The Development of African American English in the Oldest Black Town in America: Plural -s Absence in Princeville, North Carolina.

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Title: The Development of African American English in the Oldest Black Town in America: Plural -s Absence in Princeville, North Carolina.
Author: Rowe, Ryan
Advisors: Walt Wolfram, Committee Chair
Erik Thomas, Committee Member
Michael Adams, Committee Member
Abstract: The Anglicist/Creolist debate concerning the history and structure of English within the African Diaspora has been updated in recent years. New evidence from Early African American English (EAAE) was found by Poplack, Tagliamonte and Eze (2000) to indicate that all of the features of African American English (AAE) derive from earlier varieties of English. More recently, Rickford (2004) found contradictory evidence from a reanalysis of the Poplack et al. corpora compared to a wider range of pidgin and creole languages. From the research to date, there is only comparable quantitative data from EAAE and African pidgins and creoles for three common variables—copula contraction/absence, past tense marking, and zero plural marking (or plural —s absence). Of the communities considered in this debate, there has been no evidence presented from an extensive study of plural —s absence (e.g. Lots of dog_) within a long-standing African American enclave in the United States. This paper attempts to contribute to the scope of the evidence for the origins and development of English in the African Diaspora by analyzing plural —s absence as found across three generations of the oldest known, self-governed, African American town in the United States. Princeville, North Carolina, was settled in 1865 by freed slaves who gathered on an unwanted flood plain along the Tar River. In 1885, this predominantly African American town, which now has a population of just over 2,000, became the first municipality incorporated by African Americans in the United States. Throughout its history, Princeville has endured racial intimidation, economic and social isolation, and repeated flooding, but it has steadfastly persisted as a cohesive, monoethnic community. Based on sociolinguistic interviews conducted with 35 life-long Princeville residents, this study analyzes the relative frequencies and internal conditioning factors on plural —s absence in Princeville speech over three generations. The data indicate a substantial presence of plural —s absence that is higher than those found in contemporary AAE and appears to be dissipating among the younger generation of Princevillians. While differences in approaches to the analysis of the internal conditioning of this feature reflect those of the overall AAE origins debate, this comparative analysis reveals patterns similar to those found in many early AAE varieties and evidence of the role of previously uncompared factors, such as nasal conditioning, that can be used to support and dispute both the Anglicist and Creolist hypotheses. Moreover, what also emerges from this analysis is the substantial influence of locally specific, intra-communal social conditioning of Princeville plural —s absence and the importance of considering the diversity of history and identity within each African American community in attempting to understand the development of AAE.
Date: 2005-05-02
Degree: MA
Discipline: English

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