Browsing by Author "Ahava, Simo"

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  • Ahava, Simo (Helsingfors universitet, 2010)
    In this paper, I look into a grammatical phenomenon found among speakers of the Cambridgeshire dialect of English. According to my hypothesis, the phenomenon is a new entry into the past BE verb paradigm in the English language. In my paper, I claim that the structure I have found complements the existing two verb forms, was and were, with a third verb form that I have labelled ‘intermediate past BE’. The paper is divided into two parts. In the first section, I introduce the theoretical ground for the study of variation, which is founded on empiricist principles. In variationist linguistics, the main claim is that heterogeneous language use is structured and ordered. In the last 50 years of history in modern linguistics, this claim is controversial. In the 1960s, the generativist movement spearheaded by Noam Chomsky diverted attention away from grammatical theories that are based on empirical observations. The generativists steered away from language diversity, variation and change in favour of generalisations, abstractions and universalist claims. The theoretical part of my paper goes through the main points of the variationist agenda and concludes that abandoning the concept of language variation in linguistics is harmful for both theory and methodology. In the method part of the paper, I present the Helsinki Archive of Regional English Speech (HARES) corpus. It is an audio archive that contains interviews conducted in England in the 1970s and 1980s. The interviews were done in accordance to methods used generally in traditional dialectology. The informants are mostly elderly male people who have lived in the same region throughout their lives and who have left school at an early age. The interviews are actually conversations: the interviewer allowed the informant to pick the topic of conversation to induce a maximally relaxed and comfortable atmosphere and thus allow the most natural dialect variant to emerge in the informant’s speech. In the paper, the corpus chapter introduces some of the transcription and annotation problems associated with spoken language corpora (especially those containing dialectal speech). Questions surrounding the concept of variation are present in this part of the paper too, as especially transcription work is troubled by the fundamental problem of having to describe the fluctuations of everyday speech in text. In the empirical section of the paper, I use HARES to analyse the speech of four informants, with special focus on the emergence of the intermediate past BE variant. My observations and the subsequent analysis permit me to claim that my hypothesis seems to hold. The intermediate variant occupies almost all contexts where one would expect was or were in the informants’ speech. This means that the new variant is integrated into the speakers’ grammars and exemplifies the kind of variation that is at the heart of this paper.