Date: Fri, 9 Dec 1994 09:54:50 CST


Subject: Re: The ADS crystal ball

By now it seems more

and more obvious that the cluster of varieties called American English have

resulted from language contact. While there have been several isolated

replies to the scholarship on the genesis of AAVE, replies which typically

claim the British origin of several features, I am surprised that no

serious attempt has been made to account for the transmission of these

features and their reorganization (not necessarily with features from the

same dialectal source in the British Isles) into American English.

I thank Bill Kretzschmar and Tim Frazer for responding to my suggestion.

I should clarify that I used "language contact" in a broad sense covering

contact of dialects from the British Isles themselves. Imagine what must

have happened when speakers from different parts of the Isles and speaking

different regional varieties found themselves on the same location and

interacted with each other on a regular basis. I realize it is a big mess to

approach (just one of the components of accounting for feature selection in

creole genesis!) but it would help to consider ways of facing a more

satisfactory account of the development(s) of American English. In one recent

authoritative reference of 1991 (which I'd better not identify, in respect

to my distinguished colleague!) the explanation given was a traditional one:

Americans have not participated in the changes that have taken place in the

United Kingdom. This would account for things if, among other things, the

British Isles then, today the United Kingdom, were linguistically

(understand 'dialectally') homogeneous (with no regional nor social

variation) and/or if people from the same background just came and resettled

together in North America. We know this AIN'T so. The presence of people

from other polities in Europe and elsewhere just made the picture more

complex, even in treating Gullah and AAVE as separate phenomena (should

we?). I thought initiating a discussion on the subject matter, perhaps

going through the same kinds of polemics as on creole genesis, might help

us come up with a less illusive conception of the genetic problem and think

of the right research agenda to address it.


Salikoko S. Mufwene

University of Chicago

Dept. of Linguistics

1010 East 59th Street

Chicago, IL 60637


312-702-8531; fax: 312-702-9861