African-American Vernacular English can be described as an assortment of American English that is mostly used by urban-working class and mostly bi-dialectical middle-class black Americans. The language is also commonly known as Black Vernacular English or Black English. In some cases, particularly outside the academic community, it is referred to as Ebonics given its distinctive features and similarities with other non-standard English varieties. The similarities with other varieties are evident when compared to various standard and non-standard English languages that are commonly used in the United States and the Caribbean. In the past few years, African-American Vernacular English has been the subject of various public debates and attracted considerable attention among sociolinguists. This paper examines the development of this language, its distinctive features, cultural context, and socio-economic implications of the use of African-American Vernacular English.
Roots of African-American Vernacular English
The history and origin of African-American Vernacular English and other varieties associated with it has been an issue of increased controversy (Sidnell, n.d.). However, the roots of this language were undoubtedly established in the rural South whereas its 20th Century development as a socio-cultural variety is strongly linked to its use in non-Southern urban regions. In essence, the emergence of urban Black English is a by-product of the Great Migration through which African-Americans migrated from the rural South to large metropolitan regions of the North in the 20th Century. However, the democratic migration is not an adequate explanation for the cultural movement through which urban centers became the modern norm for African-American Vernacular English.
In the early 1900s, nearly 90% of African-Americans in the United States lived in the South whereas 75% of them lived in communities with less than 2,500 (Wolfram, n.d.). A dramatic redistribution or migration of African-Americans took place in the period between World War 1 through to the Second World War and beyond. This redistribution was characterized by movement of African-Americans from rural South for cities in the North. By 1970, even though 47% of Black Americans lived outside the South whereas 77% of them lived in urban centers. This large invasion of African-Americans in urban areas contributed to intense racial isolation that was accompanied with social and cultural implications. These implications in turn lead to the development of a social environment that was favorable to the maintenance of ethno-linguistic differences. The maintenance of ethno-linguistic differences by African-Americans in turn acted as the basis for the emergence and development of African-American Vernacular English.
Nonetheless, there are other theories that have been used to demonstrate the roots or origin of African-American Vernacular English. One of these theories is the belief that this language emerged from at least one slave creoles through the trans-Atlantic African slave trade. In this case, the development of Black English was fueled by the need for African slaves to communicate among themselves and with their masters. However, the contribution of these languages to contemporary African-American Vernacular English is very minimal. This implies that African-American Vernacular English was developed on the basis of transplant dialect communities from Southern rural speakers who migrated to non-Southern areas.
Distinctive Features of African-American Vernacular English
African-American Vernacular English has distinctive features that make it unique or difference from other variables. One of the most notable differences in this language is verb phrase, which mainly entails the use of aspect, mood, and tense. Verb phrase in this language entails copula or auxiliary absence for contractible forms of are and is. Copula or auxiliary absence in the verb phrase of Black English is similar to some Southern white rural vernacular varieties of English. The second feature about verb phrase in this language is the invariant be or non-finite be, which is considered as the most salient grammatical characteristic of African-American Vernacular English. The other aspects of verb phrase in this language include the use of completive done, combination of be and done in sentences, emphasized use of been, and inclusion of specialized auxiliaries.
The second distinctive feature of African-American Vernacular English is related to the development of negation. In this language, a single negative proposition may be indicated both within the verb phrase as well as on post-verbal indefinites. While this is not different from most of the existing vernacular dialects in English, the inclusion of negative concord is quite distinctive. Third, African-American Vernacular English is also characterized by the lack of inflectional -- s on plurals and possessives (Wolfram, n.d.). This tendency by Black Americans is very rare among other vernaculars of American English. Verbs in African-American Vernacular English are always used without any ending as there are various ways of marking negation.
In relation to grammar of this language i.e. copula omission, negative concord, and removing final consonants needs to be learned by any individual who would like to speak the language. This implies that mastering the language does not originate from knowing American English or being of African-American descent. This is primarily because of the past and present cultural context of the use of this dialect.
