Language Variation and Change

Reversing the trajectory of language change: Subject–verb agreement with be in New Zealand English

Jennifer  Hay  a1 and Daniel  Schreier  a2
a1 University of Canterbury
a2 University of Regensburg

Article author query
hay j   [Google Scholar] 
schreier d   [Google Scholar] 


This article examines the historical evolution of subject–verb concord in New Zealand English. We investigate the usage of the singular form of be with plural NP subjects (existentials and nonexistentials) over the past 150 years. The results demonstrate that the New Zealand English subject–verb concord system has undergone considerable reorganization during this time. Singular concord in nonexistentials occurred in early New Zealand English, but is now largely absent. In existentials, it steadily declined during the late 19th century, and then reversed this trajectory to become a well established feature of modern New Zealand English. Singular concord in New Zealand English existentials is now conditioned by a range of social and linguistic factors, and largely resembles other varieties in this respect. a


a We are indebted to the ONZE team, particularly Elizabeth Gordon, Margaret Maclagan, and everyone involved in the collection and transcription of the corpora over the years. Thanks also to the students of Ling 203 2002 for their preliminary analysis of the data and lively discussion. Helpful feedback on this paper has been provided by David Britain, Elizabeth Gordon, Margaret Maclagan, Andrea Sudbury, Peter Trudgill, Heidi Quinn, the audience at the New Zealand Linguistic Society conference, and three anonymous referees. The authors are listed in alphabetical order.