Tense and Aspectual be in Child African American English

  • Janice E. Jackson
  • Lisa Green
Part of the Studies in Theoretical Psycholinguistics book series (SITP, volume 32)


Adolescent and adult African American English (AAE) is characterized by well-defined tense and aspect patterns; however, the stages of development in which child AAE speakers acquire these patterns have not been identified. For instance, aspectual f be functions as a habitual marker in adolescent and adult AAE, but the extent to which child AAE speakers use it in this way has not been explained. This paper presents an overview of properties of aspectual be and describes the way the marker is distinguished from the copula and auxiliary be along syntactic and semantic lines. For example, the copula and auxiliary be occur in C° in questions and license V’-ellipsis, but aspectual be does not. In addition, verbs naming states do not generally occur in the progressive (with auxiliary y be), but state verbs in their -ing form can occur with aspectual be. In this account, predicates in aspectual be constructions are argued to take an eventuality argument. Data from comprehension and production experiments show that child AAE speakers distinguish auxiliary be and aspectual be semantically and syntactically. For instance, children as young as 4 years respond to auxiliary be and aspectual be scenarios as if they depict different types of activity, recognizing that aspectual be refers to habitual situations. In addition, AAE speaking children distinguish auxiliary be and aspectual be by using appropriate negation strategies for each form. The ability to negate aspectual be constructions appropriately using do insertion increases with age.


Acquisition African American English Aspect Semantics Syntax Tense 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Janice E. Jackson
    • 1
  • Lisa Green
    • 2
  1. 1.Communication Sciences & DiscordersUniversity of South CarolinaColumbia
  2. 2.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of TexasAustin

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