zero copula


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zero copula

n.
The absence of an overt copula, especially when meaning "is" or "are."
Our Living Language A widely known feature of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and some varieties of Southern American English spoken by working-class white people is the absence of a form of be in situations where Standard English would normally require one. In these varieties of English, one can say He working, where Standard English has He is working, meaning "He is working right now." Linguists frequently describe this zero usage as zero copula, although strictly speaking the term zero copula should be used for missing inflected forms of be before nouns, adjectives, and constructions indicating place or time (as in She the leader, John nice, and He at home), and we should use the term zero auxiliary for progressive verb forms that have no form of be (as in He working) and when a form of be is missing before going to or gon(na) (as in He gon do it). The use of zero copula and zero auxiliary is perhaps even more characteristic of AAVE than is invariant habitual be. For some AAVE speakers, zero copula occurs 80 to 90 percent of the time where Standard English requires is or are. No other varieties of American English use zero copula as often. · As with all dialectal features, zero copula use is more systematic than it might at first appear. As the examples above indicate, only present tense inflected forms of be can be deleted (was and were cannot be deleted), and even among present forms, only is and are are deleted; am is frequently contracted but never deleted. Invariant or non-finite forms, such as be in You have to be good can't be deleted, nor can forms that come at the end of a clause (That's what he is). In the late 1960s, linguist William Labov summarized most of these generalizations by stating that wherever Standard English can contract is or are, AAVE can delete it. (Note that Standard English does not tolerate contractions in sentences such as That's what he's.) Equally systematic are the quantitative regularities of the zero copula. Throughout the United States, zero copula is less frequent when followed by a noun (He a man) than when followed by an adjective (He happy). It is most frequent when followed by progressives and gon(na), as exemplified above. · This pattern of be-deletion is also found in Gullah and Caribbean Creole varieties of English. Since zero copula is not a feature of the British dialects of English that colonial settlers brought to the United States, it is one of the strongest indicators that the development of AAVE may have been influenced by Caribbean English creoles or that AAVE itself may have evolved from an American Creole-like ancestor. See Note at be
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ul'n-it' vijev be-PST1.2SG strong (you) were strong', and the "zero copula", e.g.
These conventions and many others found in AAVE--including zero copula, which is shown when one says, "She at home," rather than "She is at home"--have their roots in Caribbean creoles (stable languages that are a mashup of earlier tongues), in which habitual verbs and omission of "to be" are common.
For example, as Guirardello-Damian (this issue) shows, Trumai, a Brazilian language, is a Type Ia single verb language that uses a general copula with the option of a zero copula in its BLC.
One of the consultants mentioned that two other constructions can also be used: one with a copula, one with zero copula, such as the examples below:
The three locative constructions attested in the elicited data (i.e., positional verb; copula; zero copula) are also frequently observed in natural uses of the language.
The conclusion is that the zero-copula construction is not a special type, but rather a subtype of the copular construction, which has a broader distribution (the copular construction occurs with all persons, while the zero copula is restricted to 3rd person NPs).
As a final remark, it should be pointed out that while the copular construction is sensitive to the occurrence of the morpheme yi in the NP that refers to the Figure (if yi, then zero copula), the positional-verb construction is not; i.e., a positional verb can occur with a NP that has the morpheme yi, as we can see in example (19) above.
In my corpus of the Trumai language, there are numerous spontaneous examples of positional verbs in locative and existential clauses with Figures that have a permanent location (examples [58] and [59] come from texts); in contrast, the number of instances with the copular construction (or with its variant, the zero copula) is very small.
The 'be' verb can be a locative copula (including zero copula), or a stative verb (be at, sit, stay, etc., cf.
The 'be' element is normally a copula (including zero copula) or a posture verb.
These resources include a null or expletive subject, actual or zero copula.(13) and perhaps a subordinating conjunction.