|Author||Laurence Horn and Raffaella Zanuttini|
in North American English
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Micro-Syntactic Variation in North American
Edited by Raffaella Zanuttini and Laurence
Variation in North
Raffaella Zanuttini and Laurence R. Horn
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Micro-syntactic variation in North American English / edited by Raffaella Zanuttini
and Laurence R. Horn.
p. cm. — (Oxford studies in comparative syntax)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978–0–19–936721–4 (pbk. : alk. paper) — ISBN 978–0–19–936722–1
(hardcover : alk. paper) — ISBN 978–0–19–936723–8 (ebook) — ISBN 978–0–19–936724–5 (ebook)
1. English language—Variation. 2. English language—Syntax. I. Zanuttini, Raffaella, editor
of compilation. II. Horn, Laurence R., editor of compilation. III. Series: Oxford studies
in comparative syntax.
9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Printed in the United States of America
on acid-free paper
Contributor List vii
1. North American English: Exploring the Syntactic Frontier 1
2. SO [totally] Speaker-oriented: An Analysis of “Drama SO” 29
3. Affirmative Semantics with Negative Morphosyntax: Negative Exclamatives and
the New England So AUXn’t NP/DP Construction 71
4. Force, Focus, and Negation in African American English 115
5. Transitive Expletives in Appalachian English 143
Raffaella Zanuttini and Judy B. Bernstein
6. The Syntax and Semantics of Personal Datives in Appalachian English 178
Corinne Hutchinson and Grant Armstrong
7. Iron Range English Reflexive Pronouns 215
Sara S. Loss
8. This Syntax Needs Studied 242
9. We might should be thinking this way: Theory and Practice in the Study
of Syntactic Variation 269
J. Daniel Hasty
10. Addressing the Problem of Intra-speaker Variation for Parametric
11. Afterword: Microvariation in Syntax and Beyond 324
Laurence R. Horn
Author Index 349
Subject Index 351
University of Wisconsin–Madison
Judy B. Bernstein
William Paterson University
University of Aberdeen
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Laurence R. Horn
J. Daniel Hasty
Coastal Carolina University
University of Pennsylvania
Sara S. Loss
Oklahoma State University
City University of New York (College of Staten Island and The Graduate Center)
in North American English
North American English
Exploring the Syntactic Frontier
R AFFAELL A ZANUT TINI
1. A GAP IN OUR KNOWLEDGE
If asked how the syntax of English differs from that of other related Germanic languages, linguists would know what to say. They could choose to discuss one of a
number of topics that have been studied extensively, such as differences in word
order, the syntax of the noun phrase, the expression of case, the internal and external
syntax of subjects, wh-movement, etc. A scholar interested in pursuing these topics
can find a large number of resources at his or her disposal, from books to dedicated
journals. In contrast, linguists would have a much harder time answering a similar
question if the empirical domain were restricted to varieties of English, in particular
if the question were to be “What kind of syntactic variation is exhibited by varieties
of English spoken in North America?” We would immediately think about the one
variety that has a relatively rich literature, namely African American English, and the
topics that have been discussed in that context, such as negative auxiliary inversion
(1), and the articulated system of aspect marking partially illustrated in (2)1:
(1) Don’t nothing come to a sleeper but a dream. (African American English)
‘Nothing comes to a sleeper but a dream.’
(2) a. During the summer, they go off for two weeks, so her checks be big.
‘During the summer, they go away for two weeks, so her checks are u
1. All the examples in (1) and (2) are from Green (2002).
b. I told him you dәn changed.
‘I told him you have changed.’
c. I BIN knowing he died.
‘I have known for a long time that he died.’
d. He BIN dәn put that in there.
‘He put that in there a long time ago.’
But our knowledge about the interesting syntactic properties of other varieties is
considerably more limited, and gathering information about them is a more difficult
task, as there are no volumes or journals to which one can turn. Interesting descriptions can be found in theses, anthologies, and journals such as American Speech. Yet
there is no volume or journal devoted to discussing the relevance of this wealth of
data to syntactic theory.
