"Either it isn't or it's not": neg/aux contraction in British dialects

Tagliamonte, S. and Smith, J. (2002) "Either it isn't or it's not": neg/aux contraction in British dialects. English World Wide, 23(2), pp. 251-281. (doi: 10.1075/eww.23.2.05tag)

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Publisher's URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1075/eww.23.2.05tag


The source dialects in Britain are critical to disentangling the history and development of varieties in North America and elsewhere. One feature which appears to provide a critical diagnostic, particularly for situating dialects geographically in Britain, is negative (neg) vs. auxiliary (aux) contraction with <i>be</i>, <i>have</i> and <i>will</i>. Use of aux contraction is said to be more prevalent in northern varieties. Using the comparative method and quantitative methodology, this paper provides a quantitative analysis of this feature in eight British communities, two in the south, six in more northern areas. The comparative cross-variety approach provides a number of different lines of evidence which can then be used for testing similarities and differences across varieties. First, there is a dramatic difference between neg/aux contraction with <i>be</i> compared to the other auxiliaries that is consistent across all the communities. In every location <i>be</i> has aux contraction, and in each case it has higher rates of aux contraction than <i>will</i> or <i>have</i>. Second, all the Scots varieties have categorical aux contraction with <i>be</i>, just as would be expected from the historical record. However, there is a marked difference across the same varieties with <i>will</i>. Third, in the four locales where there is variation between neg and aux contraction the choice of form can be explained by the influence of the preceding phonological environment. In sum, neg/aux contraction is a poor diagnostic for distinguishing varieties of British English on broad geographic grounds. In contrast, at other levels of grammar (morphology and syntax) there are broad similarities across northern varieties. We conclude that the type of linguistic feature targeted for investigation plays a critical role in determining the similarities and differences amongst varieties.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Smith, Professor Jennifer
Authors: Tagliamonte, S., and Smith, J.
Subjects:P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
College/School:College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies > English Language and Linguistics
Journal Name:English World Wide
ISSN (Online):1569-9730

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