Zero Copula in AAE

Total time for this activity: 20 minutes

One of the fundamental grammatical features of African-American English is a morphosyntactic phenomenon known as copula deletion (or zero copula). Copula is the technical linguistic term for a word or phrase that links the subject of a sentence to its complement. In English, the copula is the verb to be when performing its linking function. Most languages of the world have at least one copula (a small number of languages lack a copula, while some languages have more than one).

In the Standard English sentence He is good, the verb is acts as the copula. In African-American English and many other languages of the world (such as Russian, Latin, and Arabic), the copula can de deleted in the present tense when its presence can be inferred from the context. In some languages (like Russian), the copula is always deleted in the present tense. In other languages (like Latin and Arabic), the copula can be deleted under certain conditions.

Watch the following short video about copula deletion in AAE.

After you have finished watching the video, work with your assigned partner to provide equivalent sentences in AAE for each sentence in SE. Where zero copula is grammatical in AAE, be sure to delete it. After you have completed your work, you will return to the full group to check your answers.

SE SentenceAAE Sentence
You know he’s my friend You know he my friend.
We’re already there.
I’m on my way.
I know who he is.
They’re on their way.
It’s time to go.
Who is that?
Where’s he at?
My brother’s at work.
Isaiah’s running late.