Here is a list of 36 different language patterns that are associated with Southern varieties of English. This list is adapted from lists that have been published in Oetting and McDonald (2001) and Oetting and Pruitt (2005). Unless noted, all patterns are described in the literature as possible in African American English (AAE) and Southern White English (SWE); however, research on these forms has primarily focused on varieties of AAE.
Zero be: Instances where copula and auxiliary be contexts are zero-marked (e.g.,They in the car). Zero-marking of be is rare or infrequent in some contexts (e.g., with first person pronouns, in past tense contexts, clause final positions, and in contexts with emphatic stress). This pattern occurs in many vernacular dialects of English in and outside of the US (e.g., Ireland); however, rate of zero be differs in AAE and SWE.
Go copula: Instances where go is produced, but in Standard American English a copula be would be produced (e.g., There go a duck for There is a duck). This pattern has been reported in Northern varieties of AAE and has been documented in only our AAE samples that were elicited from speakers who lived in an urban area.
Be2: Instances where be is produced to signify an event or activity distributed intermittently over time or space, including auxiliary and copula contexts that refer to durative or habitual meaning (e.g., It be on the outside). Utterances with omitted will and other Standard American English uses of be (e.g., I'm going to be a dog) are not included. This pattern is thought to occur most frequently in AAE.
I'ma: Instances where i'ma is produced instead of Standard American English, I'm going to (e.g., I'ma go peek and see if my class gone out that way). This pattern is mentioned in discussions of reduced gonna forms and is thought to occur primarily in AAE.
Subject-verb agreement with BE forms: Instances where is or was is produced with second person or plural subjects. (e.g., When we is about to go to church).
Zero auxiliary do: Instances where auxiliary do is zero-marked but in Standard American English, its presence is obligatory. Many instances of this pattern within our data involve question inversion (e.g., How you get up here? and What you did?). Questions with an omitted do in the initial position of the utterance (e.g., You know what? and You got a baby?) are not counted. See discussion below about the coding of noninverted indirect requests/questions.
Zero auxiliary have: Instances where auxiliary have, has, and had is not produced but in Standard American English, its presence is obligatory (e.g., I only been there a few times). As demonstrated by the example, many of these utterances involve the verb been.
Zero regular third present: Instances where regular third person –s marking on the verb is zero-marked (e.g., But when she poo on herself I don't change her). Decisions as to whether the context is present or past tense is based on context.
Zero irregular third present: Instances where the subject of the verbs say,have, and do requires says, has and does in Standard American English but the child produces the unmarked form (e.g., She just do it herself). Utterances involving don't are not included since they are counted elsewhere. For the verb,say, all zero-marked forms are considered third present irregular. This decision is based on speakers' frequent use of historical present with the verbs say (e.g., So she says stop it). Within the sociolinguistic literature, a distinction between regular vs. irregular verb forms is not always made, although some like Myhill and Harris (1986) exclude the verb say in analyses of variable marking of third person because it is irregular, and they feel it is typically zero-marked.
Subject-verb agreement with Don't: Instances where the subject of the verb requires doesn't in Standard American English, but the child produces don't (e.g., And he don't go to school).
Zero regular past: Instances where unmarked verbs are produced but in Standard American English, simple past marking is obligatory (e.g., I dress them before).
Zero irregular past: Instances where an irregular verb is zero-marked for past tense (e.g., fall for fell), or a different past tense form is used instead of a Standard American English form (e.g., Course I brung him up real fast). In some cases, the different verb form is the participle (e.g. I seen it).
Preterite had + Ved: Instances where had + a past tensed verb is produced and the Standard American English gloss would be the simple past (e.g., One day I had went on the back of the levee to the beach). This pattern has been documented to occur primarily in narratives, and in our data, its use has been limited to our AAE samples (both rural and urban). Nevertheless, a number of people have told us that this pattern is produced in a variety of nonstandard dialects spoken in the Northeast.
