Date: Mon, 21 Nov 1994 16:43:43 CST


Subject: Re: Recent Black English

In Message Mon, 21 Nov 1994 13:03:44 -0500,


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).

Just one correction here: Did anybody mention Labov in the previous

discussion? My statement was in the plural about "influential outsiders" and

an invitation for those who have more experience with AAVE to articulate the

distinction in meaning for the rest of us. Neither did I speak of having it

"all wrong." The reply to Tim was that the student was partly correct; then I

proceded to make a distinction between repeated processes/states versus

basic habitual interpretation.

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.

My contrast was only between HE DON' TELL LIES (basic habitual) and HE

DON' BE TELLIN LIES (repeated processes). You may say they are both

habitual, but the second is a specific kind of habit focusing on the process

part of the activity. As I said, the difference is perhaps more subtle than

most of us outsiders to AAVE may be able to articulate well. In my

interactions with African Americans, I perceive a semantic distinction

between the two kinds of habitual reports.

(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),

... which I just corrected. I think you misunderstood me (some other

readers may have too); I intended to clarify the distinction between the two

kinds of habitual, which I do not think are interchangeable without changing


Salikoko S. Mufwene

University of Chicago

Dept. of Linguistics

1010 East 59th Street

Chicago, IL 60637


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