Linguistic Аspects of Black English
Linguistic Аspects of
Chapter I. Historical Review
of Black English……………………………...8
1. The Origin of Black
2. Development of Pidgin and
Chapter II. Development
of the U.S. Black English……………………….17
1. Differences of Black English
and Standard English,
British English and British
2. African American
Vernacular English and its use in teaching process...24
Chapter III. Linguistic Aspects
of Black English………………………….32
1. Phonetic peculiarities
The topic of Black
English is very actual in terms of sociolinguistics and language interaction
development, in racial relations and ethnic cultures. Through understanding
Linguistic Aspects of Black English we can observe peculiarities of language
development and culture of people.
The aim of this work is
to research the linguistic aspects of Black English language.
Objectives of the paper
- to analyze the origin
of Black English.
- to analyze the
development of Pidgin and Creole.
- to consider differences
between Black English, Standard English,
British English, and British
- to investigate the African
American Vernacular English and its use in
- to research the
phonetic peculiarities of B.E.
- to investigate the
grammar peculiarities of B.E.
- to consider the lexical
peculiarities of B.E.
Black English is a social
dialect of American English, originated and formed as a result of language
interaction in the process of historical development.
The topic of
the diploma work is to study Black English as a sociolect of American variant
of English language, analyze its linguistics aspects, especially phonetic,
grammatic, lexical formed in the process of historical development. The
historic development and linguistics characteristics make up the core content
of work. Black English is the communicative and social system, originally
created at the intersection of three dimensions – social class, ethnic and
is a term going back to 1969. It is used almost exclusively as the name for a
dialect of American English spoken by many black Americans.
is a variety of English, spoken in America and it is the subject of many controversies,
the problem being that of whether considering it a language, a dialect or
simply a slang talk. This language variety, also known a Ebonics, is nearly as
old as Standard American English, but it has often been misinterpreted as
defective, it has never been standardized and has always had lower status
compared to Standard American English.
1960’s to the present, African American English has increasingly become also
acceptable term for Black English , and the corresponding official name for the
language variety used by Africans Americans is thus African American English or
African American Vernacular English (AAVE).(15,65)
Vernacular (BEV) as coined by William Labov in 1972 defines the variety
American English spoken by Black People. Its pronunciation is in some respects
common to Southern American English, which is spoken by many African Americans
in the United States and by many non-African American.
Ebonics is a
recent and controversial neologism, coined by Robert L. Williams during a 1973
conference in St. Louis, Missouri, “cognitive and Language Development of the
Black Child”. It is a blend of ebony (a synonym for black that lacks its
pejorative connotations) and phonics (pertaining to speech sounds) and by
definition it refers specifically to an African-language-based Creole (from an
earlier pidgin) that has been relexified by borrowing from English, resulting
in what African Americans now speak in the United States.(34,54)
is complex, controversial, and only partly understood. Records of the early
speech forms are sparse. It is unclear, how much influence black speech has had
on the pronunciation of southern whites; according to some linguists,
generation of close contact resulted in the families of the slaves owners
picking up some of the speech habits of their servants, which gradually
developed into the distinctive southern ‘drawl’. Slave labor in the south gave
birth to diverse linguistic norms; former indentured servants from all parts of
the British Isles, who often became overseers on plantations, variously
influenced the foundation of Black English. First the industrial revolution
then the Civil War disrupted slavery and promoted African-American migration
within the U.S., s a result of which slave dialects were transplanted from
Southern plantation to the factories of the North and Midwest. There was a
widespread exodus to the industrial cities of the northern states, and black
culture became known throughout the country for its music and dance.
historical events have had an effect on Black English. One of this was the
early use of English-based pidgins and creoles among slave populations, as almost
all Africans originally were brought to the United States as slaves. Pidgin is
a variety of a language which developed for some practical purpose, such as
trading, among groups of people who did not know each other’s language. Creole
is a pidgin which has become the first language of a social community. (17,124)
was investigated in the USA by D. Crystal (“The Cambridge Encyclopedia of
Language ”,” English Language”), by C. Baugh and T.Cable (“History of the
English Language”) , in Russia by R.V. Reznic, T.S. Sookina, (“A History of The
English Language”), by A.D. Schweitzer (“The Social Differentiation of English
in The USA.”), in Kazakhstan by F.S.Duisebayeva (“ Linguistics Aspects of Black
English”) but there are no monographic research of B.E. in our country. ( 12,8,9,13,1,10)
Theoretical base of research
are comprised by the works of D.Crystal, C.Baugh and T.Cable, A.D.Schweitzer,
F.S. Duisebayeva and etc.
The investigation of Black
English Language and its linguistic aspects contribute for a further
development of sociolinguistics theory, American studies etc.
This material can be used
as teaching manual in the process of teaching English Language, Lexicology, History
of the English language, Area studies.
Methods of research.
The following methods are
used in the paper: comparative, descriptive, analytical.
The structure of work.
The diploma work consists
of an introduction, three chapters, conclusion and bibliography.
The introduction covers
topicality, aim, objectives, and theoretical base of research, theoretical
significance, the practical significance, and methods of research and the
structure of work.
Chapter I. Development of
Black English presents historical review of Black English, analyses of the
origin of Black English, the development of Pidgin and Creole.
Chapter II. Development
of the U.S. Black English considers differences of Black English and Standard
English, British English and British Black English, A.A.V.E. and its use in
Chapter III. Linguistic
aspects of B.E analyses the phonetic, grammar, lexical peculiarities of B.E.
Conclusion present the
results of the investigation.
Bibliography covers 39
units of materials, used in the diploma paper.
Historical review of B.E.
1. The Origin of Black English.
J.L. Dillard some 80% of black Americans speak the Black English, and he and
many commentators stress its African origins. The history of Black English in
the United States is complex, controversial, and only partly understood. Black
English is a term going back only to 1969. It is used almost exclusively as the
name for a dialect for American English spoken by many black Americans. Records
of the early speech forms are sparse. It is unclear, how much influence black
speech has had on the pronunciation of southern whites; according to some
linguists, generation of close contact resulted in the families of the slaves
owners picking up some of the speech habits of their servants, which gradually
developed into the distinctive southern ‘drawl’. (33,23)
From the early 17-th
century, ships from Europe traveled to the West African coast, where they
exchanged cheap good for black slaves. The slaves were shipped in barbarous
conditions to the Caribbean islands and the American coast, where they were in
tern exchanged for such commodities as sugar, rum, and molasses. The ships then
returned to England, completing an ‘Atlantic triangle’ of journeys, and the
process began again. The first 20 African slaves arrived in Virginia on a Dutch
ship in 1619. Britain and the United States had outlawed the slave trade by the
American Revolution (1776) their numbers had grown to half a million, and there
were over 4 million by the time slavery was abolished, at the end of the United
States Civil War (1865).
The policy of the
slave-trades was to bring people of different language backgrounds together in
the ships, to make it difficult for the groups to plot rebellion. The result
was the growth of several pidgin forms of communication, and in particular a
pidgin between the slavers and the sailors, many of whom spoke English.
The black slaves who were
arriving in Jamestown, Va. In 1619. Manhattan Island in 1635 and Massachusetts
in 1638 have used the Afro- European varieties for communication among
themselves. In 1692, justice Hathorne recorded Tituba, an African slave from
the island of Barbados in the British West Indies, speaking in the pidgin of
the slaves. Tituba was quoted as saying “He tell me he God,” The words of the
phrase are English, but the structure and grammar of the phrase are congruous
with that pf the West African languages that Smitherman identifies. (32, 8)
During the early years of
American settlement, a highly distinctive form of English was emerging in the
island of the West Indies and the Southern part of the mainland, spoken by the
incoming black population. The emergence of slave trade was a consequence of
the important of African slaves to work on the sugar plantations, a practice
started by the Spanish in 1517.
industrial revolution then the Civil War disrupted slavery and promoted
African-American migration within the U.S., s a result of which slave dialects
were transplanted from Southern plantation to the factories of the North and
Midwest. Slave labor in the south gave birth to diverse linguistic norms;
former indentured servants from all parts of the British Isles, who often
became overseers on plantations, variously influenced the foundation of Black
English. There was a widespread exodus to the industrial cities of the northern
states, and black culture became known throughout the country for its music and
dance. (15, 36). Black English was born of slavery between the late XVI c.-
early XVII c. and middle XIX c. and followed black migration from the southern
states to racially isolated ghettos throughout the United States.