This book is a first step toward filling that gap. It offers the beginning of an answer
to questions such as:
• What kind of syntactic or morpho-syntactic variation do we find across varieties
of North American English? In particular, are there subdomains of the syntactic
architecture where we tend to see grammatical systems departing from one
• To what extent is the kind of syntactic variation we find across varieties of North
American English similar to the type we observe across varieties of English spoken
elsewhere, across Germanic languages more generally, or across closely related
varieties in other language families?
• How does language change? How do linguistic varieties depart from one another?
• More broadly, what does the variation exhibited across varieties of North American English tell us about the structure of grammar?
These questions are worth asking, should be asked, and can be answered. The answers are important for the goal of furthering our understanding of the architecture
of human language.
There is no doubt that North American English consists of varieties that are distinct not only in their phonological system, but also in their syntax and morphology.
First, it is apparently impossible to find a language where all speakers share the same
grammar, especially when the language has a large number of speakers, who are
spread out over a vast geographical area and are part of a complex web of social relations. Second, North American English was not homogeneous even at the very beginning of its history.2 For example, the English speakers who settled in the area around
Jamestown, Virginia, starting in 1607 (as well as those who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1620) came from the London area, in southeastern England. In
2. See Bailey (2004) and, for a concise and informative overview, Wolfram and SchillingEstes (1998, 2006).
[ 2 ]
Micro-Syntactic Variation in North American English
contrast, the English speakers who settled in the easternmost portion of the Tidewater area in Virginia were from southwestern England, and those who settled in the
interior areas of Virginia came from Ulster, in Northern Ireland, via Scotland (they
are often referred to as Scots-Irish). These speakers spoke distinct varieties of English and such distinctions were brought into the American landscape. In other words,
there was never such a thing as a uniform “(North) American English.” Rather, different varieties of English, hence different grammatical systems, coexisted from the
very beginning, and continue to coexist today.
Morpho-syntactic variation in North American English is attested and has been
described in numerous and disparate venues, as mentioned above. In an effort to
make such descriptions more visible and accessible, the Yale Grammatical Diversity
Project is currently collecting, organizing, and making available all the information it
can gather: examples of sentences exhibiting interesting syntactic properties, what
we know about them (in particular, the constraints on their distribution and how
they are interpreted), where they have been discussed in the literature (sometimes
these references are difficult to find, because they are in working papers or collections
that do not have wide circulation and are not available on the web). Some examples
of sentences with interesting morpho-syntactic properties are given in (3): the presence of the prefix a- on the verbal gerund (3a); the use of liketa to express that an
event on the verge of occurring did not occur (3b); the co-occurrence of two negative
elements with the interpretation of a single instance of negation (3c); the so-called
double comparative, that is, a sentence where two comparative markers co-occur
(3d); the element so apparently modifying a verb phrase (3e); the co-occurrence of
more than one modal in a single clause, such as might and would in (3f); the occurrence of anymore in a positive environment (3g):
(3) a. Well, she’s a-gettin’ the black lung now, ain’t she? (Wolfram 1976)
b. You liketa run over me, didn’t you! (Feagin 1979)
c. I don’t never heard of that before. (Feagin 1979)
d. Every time you ask me not to hum, I’ll hum more louder. (Corver 2005)
e. Jamie is SO going to kiss you! (Irwin, this volume)
f. How is it no one might not would notice that but Anne? (di Paolo 1989)
g. You stay in your office too late anymore. (Krumpelmann 1939)
These examples are grammatical for some, but not all, speakers of American English.
