“I am Done (with) My Homework”: the Semantics, Syntax, and Variation of a Feature of Philadelphia English, Molly Cutler, UG '23 (3963503)
In my research, I look at a syntactic feature that is local to Philadelphia English, which is a type of sentence structure that Philadelphians find normal, and might not even realize that people elsewhere find unnatural to say. This syntax is seen in examples like “I am done my homework," and is called the “be done” construction; it contrasts with what people elsewhere would usually say, like “I am done with my homework,” called the “be done with” construction. I ask if semantic context changes whether Philadelphians prefer how “be done” sounds compared to how “be done with” sounds, and if Philadelphians treat the word “done” in this structure like an adjective or like a verb. I conducted an experiment where I asked Philadelphians to judge how natural "be done" and "be done with" sentences sounded in different contexts, and I found that Philadelphians adapt how they structure their sentences depending on very subtle changes in meaning, and that their use of the construction follows specific and predictable linguistic patterns. My results have important implications for dialect research — I demonstrate that people’s actual real-time intuitions about the language they use line up with previous theoretical predictions. I also show that regional dialects are internally consistent, and can even signify important demographic details about the people who use them.