Delineation and description in dialectology: the case of perfective I'm in Lumbee English

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Wolfram, Walt. “Delineation and description in dialectology: the case of perfective I'm in Lumbee English.” American Speech 71.1 (Spring 1996): 5-26.


Wolfram begins by observing that dialectology's stature within linguists in uncertain.  Some scholars view it as a subfield of linguistics; others, a subfield of a social science such as geography.  The differences in orientation between linguistics and dialectology become obvious when one compares linguistic description and dialect delineation. A dialect questionnaire used for the purpose of linguistic description would focus on a single structural frame in determining use of a variant. Dialectology strives to uncover a full range of examples of a variant so as to fully describe, document, and explain its use, including the cognitive and behavioral process underlying it development and use. 

The use of I'm among the Lumbees is presented as an illustration of this process in dialectology.  A characteristic form of the use of I'm corresponds roughly to standard I plus auxiliary have in constructions such as “I've been to the store.” (p. 8)  I'm as a perfective auxiliary usually occurs with the verb forms got and been (ex. “If I'm got a dollar I'm got it.”) (pp. 9,10).  Wolfran and his investigators gave structural elicitation and sentence conversion tasks to four Lumbee speakers, ages 35-80.  Their responses are shown in tables and numbered examples.  After these detailed examples of the linguistic contexts in which I'm occurs, Wolfran discusses the structural status of I'm and speculates on how it arose as a derivation.  He argues that “I'm is a prime candidate for a specific morphophonetic status vis-a-vis other present tense be forms.” (p. 23)

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