In many cases, they are grammatical for speakers who grew up in certain areas, that
is, the variation in the grammar is defined geographically (e.g., certain parts of New
England, or of the South). One case, (3e), is grammatical for speakers of a certain age
group, regardless of their location. Whether these differences are based on geography, age, ethnicity, or identity of another sort is very interesting (and this book describes them in some detail), and yet at the same time tangential to our main concern. Our goal is to characterize the extent and the way in which grammatical systems
can vary. To achieve this goal, we take as the object of our investigation the subtle
differences that we see across closely related varieties of North American English,
N or t h A m e r i c an En g l i s h [ 3 ]
regardless of whether they are due to history or other distinctions that have emerged
within a community. We take these differences to reflect differences in the grammatical systems of the speakers, hence to reflect differences (or “variation”) in the morphological and/or syntactic component of their mental grammar. This is the meaning
that the term variation has in this book: differences in the sentences we read or hear
that reflect differences among the abstract grammatical systems that generate those
The comparison and examination of grammatical systems that are overwhelmingly similar, often referred to as “micro-comparative syntax,” is by now a very wellestablished methodology. Among generative syntacticians, Richard Kayne was the
first to point out that the detailed comparison of systems that are largely similar
allows the researcher to simulate a laboratory setting, in which we can keep the
environment constant and observe the results of manipulating the variable under
investigation. When the object of investigation is natural language, the manipulation of a variable is done by the speakers of a given variety: they change one property of their mental grammar, and we, as the experimenters, observe the consequences of that change and try to understand how the system is structured and
This methodology has already proven very fruitful and successful when applied to
empirical domains other than English. For example, starting in the 1980s, under the
leadership of Richard Kayne, Paola Benincà, and their collaborators, linguists have
been examining and conducting detailed and sophisticated descriptive work on socalled Northern Italian dialects3 with the goal of answering questions concerning the
organization of the abstract grammatical system that underlies them. This marriage
of description and theory resulted in a body of work that has pushed forward both
our knowledge of the data and our understanding of grammar, in areas such as the
syntax of pronominal elements, the left periphery, auxiliary selection, negation, etc.
(cf. Poletto 2000, Tortora 2002, Benincà and Poletto 2004, D’Alessandro and Roberts
2010, Zanuttini 1997, among others; for a very thorough overview, see the introduction to D’Alessandro and Roberts 2010).
Similarly, under the leadership of Sjef Barbiers and Hans Bennis, linguists have
undertaken a careful and systematic study of morphological and syntactic variation
across the linguistic varieties spoken in the Netherlands and the Flemish speaking
part of Belgium. They have created a very productive research group that has investigated them in depth and published its results in a number of venues, including the
two-volume Syntactic Atlas of the Dutch Dialects. In this and subsequent work, these
linguists have explored in depth issues such as agreeing complementizers, subject
pronouns, verb clusters, auxiliaries, negation, and quantification, and more generally
a wide range of phenomena that involve syntactic doubling (cf. Barbiers et al. 2005,
Barbiers et al. 2008a, Barbiers et al. 2008b, among others).
3. The Northern Italian dialects are varieties of Romance that developed from Vulgar
Latin and exhibit clearly distinct lexical, phonological, morphological and syntactic
[ 4 ]
Micro-Syntactic Variation in North American English
The advantages offered by studying closely related varieties to our understanding
of the structure of grammar have also been shown in a very powerful way in the work
of William Labov and his collaborators. In particular, Labov et al. (2006) show that a
careful study of the varieties of American English can prove invaluable in our understanding of the phonological system and in particular in shedding light on the nature
of sound change. The work they produced is invaluable both for its descriptive accuracy and for the theoretical advances that it makes.
All these works have been able to provide insights that couldn’t have been obtained otherwise, and raise questions that will lead to further discoveries. In contrast
with these other domains, the syntax of closely related varieties of North American
English has not yet received systematic investigation. There are some very interesting syntactic studies that show us what we can learn from the detailed examination
of varieties of English. For example, Henry’s (1995) careful investigation of Belfast
English has shed light on important details of the syntax of imperatives, questions,
and relative clauses. Similarly, McCloskey’s (2000) investigation of quantifier stranding in a variety of Irish English has proven important in shedding light on the local
character of movement. If we restrict attention to North American English, as mentioned earlier, important work has been done on African American English, in particular on negative concord and negative inversion, copula be, and the rich system of
aspect marking (cf. Labov et al. 1968; Labov 1969; Labov 1972; Martin 1992; Sells
et al. 1996; White-Sustaíta 2010; Rickford 1975; Dayton 1996; Green 2002; Terry
2005, among others). As for the syntax of other varieties, we can find a relatively
large number of insightful descriptions (cf. Kimball and Aissen 1971; Wolfram and
Fasold 1974; Feagin 1979; Wolfram and Christian 1976; Montgomery and Hall 2004;
Montgomery 2008; Murray and Simon 2008; Wolfram 2008a; Wolfram 2008a, b;
Wolfram and Ward 2006, among others, and many articles in American Speech) and a
relatively small number of in-depth analyses (cf. Wolfram 1976; Wolfram 1988;
di Paolo 1989; Battistella 1991; Montgomery 2006; Tortora and den Dikken 2010,
among others). But the work of relating data to the theory can and should be done
much more extensively and systematically.