Slave labor in the south
gave birth to diverse linguistic norms; former indentured servants from all
parts of the British Isles, who often became overseers on plantations,
variously influenced the foundation of B.E.V. first the industrial revolution
the Civil War disrupted slavery and promoted African American migration within
the United States, as a result of which slave dialects were transplanted from
Southern plantation to the factories of the North and Midwest. An artifact not
of race but of a speech community, Black English originated as a pidgin (a
simplified language used in a commercial context to facilitate communication
among speakers of different languages) that the slaves coming from a variety of
language backgrounds used to communicate among themselves.
In the XVIII century,
more records of the speech of slaves and the representations of their speech
were produced. In fact, J.L. Dillard claims that “By 1715 there clearly was an
African Pidgin English known on a worldwide scale. In 1744, an ad in The New
York Evening Post read: “Ran away … a new African Fellow named Prince, he can’t
scarce speak a Word of English.” In 1760, an ad in the North Carolina Gazette
read: “Ran away from the Subscriber, African Born, speaks bad English. In 1734,
the Philadelphia American Weekly Mercury read: “Ran away …; he’s Pennsylvanian
born and speaks good English.” (33, 16)
Quotations from Black
English speakers became abundant in the records of Northern states by about
1750, nearly half a century before the earliest records in the Southern
colonies were found in Charleston, S.C. (10, 1)
Black characters made
their way into show business in 1777 with the comical Trial of Atticus before
Justice Beau, for Rape. In this farcical production, "one of our
neighbor's," says "Yes, Maser, he tell me that Atticus he went to bus
'em one day, and a shilde cry, and so he let 'em alon". Much like Tituba's
statement, the statements above use English vocabulary, yet the structure and
grammar of the statements well in keeping with that of the West African
evidence in tracing the development of Black English lies in newspaper ads
reporting runaway slaves. In locating and identifying a runaway slave, the
slaves' speech played an instrumental role. It is important to remember that
the slave trade was not outlawed until 1808, and even then it was not strictly
adhered to. Smitherman reports that "As late as 1858, over 400 slaves were
brought direct from Africa to Georgia". Consequently, there was a constant
influx of Africans who spoke no English at all. This produced a community of
people with a broad array of mastery of Black English and even Standard English.
This is made clear when
we see the newspaper ads that reported runaway slaves. This stratification of
language is vital in the development and the development of the perception of
Black English, if it is remembered that not all Blacks were slaves in Early
America. Successful runaways were likely to be those who attained a relative
mastery of Standard English. The mastery of Standard English would prove
invaluable to a slave who had to travel a long distance across American soil to
win his freedom. Further more, early Black writers, such as Frederick Douglass,
wrote in the Standard English of his time. A mastery of Standard English was
also beneficial in passing as a free Black. In a very real and disturbing way,
Black English became the language of slavery and servitude. (35, 212)
During the Civil war
period, abolitionists made the speech of slaves know to all serious readers of
that era. Writers such as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Thomas Halliburton produced
many works that indicated their knowledge of the existence of Black English.
While the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves were significant historical
events, their impact was mitigated severely by the Jim Crow era. Although
everyone labeled "Negro" by the Jim Crow laws did not speak Black English,
it is safe to assume that those Blacks who did speak Black English far
outnumbered those who spoke Standard English.
Development of Pidgin and Creole.
In this part we introduce
pidgin languages and their characteristics. A pidgin is a system of
communication which has grown up among people who do not share a common
language, but who want to talk to it other, for treading or other reasons. The
characteristic of a pidgin is that it is no one’s native language: it is a
second language for all its speakers. This is true of a pidgin whether it is
still in the process of formation or it has been around in a stable form for
hundreds of years as West African Pidgin English has. However, it is possible
for a pidgin to become a native language for some or all of its speakers.
Pidgins have been
variously called ‘makeshift’, ‘marginal’, or ‘mixed’ language. They have a
limited vocabulary, a reduced grammatical structure, and a much narrower range
of functions, compared to the language which gave rise to them. They are the
native language of no-one, but they are nonetheless a main means of
communication for millions of people, and a major focus of interest those who
study the way languages change.
In many parts of the
world pidgin languages are used routinely in such daily matters as news
broadcasts, safety instructions, newspapers, and commercial advertising. And
the more developed pidgin languages have been used for translations of
Shakespeare and the bible. Pidgin grew up along the trade routes of the world-
especially in those parts where the British, French and Dutch built up their
empires. (8, 36)
Pidgin English’s are
mainly to be found in to big families- one in the Atlantic, one in the Pacific.
The Atlantic varieties developed in West Africa, and were transported to the
West Indies and America during the years of the slave trade. In Africa they are
still widely used in the Gambia, Sierra Lione, Liberia, Ghana, Togo, Nigeria,
and Cameroon. The Pacific varieties are found in wide sweep across the south-
western part of the ocean, from the coast of chine to the northern part of
Australia, in such part as Hawaii, Vanuatu, and Papua New Guinea. In the
Americas, they are found, in a developed form, in most of its islands and on
the mainland, spoken largely by the black populations. Estimates very, but
probably about sixty million people speak or understand one or other of these
forms of English.
Pidgins often have a very
little life span. While the Americans were in Vietnam, a Pidgin English grew up
there, but it quickly disappeared when the troops left. In similar way, many
pidgins which grew up for trading purposes have ceased to exist, because the
countries which were in contact stopped trading with each other. On the other
hand, if a trading contact is very likely learn each other’s language, and
there will then be no reason for the continued use of the pidgin.
A very significant development
then took place. People began to use the pidgin at home. As children were born
into these families, the pidgin language became their mother tongue. When this
happened, the status of the language fundamentally altered, and it came to be
used in a more flexible and creative way.
The term Creole comes
from Portuguese cariole, and originally meant a person of European descent who
had been born and brought up in a colonial territory. Later it came to be
applied to other people who were native of these areas and then to the rind of language
they spoke. Creoles are now classified as English based, French based, and so
on- though the genetic relation ships of a Creole to its dominant linguistic
sector is never straightforward, as the Creole may display the influences of
several contact languages in its sounds, vocabulary and stubby. (17, 22)
A Creole is a pidgin
language which has become the mother tongue of a community- a definition which
emphasizes that pidgins and Creole are two stages in a single process
linguistics development. First, within a community, increasing numbers of
people begin to use pidgin as their principle means of communication. As a
consequence their children hear it more than any other language, and gradually
it takes on the status of a mother tongue for them. Within a generation or two,
native language use becomes consolidated and widespread. The result is a
Creole, or “creolized” language.
Despite the existence of
many political and cultural differences, and then considerable geographical
distances separating some of the countries involved there are striking
similarities among the English based Creole languages of the world. This
identity can bee seen at all levels of language structure, but is most dramatic
relation to grammar. It can be explained, according to the Creole hypothesis,
as a consequence of the way this languages have developed out of the kind of
Creole English used by the first black slaves in America and the Caribbean. (17,
This language it is
thought was originally very different from English, as a result of its mixed
African linguistics background, but generation of contact with the dominant
white English population have had an inevitable effect, drawing g it much
closer to the standard variety. There are certainly many differences between
the various Caribbean creoles and between these and the varieties of Black
English Vernacular used in the United States and the English based Creoles of
West Africa; but the overall impression is one of a family of languages closely
related in structure and idiom.
The switch from language
to Creole involves a major expansion in the structural linguistics resources
available - especially in vocabulary, grammar, and style, which now have to
cope with the everyday demands made upon a mother tongue by its speakers. (18,
The main source of
conflicts is likely to be with the standard form of the language from which it
derives, and which it derives and with witch it usually coexists. The standard languages
have the status which comes with social prestige, education and wealth; the
Creole has no such status its roots lying in a history of subservient and
slavery. Inevitable, Creole speakers find themselves under great pressure to
change their speech in the direction of the standard- a process known as decreolization.
One consequence of this
is the emergence of a continuum of several varieties of Creole speech, at
varying degrees of linguistics ‘distance’ from the standard- what has been
called the ‘post- Creole continuum’ Another consequence is an aggressive
reaction against the standard language on the part of Creole speakers, who
assert the superior status of their Creole, and the need to recognize the
ethnic identity of their community. Such a reaction can lead to a marked change
in speech habits, as the speakers focus on what they see to be the ‘pure’ form
of Creole- a process known as hyper- realization. (22, 248)
When a pidgin
becomes a native language for some of its speakers, it said to become a Creole.
This means that it is a language which has passed through a pidgin stage, and
has now become the language of a community. Children growing up in that
community speak the Creole as their native language. Very often, of course,
there are other languages spoken in the community as well. Some children who
speak the Creole may also speak other languages.
