Auxiliary Reduction in English

AMZ on Auxiliary Reduction (AuxRed) in English

background materials:

☛ AMZ, “Auxiliary Reduction in English” (Linguistic Inquiry, 1970)
my first major writing on the subject

☛ the abstract for the 1997 Pullum & Zwicky LSA paper “Licensing of prosodic features by syntactic rules: The key to auxiliary reduction”

☛ the handout for my presentation “Gonna, Auxiliary Reduction, and two modules of syntactic organization” at the 2005 Berkeley Linguistics Society meeting

☛ from 11/21/17: ??That is aliens for you:

Linguistic background on “contractions”. Two very different phenomena are commonly called “contractions” in popular writing about English; in the orthography, both are written with an apostrophe indicating omitted letters in some class of words (in auxiliary verbs like is and has, written as ‘s; in the negator not, written as n’t), and both have these words written as units with a preceding word (that’s < that is/hasdon’t < do not):

Auxiliary Reduction (AuxRed): a “contracted” auxiliary verb is attached to a preceding word. The conditions under which AuxRed is possible are complex; see the reading copy for Pullum & Zwicky’s 1997 LSA talk “Licensing of prosodic features by syntactic rules: The key to Auxiliary Reduction”.

Auxiliary Negation (AuxNeg): the “contracted” negator is attached to a preceding auxiliary verb; in fact, this n’t is properly analyzed as a negative inflection on that auxiliary, as argued by Zwicky & Pullum on clitics and inflections (“Cliticization vs. inflection: English n’t”, Language, 1983).

What these two phenomena share is a sensitivity to style and register, to levels of formality and to contexts of discourse. Crudely, the contracted variants are less formal than their uncontracted counterparts, either because the contracted variant is notably informal or because the uncontracted variant is notably formal — but the details are different for the two types of contraction and also different, within a type, for different subsets of combinations.

In particular, certain words — “little” grammatical words — are especially accommodating hosts for AuxRed: expletive it, expletive there, demonstrative that, interrogative what, who, where, and how, personal pronouns I, you, it, she, he, we, they, complementizer and relativizer that. With these, unreduced auxiliaries are likely to convey either notable formality or emphasis.

As a result, an informal-style idiom that has one of these accommodating hosts followed by the very easily reducible auxiliary is is very likely to be frozen in its AuxRed version: the formality of the unreduced auxiliary would conflict fatally with the informal style of the idiom as a whole. So we get “obligatory AuxRed idioms”



2/28/11: Aah:
a Rhymes With Orange cartoon illustrating a vowel laxing in I’m:

One of the concomitants of (certain instances of) Auxiliary Reduction in American English (and perhaps other varieties) is a laxing of a final tense vowel in the word hosting the reduced auxiliary. The phenomenon is quite specific, affecting only certain pronoun hosts, and then only when they are the complete subjects of the auxiliary

8/9/11: as would’ve:
on the analysis of (1) Cowboys & Aliens vs. Indians would’ve been a far superior film, as would’ve Cowboys vs. Aliens & Indians.

10/4/11: Auxiliary Reduction in the comics:
Bizarro cartoon with a pun on contractions; background material on AuxRed, including a 1997 bibliography of publications about it

3/28/12: where … at:
O’Conner & Kellerman on where … at questions in combination with the conditions on AuxRed

11/21/17: ??That is aliens for you:
analysis of this example from The New Yorker

1/6/18: But that’s not I nor you:
quote with that’s, rather than the formal variant that is, presumably an attempt at mateyness on the part of the writer

10/18/18: What’s he like?:
One Big Happy cartoon with an is/does ambiguity induced by AuxRed

4/8/20: It’s … it’s … it’s …:
announcement of this Page

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