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American Speech 79.1 (2004) 3-32
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Gullah Duh and Periphrastic Do in English Dialects:
Another Look at the Evidence
University of Michigan
This article was originally presented at a conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of Lorenzo Dow Turner's seminal book, Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect (1949).1 Turner's book, of course, revolutionized the field of Gullah studies (and creolistics more generally), as it was the first work to look seriously at and identify possible African elements in Gullah. As Turner noted, most scholars up to that point had viewed Gullah as a more or less aberrant offshoot of various early British dialects spoken by white settlers and servants, with little or no input from the African languages spoken by slaves. Turner harshly criticized these so-called dialectologists, first because of their general ignorance concerning any of the relevant African languages, and second (albeit more indirectly) because many of them were clearly operating on racist assumptions that blinded them to the possibility of African linguistic influence on Gullah. Turner's book has made a strong impact over the past half century on both the scholarly and the popular imaginations, leading to much research on possible African sources for specific features of Gullah and of other creoles of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. As a result, however, until recently serious and detailed investigations into early lexifier dialects as possible sources for some of those features have taken a back seat.2
This article, using the more recent approach, looks at a well-known feature of Gullah, the preverbal imperfective marker duh ([d]), and shows that a model for its use may have existed in certain nonstandard regional varieties of English that were present at the time Gullah was being formed. Until now, the most prominent attempts to identify the origins of Gullah duh and other so-called nonpunctual markers in creoles have invoked either substantial influence from African substrate languages (e.g., Alleyne 1980; Cassidy 1983; Harris 1986; Rickford 1986; Holm 1988, 1994) or Bickerton's bioprogram hypothesis (e.g., Bickerton 1981, 1984).
The nonpunctual use of preverbal duh before an uninflected main verb expresses progressive meaning in (1) and habitual meaning in (2):3 [End Page 3]
- I DUH tell you cause I done bin tru dat.
'I'm telling you because I've already been through that.'
- Dem DUH eat and DUH laugh, but I aint know wha da hell dem DUH laugh at.
'They were eating and laughing, but I didn't know what the hell they were laughing at.'
- But people aint DUH plant no tata now.
'But people don't plant potatoes now.'
- Den da boat DUH carry freight from dis landin down ya.
'Then the boat would carry freight [every Friday or Saturday] from this landing down here.'
Turner (1949, 214) himself suggested a West African source for this morpheme in terms of both its form and function, citing in particular the Igbo morpheme de1, which he called a "verb of incomplete predication." Some scholars after him, however, have recognized at least partial similarities between Gullah duh and unstressed PERIPHRASTIC DO, a form also pronounced [d] and followed by an uninflected main verb, in southwestern British and Hiberno-English dialects. Two of the earliest to do so were Harris (1986) and Rickford (1986), both of whom pointed out that periphrastic do in these dialects is similar to Gullah duh (and to related aspect markers in other Atlantic English creoles) with regard to its phonetic form and its function as a marker of habitual meaning.
However, closer examination of the early dialect data, particularly from southwestern England, strongly suggests that habituality was not the only aspectual meaning associated with periphrastic do, a point touched on briefly already by Hancock (1994) and Clarke (1997, 1999). Specifically, and most importantly for a putative connection to Gullah duh, it appears that periphrastic do in early southwestern British dialects could be used to convey progressive meaning also.4 This fact, considered with the historical evidence showing southwestern England to be an important...