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The (TD) Variable:

References and comments

Peter L Patrick, Univ. of Essex

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. Ithaca NY: Cornell University. [ERIC ED 016 946] First mention of (TD) variable in paper for teachers, arguing against 'dialect--mixing' analysis of AAVE and for 'continuous variation, also for idea that similarities with Standard English grammatical structure are obscured by surface phonological patterns.

2.     Labov, William, Paul Cohen, Clarence Robins and John Lewis. 1968. A study of the non-standard English of Negro and Puerto Rican speakers in New York City. Final report, Cooperative Research Project 3288. Vols. I and II. Classic study of AAVE from the study which first identified the variable and described its major phonological and grammatical patterns.

3.     Wolfram, Walt. 1969. A sociolinguistic description of Detroit Negro speech. Washington DC: Center for Applied Linguistics. Close early study of (TD) in AAVE speech community, including race, class, sex, age of speakers.

4.     Fasold, Ralph. 1972. Tense marking in Black English: A linguistic and social analysis. Arlington, Va: Center for Applied Linguistics. Classic early description of past-marking in AAVE which gives detailed description of (TD)-patterns intersecting with past-marking of verbs.

5.     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. Washington DC: Georgetown University Press. An early analysis of AAVE speech using speakers from Fasold’s 1972 sample [N=22] to subdivide the following environment more finely for mono-morphemic clusters [N=649].

6.     Wolfram, Walt and Ralph Fasold. 1974. The Study of Social Dialects in American English. Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice-Hall. A general introduction to social dialectology and variation. (TD) discussed.

7.     Labov, William. 1975. "The quantitative study of linguistic structure." In KH Dahlstedt (ed) The Nordic languages and modern linguistics. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 188-244.

8.     Guy, 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. New York: Academic Press: 1-36. Earliest detailed evaluation of linguistic constraints; use of (TD) to investigate nature of, and difference between, speech communities.

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. New York: Academic Press: 37-54. Careful comparison of standard white American dialects.

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.

13.       Santa Ana, Otto. 1991. Phonetic simplification processes in the English of the Barrio: A cross-generational study of the Chicanos of Los Angeles. PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania. ProQuest (=UMI) 9200383. The fullest comparative study of the various phonetic constraints in the preceding literature, with detailed operationalization of coding and careful study across a five-generation sample.

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.

17.       Bayley, Robert James. 1991. Variation theory and second language learning: Linguistic and social constraints on interlanguage tense-marking. PhD diss., Stanford University, School of Education. Detailed study of (TD) in the speech of adult learners of English from Chinese and Spanish L1 backgrounds.

18.       Santa Ana, Otto. 1992. "Chicano English evidence for the exponential hypothesis: A variable rule pervades lexical phonology." Language Variation and Change 4(3): 275-288. Confirms/extends Guy's 1991 exponential hypothesis to 5 generations of Chicano data. The most exhaustive review of the (TD) lit, updating Guy (1980).

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.

20.       Reynolds, William. 1994. Variation and phonological theory. PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania.

21.       Roberts, Julia. 1995. The acquisition of variable rules: t,d deletion and -ing production in preschool children. PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania.

22.       Patrick, 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 (New Ways of Analyzing Variation) meeting, University of Nevada at Las Vegas, October 19, 1996. Compares Ex-slave Elders speech (Bailey, Maynor & Cukor-Avila 1991) with 1960s DC childrens’ and parents’ speech (Loman 1967), finding evidence for continuity and change, regional dialect differences and convergence.

23.       Santa Ana, Otto. 1996. "Sonority and syllable structure in Chicano English." Language Variation and Change 8(1): 63-89. Proposes symmetrical theoretical explanation of phonological constraints on (TD) patterning, focused on sonority hierarchy.

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 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.) Philadelphia & Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Chap. 5 reviews recent lit. and presents first analysis for a Creole English variety, examining intersection with past-marking (which behaves differently than in native English dialects, cf also Bayley 1994) and proposing another take on the sonority constraint of Santa Ana (1996). Includes detailed comparative table for 13 classic studies.

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.


An Introduction to the (TD) sociolinguistic variable

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Last updated on 23 August 2006