When a pidgin
becomes a Creole, it may change its character somewhat. The differences are
subtle and difficult to study, and a great deal has been written on this
subject with little agreement being reached. However, we can say that where
there are differences between the pidgin and the Creole, these will be related
to the new functions which the Creole has taken on. It no longer serves just as
a means of communication between adults with no other language in common; it is
now a language through which children experience the world, develop their
knowledge and mental capacities, and grow up.
Creolized varieties of
English are very important throughout the Caribbean, and in the countries to
which Caribbean people have emigrated- notably Britain. Black English in the
United States is also Creole in origin.
There is often conflict
between the Creole and Standard English in these places. The Creole gives its
speakers their linguistic, as an ethnic group. Standard English, on the other
hand, gives them access to the rest of the English-speaking world. It is not
easy for governments to develop an acceptable language policy when such
fundamental issues are involved. Social and political circumstances vary so
much that no simple generalizations possible- except to emphasize the need for
standard English users to replace their traditional dismissive attitude towards
Creole speech with an informed awareness of its linguistics complexity as a
major variety of modern English. (25,485)
II. Development of the U.S. Black English.
of B.E. and Standard English, British English and British Black English.
Black English has
features unique to its subsystem as well as features of the general system of
English grammar. It has its own rules of grammar and phonology. One dominant
characteristic is the amount of fluctuation in forms and constructions. Almost
every statement about Black English includes a qualification such as "may
occur", "sometimes", "often" or "generally."
The same speaker will pronounce a plural ending on one occasion and on another
occasion will drop it. One sentence will have ain´t for the past negative
and the next didn´t or even ditn´t.
A device called
"sweet talk" also appears in Black English. This means that new forms
are often created to fit a particular setting or situation. In the rules of
Standard English grammar "sweet talk" would be considered bad English
because of its ignorance of grammatical rules. In Black English "sweet
talk" serves to establish a verbal superiority: he who masters the language
can control the communication and will thus also control the personal or group
relationships of the situation. It is easy to see the connection between
"sweet talk" and the language games often played on street corners by
black children or the "rap battles" which are a part of current
Another device is known
as "eye dialect". This refers to changing the spelling of words
without changing their sound, in order to characterize a speaker. For example,
"was" can be spelled "wuz", although both are pronounced the
same. The "wuz" spelling characterizes one as the speaker of a
particular dialect, with its particular social connotations.
1950s and 1960s people from the Caribbean migrated to Britain in relatively
large numbers. Most of these settled in cities, especially in the large English
cities, and in most of these communities people from Jamaica were more numerous
than people from other parts of the Caribbean. Although the Caribbean is made
up of many different islands and mainland territories, including many where an
English Creole is not spoken, British Black English is most similar to Jamaican
Creole, because of the larger number of Jamaicans who settled in this country.
Kwesi Johnson is probably the best known poet in Britain who is currently using
Creole. His verse is spoken against a musical background (dubbing) and
distributed on records, tapes and CDs. The poem "Sonny's Lettah",
appeared in print in his anthology "Inglan' is a Bitch" (1980) and
was recorded on his album Forces of Victory. (34)
“Mama, a jus
couldn't stan up an no dhu notin so mi juk one ina im eye an him started to cry
mi tump one ina him mouth an him started to shout mi kick one pon him shin an
him started to spin mi tump him pon him chin an him drop pon a bin an crash an
DEAD. Mama more police man come down an beat mi to di groun' dem charge Jim fi
sus dem charge mi fi murder”
Now here is
the same passage written in a phonemic orthography devised by Le Page and
Cassidy for the Dictionary of Jamaican English (1980):
“Mama a jos
kudn stan op an no du notin so mi juk wan ina him ai an him staatid to krai mi
tomp wan ina him mout an him staatid tu shout mi kik wan pan him shin an him
staatid tu spin mi tomp him pan him chin an him drap pan a bin an krash an DED.
Mama Muor pliisman kom doun an biit mi tu di groun dem chaaj Jim fi sos dem
chaaj mi fi morda.” (34)
People of Afro‑Caribbean
descent who have been born in Britain nearly always learn the local variety of
British English as their first language. Usually, they speak and understand
Creole as well (though how well they know it varies from person to person) but
use it less often than British English. Especially in private, informal
conversations, both British English and Creole may be used. When a speaker
"switches" from one language variety to another in the course of the
same conversation ‑ sometimes even within one sentence ‑ this is
called code switching. It is common behaviour among bilinguals of all kinds
(though in some communities, it is frowned upon).
is an extract from a conversation among some young women in London. Most of the
conversation is in British English but the speaker B. switches twice into
that same guy that you go back to and have the
life cause you know that guy you know [ what
C [ yeah
expect you two can sit down and (.) sort out
you went wrong=
C = yeah
that's it, yeah
you might end up marryin' that guy me know who
want marry a'ready! [softly] so, you know it's
[ * * * [inaudible]
C [ * *
* [inaudible] gonna marry
see this is what I'm saying about Graham right,
don't really know but you know when you see
and I tell you I did like Graham from the
time I saw him, I mean it does take time
to know the right person
B Let me
tell you now wiv every guy I've been out wiv,
been a ‑ a whole heap o' mont's before I move
the nex' one!
switches to Creole by speaker B are both marked by a noticeable change in the
pronunciation (not shown in the transcription), for example, "whole"
is pronounced /h l/. In the "British English" parts, the speakers
have fairly strong London accents (e.g. "with is pronounced" /w v/)
but in the "Creole" parts, the phonemes and intonation patterns are
pronounced as in Creole.
identified many reasons for code switching. One persuasive theory is that in
some bilingual communities, the language which has a longer association with
the community (in this case Creole, which has its origin in the Caribbean) is
used as a sign of solidarity, to signal membership of a group and show closeness
to other group members. Research has shown that in the Afro-Caribbean
community, Creole is often used to emphasise an important point (only in
informal, personal conversations). There is no "right" or
"wrong" answer to the question of why a speaker switches at a
particular moment (usually they are not aware of switching). If you know any
bilingual speakers, you might try recording them in conversation with other
bilinguals to see whether, when, and in what ways they code switch. (16. 37)
The following Creole
creative writing narrative was written by a London school pupil of Caribbean
Babylon, the Wicked
One manin in
January me and my spars dem was coming from a club in Dalston. We didn't have
no donsi so we a walk go home. De night did cold and di gal dem wi did have wid
we couldn't walk fast. Anyway we must have been walking for about fifteen
minutes when dis car pull up, it was this youthman ah know and him woman. We
see sey a mini cab him inna. Him sey "How far you ah go?”(30,335)
"Not far, you ketch we too late man”.
me could close me mout de two gal dem jump inna de car, bout sey dem nah walk
no more. Me an Trevor tell dem fi gwan. And de car pull way.
Next ting me
know me is about 50 yards from my yard and is the wicked dem just a come down
inna dem can. At first me wanted fi run, but Trevor sey "run what"
"After we no just kool". We don't have no weed or money pon us. Dem
can't do notin. (30, 336)
Next ting we
know dem grab we up anna push we into dem car. Me and Trevor put up a struggle
but after a few licks we got pushed in. "Now then you two
"Rastas" been ripping off mini cabs haven't you?” "We aren't
"Rastas" and we don't know what you are talking about".
"Save all that until we get to the station Rastus my son". Den him
get pon him radio, and tell the station that him ketch the two responsible for
that hold up of the mini cab. Trevor luk pon me I could see that he was
Thus we define
the differences between Creole and British English:
spar : friend
donsi : money
gwan : go on
yard : home
List 1: sound
differences - where the sound of the Creole (as shown by the spelling) is
different from the sound you would expect in a British variety of English.
grammar differences - where the grammar seems to be different from standard.
vocabulary differences - words which are unfamiliar or which you think are
Caribbean in origin.
Here is a list
of British English equivalents to the Creole items.
(sounds) deze these
(grammar) dem waak they walked
belly his belly
kick I kicked
(vocabulary) fi to
FEEDBACK: Creole is different from
British English at these three levels.
