Some of the most markedly different varieties of English in the world are found in the Caribbean. Understanding these features in Caribbean English creoles is not only relevant to charting universals of English and universals of language, but also to resolving one of the most heated controversies in the study of American dialects over the past half century: the origin of African American Vernacular English [AAVE], the most markedly different variety of English in the US. "Anglicists" on the one hand believe that virtually all of AAVE's features come from English dialect speakers whom African slaves encountered when they first came to North America; "creolists" on the other hand believe that AAVE's distinctive features come from creoles similar to those currently spoken in the Caribbean, in part because such creoles might have been brought to North America by slaves who were brought up from the Caribbean in the 17th-19th centuries, and in part because similar creoles might have developed independently but similarly in South Carolina and elsewhere. Quantitative analyses of relative pronoun absence, plural -s absence and question inversion will allow scholars to address the question of the origins of AAVE by comparing variation in these key features across different varieties.

Although quantitative analysis has been a major source of insights into the nature and origins of social dialect variation in the US over the past four decades, little or no quantitative analysis exists for key grammatical features in Caribbean English Creoles. The goal of this project is to provide quantitative analyses of three grammatical features (question formation, the absence of relative pronouns, and the absence of plural markers) in three Creole English varieties in the Caribbean (Jamaican, Barbadian and Guyanese), and also in two non-standard English varieties in the US, African American Vernacular English in California, and Appalachian English in Kentucky and West Virginia. The analyses will be based on data from recordings of natural speech in each region. The research team will then be able to compare the regularities observed in North American varieties of English to those that hold in Caribbean varieties.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Joan Maling
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Stanford University
Palo Alto
United States
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