Life after degrammaticalisation

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The present paper challenges the notion that grammaticalisation is opposed to lexicalisation, and that degrammaticalisation automatically entails lexicalisation. An equally plausible change of status of a former grammatical formative is for it to turn into a sociolinguistic marker. This point is made on the basis of the degrammaticalisation of present plural <i>be</i> in Standard English, and its subsequent reemergence as a sociolinguistic variable. Basilectal <i>be</i> was transmitted via the speech of transported London prisoners, among others, to the New World where it is now a prominent feature of African American Vernacular English. The data for this survey are taken from the Bridewell Court Minute Books, 1559&#8211;1625. The language therein provides evidence of the speech-community from which many of the earliest Virginia indentured servants originally came.


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