BRITISH BLACK ENGLISH.
usually referred to as 'Black English' in Britain, is the Jamaican Creole or Patois,
which is spoken by the Black Caribbean community living mainly in London , but
other parts of GB too, even though the London community are the largest. There
are obviously other black ethnic groupings in Britain, but none of the same
magnitude. Jamaican Creole – the verb system by Sara Vestman, British Black
English by David Sutcliffe, London Jamaican by Mark Sebba and Sociolinguistics
– an introduction to language and society by Peter Trudgill. Some features in
1) Personal pronouns 2) The verb system 3) The negative 4) Tense and aspect 5) The phonology 6) Stress and tone
For a long
time, JC and other Creoles have been regarded as non-standard varieties
inferior to Standard British English and the question of whether JC is a
dialect or in fact a language, still has not been resolved. Regardless of that,
JC has been recognised as an independent variety with its own grammar-system
and vocabulary – as systematic and rule-governed as any other language – joined
with SE by means of a dialect continuum.
about how to classify JC may seem to be of little importance, but if it were to
be regarded as an English dialect comparable to Cockney or any other variety of
English, it would be difficult to claim its relevancy as a school subject,
since no other dialects are being taught in British schools. However, the
situation for JC speakers seems to be rather different than that of 'normal'
dialect speakers. JC speakers experience more difficulties in code switching, thus
are more inclined to make mistakes in writing and speaking SE. JC should be
regarded as a language rather than a dialect, since the JC structure is so
prominent that it becomes an obstruction to its speakers' use of SE. Sutcliffe
claims that the degree of intelligibility between JC and SE is more comparable
to that of Swiss German vs. Standard German and Catalan vs. Castilian Spanish,
than to that of SE and even the broadest Scottish dialect. (39)
great the diversity between JC and SE is, it would be of great importance to JC
speakers to be able to learn their mother-tongue in school, alongside with SE.
by learning JC in a similar way that they learn SE, the pupils would become
better at distinguishing between the two, and thus the code-switching would
come more natural to them.
(amongst many) which is still to be solved is the fact that there is no
accepted written standard. Attempts have been made to change this, and it is my
beliefs that but still, the JC writings differ greatly with regards to
problem that must be overcome is the fact that the whole state education system
is predicated on British SE. As I mentioned earlier, non-standard varieties of
English have traditionally been regarded as inferior, and the school has
disregarded and even penalised non-standard usage. This is slowly beginning to
change, and with a newly awakened awareness of the important role that JC – as
well as other language varieties – play in the maintaining of a child's
identity, the demand for a curriculum that includes JC has been put forward. (39)
American Vernacular English and its use in teaching process.
Vernacular English (AAVE) – also called African American English or Black English, Black
Vernacular, Black English Vernacular (BEV), or Black Vernacular English (BVE);
or controversially Ebonics
– is an African
American variety (dialect,
ethnolect and sociolect) of American English. Its pronunciation is in
some respects common to Southern American English, which is spoken by many African
Americans and many non-African Americans in the United States. There is little
regional variation among speakers of AAVE. ( 22, 547 )
Vernacular English (AAVE) is the variety formerly known as Black English
Vernacular or Vernacular Black English among sociolinguists, and commonly
called Ebonics outside the academic community. While some features of AAVE are
apparently unique to this variety, in its structure it also shows many
commonalties with other varieties including a number of standard and
nonstandard English varieties spoken in the US and the Caribbean. AAVE has been
at the heart of several public debates and the analysis of this variety has
also sparked and sustained debates among sociolinguists.
It is extremely difficult
to say how many people speak AAVE because it is not clear what exactly this
would mean. Some speakers may use some distinctive aspects of phonology
(pronunciation) and lexis (vocabulary) but none of the grammatical features
associated with the variety. Many sociolinguists would reserve the term AAVE
for varieties which are marked by the occurrence of certain distinctive
grammatical features some of which are discussed below.
Even so it may still be
difficult to say with any exactitude how many AAVE speakers there are since
such grammatical features occur variably, that is, in alternation with standard
features. Such variability in the speech both of groups and individuals
reflects the complex social attitudes surrounding AAVE and other nonstandard
varieties of English and it was this variability which initially attracted the
attention of sociolinguists such as William Labov.(34, 214)
The history of AAVE and
its genetic affiliation, by which we mean what language varieties it is related
to, are also a matter of controversy. Some scholars contend that AAVE developed
out of the contact between speakers of West African languages and speakers of
vernacular English varieties. According to such a view, West Africans learnt
English on plantations in the southern Coastal States (Georgia, South Carolina,
etc.) from a very small number of native speakers (the indentured laborers).
Some suggest that this led to the development of a rudimentary pidgin which was
later expanded through a process of creolization.
Others who advocate a
contact scenario for the development of AAVE suggest that the contact language
(an early Creole-like AAVE) developed through processes of second language
acquisition. According to such a view West Africans newly arrived on
plantations would have limited access to English grammatical models because the
number of native speakers was so small (just a few indentured servants on each
plantation). In such a situation a community of second language learners might
graft what English vocabulary that could be garnered from transient encounters
onto the few grammatical patterns which are common to the languages of West
Africa. (28, 49)
What linguists refer to
as universal grammar (the law-like rules and tendencies which apply to all
natural human language) would have played a significant role in such processes
as well. This kind of thing seems to have taken place in the Caribbean and may
also have happened in some places, at some times in the United States. For instance
Gullah or Sea Islands Creole spoken in the Coastal Islands of South Carolina
and Georgia seems to have formed in this way.
conditions in the US and the Caribbean (where restructured Creole languages are
widely spoken) were really quite different and that the conditions necessary
for the emergence of a fully fledged Creole language were never met in the US.
These scholars have shown on a number of occasions that what look like
distinctive features of AAVE today actually have a precedent in various
varieties of English spoken in Great Britain and the Southern United States. It
seems reasonable to suggest that both views are partially correct and that AAVE
developed to some extent through restructuring while it also inherited many of
its today distinctive features from older varieties of English which were once
As mentioned above AAVE
is a matter of some public controversy as was seen most recently in the debate
over the Ebonics ruling by the Oakland School Board. More than anything this
debate made it clear to sociolinguists that they had failed in one of their
primary objectives -- to educate the public and to disseminate the results of
over twenty-five years of intense research.
public policy makers and sections of the public hold on to mistaken and
prejudiced understandings of what AAVE is and what it says about the people who
speak it. This matter is compounded by the fact that, with the AAVE-speaking
community, attitudes towards the language are complex and equivocal. Many AAVE
speakers contrast the variety with something they refer to as "Talking
At the same time these
same speakers may also express clearly positive attitudes towards AAVE on other
occasions and may also remark on the inappropriateness of using Standard
English in certain situations. While the situation in this case is made more
extreme by the context of racial and ethnic conflict, inequality and prejudice
in the United States, it is not unique. Such ambivalent and multivalent
attitudes towards nonstandard varieties of a language have been documented for
a great many communities around the world and in the United States.
American society has made
concessions for many groups of people with special interests, such as animal activists,
environmental activists and a host of ethnic groups. Tough animal rights laws
have been passed to ensure the safety and future of a variety of species
ranging from the domestic cat to the bald eagle. The development of Wetlands
has been curtailed in an effort to protect our swamps and forests from
Educational system has
implemented a program known as, English as a Second Language, which lends
itself to the special needs of immigrants in our school systems. This program
offers extra tutoring and extra time on tests for immigrants who primarily
speak a language other than English. Dudley Scholarship and Bethel Foundation
Scholarship, along with over twelve-hundred others, have been created
exclusively for minorities in an effort to encourage furthering their
education. A list of these scholarships can be found in Directory of Financial
Aids for Minorities, 1993-1995.
In an effort to promote
equal opportunity in the work place, the United States Government adopted the
Affirmative Action Program, which forces companies to place a certain number of
minorities within their work force. Now, some politicians and educators in this
country want to make concessions for those Americans who have grown up learning
to speak what some people call street slang, as opposed to speaking Standard
English, which at last was still America's primary language. (31,71)
According to Caroline
Boarder, a political columnist, a program known as Ebonics has been introduced
in Oakland, Ca. as a way to bridge the gap between Black English or bad
English-speaking students and standard English-speaking students in an effort
to raise reading and writing test scores of African Americans. She also states
that the Oakland school board contends that this bridge is necessary because
the speaking of Ebonics is genetically related to African Americans. This
hypothesis suggests that black students are incapable of learning the English
language through conventional teaching methods, and we must devise an easier
way to teach them.
Having grown up in the
American school system, both public and private, was exposed to people from
various ethnic groups who had poor reading and writing skills, most of whom were
black. The one thing about these fellow students is that they shared a common
speech deficiency including incorrect pronunciation, subject verb agreement and
problems with general sentence structure. It was no surprise that they could
barely read or write; they couldn't or wouldn't even speak, and other
classmates felt the same way. (29, 55)
For example, Floyd Brown
was one of these students. One day he was going after school, and he replied:
"Ima fi'n na go to
da crib n axe ma fo some bread." –
“You think that he was
going to kill his mother who was in a baby crib (obviously a midget) and take
her food. But it is he was going home to ask his mother for some money”.
