Inherent variability and coexistent systems

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The robust linguistic variation observed on the island of Bequia (St. Vincent and the Grenadines) raises the question of whether there is a single variable linguistic system or multiple systems. We examine the distribution and conditioning of variable negation (<i>na, ain&#8217;t</i> or <i>not/-n&#8217;t</i>) in three communities distinguished by ethnicity and socioeconomic history using variable rule analysis. The variant <i>na</i> is restricted to one community and is conditioned by co-occurrence constraints, while <i>ain&#8217;t</i> is conditioned by auxiliary context and temporal reference, which serve to distinguish between communities. Thus, although there is variation between communities and speakers, there is also evidence for overlapping but discrete and coexistent systems. These results underline the importance of examining the distribution and conditioning of all features implicated in the linguistic system.


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