Innovation in pre-World War II AAVE?
This article tests the “divergence hypothesis”, which holds that in the 20th century African American Vernacular English (AAVE) underwent significant structural changes and consequently diverged from white varieties. To this end five “innovative” features of AAVE are scrutinized in BLUR, an electronic corpus of blues lyrics recorded in the first half of the 20th century: habitual be + V-ing, resultative be done, semi-auxiliary come, intensifying steady and counterfactual call oneself. Evidence from BLUR suggests that these features already were part of AAVE grammar in the (late) 19th century. Thus they started to be restructured earlier than the divergence hypothesis suggests. A close look at the semantics of these features also reveals two core meanings: “habituality” (be) and “emotional intensity” (V-ing).