Patricia Cukor-Avila

University of North Texas


Language Contact and the Acquisition of AAVE: A Case Study of Sociolectal Adjustment

Apparent time studies have provided the majority of data used in documenting linguistic change (cf. Labov 1963, 1966; Labov et. al 1968; Wolfram 1969; Rickford 1992). Research by Bailey et al. (1991) validates the assumption of the apparent time construct that speakers’ vernaculars remain relatively stable throughout their lifetimes; however, as Bailey (2002) suggests, we cannot assume that the vernaculars of adolescents will remain stable as they progress into adulthood. Bailey shows that the use of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) features by two Springville adolescents increases dramatically over a period of eight years as they identify more with urban norms and less with the rural norms of their childhood. The longitudinal data from these adolescents show that their vernaculars begin to stabilize once they become young adults. However, other studies have suggested a similar kind of instability in the vernaculars of young adults as well, with changes occurring due to pressures from the linguistic marketplace (Sankoff and Sankoff 1973; Sankoff and Laberge 1978; Sankoff et al. 1989). These sociolectal adjustments (Chambers (1995, 2003) are typically caused by market pressures toward a more standardized variety of speech.

The present study investigates sociolectal adjustment of a different kind - the acquisition of AAVE grammatical features by a young Mexican American woman (b. 1974) from the community of Springville, Texas. Recordings from her over an seven-year period from 1995-2002 show a steady increase in the use of zero copula, verbal -s absence, and had+past for simple past in her speech. When she was first recorded in 1995 at the age of twenty-one, none of these features were present in her speech, but as her peer group changes during this period she adopts the norms of the young Springville African American speech community. The discussion of the data also includes an examination of the frequency of the features mentioned above and the constraints on their use to determine if her use of AAVE patterns similarly to that of young Springville residents.