Semantic Bleaching and the Emergence of New Pronouns in AAVE

Taylor W. Jones, Christopher S. Hall


AAVE is developing new pronouns, facilitated by the semantic bleaching of the word ‘nigga.’ We show ‘nigga’ is not specified for race, gender, or humanness (although default is [+human] and [+male]). Using 20,000 tweets and field notes from NYC and Philadelphia, we demonstrate that there are new first person pronouns in AAVE based on ‘nigga’ (e.g. 1sg “a nigga”) – moreover, we demonstrate they pattern with true pronouns and not imposters (Collins & Postal, 2010) with respect to binding and verbal agreement. We discuss the origin of these new pronouns, related grammatical forms (including vocatives and honorifics), and rate of adoption and current rates of use.

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