Ebonics had been coined
for this speech deficiency in 1973. A dissection of the word Ebonics, which you
will not find in the dictionary and should not find in any classroom in
American school systems, yields a definition based on its two syllables. Ebo
means black, and nics, which is taken from phonics, means sounds. This breaking
apart of the word Ebonics simply yields its meaning as, black sounds.
According to Jane Hill, a
political columnist for the Chicago Tribune, Ebonics was first recognized in
America in the 1800's when African slaves were first brought to America. These
slaves did not speak Standard English because they were not taught to do so.
They spoke a form of what some people now call Ebonics, because they did not
know any better, but African Americans in today's school systems have been
taught better and should know better. (35, 33)
Education is best built
upon what we already know, but if what we already know is incorrect English,
then we must discard it and learn from correct tutorial tools. This includes
practicing reading, writing and speaking with adherence to English grammar
rules. Strong reinforcement of Standard English through repetitious reading and
writing exercises is one solution to the problem of illiteracy in ethnic groups
in America. When necessary, another solution may be speech therapy.
This is the kind of
learning structure we need in the classrooms in their country. They must demand
it of their teachers, and they must deliver. They should be culturally
sensitive to all ethnic groups in an educational setting, but let's not lose sight
of the goal in the process, which is mastery of the English language. Any
incorporation of non-standard use of the English language could make it harder
for all students to learn Standard English. What is worse is that these bad
English-speaking students may become complacent with Ebonics and feel that they
now have their own identifiable language and not attempt to learn Standard
English. If students transfer nothing other than proper English to their
long-term memory during their education, they will at least have the basis for
success in the general population. Good communication skills are a must in
almost every occupational field. (33, 56)
Who will lose as a result
of a mandatory incorporation of Ebonics into our school systems? First, those
students in English as a Second Language programs will feel the effects of such
a fiasco. Funding for Ebonics will most likely come from this area and as a
result, necessary, commendable programs such as this could be short-changed.
Secondly, teachers who have spent their careers attempting to condition the
tongues of their students to English discipline will have to concede to bad
English. Lastly, the students who are placed in these classes will suffer the
greatest loss. Ebonics classes will be composed primarily of students who
belong to various ethnic groups, which will contribute to segregation and
racism, and American history has proven that segregation in any form can only
serve to keep minorities down.
While it is true that
many of the words Americans speak today come from African origin, those words
are clearly pronounceable and are understood by most Americans. Some of these
words are: jubilee, banana, jumbo, gumbo, jazz and banjo. These words are not
slang. According to Connie Eble, a member of the linguistic association of
Canada and the US, slang can be defined as the dropping of a consonant at the
end of a word and attaching it to the next word. The following is an example of
slang: (working last) translated into slang as (workinlas). This is a common combination
that some people believe composes parts of Ebonics. This type of slang has
artistically contributed to the film industry with productions such as Roots
and Glory, but that only makes it marketable, not correct. It as exploitation
of inadequate education of both the characters in the film who speak it, and
the viewer who pays to see it.
In Martin Luther's speech
“I Have a Dream”, and in his writings such as “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, you
can’t find one word of what may be deemed improper English or Ebonics. If
Martin Luther King could speak and write this clearly without the aid of
Ebonics to bridge the gap, this must surely dispel any theory of the speaking
of bad English being genetically connected to African Americans. I believe that
if he could hear the arguments supporting Ebonics he would roll over in his
grave. Ebonics was not part of his dreams for black Americans; he hoped for
educational boundaries to be broken not re-created as Ebonics has the potential
The list of prominent
figures in society who oppose Ebonics includes Jessie Jackson who openly speaks
on television broadcast shows and in various publications about his contempt
for Ebonics. United States Secretary of Education Richard Riley has publicly
declared Oakland's program of Ebonics ineligible for federal funding. Bill
Cosby calls Ebonics "Igmo-bonics." An urbanized version of the
English language which if allowed evolving will leave only body language as a
common standard language to the next generation. (34, 144).
As a society interested
in the future of our youth we must realize that there is no substitute for hard
work and study in the classroom, and there are no shortcuts to learning the
English language. The educational system must strive to make children
mainstream communicators. Ebonics is a misguided, ill represented, detrimental
shortcut that will only create confusion and disappointment in the classroom.
It is a cancer that must be sent into permanent remission by the clear and
coherent voices of Americans.
III. Linguistic Aspects of Black English.
AAVE and Standard English
pronunciation are sometimes quite different. People frequently attach
significance to such differences in pronunciation or accent and as such the
study of phonology (the systematic a patterning of sounds in language) is an
important part of sociolinguistics. It should be noted that phonology has
nothing to do with spelling. The way something is spelt is often not a good
indication of the way it "should be", or much less is, pronounced.
When two consonants
appear at the end of a word (for instance the st in test), they are often
reduced: the final t is deleted. This happens, to some extent, in every variety
of English including standard ones. In AAVE the consonant cluster is reduced
variably (i.e. it does not happen every time) and systematically.
Sociolinguists have shown
that the frequency of reduction can be expressed by a rule which takes account
of a number of interacting facts. Crucially, the frequency of reduction depends
on the environment in which the sound occurs. The following two factors, among
others, have been found to affect the frequency of reduction in consonant
If the next word starts
with a consonant, it is more likely to reduce than if the next word starts with
a vowel. For example, reduction is more likely to occur in west side (becoming Wes
side) than in west end.
A final t or d is more
likely to be deleted if it is not part of the past tense -ed than if it is.
(The past tense -ed suffix is pronounced as t or d or Id in English depending
on the preceding sound.) For example, reduction is more likely to occur in John
ran fast (becoming John ran fas) than in John passed the teacher in his car.
The th sounds: The
written symbol th can represent two different sounds in English: both an
"unvoiced" sound as in thought, thin and think, and a
"voiced" sound as in the, they and that. In AAVE the pronunciation of
this sound depends on where in a word it is found.
At the beginning of a
word, the voiced sound (e.g. in that) is regularly pronounced as d so 'the',
'they' and 'that' are pronounced as de, dey and dat. AAVE shares this feature
with many other nonstandard dialects, including those of the East Coast of
United States and Canada.
Less common in AAVE is
the pronunciation of the unvoiced sound as t. Thus 'thin' can become tin but
rarely does. This however is a very common feature of Caribbean creoles in
which 'think' is regularly pronounced as tink, etc. When the th sound is
followed by r, it is possible in AAVE to pronounce the th as f as in froat for
Within a word, the
unvoiced sound as in nothing, author or ether is often pronounced as f. Thus
AAVE speakers will sometimes say nufn 'nothing' and ahfuh 'author'. The voiced
sound, within a word, may be pronounced v. So 'brother' becomes bruvah, etc.
At the end of a word, th
is often pronounced f in AAVE. For instance 'Ruth' is pronounced Ruf; 'south'
is pronounced souf. When the preceding sound is a nasal (e.g. n or m) the th is
often pronounced as t as in tent for 'tenth'; mont for 'month'. (10, 69)
The sounds l and r:
When they do not occur at
the beginning of a word l and r often undergoes a process known as
"vocalization" and are pronounced as uh. This is most apparent in a
post-vocalic position (after a vowel). For instance 'steal', 'sister', 'nickel'
become steauh, sistuh, nickuh. In some varieties of AAVE (e.g. in the Southern
US), r is not pronounced after the vowels o and u. The words door and doe, four
and foe, and sure and show can be pronounced alike.
Vowels. /Nasalized vowels:
When a nasal (n or m)
follows a vowel, AAVE speakers sometimes delete the nasal consonant and
nasalize the vowel. This nasalization is written with a tilde (~) above the
vowel. So 'man' becomes mã.
Nasals consonants and
In many varieties of
English, including standard varieties, the vowels i in pin and e in pen sound
different in all words. In AAVE, these sounds are merged before a nasal (like n
or m). So in AAVE pin and pen are pronounced with the same vowel. Most Southern
US varieties of English merge these vowels too, so this is only a distinctive
feature of AAVE in the northern United States.
Some vowels like those in
night and my or about and cow are called "diphthongs". This means
that when the vowel is pronounced, the tongue starts at one place in the mouth
and moves as the vowel is being pronounced. In AAVE the vowel in 'night' or in
'my' is often not a diphthong. So when pronouncing the words with this
diphthong, AAVE speakers (and speakers of Southern varieties as well) do not
move the tongue to the front top position. So 'my' is pronounced ma as in he's
over at ma sister's house.
