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The (TD) Variable:
References and comments
Peter L Patrick,
The sociolinguistic variable called (TD), or /-t, -d/-deletion, or consonant-cluster simplification (though this last term is much broader, thus less accurate to describe the variationist literature), is one of the earliest linguistic variables to be identified and described (Labov & Cohen 1967). It is also one of the most often-studied for American dialects of English, and probably the phonological variable for which we have the widest range and time-depth of comparative data. (It also occurs, of course, in other regional dialects of English, but is largely unstudied outside the Americas; in somewhat different form, it occurs in historically-related languages such as Dutch, cf. Romaine 1984).
A brief introduction to the variable and its major constraints is available here. A table comparing frequencies of 13 classic studies for the two major linguistic constraints is available here (from Patrick 1999: 162).
The study of (TD) has been the vehicle for several significant advances in variationist practice and theory: it has set standards for quantitative description (Labov et al 1968; Guy 1980), initiated quantitative cross-dialectal studies (Labov 1975), expanded the use of statistical methods within the discipline (Neu 1980), illuminated the acquisition of variable constraints by children (Labov 1989, Roberts 1995) and adults (Bayley 1991), and their continuing development among adult native speakers (Guy & Boyd 1990), identified contrasts and similarities between English and related Creole languages (Patrick 1992, 1999), and grounded explanations for variable processes in formal linguistic theory (Guy 1991, Reynolds 1994, Santa Ana 1996, Guy & Boberg 1997; but see Hudson 1997 for some interesting arguments). For these reasons, (TD) is a “showcase variable” (Patrick 1999), and its study has been crucial to our knowledge of language variation and change.
The bibliography below is not comprehensive. I pick out and comment briefly on some major works in the variationist tradition over the last 35 years. Since (TD)’s development is of historical interest, I’ve organized it chronologically.
1. Labov, William & Paul Cohen.
1967. Systematic relations of standard and non-standard rules in the grammars
of Negro speakers. Project Literacy Reports No. 8, 66-84.
William, Paul Cohen, Clarence Robins and John Lewis. 1968. A study of the
non-standard English of Negro and Puerto Rican speakers in
Walt. 1969. A sociolinguistic description of
Ralph. 1972. Tense marking in Black English: A linguistic and social analysis.
Minderhout, David. 1972. Final consonant cluster reduction. In
William K Riley & David M Smith, eds., Languages and Linguistics Working
Papers, no. 5: Sociolinguistics, 8-15.
Walt and Ralph Fasold. 1974. The Study of Social Dialects in American
William. 1975. "The quantitative study of linguistic structure." In
KH Dahlstedt (ed) The Nordic languages and modern
Gregory R. 1980. "Variation in the group and the individual: The case of
final stop deletion." In William Labov, ed., Locating
language in time and space.
9. Neu, Helene.
1980. "Ranking of constraints on /t,d/ deletion
in American English: A statistical analysis." In William Labov, ed., Locating language in time and space.
10. Romaine, Suzanne. 1984. "The sociolinguistic history of t/d deletion." Folia Linguistica Historica 2: 221-225.
11. Labov, William. 1989. "The child as linguistic historian." Language Variation & Change 1(1): 85-97. Comparison of (TD) and (ING) use by young children and parents.
12. Guy, Gregory & Sally Boyd. 1990. "The development of a morphological class." Language Variation & Change 2(1): 1-18. Apparent-time study of age differences in deletion of (TD) w/special attention to semi-weak verbs.
14. Patrick, Peter L. 1991. "Creoles at the intersection of variable processes: -t, -d deletion and past-marking in the Jamaican mesolect." Language Variation & Change 3(2): 171-189. Disentangles two variable rules that intersect in Creole speech, explaining apparent paradox in matching JamC frequencies with English native varieties.
15. Guy, Gregory. 1991a. "Explanation in variable phonology: An exponential model of morphological constraints." Language Variation & Change 3(1): 1-22. First theoretical explanation of statistical regularities in grammatical constraints on (TD) patterning.
16. Guy, Gregory. 1991b. "Contextual conditioning in variable lexical phonology." Language Variation & Change 3(2): 223-240. Extends the exponential model of (9) to stylistic variation.
Robert James. 1991. Variation theory and second language learning:
Linguistic and social constraints on interlanguage tense-marking. PhD
19. Bayley, Robert James. 1994. "Consonant cluster reduction in Tejano English." Language Variation and Change 6(3): 303-326. Another study of Hispanic English data.
William. 1994. Variation and phonological theory. PhD diss.,
Julia. 1995. The acquisition of variable rules: t,d
deletion and -ing production in preschool children. PhD diss.,
Peter L., Heidi Beall, Cecilia Castillo-Ayometzi, Chi-hsien Kuo, Ralitsa
Mileva, Jason Miller, Gregory Roberts, Yuko Takakasuki, and Virginia Yelei
Wake. 1996. "One Hundred Years of (TD)-Deletion in African American
English". Paper presented to NWAV-25 (
24. Guy, Gregory and Charles Boberg. 1997. "Inherent variability and the obligatory contour principle." Language Variation and Change 9(2): 149-164. Gives OCP account of variation and the exponential model.
25. Hudson, Richard. 1997. Inherent variability and linguistic theory. Cognitive Linguistics 8: 73-108. Download at www.phon.ucl.ac.uk/home/dick/var&th.htm. Accepts the findings of Guy 1991a, but argues the data support a prototype approach to grammar (spec. Word Grammar) better than a Lexical Phonology explanation. (Similar argument presented for Kroch’s Constant Rate Hypothesis and the supporting data from the history of English periphrastic do.)
26. Patrick. Peter L. 1999. Urban
Jamaican Creole: Variation in the mesolect. (Varieties of English Around the World, G17.)
27. Lim, Laureen T. & Gregory R. Guy. 2005. The limits of linguistic community: speech styles and variable constraint effects. Penn Working Papers in Linguistics 10.2, Papers from NWAVE 32: 157-170.
This page is inspired by one put up by friends and colleagues at Penn on the DASL project, though it improves on their list.
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Last updated on 23 August 2006