This paper carefully describes African American relative clauses and the range of structures that favor zero subject relatives. Several scholars have suggested that existential sentences and predicate nominatives are not relative clauses. Given the prevalence of existential sentences and predicate nominatives in numerous studies, whether zero subject relatives exist in African American English is questionable. However, this paper avoids the debate to determine whether existential or predicate nominatives involve relativization. Instead, this article looks at other constructions that correlate with zero subject relative in AAE, namely resumption. A thorough examination reveals that relative clauses with these constructions align with typical relative clauses with overt relativizers. The syntax of African American English must compensate for the absence of the relativizer, and it uses two strategies to do so; the first is (1) resumption, and the second is (2) intonation. When zero subject relatives appear bare, relying only on intonation, where rising intonation marks the end of the relative clause and the left edge of the main clause, there is potential for ambiguity. Last, this manuscript shows that the syntax utilizes resumption to avoid parsing errors and resolve structural ambiguities that could potentially result in garden-path sentences.
Zero Relative in African American English: The role of resumption and left dislocation
Walter Sistrunk is a Professor of ESL and Linguistics at the LaGuardia Community College City University of New York. He holds an M.A. in linguistics and a Ph.D. in African American and African Studies from Michigan State University. His research interests are syntax, syntactic variation, language contact, and language acquisition. Currently, his search investigates zero subject relatives and their correlation with the other phenomena in African American English, such as syntactic island constraints and X-trace effects. In the area of language and culture, Walter’s interests are in hip hop and linguistics, raciolinguistic, and social justice.
Walter Sistrunk; Zero Relative in African American English: The role of resumption and left dislocation. American Speech 2022; doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00031283-10104926
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