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On the articulation of aspectual meaning in African-American English

by Terry, Jules Michael

Abstract (Summary)
This dissertation investigates the articulation of aspect in African-American English (AAE). Its primary goal is the development of a formal semantics of AAE simple V-ed sentences that explains their compositional interpretation and relationship to done V-ed sentences. Building largely on the valuable works of Green (1993; 1998), D�©chaine (1993), Dayton (1996), the work herein supports the conclusions that AAE simple V-ed sentences such as The frog done jumped are ambiguous, having both past perfective and present perfect readings, and that AAE done V-ed sentences such as The frog done jumped are unambiguously present perfect. Further, it identifies a distinction in meaning between AAE simple V-ed perfects and done V-ed perfects. This distinction makes untenable analyses of the simple V-ed ambiguity in which a silent done is responsible for contributing perfect aspect to the present perfect versions of these sentences. Instead, this work traces the ambiguity to the presence of a covert present tense operator found in the present perfect (but not past perfective) versions of simple V-ed sentences, and the interaction of this operator with the -ed morpheme. In the proposed analysis, single AAE -ed morpheme unambiguously denotes a temporal relation of precedence, contrasting with the two distinct Standard American English (SAE) morphemes often notated as -ed and -en and often argued to denote past and perfect respectively. When it interacts with a covert present tense operator, AAE -ed contributes its precedence relation to the domain of aspect, resulting in the perfect aspect relation (situation time precedes topic time). When it is the highest tense/aspect marker in a sentence, it contributes its precedence relation to the domain of tense, resulting in the past tense relation (topic time precedes utterance time). On the proposed analysis, -ed thus makes the same semantic contribution to simple V-ed sentences and done V-ed sentences on all of their readings. One theoretically interesting result of this investigation is the finding that a semantically unambiguous operator may contribute sometimes to the interpretation of aspect and sometimes to the interpretation of tense.
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School:University of Massachusetts Amherst

School Location:USA - Massachusetts

Source Type:Master's Thesis

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Date of Publication:01/01/2004

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