chapter  5
28 Pages

There Was Universals; Then There Weren’t: A Comparative Sociolinguistic Perspective on ‘Default Singulars’


The variable use of default singulars, particularly for present and past tense be as in example (1), is a frequent, widely attested, and extensively studied feature of English.

(1) a. There are secret rooms . . . there’s lots of places. (Canada/N/ƒ)

b. They was alright but they were nae great big herring. ( Northern Ireland/PVG/007)

According to Chambers’ theory of ‘Vernacular Roots’, certain variables appear to be primitives of vernacular dialects in the sense that they recur ubiquitously all over the world. Default singulars are perhaps the prototypical exemplar of these roots because they are mentioned in virtually every discussion (Chambers 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004). Thus, they present the quintessential site for exploring the nature of this theory.