AAVE s from some other
varieties in the placement of stress in a word. So, where words like police, hotel
and July are pronounced with stress on the last syllable in Standard English,
in AAVE they may have stress placed on the first syllable so that you get po-lice,
ho-tel and Ju-ly.
some characteristics which are associated with regional and working-class
varieties of English and some others which are found only in Caribbean Creole.
Some of the most important differences:
The vowel of
CUP is like the vowel of British English COP /kVp/
The vowel of
ALL is like the vowel of British English ARE /a:l/
The vowels of
DAY and HOME are diphthongs /dI@/ and /huom/
consonant of THESE /Di:z/ is /d/: /di:z/
consonant of THUMP /TVmp/ is /t/: /tVmp/ (16,128)
Some of these
characteristics, notably double negatives and the omission of certain auxiliaries such as
the has in has been are also characteristic of general colloquial American
The linguist William Labov carried
out and published the first thorough grammatical study of African American
Vernacular English in 1965.(37)
The copula BE is often dropped, as in Russian, Hebrew, Arabic and other
languages. For example: You crazy! ("You're crazy") or She my sister
("She's my sister"). The phenomenon is also observed in questions: Who
you? ("Who're you?") and Where you at? ("Where are you
(at)?"). On the other hand, a stressed is cannot be dropped: She is my
The general rules
- Only the forms is
and are (which in any case is often replaced by is) can be omitted
- These forms
cannot be omitted when they are pronounced with a stress (whether or not the
stress serves specifically to impart an emphatic sense to the verb's meaning).
- These forms
cannot be omitted when the corresponding form in Standard English cannot show
contraction (and vice-versa). For example, I don't know where he is cannot be
reduced to *I don't know where he because in Standard English the corresponding
reduction *I don't know where he's is likewise impossible. (Though I don't know
where he at is possible.)
other minor conditions apply as well.
verbs are uninflected for number/person: there is no -s ending in the
present-tense third-person singular. Example: She writes poetry ("She
writes poetry"). Similarly, was used for what in Standard English are
contexts for both was and were.
The word it or is
denotes the existence of something, equivalent to Standard English there in
"there is", or "there are". This usage is also found in the
English of the US South. Examples Is a doughnut in the cabinet
("There's a doughnut in the cabinet") and It ain't no spoon
("There isn't a spoon", also "They ain't no spoon").
Altered syntax in
questions: In “ Why they ain't growin'?” ("Why aren't they growing?")
and “Who the hell she think she is?” ("Who the hell does she think she
is?") lack the inversion of standard English. Because of this, there is
also no need for the auxiliary DO. (29, 48)
GRAMMAR AND STRUCTURE RULE IN WEST
construction of sentences without
the form of the verb to be
He sick today.
They talkin about school now.
Repetition of noun subject with
My father, he work there.
Question patterns without do
What it come to?
Same form of noun for singular and
one boy; five boy
No tense indicated in verb
I know it good when he ask me
Same verb form for all subjects
I know; you know; he know; we know;
Sound Rule in West African
No consonant pairs
jus (for just); men (for mend)
Few long vowels or two-part vowel
rat (for right); tahm (for time)
No /r/ sound
mow (for more)
No /th/ sound
substitution of /d/ or /f/ for
/th/; souf (for south) and dis (for this)
Copula Deletion with
"To Be" and Other Characteristics
SE Meaning / Notes
He is working [currently].
He be workin'.
He works frequently or habitually.
Better illustrated with "He be workin' Tuesdays."
He stay workin'.
He is always working.
He been workin'.
He has been working.
He been had dat job.
Remote phase (see below)
He has had that job for a long time
and still has it.
He done worked.
He has worked. Syntactically,
"He worked" is valid, but "done" is used to emphasize the
completed nature of the action.
One of the most famous
grammatical characteristics of Black English is the use of the verb to be. Omission of the verb to be, or
copula deletion, is very typical of Black English. The "is" can be
omitted completely ("He Michael, too"). On the
other hand, in sentences
where the is or other forms of
be are not contracted in general Standard English usage, it is not deleted in
He finna go to work.
He's about to go to work. Finna is
a contraction of "fixing to"; though is also believed to show
residual influence of late 16th century archaism "would fain (to)",
that persisted until later in some rural dialects spoken in the Carolinas
(near the Gullah region).
"Fittin' to" is commonly thought to be another form of the original
"fixin' (fixing) to", and it is also heard as fitna, fidna, fixna,
I was walkin' home, and I had
worked all day.
"Had" is used to begin a
preterite narration. Usually it occurs in the first clause of the narration,
and nowhere else.
The aspect marked
by stressed 'been' has been given many names, including perfect phase, remote
past, remote phase this article uses the third. Been here is stressed; in order
to distinguish it from unstressed been (used as in Standard English), linguists
often write it as BIN. Thus the distinction between She BIN running ("She
has been running for a long time") and She been running ("She has
With non-stative verbs, the
role of been is simple: it places the action in the distant past, or represents
total completion of the action. A Standard English equivalent is to add "a
long time ago". For example, She been told me that translates as,
"She told me that a long time ago".(35)
However, when been
is used with stative verbs or gerund
forms, been shows that the action began in the distant past and that it is
continuing now. Linguist John
R. Rockford suggests that a better translation when used with
stative verbs is "for a long time". For instance, in response to
"I like your new dress", one might hear Oh, I been had this dress,
meaning that the speaker has had the dress for a long time and that it isn't new.
To see the difference between the simple past and the gerund when used with been,
consider the utterances:
I been bought her
"I bought her clothes a long time ago".
I been buyin' her
"I've been buying her clothes for a long time".
formed differently from standard American English:
Use of ain't as a general
negative indicator. It can be used where Standard English would use am not, isn't,
aren't, haven't and hasn't, a trait which is not specific to AAVE. However, in
marked contrast to other varieties of English in the U.S., some speakers of
AAVE also use ain't in lieu of don't, doesn't, or didn't (e.g., I ain't know
that). Ain't had its origins in common English, but became increasingly
stigmatized since the 19th century. See also amn't.
popularly called "double negation", as in I didn't go nowhere; if the
sentence is negative, all negatable forms are negated. This contrasts with
Standard English, where a double negative is considered a positive (although
this wasn't always so; see double negative).
There is also "triple" or "multiple negation", as in the
phrase I don't know nothing about no one no more, which would be "I don't
know anything about anybody anymore" in Standard English. Black English also employs a pattern
of multiple negation. Where negation is repeated throughout the clause or
sentence. For Standard English "I didn´t see anything like that
anywhere", Black English has " I ain´t see nothin´ like
dat no place". The use of the negative contraction ain´t is
distinctive of Black English, especially as a single past negative (I
ain´t see for I didn´t see or he ain´t gonna do it). Multiple
negation often implies emphasis.
In a negative
construction, an indefinite pronoun such as nobody or nothing can be inverted
with the negative verb particle for emphasis (eg. Don't nobody know the answer,
Ain't nothin' goin' on.) (12, 54)
While these are
features that AAVE has in common with Creole languages, Howe and Walker use
data from early recordings of African Nova Scotian English, Samaná
English, and Ex-Slave recordings to demonstrate that negation was inherited
from nonstandard colonial English.
The use of
"invariant be" is almost only found in Black English. This refers to
repeated actions over a considerable extent of time, and the distinction
between he walk, he walkin´, he be walkin´ has no exact parallel in
Standard English. These three verb forms have different negatives: He
don´t walk, he ain´t walkin´, he don´t be
walkin´. One might say 'He rich' instead of 'He is rich'; and 'Dey ugly'
for 'They are ugly', and so on. (14,447) A brief version is:
In African-American Vernacular English you may
omit forms of the copular verb 'be' provided all of the following conditions
It must not be accented.
You never leave 'is' out of something like 'There already is one!'
It mustn't end the
sentence. You never say, 'I don't know what it is' without the 'is'.
It mustn't begin the
sentence. You never leave out the 'is' in a question like 'Is dat right?'
It mustn't be an
infinitive. You never leave out 'be' in something like 'You got to be strong'
or an imperative like 'Be careful', or in one of those habitual aspect cases
like 'He be laughin'.'
It mustn't be in the past
tense. You never leave out 'was' or 'were'.
It mustn't be negated.
You never leave out 'ain't' from something like 'He ain't no fool.'
