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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Sociolinguistic Variation in Smith Island English: Existential It
by Setliff, Rebecca J., Ph.D., Georgetown University, 2010, 142; 3432260
Abstract (Summary)

Smith Island, located 11 miles off the Eastern Shore of Maryland in the Chesapeake Bay, just north of the Maryland-Virginia boundary, is a geographically isolated community. Speakers of Smith Island English use existential it to replace existential there, a feature that has been documented in other dialects but not as an indicator of language change. This study examines four age groups across three communities for both sexes to determine the extent of use of this nonstandard form. Results of the study indicate that a language change appears to be taking place across the entire island, whereby residents are using existential it as the primary existential subject. The data indicate proportions of use of .076 for existential it, .022 for existential there, and .002 for elliptical forms that had no filler in the subject slot. High rates are documented in all three communities and in male and female speakers of all ages except those islanders above 65 years old. These older residents prefer to use existential there, and there is evidence that the change to existential it began with those residence under 65. In these under-65 speakers, the study presents evidence that existential there is being limited to sentences in the simple present and simple past and existential it is being used in more structurally complex and semantically intricate speech. The study presents argument that the choice of it as the existential subject came about in three steps: e-there was accepted as a subject NP which had the properties of a pronoun; e-there was analyzed as a singular subject NP; the role of it was extended to take over as the pronoun in existential sentences.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Fasold, Ralph, Shuy, Roger
Commitee: Wolfram, Walt
School: Georgetown University
Department: Linguistics
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-A 72/02, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Sociolinguistics
Keywords: Dialect, Existential it, Language change, Language variation, Maryland, Smith Island, Sociolinguistic
Publication Number: 3432260
ISBN: 978-1-124-35837-6
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