Ethnoliguistic marking of past be in Lumbee Vernacular English

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Wolfram, Walt, and Jason Sellers. “Ethnoliguistic marking of past be in Lumbee Vernacular English.” Journal of English Linguistics 27.2 (June, 1999): 94-114.


Wolfram and Sellers demonstrate that, in Lumbee Vernacular English as well as among Anglo American and African American speakers in Robeson County, both was and were are forms of regularization of past tense be.  They propose that the was and were leveling serves as a “remorphologization of the allomorphs of past be” (p. 98).  They observe that Lumbee speakers make only marginal use of the won't variant; they “favor a fully retroflexed weren't regularization variant” (p. 101). 

To study the variable patterning of leveling in Lumbee Vernacular English, the authors gathered incidences of was/nt an were/n't from conversations with 31 Lumbee speakers aged 17-97.  The incidences were analyzed using the VARBRUL statistical program.  Results were compared with African American and Anglo American speakers in Robeson County.  Results include Lumbee speakers' “strong favoring for first-person subject in leveling to weren't” (p. 107) and disfavoring of leveling to weren't for the third-person singular pronoun.

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