90%

94%

97%

Trinid. indivs. (Winford 1992a)

1%

30%

53%

70%

50%

WHITE AMERICAN ENGLISH

Wh. Miss. are (Wolfram 1974)

31%

49% (__Adj/Loc)

66%

86%

Wh. Miss. is (Wolfram 1974)

8%

16% (__Adj/Loc)

18%

18%

Wh. E. Texas (Bailey & Maynor 1985)

2%

10%

8%

34%

54%

AFR. AMER. VERNAC. ENGLISH [AAVE]

is, NYC T'Birds (Labov 1969)

.2

.48

.36

.66

.88

is, NYC Jets (Labov 1969)

.32

.36

.52

.74

.93

is NYC Cobras (Baugh 1979)

.14

.72

.31

.59

.78

is+are, Detroit WC (Wolfram 1969)

37%

47%

44%

50%

79%

is, Los Angeles (Baugh 1979)

.32

.56

.29

.66

.69

are. Los Angeles (Baugh 1979)

.25

.35

.69

.62

.64

is+are, Texas kids (Bailey & Maynor 1987)

.12

.25

.19

.41

.89

is+are, Texas adults (Bailey & Maynor 1987)

.09

.14

.15

.73

.68

is+are, E. Palo Alto (Rickford et al 1991)

.29

.47

.42

.66

.77

Table 16: Summary of Copula Absence rates by following environment in historical attestations, diaspora recordings, creole varieties, White American English and AAVE

At the same time, our review of the available evidence with respect to copula absence has turned up various challenges to the creole hypothesis, which can be broadly characterized as being of two types. The first is inconsistencies in data from two or more sources, for instance, the difference between analyses of the ex-slave recording data provided by Bailey (1987) and Poplack and Tagliamonte (1991), or the difference between analyses of Samaná as analyzed by Poplack and Sankoff (1987) and Hannah (1996). More serious is the absence of convincing explanations for certain recurrent effects, like the differences between pronoun versus NP subjects on copula absence in AAVE and the creoles, or the reason why the following grammatical constraint hierarchy should pattern as it does, and future work should be dedicated to the pursuit of such explanations.



There is also the issue of intermediate positions on the creole origins issue, like those of Winford (1992b:350-51) who is now willing to accept that a "creole substratum" did play some role in the history of AAVE, but not that it was once a full-fledged creole like Gullah. Similarly Holm (1988, 1992) is willing to see early AAVE as a "sem-Creole" and Mufwene (1992:144) to recognize it as having been a separate language variety, derived from neither a creole nor any White American non-standard language variety, although structurally related to both. These are interesting new positions, but they are not inconsistent with the kinds of evidence reviewed in this paper, and they agree at least in denying the validity of the pure dialectologist's argument--that AAVE simply represents the transfer and acquisition by Africans and African Americans of English dialects spoken by British and other White immigrants to America in earlier times.
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