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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


neg-inv.ps, 30pp.

Peter Sells,

John Rickford,

Thomas Wasow

Stanford University

Nov. 1994

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

expletive subject.

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.

Type:Paper/tech report
Article:Version 1