The Yale Grammatical Diversity Project4 and the present volume are steps in that
direction. The former aims to offer careful description and documentation of morphological and syntactic differences across varieties of North American English. This
volume offers a collection of articles each of which analyzes in some depth one of the
domains in which we see morpho-syntactic variation. Needless to say, they don’t
come close to providing a full picture of what needs to be investigated; but they represent a hopeful beginning.
2. WHAT THIS BOOK HAS TO OFFER
This volume represents the first collection of articles that focuses on morpho-syntactic
variation across varieties of English spoken in North America while attempting to relate
4. See http://microsyntax.sites.yale.edu
N or t h A m e r i c an En g l i s h [ 5 ]
it to general issues in syntactic theory. The articles contained in this volume make an
empirical contribution by providing detailed descriptions of syntactic phenomena that
are not widely known, and a theoretical contribution by exploring their relevance for the
goal of building a model of the architecture of our mental grammar. While pursuing
these two major goals, it also dispels some misconceptions about language, by making it
clear that, from the point of view of a linguist, all grammatical systems are interesting
objects of scientific investigation—regardless of whether the sentences they generate
are part of a variety of English that all, most, or only some speakers call their own.
Grammatical systems change, for a variety of reasons, and even a small change can give
rise to a number of superficial differences in what speakers do, yielding what we call different varieties of English, each an equally interesting object of scientific investigation.
2.1 Understanding so
English appears to have a number of types of so. This can be seen in the following examples, where so seems to stand for a proposition in (4), stand for a VP in (5), connect
two clauses (with a meaning similar to therefore) in (6), and express degree in (7)5:
(4) Will Obama win the elections? I think so.
(5) They asked me to write a letter detailing the situation. I did so, but it had no
(6) They don’t appreciate your help, so you shouldn’t bother helping them.
(7) a. I am so tired that I might have to stay home tonight.
b. They walk so quickly that we can barely keep up with them.
In “SO [TOTALLY] speaker-oriented: An analysis of ‘Drama SO’,” Chapter 2 of this
volume, Patricia Irwin discusses sentences with a usage of so that started gaining
popularity in the 1980s (among people born from the late 1960s on; cf. Zwicky
2006). This type of so, now quite common in North American English, is exemplified
in the following examples:
(8) a. Jamie has SO dated that type of guy before.
b. People are SO wearing flip-flops this season.
Irwin calls this “Drama SO” to emphasize that it conveys that the speaker has a
strong feeling about the proposition expressed by the sentence.6 Because it expresses
5. For an extensive discussion of the various types of so, see Huddleston and Pullum (2002).
6. Potts (2004) expresses a very similar intuition by saying that the utterance expresses
a high degree of speaker’s commitment to the proposition.