The present cultural context of the use of African-American Vernacular English extends beyond regional boundaries as well as families and specific groups. The language is increasingly used in urban and metropolitan areas due to the migration of blacks from south to northern areas. Moreover, the change in the cultural context is fueled by the emergence of the bi-racial ideology, which is definitive of urban centers and the development of oppositional identity in the African-American youth culture. Similar to the past cultural context, Black Vernacular English is used as a distinctive identity and feature of African-Americans, particularly the youth. Young African-Americans in metropolitan areas use this language as a tool of distinguishing themselves and oppositional identity. For young African-Americans, the language is a tool for them to avoid acting "white." They believe that speaking Standard English is a major sign or indicator of the behaviors and beliefs of white people. Therefore, the African-American youth culture utilizes the language to support the maintenance of ethno-linguistic uniqueness.
Throughout its history, African-American English has been considered as a major social cultural variation that continues to change because of the changing social conditions. The present cultural context has involved the development of the language's literature. This process has been characterized by a long tradition of representing the speeches of African-Americans in American literature. The process has been fueled by examining how black identity is developed and its link to other characters. However, the depiction of the language in literature is usually carried out through spelling changes to demonstrate phonological differences rather than a developed spelling system.
The present cultural context of the use of African-American Vernacular English has similarities to its past cultural context with regards to ethno-linguistic distinctiveness. Actually, the development of this language is attributed to attempts by African-Americans to distinguish themselves from other varieties of Standard English. The language was developed and utilized by African-Americans during a period when they faced increased discrimination. However, according to Hinton & Pollock (2000), the past cultural context of the use of this language was characterized by regional variations (p.59). The variations in phonological characteristics occurred between middle-class African-Americans and other groups in this population.
Socio-economic Implications of Using this Language
The use of African-American Vernacular English has had considerable socio-economic implications, particularly in education as reported by scholars. As indicated by scholars and experts in the academic field, African-American children have comparatively low performance on standardized literacy activities partly because of deficient patterns in speech and language (Harris & Schroeder, 2013, p. 194). The characteristics of Black Vernacular Language interfere…
African-American Vernacular English There are a couple of theories as to the origin of African-American Vernacular Englsh (AAVE). Some linguists believe that the language derives from West African languages. This dialect theory is based on the knowledge that most African-Americans who were brought to the United States from Africa had to learn how to speak English by ear. The may have picked up some of the English words incorrectly and
Linguistics Ebonics Ebonics is a term coined by Robert L. Williams in 1975. It was developed by merging the words ebony and phonics. Ebonics is defined as a system of oral communication utilized by Americans of African ancestry that consists of phonology, syntax, morphology, semantics, lexicon, rate, rhythm, stress, and nonverbal communication. Ebonics started during the trans-Atlantic African slave trade during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Africans who were brought over
Slave Narrative and Black Autobiography - Richard Wright's "Black Boy" and James Weldon Johnson's Autobiography The slave narrative maintains a unique station in modern literature. Unlike any other body of literature, it provides us with a first-hand account of institutional racially-motivated human bondage in an ostensibly democratic society. As a reflection on the author, these narratives were the first expression of humanity by a group of people in a society where
A historical turning point, as well as a vast human tragedy, the Black Death of 1346-53 is unparalleled in human history" (2005, 43). The impact of the Black Death on the majority of the social structures of European society was also profound but actually had some beneficial outcomes for the less affluent members of society. For instance, because there were fewer people available, employers were compelled to increase wages and
African Centered Education In 'The Miseducation of the Negro', Carter Woodson (2000) argues that the education provided to African-Americans ignored or undervalued African historical experiences, and overvalued European history and culture. This has caused the alienation of African-Americans, who became dissociated from themselves, by ignoring or cutting African-Americans' links with their own culture and traditions. Woodson argued that this type of education has caused African-Americans to reject their own heritage, while
..the roles these abilities play in social life;...and the manner in which they are interpreted..., not by experts, but by ordinary people in ordinary activities" (Baynham 285). A combination of the forbidden nature of Douglass's society, in addition to the interpretation of his learning to read by his mistress, his boy teachers, and the Irishman allowed and motivated the young man to pursue literacy. A unique combination of Douglass's social environment