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Barrier constraints on negative concord in African-American English

D'Jaris Renee Coles, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Negative sentences with two negatives are subject to locality conditions that prohibit negative concord interpretations in some cases. This phenomenon appears to be universal, whether negative concord is a part of the grammar with (+NEG) lexical feature overtly manifested phonetically as a copied (+NEG) element in African American English or whether it is a part of the default grammar with (+NEG) lexical feature marking or "negativizing" the indefinite as in Standard American English. The children in this study were presented with short stories followed by questions where the negative indefinite NO was hypothesized to have two possible sites of interpretation. One option is inside a VP PP adjunct where negative concord (NEG$\rm\sb{con}$) interpretations are expected and the other option is outside the VP in a noun complement clause or PP argument where true negative (NEG$\rm\sb{true}$) interpretations are expected. Other stories were also presented followed by questions where n-words (a term used here to avoid making a claim yet whether the words in question are negative polarity items or negative quantifiers) were expected to be interpreted as negatives. A cross-sectional study with 61 AAE and SAE children aged 5.2 to 7.11 and a smaller single language observational study with 5 younger AAE children aged 4.5 to 4.10 found that children 5 to 7 years of age clearly interpreted n-words as negatives and differentiated them from polarity NO in nonconcord environments. Two-thirds of the majority of the children differentiated the two possible structural environments for negative indefinite NO, and refused to extract it from inside a PP argument but allowed concord inside a VP PP adjunct. This confirms other findings that children's early grammars are sensitive to universal constraints on movement (deVilliers & Roeper, 1995). However, the remaining one-third of children allowed NEG$\rm\sb{con}$ in these more subtler barrier cases. Does this mean that some children 5 to 7 years of age do not understand barriers? If so, how are barriers considered a phenomenon of UG? Explanations for these findings are framed in terms of children's knowledge about negative concord and locality conditions on movement.

Subject Area

Linguistics|Black studies|African American Studies

Recommended Citation

Coles, D'Jaris Renee, "Barrier constraints on negative concord in African-American English" (1998). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9841855.