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On the articulation of aspectual meaning in African -American English

Jules Michael Eugene Terry, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation investigates the articulation of aspect in African-American English (AAE). Its primary goal is the development of a formal semantics of AAE simple V-ed sentences that explains their compositional interpretation and relationship to done V-ed sentences. Building largely on the valuable works of Green (1993; 1998), Déchaine (1993), Dayton (1996), the work herein supports the conclusions that AAE simple V-ed sentences such as The frog done jumped are ambiguous, having both past perfective and present perfect readings, and that AAE done V-ed sentences such as The frog done jumped are unambiguously present perfect. Further, it identifies a distinction in meaning between AAE simple V-ed perfects and done V-ed perfects. This distinction makes untenable analyses of the simple V-ed ambiguity in which a silent done is responsible for contributing perfect aspect to the present perfect versions of these sentences. Instead, this work traces the ambiguity to the presence of a covert present tense operator found in the present perfect (but not past perfective) versions of simple V-ed sentences, and the interaction of this operator with the -ed morpheme. In the proposed analysis, single AAE -ed morpheme unambiguously denotes a temporal relation of precedence, contrasting with the two distinct Standard American English (SAE) morphemes often notated as -ed and -en and often argued to denote past and perfect respectively. When it interacts with a covert present tense operator, AAE -ed contributes its precedence relation to the domain of aspect, resulting in the perfect aspect relation (situation time precedes topic time). When it is the highest tense/aspect marker in a sentence, it contributes its precedence relation to the domain of tense, resulting in the past tense relation (topic time precedes utterance time). On the proposed analysis, -ed thus makes the same semantic contribution to simple V-ed sentences and done V-ed sentences on all of their readings. One theoretically interesting result of this investigation is the finding that a semantically unambiguous operator may contribute sometimes to the interpretation of aspect and sometimes to the interpretation of tense.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Terry, Jules Michael Eugene, "On the articulation of aspectual meaning in African -American English" (2004). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3136782.