Date: Mon, 21 Nov 1994 13:03:44 -0500
From: PPATRICK[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]GUVAX.BITNET
Subject: Re: Recent Black English
Sure, it's entirely possible that "HazVbitual BE" in AAVE doesn't mean
Habitual anymore. But nobody's addressed the question that raises in
my mind: what DOES it mean for Frazer's and other students? I think
speculating on diachronic change or Labov's having gotten it
influentially all wrong is silly until someone gives an example and
says what it's supposed to mean (though both could possibly be true).
Also, what exactly does Habitual mean here? I buy Sali's
distinction in meaning between "He (ain't) lyin" and "He (don't) be
lyin", (though using negative examples needlessly is always asking for
trouble), but on my understanding they're both Habitual. (Also I hear
both things on the street in DC with what seem to me the usual
readings-- so far as an eavesdropper can tell!)
I usually explain Habitual to students as involving two
things: 1) repeated action (as in Sali's interpretation of the BE
construction, which I gather he doesn't think IS habitual), and 2)
lack of specificity. IE the speaker must be referring to something
that happens more than once, and not referring to any particular case
of it, if she is using a Habitual. Is that what others think it means?
There's also the question of what is the norm from the speaker's point
of view: the habitual is characteristic. This can be true even if it
refers to something that isn't statistically the majority, as Sali's
case ("I 0 stay with my sister, but I BE at my mother's most of the
time") brings up.
Be interested to hear more on this...