The results regarding European and African American usage of copula absence show the complexity involved in associating a particular linguistic feature with a particular speech community. Rarely is a feature used exclusively by one community and not by another; rather, the labelling typically relates to the usage. In the example of copula absence, the feature seems to be not only used less frequently by European American speakers, but also possibly lexicalized (in that it typically only is absent before the lexical item “gonna”). On the other hand, copula absence occurs in African American speech not only more frequently than European American speech, but also in many more contexts.
Chapter 8 | Exercises
- Neither European American nor African American speakers delete the copula when the form is am (e.g. neither group of speakers uses forms like I nice).
- Both African Americans and European Americans delete the copula frequently when the form corresponds to are (e.g. You ugly), but African Americans have a higher frequency of are absence.
- Both European Americans and African Americans delete the copula form is when it is followed by the item gonna (e.g. She gonna do it).
- European Americans show almost no (less than 5 percent) absence of the copula form is with forms other than gonna, while African Americans show significant frequency levels of is absence (for example, 50 percent).
How do these kinds of results show the complexity of the descriptive detail necessary for the resolution of the question of the relationship between African American English and European American language varieties?
How would you respond to a person who observed that “copula absence can’t be a feature of AAE because I hear European American speakers who say things like They gonna do it right now”?
How does this usage compare with other kinds of differences cited above, such as the use of inflectional suffixes or habitual be? Would you consider it a “camouflaged form”?
The use of “aint” in AAE is a camouflaged form, as it appears on the surface to be much like the “aint” usage in other varieties of English, such as European American varieties, when in fact it shows different patterning and different usages/meanings. This is similar to inflectional suffixes and habitual be, because these are still forms that are used in varieties other American English dialects.
The distinguishing features associated with a referent do not necessarily justify the association nor the naming practice. ... We should indeed ask ourselves whether wehave been consistent practitioners when on the one hand, we argue in theory that it is up to native speakers to determine the affiliation of the language variety they speak and, on the other, we take it upon ourselves to determine who speaks English and who does not on criteria that are far from obvious.
How do you think AAE should be defined? Should it be different from AAL?
To what extent should the voice of the community be heard in its definition?
How important is it to arrive at a consensus definition of this variety?