It mustn't be first
person singular. You never leave out the 'am' of sentences like 'I'm yo' main
The frequency of
inclusion has been shown to depend on a variety of factors. Here are some
In future sentences with gonna
or gon (see below):
I don't care what he say,
you __ gon laugh.
...as long as i's kids
around he's gon play rough or however they're playing.
Before verbs with the
-ing or -in ending(progressive):
I tell him to be quiet
because he don't know what he __ talking about.
I mean, he may say
something's out of place but he __ cleaning up behind it and you can't get mad
Before adjectives and
expressions of location:
He __ all right.
And Alvin, he __ kind of
big, you know?
She __ at home. The club
__ on one corner, the Bock is on the other.
Before nouns (or phrases
He __ the one who had to
go try to pick up the peacock.
I say, you __ the one
jumping up to leave, not me.
The dropping of the
inflectional plural suffix is another feature of Black English ("He hab
two dog.") The number itself (two) carries the plural. Speakers of Black
English make "mooses" the plural of "moose", or "fishes"
the plural of "fish". Words like "childrens",
"foots" or "womens" are also not unusual in Black English.
The optionality of the
plural is also a grammatical feature of Black English, and a similar feature is
the optionality of the past tense. The same form of the verb is sometimes used
for both present and past. Because of the weakening of final clusters it is
impossible to decide whether a verb form is the present tense used for the past
or a past tense form with the final -d or -t dropped in pronunciation.
American Black English
does not possess the third-person singular present tense marker (-s). "He
walk " is acceptable Black English grammar. In the case of words like
"have" and "do", Black English uses the full forms of
"have" and "do" ("He have my name"). (17, 57)
"a" and "an" seldom appear in the speech of young Blacks,
especialy those who have not had a Standard English education. They do appear,
especially the "a", in the speech of Blacks who have come in contact
with Standard English.
There is also a
phenomenon called "semantic inversion" which appears in Black
English. A Black "dude" who is considered to be "bad" by
those "on the street" has a lot to be proud of. A true semantic
inversion would equate "bad" in Black English with "good"
in Standard English. However, quite often the meaning is not completely
opposite, and in fact may be on different levels.
The study of American
Black English remains controversial. Attempts to wipe out Black English have
failed, and so have attempts to give Black English a universal acceptance.
Black English (or Black Vernacular English) has grammatical characteristics
similar to other English based creoles, such as the English creole spoken in
parts of the Dominican Republic that still retain a population of ex-slaves
from the US.
There exists a continuum
between Black Vernacular English and Standard
English, as usually occurs with post-creoles and their
"parent" languages. Individuals have large ranges of variance between
their ethnic dialect and Standard English. (30, 66)
Black Vernacular English
is often unintelligible to speakers of Standard English. Cross-cultural
misunderstanding, arising from wrong assumptions, often occurs when a speaker
of Standard English encounters Black Vernacular English. The majority of
English speakers tend to think Black Vernacular English, apart from the special
slang; it is simply an impoverished version of English with a lot of
There is a difference
between making grammatical mistakes in Standard English and speaking correctly
in a different variety of the language, one with a slightly different grammar, as is the
case with Black Vernacular English which indeed has a regular, systematic
grammar of its own.
varieties mark grammatical agreement between the subject and predicate in the
present tense. If the subject is third person singular (he, she, it or the name
of a person or object), an -s appears at the end of a regular verb. (E.g. John
walks to the store). In AAVE the verb is rarely marked in this way. When
regular verbs occur with such -s marking, they often carry special emphasis.
Standard English also has agreement in a number of irregular and frequently
used verbs such as has vs. have and is vs. are and was vs. were. In AAVE these
distinctions are not always made. (38)
Tense and aspect
The verb in AAVE is often
used without any ending. As is the case with the English creoles, there are
some separate words that come before the verb which show when or how something
happens. These are called "tense/aspect markers".
Standard British English, nearly all verbs have specially marked forms for the
past tense, e.g. look-looked, come-came, go-went. In Creole the past tense is
often left unmarked, so that it has exactly the same form as the present, e.g.
a police van pull-up (Standard pulled up), out jump t'ree policeman (jumped),
Jim start to wriggle (started).
Past tense may be
conveyed by the surrounding discourse (with the help of adverbials such as, for
example, "last night", "three years ago", "back in
them days", etc., or by the use of conjunctions which convey a sequence of
actions (e.g. "then"), or by the use of an ending as in standard
English. The frequency with which the -ed ending occurs depends on a number of factors
including the sounds which follow it. (25, 359)
Some past events are
conveyed by placing been before the verb. Speakers of Standard English may
mistake this for the Standard English "present perfect" with the
"have" or "has" deleted. However the AAVE sentence with
been is in fact quite different from the Standard English present perfect. This
can be seen by comparing two sentences such as the following:
Standard English present
perfect: He has been married.
AAVE been: He been
In the Standard English
sentence the implication is that he is now no longer married. However, in the
AAVE sentence the implication is quite the opposite: he is still married.
Sentences equivalent to Standard
English perfects such as discussed above may be conveyed by the use of done in
AAVE. For example the standard sentence "He has eaten his dinner" can
be expressed as He done eat his dinner.
Future events and those
that have not yet occurred are marked by gon or gonna (see above).
Events in progress:
Besides using the verb
with the ending -ing or -in to convey that an event is in progress, AAVE has a
number of other words which add particular nuances. For instance, if the
activity is vigorous and intentional, the sentence may include the word steady.
The item steady can be used to mark actions that occur consistently or
persistently, as in Ricky Bell be steady steppin in them number nines.
Events that occur
habitually or repeatedly are often marked by be in AAVE as in She be working
all the time. (39)
AAVE has a number of ways
of marking negation. Like a number of other varieties of English, AAVE uses ain't
to negate the verb in a simple sentence. In common with other nonstandard
dialects of English, AAVE uses ain't in Standard English sentences which use
"haven't". For example standard "I haven't seen him." is
equivalent to AAVE I ain't seen him. Unlike most other nonstandard varieties of
English, AAVE speakers also sometimes use ain't for standard "didn't"
as in the following examples
I ain't step on no line.
I ain't believing you
that day, man.
As the first sentence
above shows, AAVE also allows negation to be marked in more that one position
in the sentence (so called double or multiple negation). In this respect, AAVE
resembles French and a number of other Romance languages and also a number of
English creoles. Certain kinds of nouns actually require negative marking in
negative sentences. In so far as the negation must be expressed with indefinite
nouns (e.g. "anything", "anyone" etc.), this is a form of
agreement marking. (E.g. I ain't see nothing). (9, 56)
AAVE also has a special
negative construction which linguists call "negative inversion". An
example from Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon follows:
Pilate they remembered as
a pretty woods-wild girl "that couldn't nobody put shoes on."
In this example (in the
part in italics), a negative auxiliary (couldn't) is moved in front of the
subject (nobody). Some other examples illustrate this:
Ain't no white cop gonna
put his hands on me.
Can't nobody beat 'em
Can't nobody say nothin'
to dem peoples!
Don' nobody say nothing
after that. (Ledbetter,
Wasn't nobody in there
but me an' him. (Isom
Moseley, born 1856)
At the level
of grammar there are important differences between Creole and Standard English.
Here are some of the main ones:
English has separate forms for subject, object and possessive pronouns. Creole
has just one form for all three: sometimes this form is derived from the
subject and sometimes from the object form in British English.
ENGLISH PRONOUN SYSTEM
1. Subject pronouns
y o u
ENGLISH PRONOUN SYSTEM
2. Object pronouns
y o u
ENGLISH PRONOUN SYSTEM
3. Possessive pronouns
Standard British English has 18 different pronoun forms while Creole has only
6. Creole is much more "compact", more "efficient" in using
the available forms to cover the range of meaning. But Creole has two forms for
"you", one (/yu/) for singular and another (/unu/) for plural.
