Center for the Study of Language and Society

Let’s talk about –s: the many faces of an English grammatical variable

Mittwoch, 07.11.2018, 12:15 Uhr


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Veranstaltende: Forum Language and Society
Redner, Rednerin: Dr. Laura Rupp, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Datum: 07.11.2018
Uhrzeit: 12:15 - 14:00 Uhr
Ort: F001
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Lerchenweg 36
3012 Bern
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In many varieties of English, the suffix –s is used in contexts other than third person singular. Below are some examples with a lexical verb, the past tense of be and existential there. This use (henceforth verbal –s) is not grammatical in Standard English.

(1)a. The children shouts all the time. (Belfast English; Henry 1995: 20)
(1)b. You was talking to Eric the other day. (English Fens)
(1)c. There’s some pork pieces left up there too. (New Zealand English; Britain & Sudbury 2002: 218)

If (so it appears) verbal –s is not used as a third person singular agreement marker, what is its function? Research on verbal –s (e.g. Godfrey & Tagliamonte 1999) has shown that it occurs in a range of different guises: (1) in the so-called Northern Subject Rule (NSR), differentiating NPs and pronouns, (2) as an aspectual marker, (3) a marker of habituality and (4) identity, and (5) a presentative marker. Tracing the historical trajectory of verbal –s with Holmqvist (1922) and Cole (2014), I will suggest that –s has undergone function shift (of the type of Lass’s 1990 Exaptation) because it has been losing its function as an agreement marker. Focussing on the specific use of the NSR, I will argue that the shift seems to have been of a discourse-pragmatic nature rather than grammatical, as it is commonly assumed (e.g. de Haas 2011).