Stressed BIN

"I BIN graduated."

(Harris 2013)


Stressed BIN refers to the use of the word BIN in African American English to indicate that an event occurred in the remote past (or has been occurring since the remote past). For example, the sentence in (1) means "I started my paper a long time ago, Mother, so quit asking me," and the sentence in (2) means "I have been treating them like that for a long time and still am":

1) I BIN started my paper Ma, so quit asking me.

2) I BIN treating ‘em like that.
(Rickford 1975, Detroit)

The word BIN is capitalized in linguistic example sentences to express the fact that it is stressed.

Who says this?

Stressed BIN has been identified as one of the characteristic markers which distinguish African American English from other varieties. As African American English is spoken around the country between members of the ethnic community, this phenomenon has a wide distribution.

Differences from BEEN

At first glance, stressed BIN may look to many English speakers like a variant of stressed BEEN in Standard American English. For example, (3b) and (3c), both of which are responses to (3a), seem quite similar, as seen by the fact that their paraphrases in quotes are identical:

3) a. Is she at work?

b. Yea, she BIN at work.
'Yes, she is at work and has been for a long time.'
(African American English; Dayton 1996)

c. Yeah she’s BEEN at work.
'Yes, she is at work and has been for a long time.'
(Standard American English)

While there is clearly a historical connection between stressed BIN in African American English and stressed BEEN in Standard American English, the two are actually very different today. The most striking difference is that stressed BIN can be used in past and past perfect sentences that do not correspond to uses of stressed BEEN in Standard American English. For example, the sentences in (4a) and (5a) are impossible for speakers of Standard American English, whereas the sentences in (4b) and (5b) are possible for speakers of African American English:

4) a. *I've BEEN understood that part. I’m confused by the last part.
        (Standard American English)

b. I BIN got that part. I’m confused by the last part.
'I understood that part a long time ago.'
(African American English)

5) a. *I BEEN shot the bird.
(Standard American English)

b. I BIN shot the bird.
'I shot the bird a long time ago.'
(African American English)

Syntactic Properties

Classification

Stressed BIN is referred to in the linguistics literature as a remote past marker (Labov 1972), a remote stative (Dayton 1996) and a remote universal perfect marker (Labov 1998). Harris (2013) classifies it as an obligatorily focused remote perfect marker.

Often with verbs, but not always

BIN occurs with nonverbal predicates, both nouns as in (6) and adjectives as in (7) (in addition to verbal predicates as seen already in (1) and (2) above):

6) He BIN a preacher.
     'He has been a preacher for a long time and still is.'
     (Rickford 1975)

7) Grandma BIN sleep.
'Grandma has been asleep for a long time and still is.'

According to Dayton (1996), BIN is most commonly found with, and is preferred with, verbal predicates.

Verbs: perfect or progressive

In verbal predicates, BIN precedes the progressive form, which indicates that the action started a long time ago and is still going on at the present time, as in (8), or the perfect form, which indicates the action was completed a long time ago in the past, as in (9):

8) Fox BIN criticizing Obama.
     'Fox News has been criticizing Obama for a long time (and still is).'

9) I BIN seen it.
'I saw it a long time ago.'

Note that in African American English, as in some other dialects of English, the past tense form of the verb is generally the same as the perfect form. In most cases, it is the past tense form of the verb in standard varieties that corresponds to the past/perfect form in African American English.

BIN is not an auxiliary

While stressed BIN may, in some cases, seem like it is standing in for an auxiliary like have, it does not actually have the syntactic behavior of an auxiliary. For example, it may not move to the left of the subject to form a yes-no question, as shown by the unacceptability of (10), or a tag-question, as shown by the unacceptability of (11):

10) *BIN John and Lisa dating?
intended: 'Have John and Lisa been dating for a long time?'
     (Green 1994)

11) *She BIN married, binn’t she?
intended: 'She’s been married for a long time, hasn’t she?'

In addition, unlike have, stressed BIN may not occur with sentence-level negation, as shown in (12):

12) * John and Lisa BIN not dating.
intended: 'John and Lisa have not been dating for a long time. They only recently started dating.'
     (Green 1994)

No questions

As already shown in (10), stressed BIN cannot move to the left of the auxiliary to form a yes-no question, and furthermore stressed BIN doesn't really occur with question syntax at all. The only way in which a sentence containing stressed BIN can be made into a question is by making a statement and following it with something like, "right?" This is illustrated in (13a), whereas (13b) is an example of a sentence that is ungrammatical because it uses traditional question syntax that is not compatible with stressed BIN:

13)  a. John and Mary BIN dating, right?

b. *Do John and Mary BIN dating?

Restrictions with temporal adverbials

Stressed BIN interacts with temporal adverbials (that is, adverbials specifying time), such as three weeks ago or for five minutes. Expressions that pick out an exact time, such as three weeks ago, are judged as unacceptable, as illustrated in (14):

14) *I BIN asked him bout that 3 weeks ago.
intended: 'I asked him about that a long time ago three weeks ago.'

Expressions that describe the duration of time, such as for five minutes, are allowed but cannot describe the duration of the event itself. For example, (15a) and (15b) are the same sentence, but this sentence can only have the meaning in (15a), not the meaning in (15b):

15)  a. I BIN running for 5 minutes.
           'Starting five minutes ago, I have long been in the habit of running.'

b. I BIN running for 5 minutes.
*'I have been running for five minutes.'

That is, I BIN running for 5 minutes cannot be used to say that the running has been going on for five minutes. To the extent that it is possible, it only has the somewhat odd meaning that my long-time habit of running started five minutes ago.

Nothing focused

Sentences with stressed BIN cannot contain a focused noun phrase. While is natural to say things like JOHN is dating Lisa to put focus on John (as in It is John that is dating Lisa), this is not possible with stressed BIN, as shown by the unacceptability of (16):

16) * JOHN BIN dating Lisa.
intended: 'It is John that has been dating Lisa for a long time.'

Page contributed by Alysia Harris and Jim Wood on April 17, 2013

Page updated by Tom McCoy on August 23, 2015

References

Dayton, Elizabeth. 1996. Grammatical Categories of the Verb in African American Vernacular English. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.

Green, Lisa J. 1994. Study of Verb Classes in African American English. Linguistics and Education 7, 65-81.

Harris, Alysia. 2013. Stressed BIN BIN causing stress: A formal semantic and pragmatic account of the focused remote perfect marker in AAE. Qualifying Paper, Yale University.

Labov, William. 1972. Language in the Inner City: Studies in the Black English Vernacular. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Labov, William. 1998. Coexistent systems in African-American vernacular English. In Salikoko S. Mufwene, John R. Rickford, Guy Bailey and John Baugh (eds.) African-American English: Structure, History and Use, 110–153. New York: Routledge.

Rickford, John R. 1975. Carrying the new wave into syntax: the case of black English been. In Ralph W. Fasold (ed.) Variation in the Form and Use of Language, 98–119. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

Further reading

Green, Lisa J. 1998. Remote Past and States in African-American English. American Speech, 73, 115-138.

Green, Lisa J. 2000. Aspectual Be-Type Constructions and Coercion in African American English. Natural Language Semantics 8, 1-25.

Green, Lisa J. 2002. African American English: A Linguistic Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.