[ 6 ]
Micro-Syntactic Variation in North American English
a strong feeling, or a high degree of commitment, it might be seen as similar to the so
that expresses degree, exemplified in (7). Yet it is clearly different. First, Drama SO
must receive the highest pitch accent in the sentence, as pointed out in Potts (2004);
this is why Irwin writes it in capital letters. Second, it does not appear to modify a
gradable adjective (like tired in 7a) or adverb (like quickly in 7b); rather, it seems to
occur with a number of categories, like VP, as in (8), and even predicate PPs or DPs,
as in (9):
(9) a. You are SO in the Doghouse for that one!
b. This is SO Iceland. (Zwicky 2006)
Irwin argues that appearances are deceiving, and that so is actually modifying a gradable predicate in these examples. In particular she suggests that it modifies totally,
not in the meaning of the manner adverb close to “completely” but in that of the
speaker-oriented adverb close to “definitely” or “wholeheartedly,” conveying that the
speaker wholeheartedly believes the proposition to be true. This meaning, which is
not available to all speakers of English, is the one that emerges in the following examples (where the adverb is written in capital letters to convey that it bears pitch
( 10) a. Violeta TOTALLY goes to the gym.
b. Mike TOTALLY wants tickets for that concert.
Irwin hypothesizes that, in Drama SO, so always modifies either an overt form or a
null form of the adverb totally. Hence the examples in (8) and (9) contain a phonetically null instance of totally, as follows (here small caps are used to convey that “totally” is phonetically null):
Jamie has SO totally dated that type of guy before.
People are SO totally wearing flip-flops this season.
You are SO totally in the Doghouse for that one!
This is SO totally Iceland.
This hypothesis makes a number of predictions: (i) any sentence with Drama SO
should be acceptable when totally is pronounced; (ii) since so is a degree modifier of
totally and degree modifiers are not obligatory, we should be able to pronounce totally
and omit so with no change in acceptability; (iii) sentences with Drama SO should
exhibit the same distributional restrictions as sentences with totally—for example,
they should be unable to occur in the scope of negation, in the antecedent of a conditional, a question, or an embedded clause. Irwin’s contribution shows that these predictions are indeed borne out, providing strong support for the validity of her
7. In these examples, from Irwin’s article, the predicates are atelic, and so the completive
meaning of totally is not relevant.
N or t h A m e r i c an En g l i s h [ 7 ]
hypothesis. Her proposal is that the so of Drama SO is the head of a Degree Phrase
that takes as its complement an amount expressed syntactically as a QP headed by an
abstract Q that quantifies over the adverb totally. The adverb totally is responsible for
both the distributional restrictions and the meaning of Drama SO, as it is the element that contributes that the speaker has a high degree of (emotional) commitment to the proposition.
Jim Wood’s Chapter 3, “Affirmative Semantics with Negative Morphosyntax:
Negative Exclamatives and the New England So AUXn’t NP/DP Construction,” also
focuses on a use of so, but one with a rather different distribution. Consider the exchange in (12) and (13). If a speaker utters the sentence in (12), the interlocutor
could respond in one of several ways, all involving so:
(12) Alex plays the guitar.
( 13) a. I do so too. (subject-auxiliary-so)
b. So do I. (so-auxiliary-subject)
c. So don’t I. (so-auxiliary-n’t-subject)
The object of investigation of Wood’s paper is the type of answer exemplified in (13c),
referred to as SAND (So-AUXn’t-NP/DP) for short. This kind of sentence is not grammatical (or comprehensible) for all speakers of English, but is grammatical for many
speakers in New England (Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut; see
Wood’s article for more detail on its geographical distribution). A speaker uses it
when he or she wants to correct a belief associated with another statement. One
common case, according to Wood, is when an interlocutor makes a statement that
comes across as associated with an incorrect exhaustivity implicature. In the exchange just seen, for example, a speaker who responds to (12) by uttering (13c) does
two things: asserts that he or she plays the guitar and cancels the implicature that
Alex is the only one (of the people in the relevant context) who plays the guitar.
SAND exhibits the full range of auxiliary and subject types, as we see in the following examples:
( 14) a. . . . Sure it’s trendy, but so aren’t most NYC clubs.
b. National healthcare would be great, but so wouldn’t everybody actually
c. Yes, the “Somalis” should be treated with respect but so shouldn’t the
d. Just as children ignore their parents, so don’t parents ignore their children.
