This study examines use of rising, falling, and level boundary tones across question types in the Corpus of Regional African American Language. Data were taken from interviews with 87 speakers in Washington, D.C.: 53 in the DCA component, conducted in 1968–69, and 34 in the DCB component, conducted in 2015–17. Results of multiple mixed-effects regression models indicate substantial variation within speakers in the use of question tones, as well as possible change over time. In general, speakers in the DCA component demonstrate more variation in the use of falling, level, and rising tones across three question types (i.e., yes–no, discourse, and open-ended [wh-] questions) than speakers in the DCB component. In DCB, speakers appear to use mostly rising and falling tones across the three question types, with few instances of level tones, suggesting a possible change over time and potential convergence toward Mainstream U.S. English (MUSE) norms in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Additionally, data from both DCA and DCB showed intracomponent variation not necessarily conditioned by demographic factors, also supporting previous hypotheses that AAL may have a system with a freer expression of question boundaries than that of MUSE.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.