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The variable (th) in Dallas African American Vernacular English

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The variable (th) in Dallas African American Vernacular English

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Title: The variable (th) in Dallas African American Vernacular English
Author: Vinton, Virginia C.
Abstract: It is well-known that African American Vernacular English (hereafter AAVE) displays regional variation. In the case of the (th) variable, Wolfram (1969) found that AAVE speakers in Detroit used the nonstandard variants [f], [t], and Ø. In New York City, Labov (1972a) observed the use of [t] and [t] as the nonstandard variants. In both of these studies conducted in the northern U.S. the variants used by speakers were stratified differently with regard to social factors. Given regional variation of this sort, we might well expect further interesting differences in southern cities of the U.S. The present study, conducted in early 1993, attempts to describe and explain sociolinguistic variation in AAVE in the area of Dallas, Texas. In particular, speakers’ use of the voiceless interdental fricative (th) was observed using Labov’s rapid and anonymous survey technique (Labov 1972b:43-50). Once these data were gathered and analyzed, a test of language attitudes was conducted to aid in interpreting the results. This paper consists of three parts. First, the sociolinguistic variable study of (th) is presented, followed by a description and analysis of the language attitude test, and finally conclusions are offered, based on findings from both parts of the investigation. The results of the study strongly support the Sociolinguistic Gender Pattern (Fasold 1990:92) which has been identified in other studies (Labov 1966; Levine and Crockett 1966; Milroy 1980; Cheshire 1982). In this pattern we find female speakers using more standard forms than male speakers. The second part of the hypothesis, that older speakers would use fewer nonstandard forms than younger speakers, was found to be true among women, but untrue for men. Third, it was found that middle class speakers of AAVE use fewer nonstandard forms than working class speakers, as predicted. Last, speakers were found to use more standard forms in careful speech. While these general trends of sex, class and style stratification are not new in themselves, the specific ranking of the variants involved differs from those of past studies of the (th) variable in AAVE. In Wolfram’s study of Detroit speech (Wolfram 1969), the same variables were observed to occur, but they were stratified differently. In particular, [f] was found to be the most frequently used nonstandard variant, while [t] and Ø occurred only in very limited contexts. The Ø variant, which was observed to occur very frequently in Dallas AAVE, was consistently the least frequently occurring variant for all social classes. In Labov’s (1966) study of AAVE in New York city, [t] was found to be the preferred nonstandard variant, while the Ø variant was not observed to occur at all. These findings suggest that southern AAVE may be different in other, as yet unsuspected ways, from that spoken in northern cities, and as such merits serious further study.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10106/1185
Date: 1994

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