Despite the presence of the negative marker, the sentence is not negative, as Wood
shows through a series of classic tests for negation. For example, it cannot license NPIs
(15), it is compatible with positive polarity items like some (16), and, when it occurs in
a question followed by a tag, the auxiliary in the tag is obligatorily negative (17):
[ 8 ]
Micro-Syntactic Variation in North American English
(15) *Some swimmers showed up at the zero-gravity expo, but so didn’t any
(16) Some guitarists wanted to play, but so didn’t some drummers.
( 17) A. He knows how to swim.
B. Well, so don’t we, don’t we?
Wood’s hypothesis is that the interpretation associated with these sentences, that
of asserting the truth of a proposition and negating an implicature associated with
another statement, arises compositionally from the elements that make up a
SAND sentence. In particular, he argues that the sentence has two components: a
yes-no question, and the element so, which chooses the positive alternative as an
answer to the question, i.e., as the proposition to be asserted, and rejects the negative alternative. In particular, a feature of C (maybe a Q feature) leading to movement of the negated auxiliary to C yields the semantics of a question; in a yes-no
question, this is the disjunction of two propositions (p ∨¬p). Given that, in SAND,
the clause is negative, the yes-no question yields the disjunction of two negative
propositions: (¬p) ∨ (¬(¬p)) (in plain English, I don’t play the guitar, or it’s not true
that I don’t play the guitar). Wood proposes that the role of so is to resolve this question: simplifying somewhat, so provides an answer to the question by choosing the
affirmative variant ((¬(¬p)), or, in our example, it’s not true that I don’t play the
This elegantly explains the pragmatic properties of these sentences: in using
SAND, the speaker wants to deny a negative proposition, i.e., to remove ¬ p from the
set of beliefs held by the interlocutor. It also makes sense of the presence of a negative marker, without having to say that it is present but fails to get interpreted
(always a suspicious move). Finally, it captures the fact that the sentence is not negative (despite containing a negative morpheme) and thus is incompatible with NPIs,
compatible with PPIs and with a negative tag.
In Chapter 4, “Force, Focus, and Negation in African American English,” Lisa Green
examines declarative clauses that, like SAND, exhibit a negated modal or auxiliary
that precedes the subject in linear order. Some examples are given in (18):
Don’t nobody want to ride the bus. (African American English)
‘Not a single person wants to ride the bus.’
b. Wouldn’t nobody ride that bus.
‘Not a single person would ride that bus.’
N or t h A m e r i c an En g l i s h [ 9 ]
Author Laurence Horn and Raffaella Zanuttini Isbn 0199367221 File size 2MB Year 2014 Pages 384 Language English File format PDF Category Culture Book Description: FacebookTwitterGoogle+TumblrDiggMySpaceShare By comparing linguistic varieties that are quite similar overall, linguists can often determine where and how grammatical systems differ, and how they change over time. Micro-Syntactic Variation in North American English provides a systematic look at minimal differences in the syntax of varieties of English spoken in North America. The book makes available for the first time a range of data on unfamiliar constructions drawn from several regional and social dialects, data whose distribution and grammatical properties shed light on the varieties under examination and on the properties of English syntax more generally. The nine contributions collected in this volume fall under a number of overlapping topics: variation in the expression of negation and modality (the “so don’t I” construction in eastern New England, negative auxiliary inversion in declaratives in African-American and southern white English, multiple modals in southern speech, the “needs washed” construction in the Pittsburgh area); pronouns and reflexives (transitive expletives in Appalachia, personal dative constructions in the Southern/Mountain states, long-distance reflexives in the Minnesota Iron Range); and the relation between linguistic variation and language change (the rise of “drama SO” among younger speakers, the difficulty in establishing which phenomena cluster together and should be explained by a single point of parametric variation). These chapters delve into the syntactic analysis of individual phenomena, and the editors’ introduction and afterword contextualize the issues and explore their semantic, pragmatic, and sociolinguistic implications. Download (2MB) New Perspectives on Language Variety in the South How Far is America from Here? Benefactives and Malefactives: Typological perspectives and case studies Languages and Dialects in the U.S.: Focus on Diversity and Linguistics Advances in the study of Siouan languages and linguistics Load more posts