Date: Mon, 21 Nov 1994 13:03:44 -0500


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...