Christina Tortora

City University of New York
Talk Title: 
Infinitival perfects with and without [ə(v)] in Appalachian English
Event Type: 
Brown Bag Talk
Spring 2018
Wednesday, February 21, 2018, 1:00 pm - 2:30 pm
Seminar room

In this talk I discuss a number of empirical and theoretical questions revolving around a phenomenon observed in the Audio-Aligned and Parsed Corpus of Appalachian English (AAPCAppE), namely, the variable appearance of the form [ə(v)] in infinitival perfects embedded under modals (1) and infinitival to (2):

Infinitival perfect embedded under modal:

(1)        a. You could heared a pin drop.

            b. You could [əv] heared a pin drop.


(2)        a. She had to been up in her sixties.

            b. If we had candles, we had to [əv] made them.

Our study reveals unexpected quantitative differences between perfects embedded under modals (1) vs. to-perfects (2), and qualitative differences between to-perfects with and without [ə(v)] (typically spelled have / ’ve in formal writing, or of / a in informal writing). This suggests that infinitival perfects are not structurally or semantically homogeneous, at least in some Englishes. I explore the possibility that to-perfects without [ə(v)] in Appalachian English grammatically encode a kind of Sequence of Tense, providing evidence for the natural continuity of a grammatical phenomenon found in earlier Englishes but which had a history of rigorous proscription in formal Englishes starting in the 18th century.

My aim is to show that a corpus of vernacular speech such as the AAPCAppE can serve as a rich resource, in terms of (i) the opportunity to search over syntactic structures of a particular type; (ii) the opportunity to check the speech signal against the transcription, to ensure accuracy; (iii) the speech signal’s ability to provide relevant phonological features not necessarily readily available with purely orthographic transcription; and (iv) the opportunity to study aspects of natural language that are not detected in more formal and standardized versions of linguistic behavior. At the same time, I aim to show that research on a little-studied and infrequent structure requires very careful attention to the larger grammatical system within which the object of inquiry is embedded, and that the AAPCAppE exhibits enough cases of structural ambiguity in this regard to raise the difficult but important question of “what to count.”