Special Summer Sandwidge

Posted on August 19, 2013 by

Brittany McLaughlin, a PhD student of William Labov’s at the University of Pennsylvania, will be in Manchester on Tuesday 27 August to give a special summer edition of Langwidge Sandwidge at the usual 1pm time, venue Samuel Alexander W3.13. Title and abstract are below and a version with figures is attached.

Connecting and comparing animacy effects in four sociolinguistic variables

An effect of animacy has been demonstrated for certain linguistic variables in English, namely, the dative and genitive alternations (Bresnan and Hay 2008, Rosenbach 2005, Tagliamonte & Jarmasz 2008). This talk presents a comprehensive overview of recently reported animacy effects from corpus studies in English morphosyntactic variation. The four variables examined are: Standard English (SE) TD-deletion in regular preterite verbs, SE contraction of is and has, African American Vernacular English (AAVE) third singular –sabsence, and AAVE copula deletion. Each variable is affected by whether the subject of the verb is animate, operationalized here as human (animate) or non-human (inanimate) (McLaughlin 2013a, McLaughlin & MacKenzie 2013, McLaughlin & Tamminga 2013). However, if we view each variable as undergoing reduction, then they are not all affected by animacy in the same direction (Figure 1). In other words, while animate subjects predict reduced (or null) forms for three variables (SE contraction, AAVE verbal –s , and AAVE copula), inanimatesubjects predict the reduced form in SE TD-deletion.

We further investigate these results to determine if this broad-reaching animacy effect is simply epiphenomenal of another effect. Other effects examined include transitivity of the verb in verbal –s tokens (McLaughlin 2013b), and frequency of the subject, verb, and subject-verb collocation in verbal –s and TD-deletion. We find that, while intransitive verbs also favor verbal –s deletion, the animacy effect does not interact with the intransitivity effect and is not encompassed by it (McLaughlin 2013b). Similarly, while frequency of the verb is a strong effect in verbal –s deletion, it does not interact with or account for animacy effects. Even more telling is the verb frequency effect in TD-deletion, where higher frequency verbs promote reduction, while animate subjects promote retention. These results demonstrate the importance of incorporating usage-based measures such as frequency to improve our modeling of sociolinguistic variation. Furthermore, these results support the claim that subject animacy is a grammatical feature that can condition variation, but not in a predictable direction with regard to reduction.

Bresnan, Joan, and Jennifer Hay. 2008. Gradient grammar: An effect of animacy on the syntax of give in New Zealand and American English. Lingua 118:245–259.

McLaughlin, Brittany. 2013a. Animacy effects on verbal –s and copula deletion in African American Vernacular English. Paper presented at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, Boston, January 6, 2013.

McLaughlin, Brittany. 2013b. Testing the independence of subject animacy and transitivity in verbal –s variation. Paper to be presented at New Ways of Analyzing Variation 42, University of Pittsburgh.

McLaughlin, Brittany, and Laurel MacKenzie. 2013. Animacy effects in English contraction. Paper to be presented at United Kingdom Language Variation and Change 9, Sheffield.

McLaughlin, Brittany, and Meredith Tamminga. 2013. Morphology in TD deletion: past and present perspectives. Paper to be presented at New Ways of Analyzing Variation 42, University of Pittsburgh.

Rosenbach, Anette. 2005. Animacy versus weight as determinants of grammatical variation in 
English. Language 81:613–644.

Tagliamonte, Sali & Lidia Jarmasz. 2008. Variation and change in the English genitive: A sociolinguistic perspective. The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, Chicago, January 4.

Download the full abstract here. Manchet hopes to see some of you there!

UPDATE: The venue is Samuel Alexander W3.13, the old School boardroom.

Featured image: Figure 1. Reduced form for each variable as predicted by animacy. [Data from McLaughlin 2013, McLaughlin & MacKenzie 2013, McLaughlin & Tamminga 2013]