Standard English is rather unusual in not having such a distinction, so in this
respect Creole could be said to be more "universal". (10, 256)
British English, nearly all nouns have specially marked plural forms, e.g.
book-books, woman-women. Creole usually does not mark plural in this way, so
that plural nouns often have exactly the same form as the singular, as in:
t'ree policeman. Sometimes dem is added after a noun (especially one referring
to people) to show plural, e.g. di gyal-dem, "the girls".
grammatical differences between Creole and Standard have given rise in the past
to the idea that Creole speakers have "wrong" or "sloppy"
grammar. However, as you can see (especially from the pronoun example) Creole
grammar is systematic and has its own logic. Most Creole words look like words
of English but they are combined using grammar rules which belong to Creole
For the most
part, AAVE uses the lexicon of SAE, particularly informal and southern
dialects. There are some notable differences, however. It has been suggested
that some of this vocabulary has its origin in West African languages, but
etymology is often difficult to trace and without a trail of recorded usage the
suggestions below cannot be considered proven, and in many cases are not
recognized by linguists or the Oxford English Dictionary.
dig from Wolof dëgg or dëgga,
meaning "to understand/appreciate"
bad-mouth, a calque from Mandinka (38)
AAVE also has
words that either are not part of Standard American English, or have strikingly
different meanings from their common usage in SAE. For example, there are
several words in AAVE referring to white people which are not part of mainstream
SAE; these include the use of gray as an adjective for whites (as in "gray
dude"), possibly from the color of Confederate uniforms, possibly an extension of the slang use
for "Irish", "Ofay," which is pejorative, is another general term for a
white; it might derive from the Yoruba word ofe,
spoken in hopes of disappearing from danger such as that posed by European
traders. However, most dictionaries simply refer to this word as having an
unknown etymology. Kitchen refers to the particularly curly or kinky hair at
the nape of the neck, and siditty or seddity means snobbish
or bourgeois. (39)
Past Tense Markers
Simplification, or Reduction
Simplification, or Deletion
Final and Post-vocalic -r
[I] + [n] is realized as
[æ ] and [I] + [nk] is realized as [ænk]
[theta] > [f] in
[ð] > [d] in
[ð] > [v] in
Remote phase marker
AAVE does not have a
vocabulary separate from other varieties of English. However AAVE speakers do
use some words which are not found in other varieties and furthermore use some
English words in ways that differ from the standard dialects.
A number of words used in
standard English may also have their origin in AAVE or at least in the West
African languages that contributed to AAVE's development. These include:
gumbo (Western Bantu)
A discussion of AAVE
vocabulary might proceed by noting that words can be seen to be composed of a
form (a sound signal) and a meaning. In some cases both the form and the
meaning are taken from West African sources. In other case the form is from
English but the meaning appears to be derived from West African sources. Some
cases are ambiguous and seem to involve what the late Fredric Cassidy called a
multiple etymology (the form can be traced to more than one language -- e.g.
West African Form + West
bogus 'fake/fraudulent' cf. Hausa boko, or
boko-boko 'deceit, fraud'.
hep, hip 'well informed, up-to-date' cf.
Wolof hepi, hipi 'to open one's eyes, be aware of what is going on'.
English Form + West
cat 'a friend, a fellow, etc.' cf. Wolof -kat
(a suffix denoting a person)
cool 'calm, controlled' cf. Mandingo suma
'slow' (literally 'cool')
dig 'to understand, appreciate, pay
attention' cf. Wolof deg, dega 'to understand, appreciate'
bad 'really good'
In West African languages
and Caribbean creoles a word meaning 'bad' is often used to mean 'good' or
'alot/intense'. For instance, in Guyanese Creole mi laik am bad, yu noo means
'I like him alot'. Dalby mentions Mandingo (Bambara) a nyinata jaw-ke 'She's
very pretty.' (literally 'She is beautiful bad.'); cf. also Krio ( a creole
language spoken in West Africa) mi gud baad.
Black English also emplys
a d sound for the voiced
Standard English th at the
beginning of the words such as the, that, those, there; which are replaced by
duh, dat, dose, dere, and dey. Black English has the "d" mostly at
the beginning of the words, but otherwise v
for the voiced th. For example
"other" may be pronounced as "ovvah". Another phonological
characteristic is "r-lessness," or the dropping of r´s after
vowels. At the end of the words that is shown by -ah, as in "evvah"
for the word "ever" and "remembah" for
Black English also often
simplifies or weakens consonant clusters at the ends of words. This tendency is
quite strong; some words are regularly pronounced without the final consonant,
such as jus´ and roun´. Nouns that end in a cluster such as -s,
-p,-t or -k in Standard English will change in Black English so that those
clusters are dropped and an "-es" is added in the plural. Thus
"desk" becomes "des´" and the plural becomes
"desses"; "test" becomes "tes´" and the
plural becomes "tesses." (11, 78)
The most common
application of elision or loss of unstressed word-initial syllable is the loss
of the schwa in word-initial position, as in ´bout (about), ´gree
(agree), ´low (allow). The unstressed word-initial syllables themselves
may be lost, as in ´bacco (tobacco), ´cept (accept) and
´member (remember). (18.47)
Another interesting set
of vocabulary items are called loan translations or "calques". In
such cases a complex idea is expressed in some West African language by a
combination of two words. In AAVE these African words appear to have been
directly translated and the same concept is expressed by the combination of the
equivalent English items
bad-eye 'nasty look', cf. Mandingo, nyE-jugu
'hateful glance' (lit. 'bad-eye')
big-eye 'greedy', cf. Ibo. anya uku
'covetous' (literally 'big-eye').
Any discussion of AAVE
vocabulary must take note of the many recent innovations which occur in this
variety and which tend to spread rapidly to other varieties of English. Most
recent innovations are not enduring. These lexical items give regionally and
generationally restricted varieties of AAVE their particular texture.
AAE is definitely not
the only nonstandard vernacular spoken in the USA. Its excessive stigmatization
and the related commitment on the part of some to eradicate it may have to do
with negative attitudes inherited from the American colonial past, the period
since which African Americans have been thought of as less intelligent. The
very fact that vernaculars of the White middle-class have typically been
identified by fiat as standard, although only some of them are close to it,
reflects that prejudice, some tacit consensus in the overall society that
everybody should adapt to White middle-class norms.
It is true that
socio-economic stratification has imposed a system in which command of either
standard or White middle class English has become part of the requirements for
success in the professional world. However, developing proficiency in these
norms need not be at the cost of abandoning one’s vernacular for all
communicative functions. Vernaculars have their own social identity functions;
and many speakers are not ready, least of all eager, to renounce that
social-indexical role of their vernacular.
As observed by A. Delpit
(12, 454), they see in the humiliations of excessive corrections and in the
very style of the corrections themselves, aggressions of their own ethnic and
cultural identities. The children’s negative reactions to inadequate approaches
to the Standard English proficiency problem foster lack of enthusiasm, which in
turn produces poor performance not only in Standard English but also in the classroom
in general, especially when they become self-conscious linguistically.
It remains imperative
that school systems teach Standard English more successfully to AAE-speakers.
What hopefully we have presented in this paper is that this effort should be consistent
with the development of diverse non-standard English vernaculars in North
America since the colonial period. AAE is only one subset of such varieties out
of many others. Perhaps excessive concern with AAE is in itself a negative
factor that has ethicized the more general question of how to teach standard
English efficiently to speakers of non-standard vernaculars in general without
bruising their speakers’ self esteem nor eroding their enthusiasm and interest
in being educated.(38)
In our diploma paper we
have researched the linguistic aspects of Black English. Black English is very
actual in terms of sociolinguistics and language interaction development, in
racial relations and ethnic cultures.
The Black English historic development and its linguistic
characteristics make up the core content of work. This diploma paper has
considered historical review, development of contemporary Black English in the
US and its linguistic aspects
We have observed Black English as a social dialect of English
language, reviewed the historical development of Black English - its origin and
development in the framework of Pidgin and Creole. We have considered the
present characteristics of the U.S. Black English, differences between Black
English, British English, and British Black English, investigated Black English
contemporary development and its use in teaching process. We have also studied linguistic
aspects of Black English, especially its phonetic, grammar, lexical
peculiarities which have been formed in the process of language interaction.
This material can be used
as teaching manual in the course of English Language, Lexicology, History of
the English language, Area studies( UK/USA).
Black English is the
communicative and social system, originally created at the intersection of
three dimensions – social class, ethnic and territorial. Black English has
existed as a social dialect since XVII century, but the term goes back only to
1969. At present 80% of Black Americans speak Black English.
Black English is widely used in modern literature (fiction
and non-fiction), music, mass media ( news broadcasts, newspapers, commercial
advertising) and in such daily routine matters as safety instructions, everyday
Black English also called
African American English, or African American Vernacular English, Black
Vernacular, Black English Vernacular, or controversially Ebonics - is an
African American Variety (sociolect/social dialect, ethnolect).
Black English has been
used in many parts of world: the USA (Hawaii), Great Britain, in Africa
(Gambia, Sierra, Leone, Liberia, Ghana, Togo, Nigeria, Cameroon), West Indies,
Vanuatu, Papua New, Guinea, in the northern part of Australia, in Vietnam etc.
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