HomeEvents CalendarDevelopment and Variation in African American English

Development and Variation in African American English

4:00 pm, Thursday, March 12, 2015
254 Van Hise Hall, 1220 Linden Drive
Speaker and Affiliation: 

Lisa Green, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Much of the research on adult African American English (AAE) has focused on the inherent variability of the linguistic system, and questions have been raised about the extent to which developing AAE-speaking children show signs of variation in the production of markers, such as the copula, that mirror the quantitative and statistical production reported for adult speakers (e.g., Labov 1969, 1972; Stokes 1976; Rickford 1998; Poplack 2000; Kovac and Anderson 1981; Wyatt 1996). AAE exhibits syntactic and morphosyntactic variability, and it exhibits a significant amount of invariability, so it is an excellent case study for inspection of properties that account for where variation occurs and does not occur. Research in this presentation builds on early studies of variation in AAE and applies mechanisms in current syntactic theory to empirical data to give an account of where variation occurs and how it is reflected in acquisition. In this presentation, I consider the role of variation in language development and the types of predictions that can be made about variation in tense and aspect, negation, and agreement structures in child AAE and the acquisition path. This work has implications for claims about the locus of variation and the acquisition of variable forms.

About the Speaker: Lisa Green is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her research and teaching interests include syntax, syntactic variation, child language acquisition and development of African American English, and linguistics and education. She is the author of African American English: A Linguistic Introduction (Cambridge University Press, 2002) and journal articles and book chapters on syntax and semantics of African American English (e.g., tense and aspect, negation, left periphery phenomena). Her work also addresses the practical applications of linguistic description of African American English in educational contexts. Green's research on the development of language patterns in the speech of three-, four- and five-year-olds in African American speech communities, which was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, is reported in her book Language and the African American Child, published by Cambridge University Press (2011). Green is also the founding director of the Center for the Study of African American Language at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Its goal is to foster and integrate research on language in the African American community and applications of that research in educational, social, and cultural realms. The Center will serve as a resource for communities across the country, with a commitment to furnishing information and training to educators who address language- and dialect-related issues.

Before moving to the University of Massachusetts, Green taught in the linguistics program in the Department of English at Binghamton University (1994-1995), and she was also a member of the faculty in the Department of Linguistics at The University of Texas at Austin (1995-2006). She was an Old Dominion Fellow in the Linguistics Program at Princeton University in Fall 2009. Green holds a Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, an MA in English from the University of Kentucky, and a BS in English Education from Grambling State University.  She also completed postdoctoral fellowships at Temple University and Stanford University.


Dianna Murphy, 608-262-1473


Language Institute, Department of Afro-American Studies, and Multicultural Student Center.