The Zero-Marked Verb
Testing the Creole Hypothesis
This paper examines the past temporal reference system in two data sets representing "early" Black English: Sarnana and the Ex-slave Recordings, with a view to discovering the structure underlying variable use of overt verbal morphology. Extrapolating from proposals in the literature on the behavior of past temporal reference structures in known creoles, as well as in black and white vernaculars, we propose and test an analytical model based on quantitative methodology and making use of the stepwise selection procedure incorporated in a variable rule analysis. Competing hypotheses were operationalized as factors in the analysis and systematically tested on the same data set. Perhaps the most striking result of our study is that no matter which way the data are configured, the same three factor effects obtain. These reflect general constraints on language use and language processing rather than specific creole phenomena, such as the patterning expected of a relative tense system sensitive to stativity and anteriority. These findings lead us to suggest not only that an English-like system of absolute tense marking, expressed by both marked and unmarked verbs, prevails in these materials, but also that the temporal organization of these materials is not consistent with what has been posited for creole languages.
Published online: 01 January 1993
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