Negative auxiliaries and absent expletives in Texas vernacular English

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Abstract

Drawing on thought from sociolinguistics and theoretical and historical pragmatics, this paper argues that Negative Inversion (NI) sentences such as Can't nobody beat them are the diachronic descendants of Modal Existential (ME) sentences such as There can't nobody beat them. The expletive subject of the ME has undergone a deletion process in the twentieth century, leaving behind what is now considered to be the NI. This diachronic understanding enables a clear account of the so-called “definiteness effects” (Milsark, 1974) associated with the present NI. The paper makes a significant contribution here to the empirical understanding of the construction as well. It has been universally maintained since Labov et al. (1968) that NIs prohibit definite subjects, much like Milsark's characterization of there-existential sentences. I show, however, that definite subjects are accepted, but that they are restricted by pragmatic constraints: the same ones, it turns out, that Ward and Birner (1995) have shown to constrain the appearance of definite subjects in there-existentials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)51-66
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Volume130
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2018

Keywords

  • Definiteness effects
  • Expletive subjects
  • Negative inversion
  • There-existentials

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