Since the publication of Labov et al. in 1968, negative inversion (NI) statements such as Can’t nobody lift that rock have been assumed to be identical in the Southern white and African American vernacular English in which they appear. This article argues to the contrary that the similar surface syntaxes conceal a range of different social and propositional meanings—to the extent that native speakers of the different varieties might assume different speaker intentions in the utterance of such sentences. This is a fact that can have important consequences in literary close readings of Southern and African American literatures. This article explores a range of conventional meanings across the two language varieties and illustrates via close readings of texts in three genres the importance of understanding the camouflaged meanings at issue in the NI construction.
- Negative inversion
- Southern literatures