Date of Award

Summer 2022

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Tracey Weldon


African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is perhaps the most studied variety of American English, and interest in its origins and development has raised enough questions to launch a thousand studies. Naturally, positions on AAVE’s origins and development have become increasingly nuanced since the debate’s inception. Increasingly, AAVE is treated less like a monolith, and interest in the dimensions of its regional diversity has grown. No position on AAVE’s origins and development can be taken seriously if it fails to consider its capacity for areal differentiation. Indeed, most positions on AAVE’s origins and development now strongly assert the likelihood of multiple origins and often begin with the assumption that variation in local social ecologies (settlement history, interactional patterns, etc.) would have resulted in some measure of differential development. With this in mind, this dissertation investigates the structural homogeneity of AAVE copula absence in Texas, considers the influence that one learner variety of English – Yoruba English (YE) – might have had on nineteenth century AAVE (where the two co-existed), and presents a comparative analysis of copula absence in AAVE and related varieties, weighing the implications for the origins and development debate.

Using statistical and hierarchical model comparison, I show that differences between the AAVE of East and West Texas – two subregions of the state distinguished by features of language and culture – are only surface-deep, at least with respect to copula absence. Crucially, Texas AAVE is characterized by a non-English form of verbal morphology – so-called “predicate control” – which seems to be shared by many varieties of the African Diaspora. But it does not appear to be a feature of YE – one of the learner varieties central to the origins and development debate. In comparative perspective, the key features associated with AAVE copula absence are not likely owing to a single source but to multiple, converging streams of influence including creole and learner varieties as well as White vernaculars.


© 2022, Brandon Davis Cooper

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