Contrastive Focus on the Null Copula in African American English

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2018
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Tri-College (Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore Colleges). Department of Linguistics
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Thesis
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eng
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Open Access
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Abstract
In this thesis, I investigate the distribution of the null copula in African American English (AAE). Unlike previous accounts that have viewed the null copula as a purely phonological or syntactic phenomenon, I explore how semantic focus affects the acceptability of null copula sentences. I consider two broad categories of focus, presentational and contrastive, whose categorization has been argued for in Kiss (1998), Krifka (2008), and Gussenhoven (2007). There is a brief discussion of cross-linguistic data regarding the impact of focus on null copulas, as well as the unique impact of contrastive focus on syntactic structures, cross-linguistically. The core data presented in this thesis was collected through experimental research. It suggests that contrastive focus improves the acceptability of null copula sentences in AAE, while presentational focus showed no conclusive results on the acceptability of such sentences. Based on these results, I encourage more research be done on the relationship between focus and null copulas, and on the similarities and differences between contrastive and presentational focus cross-linguistically.
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