Overregularization (also referred to as past tense regularization): Instances where regular past tense marking is used with an irregular verb form (e.g., She drinked it all).
Zero or alternative participles: Instances where past participles are either zero-marked (e.g., It got drop) or expressed with a simple past tense form and in Standard American English a participle form is required (e.g., But her whole head got broke).
Stressed BIN: Stressed BIN contexts describe an event that is thought to be on-going or the completive activity is in the remote past (e.g., Because I BIN having them for a bunch of times, and I BIN had shots). Been uses involving clear cases of zero-marked have are not included in this category but are included as instances of zero have (see above). BIN is thought to occur in AAE.
Ain't: Instances where ain't is used and in Standard American English, negative forms involving be, do, or have are obligatory (e.g., We ain't got none).
Multiple negation: Instances where negation is marked more than once in the utterance (e.g., Cause she don't want no people on the rocks). This pattern often occurs with don't and ain't.
Indefinite article: Instances where indefinite article a is used and the following context involves a vowel (e.g., It's a animal story). This pattern is thought to occur in AAE.
Zero present progressive: Instances where the present progressive –inginflection is zero-marked and in Standard American English, overt marking is obligatory (e.g., Yep I'm build one of those). In our data, this pattern is rare and decreases with age.
Zero plural: Instances where the regular plural inflection is zero-marked and in Standard American English, overt marking is obligatory (e.g., Six dollar and fifty-five). This pattern is thought to occur most frequently with nouns of weights and measures or with nouns preceded by quantification.
Zero possessive: Instances where the possessive inflection is zero-marked and in Standard American English, overt marking is obligatory (e.g., We'll probably need everybody plates).
Zero infinitival to: Instances where infinitival to is omitted. This pattern does not include zero to when it serves as a preposition (e.g., I wanted her bake some cookies with the sugar but not I went store).
For to/to: Instances where for to is produced and in Standard American English infinitive to is produced. We have found two instances of this pattern in our data (e.g., I mean for to take a walk and For to go to store and pay).
Zero of: Instances where the preposition of is omitted (e.g., I can't tell too much the story yet).
What for that or zero that: Instances where the relative pronoun what is produced (e.g., Anything what my momma brings) or the relative pronoun is omitted and it is obligatory in Standard American English (e.g., It's a girl got a skirt on; Then came a little boy had a net in his hand; and I got a baby brother came out of my mama stomach). Relative pronouns in the subject and object position are included in our counts even though absence of that occurs in some Standard American English object clauses.
Done + verb: Instances where done + verb indicates a completive action or event (e.g. He's looking for his cat but it done went down the garbage can).
Fixin, fitna and Alternative Modals: Instances where fixing and fitna are used as a main verb and followed by an infinitive (e.g., He is fixing to go off of the roof like that). We also include use of alternative modals such as might gotta (e.g., I might gotta take you somewhere) in this category because all of these patterns are infrequent in our data.
Alternative pronoun: Instances where a dialect-specific pronoun form is used instead of the Mainstream American English form (e.g., Me and him do it sometimes). As can be seen by the example, dialect-specific use of objective case can occur in conjoined noun phrases. Also included in this category are instances where nominative marking is used instead of genative (e.g., They cat), and instances where masculine forms are used instead of feminine (e.g., He do it). Both of these latter two (like some of the other patterns on this list) may be generated by phonological factors, but they are included because of their influence on surface morphology.
Reflexive: Instances where a different reflexive pronoun form is produced instead of a Standard American English form (e.g, My daddy once went by hisself because he didn't want to be worried about us).
Demonstrative: Instances where the objective pronoun form is produced instead of the demonstrative (e.g., He wrecked them back tires).
Dative: Instances where a personal dative is produced (e.g., I take me a shot).
Y'all varieties: Instances where a variant of ya'll is produced instead of a Standard American English pronoun (e.g., y'all take turns; allya'll take turns, ya'lls take turns).
