In what contexts can the zero copula occur in African-American Vernacular English? What rules govern its use—for example, what makes
she runnin' more likely to be acceptable than
?she a runner?
Some of what I know:
- Some (I think Labov, notably) have proposed that copula absence in AAVE occurs where SAE would allow contraction, but there are counterexamples (
*"How old you think his baby ’s",
How old you think his baby is,
how old you think his baby), so this does not fully explain the context
- As with copula absence in other languages like Russian, AAVE zero copula depends on tense (copula absence usually occurs in present tense:
*she home yesterday,
she home today)
I've read that copula absence is much more common if a VP follows than a NP (perhaps Labov, again); a paper on AAVE origins mentions this, that zero copula is:
most frequent with a gon(na) future or a progressive (she Ø gon tell him; she Ø walking), least frequent before a noun phrase (he Ø a man)...
The general pattern for AAVE is given in (1), with predicate types listed according to increasing rates of copula absence:
(1) NP < Loc < Adj < V-ing < gonna
Copula absence may not occur for habitual actions because habitual be, replacement of is with be, may occur. Habitual be is used for things that are ongoing or usual as opposed to a moment in the present (
Cookie Monster be eating cookies, even if he isn't at this moment).
Are there other predictions we can make about when copula absence can occur in AAVE? Does any cross-linguistic approach to copula constructions provide clues?