Tense, Mood, and Aspect in AAE

Lisa Green – University of Massachusetts
Course time: Monday/Wednesday 9:00-10:50 am
2325 Mason Hall

See Course Description

Tense and aspectual properties in AAE are at the top of the list of descriptions—especially those from Creolist and Africanist perspectives—that are intended to highlight the ways in which the linguistic variety differs from other varieties of English. On the other hand, modality in AAE is not commonly addressed in the literature. This course will examine syntactic/semantic and morphological properties of tense, modality, and aspect (TMA) in AAE. Questions have been raised about the interpretation and syntactic representation of tense, especially given weak morphology and the fact that overt tense markers may not be expressed in AAE. This course will present a general overview of tense marking and the ways in which time-related meaning is computed in AAE.

The second part of the course considers grammaticalized markers in AAE that combine with predicates and other markers to indicate information about the way an event is carried out. Questions about properties of tense marking within aspectual sequences in AAE have not received much attention perhaps because so much emphasis has been placed on grammaticalized aspect markers, with the view that AAE is aspect prominent. For instance, some aspectual sequences can take a present or past perspective while still others are limited to present contexts. We will analyze empirical data from different sources in investigating the TMA system in AAE. This section of the course will also consider the types of subtle distinctions that are made in the AAE tense/aspect system. For instance, when overt or covert present tense auxiliary BE (i.e. is) combines with V(erb)-ing, the result is an in-progress reading, as in the following:

1) Sue IS running.

2) Sue running.

     In-Progress Reading:

     Sue’s running is already in progress.

However, when aspectual be combines with V(erb)-ing, the result is an in-progress or inception reading, as in the following:

3) Sue be running when the Mardi Gras characters pass by.

     In-Progress Reading 1: Sue’s running is generally already in progress when the Mardi Gras characters pass by.

     Inception Reading 2: Sue generally begins to run when the Mardi Gras characters pass by.

In addition to considering verbs types (e.g., state and activity) and their lexical properties, we will also examine the role of morphological endings, such as –ing and –ed, in aspectual sequences. Finally, this course will investigate modality in light of modal auxiliaries as well as mood markers in AAE.

We will extend the study of TMA in AAE to practical contexts by considering questions such as the following:

1) How is the TMA system acquired, and how is it reflected in child AAE?

2) How is TMA marking reflected in the discourse structure of ex-slave narratives?

3) To what extent is TMA marking variable in AAE?

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lsa2013@umich.edu