African-American English in "Middletown" : a syntactic and phonological study with time-depth data to test the linguistic convergence and divergence hypothesis

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Huang, Xiaozhao
Davis, Lawrence M.
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Thesis (Ph. D.)
Department of English
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Recent discussions on African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) have focused on the linguistic divergence and convergence hypotheses. Some linguists (Ash and Myhill 1986; Bailey and Maynor 1987, 1989; Graff, Labov, and Harris 1986; Labov 1983, 1987; Labov and Harris 1986; Luthin 1987; Myhill and Harris 1986; Thomas 1989) claim that AAVE is diverging from White Vernacular English (WVE) on a national level. However, other linguists (Butters 1987, 1988, 1989; Vaughn-Cooke 1986, 1987; Wolfram 1987) have challenged the divergence hypothesis, and have argued that AAVE is actually converging with WVE. They point out that the data in most of the studies supporting the divergence hypothesis were incomparable and manifested age-grading. In addition, these studies investigated only a few linguistic features. Most importantly, most of these studies lack the time-depth data which are essential to investigate language change.This study analyzed the time-depth data of speech samples from thirty-two African-American subjects, sixteen from 1980 and sixteen from 1993, in Muncie, Indiana. The subjects were both males and females, equally divided into young adult and elderly speakers. The analysis of the study focused on twenty-three syntactic and five phonological features.The results from the study have found no innovative features, either syntactic or phonological, in the speech of Muncie AAVE subjects. More importantly, the findings of the study, based on the time-depth data, have shown that Muncie AAVE was not divergent with WVE, but convergent with it, at least from 1980 to 1993. Thus, the findings of the study do not support the divergence hypothesis.