A Syntactic Analysis of the Remote Past in African American English

2019-10-16T17:47:56Z (GMT) by Brittlea Jernigan-Hardrick
Studies of African American English (AAE) structure have historically placed significantemphasis on its system of tense and aspect, and have done so for good reason. In the interest of developing a comprehensive descriptive analysis of the variety’s syntactic and semantic features, research on the syntactic constructions and functional grammatical items that distinguish it from other English varieties continues to bring about new insights into the different elements that make up a system of tense and aspect, as well as how these elements interact with other parts of the grammar—not only in AAE but crosslinguistically. One of these elements is the verbal marker BIN, which situates part of an event in the remote past, as shown in (1).

(1) Jane BIN saw that movie.
‘Jane saw that movie a long time ago.’

This paper further investigates both the function of and restrictions on the aspectual marker BIN in African American English (AAE) using acceptability judgment data collected in an online survey of AAE speakers. With this study, I aim to contribute to thetheoretical description of the verbal system of AAE (L. J. Green, 1993) and its system of tense and aspect. The judgment task will identify patterns of acceptability surrounding the following two factors: event type and whether the verb receives progressive or past tense marking. Using a generative-constructivist semantic framework (Ramchand, 2008), I hypothesize that the semantic information represented by the aspectual marker BIN will either allow or disallow certain combinations of event structure and progressiveness, and these restrictions may be demonstrated to be systematic according to the erb classes proposed byRamchand (2008). Additionally, based on the survey data and the approach to the decomposition of event structure regarding Outer and Inner aspect proposed by (Travis, 2010), I will propose that restrictions on BIN and ambiguity between structures containing BIN can be accounted for syntactically based on the configurations of both grammatical and lexical aspect.