Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Habitual Be

Dear Readers,

Check out this article on the habitual be, a grammatical construction we've been hearing a lot lately.

Here's the definition:
If you are speaking so-called white English, “Mara be walking the dog” means the same thing as “Mara is walking the dog.” If you are communicating in AAE, “Mara be walking the dog” says that Mara customarily walks the dog—that dog-walking has some definitional sway over her daily existence. It doesn’t guarantee that she is out walking the dog at this moment.
And one more clarifying bit, from that same article:

In that 2005 University of Maryland at Baltimore study, groups of black and white children were shown images from Sesame Street. In the crucial picture, a sick Cookie Monster languished in bed without any cookies, while Elmo stood nearby eating a cookie. “Who is eating cookies?” Jackson asked her test subjects, and all of them indicated Elmo. “Who be eating cookies?” Jackson then asked. The white kids replied that it was Elmo, while the black kids pointed to Cookie Monster. After all, it is the existential state of Cookie Monster to be eating cookies, while Elmo just happened to be earing a cookie at that moment. Cookie Monster, to those conversant in AAE, be eating cookies, whether he is eating cookies or not. The kids in Jackson’s experiment picked up on the subtle difference when they were as young as five or six.  

Love and cookies,

Madame L, who be having opinions about everything

Photo by Cristina Quicler/AFP/Getty Images

1 comment:

AskTheGeologist said...

I wish I could find my old Cookie Monster hand-puppet. It helped me teach the kids the principle of taxes. ;-)

What's "AAE"? American Anthological English? American Artificial English?