Dialect identity in a tri-ethnic context: the case of Lumbee American Indian English

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Wolfram, Walt, and Clare Dannenberg.  “Dialect identity in a tri-ethnic context: the case of Lumbee American Indian English.”   English World-Wide 20.2 (1999): 179-216.


Noting that most social dialectology research involves comparisons of an ethnic group to an external norm, the authors focus on “the unique case of a long standing, relatively insular tri-ethnic contact situation”- the Lumbee in Robeson County, North Carolina (p.180). They discuss origin theories for the tribe, ancestral Native American language families in Robeson County, when the Lumbee might have lost their ancestral language, where the English inhabitants of Robeson County might have come from, and how the Lumbee, throughout their history, have constructed and reconstructed their Native American identity. 

Based on tape recorded conversations with over 100 Lumbee speakers, aged 10 through 96 (conducted by the North Carolina Language and Life Project staff), the authors then give an overview of Lumbee Vernacular English, noting distinctive grammatical structures (in Table 1), past be leveling (in Table 2), finite bes, and copula absence (in Table 3). The phonological structure of Lumbee English is discussed (see Table 4), as is r vocalization (see Table 5). Lexical variations are discussed (and listed in Table 6).

The authors conclude that “various structures have been reconfigured structurally and functionally through selective accommodation and independent development” (p. 208) and that “there are quantitative differences that distinguish Lumbees from cohort African American and European American speakers in Robeson County” (p. 209).

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