Moving toward a diachronic and synchronic definition of Lumbee English

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Dannenberg, Clare Jacobs. “Moving toward a diachronic and synchronic definition of Lumbee English.” Thesis. North Carolina State University, 1996. 105 pages. Key source


Dannenberg begins her thesis by relating Lumbee English to the tribe's efforts to define their origins by researching the ancestral Native American languages to which they might be linked. She follows with discussions of the effects of European settlement on Lumbee English, and the dialect structures that serve to distinguish Lumbee English from other regional varieties of English.

Chapter Three focuses on the “common vernacular grammatical features found among the varieties of Lumbee Vernacular English (LVE)” and compares them to nearby Appalachian, southern lowland, African American, and Outer Banks dialects.  The features Dannenberg discusses form a profile of LVE;  some of them are unique to the Lumbee. The features described include:

  • A-prefixing (example: “...they was a-looking for their great granddaddy's graves”) - used in LVE in the same ways as described for Appalachian English; used more by older speakers; use is eroding across cohorts. (pp. 59-60)
  • Irregular preterit verbs;
  • Regularised past as participle (example: “I had showed it to them”) - still heavily used in LVE (pp. 62-63)
  • Regularised participle as past (example: “I never seen him in church”) - common in LVE (p. 63)
  • Different regular forms of verbs (example: “I worked for it, I'm a' going to pleasure it”) - p. 66
  • Finite Bes (example: “I hope it bes a little girl”) - perhaps a remnant from early English settlers (pp. 70-72)
  • Perfective I'm (example: “I'm went down there”) - a unique ethnic something in Lumbee vernacular English (pp. 72-75)
  • use of it for expletive there (example, in discussion of finding a job in Robeson County: “I don't know It's not work...”)

The author concludes that the majority of grammatical elements in Lumbee Vernacular English also appear in other dialects nearby (within and outside Robeson County) and that there are similarities between Lumbee vernacular English and Outer Banks, Appalachian, and African-American varieties. Table 7 on page 93 is an excellent list of grammatical structures found in Lumbee vernacular English which notes whether any are also found in Robeson County African American, Robeson County Euro American, Outer Banks, or Appalachian English.  Elements unique to Lumbee Vernacular English include perfective I'm, a rare use of bes, and an unusual use of the preposition for.

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