This study investigates how American English speakers from within and outside the Appalachian region interpret negative auxiliary inversion (NAI). Previously observed in Appalachian and other English varieties, NAI has surface syntax similar to yes-no questions but receives a declarative interpretation (e.g., Didn’t everybody watch Superbowl 53, meaning ‘not everybody watched’). Previous work shows that NAI is associated with a reading in which some but not all people participated in an event, as opposed to one in which no one participated. Results from an interpretation task revealed that Appalachian participants tended to obtain the ‘not all’ and not the ‘no one’ reading for NAI. In contrast, non-Appalachian participants’ interpretations exhibited greater inter- and intraspeaker variability. Appalachian participants with more ‘not all’ interpretations reported positive attitudes toward NAI use, and they also distinguished between attested and unattested syntactic subject types (e.g., everybody, many people, *few people) in a naturalness rating task. Appalachian participants with more ‘no one’ interpretations had more negative attitudes toward NAI use and made no distinction between subject types. These results highlight how individuals from Appalachia interpret NAI differently than individuals from outside the region and suggest that language attitudes may impact semantic interpretation within a nonmainstream speaker group.

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