Appositive: Instances where both a pronoun and noun is used to refer to the same person(s) or object (s) (e.g., But my friend, he have a gate). This pattern occurs in Standard American English but is thought to be more frequent in AAE and SWE varieties.
Existential it and they: Instances where it or they is used instead of there (e.g.,My dad grabs it with a paddle whenever it's only men).
Wh- noninversion: Instances where a Wh- question form begins the utterance or clause, but the auxiliary is not inverted (e.g., Why this one won't sit).
Below is a list of the 10 most frequently produced nonmainstream patterns of the Southern African American English and Southern White English dialects we have studied. In Oetting and McDonald (2002) and Oetting and Pruitt (2005), we showed that DDM values calculated with these 10 patterns are highly correlated (r > .85) to DDM values calculated with a wider range of patterns.
zero be - He walking to the store. zero regular third - He want to go with you. zero auxiliary do - Which one you want? S-V agreement with don't - He don't want to go. zero irregular past - He fall down already. multiple negation - I don't want no more. S-V agreement with be - They was going to do it. alternative pronoun - Me and him are going. zero regular past - Yesterday he jump. Appositive - My sister, she takes piano.
Another way to describe a speaker's use of a particular dialect is to quantify the speaker's use of salient linguistic patterns that are known to be produced by other speakers of that dialect. An index of a speaker's rate of these dialect patterns is also referred to as a speaker's density of nonmainstream American English (NMAE) forms. In the literature, there are at least three ways to calculate the density of a speaker's nonmainstream form use. These three ways are illustrated below. In Oetting & McDonald (2002) we showed that these three ways of calculating density metrics are highly correlated (r > .90). The first method is the fastest and one we recommmend for clinical practice. For research and when time is not limited, we often use the second method, because it leads to the greatest spread between our participants' density metrics. Nevertheless, with correlations of .90 or higher, all three methods lead to speaker ratings that are highly consistent with each other.
- Number of utterances with one or more pattern divided by the total number of utterances produced by the speaker.
- Number of patterns produced by the speaker divided by the total number of utterances produced by the speaker.
- Number of patterns produced by the speaker divided by the total number of word produced by the speaker.
Denstiy metrics reflect a speaker's use of nonmainstream forms within their dialect and not their use of their dialect. When speakers of a dialect produce utterances, every utterance they produce reflects their use of their dialect (unless they are code switching or changing their dialect to accomodate the listener).
One of the fastest ways to classify a person's dialect and density of nonmainstream form use is to use a listener judgment task. As illustrated in Oetting and McDonald (2002), our blind listener judgment task is constructed in the following way.
We randomly select a 1 to 3-minute excerpt from an audio taped sample of a person speaking (we typically use a 1-minute excerpt from conversational speech). We ask three graduate students who are familiar with the dialect of interest to independently listen to the excerpt. To facilitate their ratings, we ask them to consider four types of linguistic behaviors (vocabulary, grammar, phonology, and stress/intonation) and we give them a rating sheet with a 7-point Likert scale. Below is an example of a scale created for Cajun English. For dialect type, we may classify someone as a Cajun English speaker if two or more listeners rate the excerpt with a score of 2 or higher. For dialect density, we average the three listener ratings together.
1 = no use of Cajun English 3 = little use of Cajun English (present in less than 25% of utterances) 5 = occasional use of Cajun English (present in 25% to 40% of utterances) 7 = heavy use of Cajun English (present in 40% or more of utterances)
___1 ___2 ___3 ___4 ___5 ___6 ___7 ___No Use Heavy Use
If you are interested in using this type of rating scale, a copy of a full scale is listed in the appendix of Oetting & McDonald (2002).
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We are happy to share our experimental stimuli with other researchers. Please email Dr. Oetting if you are interested in this stimuli. Our newest stimuli is an animation of our past tense probe.