Preterite had and the African American English tense-aspect system



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I provide a description and analysis of the tense-aspectual properties of preterite had constructions in African American English (AAE). Previous research has described preterite had as marking the simple past and occurring in narrative clauses. I present an analysis of preterite had that builds on this previous research and attempts to explain what properties lend it to narrative use and how it fits within the AAE tense-aspect system. In looking at it in terms of being part of the AAE system, I follow Green's (e.g., 2002) patterns-based approach to AAE. I argue that AAE has two ways of presenting situations in the simple past: As States (expressed with dən + V) and as Events (expressed with preterite had + V-ed), and that these facts allow for perfect readings of some situations in the simple past. I show that preterite had helps to move narratives along by allowing for a pragmatic focusing that is not available with V-ed alone. I also extend my analysis to compare categories such as "past," "perfect," "Event," and "State" make predictions of the grammaticality of dən and preterite had and constructions.