|Title:||An Optimality Theoretic Approach to Variation in Negative Inversion in AAVE|
|Authors:||Peter Sells, John Rickford, Thomas Wasow|
|Comment:||30 pp. 11/94|
|Abstract:|| An Optimality Theoretic Approach to Variation in
Negative Inversion in AAVE
The earliest description of negative inversion in AAVE is that of
Labov et al. (1968) (L68), who drew attention to examples like `Can't
nobody beat 'em.' (`Nobody can beat them.'). These have the inverted
form of questions, but the falling intonation and sentence meaning of
(emphatic) declaratives. L68 concluded that such `Negative Inversion'
(NI) examples require two overlapping but distinct syntactic analyses.
Recasting these proposals in current terms, we can think of them as
Aux-to-Comp movement, as in subject-auxiliary inversion in
interrogatives, or a non-movement structure containing a null
There are two explanatory problems that arise with the view that L68
present: (i) why the single phenomenon of Negative Inversion should
find its expression in two distinct structures, and (ii) why this
inversion phenomenon is restricted to negative sentences: there is no
`Positive Inversion' allowing examples like *`Is somethin' happenin'.'
(`Something is happening.').
Using ideas from Optimality Theory, we develop a syntactic account of
the Negative Inversion data that also directly addresses problems (i)
and (ii). Viewing the grammar as a set of ranked constraints, we show
that the relevant aspects of the syntax of AAVE and Standard English
(SE) can be primarily accounted for in terms of the different rankings
of two constraints: (A) a constraint that requires negative
quantifiers in AAVE to be c-commanded by a negative auxiliary, and (B)
a constraint on the presence of overt material in specifier positions.
If (A) ranks higher than (B), (B) may fail to be satisfied in negative
sentences, but not in positive ones. In the paper, we introduce
further constraints to provide a fuller account.