chapter  3
23 Pages

How Diagnostic Are English Universals?


In his groundbreaking book Sociolinguistic Theory, Jack Chambers (1995) identied and discussed a number of features shared by all varieties of English around the world: 1) (ng), an alveolar nasal /n/ instead of a velar one in -ing sufxes (e.g. ‘singing’); 2) consonant cluster reduction (I met him at the pos’ office; she lef’ her umbrella on the bus this morning); 3) what he labelled “default singulars”, i.e. past be levelling with pivot form was (in we was good friends then, the cows was out all night, etc.); 4) regularisation of past-tense forms of irregular verbs (he come around last night); and 5) multiple negation (‘I didn’t do no queue-jumping’). Chambers argued that English universals of this kind were of immense interest to sociolinguists simply on account of the fact that they made an appearance in sociohistorically unrelated varieties (e.g. Falkland Islands, Newfoundland, and Hong Kong English). They are thus to some extent independent of the varieties’ sociohistorical backgrounds and of contact-induced change mechanisms in various (post-)colonial settings (i.e. pidginisation and/or creolisation, koinéisation, nativisation, etc.; cf. Schneider 2003).