There are hundreds of languages used around the world. Whether it’s English, Spanish, French, Italian, or Arabic, they are each distinctly different from one another. For instance, suppose you hear someone say “She be there in a minute”? For some people, that sentence would make them cringe, while for others, they would understand what the sentence means. Over the years, a different language has formed. It’s not the slang spoken in the cities, it’s not the uneducated form of English, and it’s not a dialect, but, instead, its own language called African American Vernacular English (AAVE) or popularly known as Ebonics.
So how could African Americans create their own language that is different from English? There are two different hypotheses about the origin of AAVE. The first was developed in the mid-twentieth century. As stated in the PBS article, the first hypothesis is known as the Dialectologist Hypothesis (Also known as the Anglicist Hypothesis).1 This hypothesis concentrates on the English origins of AAVE disregarding the African Influence.
Rather than originating from African-American countries, this hypothesis states that AAVE originated in English dialects spoken in the South. If we look at today, AAVE has become more common in non-southern states but in more urban communities. This hypothesis also concludes that slaves traveling back and forth back in the early nineteenth century just created their own forms of English while learning it
This cartoon compares the grammar rule of thumb for English placing the “I” before the “E” except after “C” for when one is unsure whether a word is spelled “ie” or “ei”.
It’s funny and ironic how the man who is displaying Ebonics shortened the word “except” to “ ‘cept.”
http://nigelgmitchell.blogspot.com/2013/02/can-ebonics-be-used-by-smart-people.html from groups of white speakers.1 The second hypothesis is known as the Creole hypothesis. As in the PBS article, the Creole Hypothesis explains that AAVE is an outcome derived from English and many West African Languages1.To further explain, Creole is a language that is pulled from other languages in specific regions that become the mainly used language of the people who speak it. If we go back to the 1900s when slaves were thrown together while traveling to the New World, they had to find some way to communicate even though they all spoke their own African language.
They came up with their own and new language called a pidgin. For example, the PBS article stated “They developed pidgin by applying English and some West African vocabulary to the familiar grammar rules of their native tongue.”1 Many African speakers with their own different language backgrounds had to communicate with one another, so they decided to create a universal language while still keeping their own grammar.
Once pidgins were created, they were passed down to different slaves and people who lived in other areas. This language started to become the primary language of its speakers creating Creole. If we look at today, AAVE is now used a lot different than it was back then. AAVE has actually changed a lot over time. If we go back to the 1960s when the hip-hop era was evolving, a lot of speakers who were African American that spoke English were seen as “deficient” speakers. They were insufficient when speaking English and lacked proper grammar use. African American students were particularly looked at by William Labov. Psychologists were determined to figure out why there was such a gap between African American students and white American students in several school subjects. Labov states results from corresponding research that black children from the ghetto receive little to no verbal stimulation and hear the minimal well-formed language.3 Unfortunately, according to psychologists, these speakers did not have the means to use the verbal expression.
Speaking full and correct sentences, creating logical concepts, and stating names of common objects becomes difficult for black children in school. These statements all retain to the deficit theory which relates to verbal deprivation. I agree with Labov’s view on how this theory doesn’t truly define the reason why there is a gap between African Americans and White Americans while learning. Labov believes that black children from urban ghettos receive tons of verbal stimulation. They indeed can form logical and well-formed sentences, which in some cases, are better than middle-class students. They do participate in a highly verbal culture which allows them to speak and understand English. Rather than a defect, there is just a major difference. Instead of verbal deprivation, African American children speak English but in a different, eloquent way.
Over time, many languages can change. If we take standard English for example, we can construct sounds and words from many other languages and combine it into one language. This is called borrowing. When borrowing words from a different or mixture of languages, we have to make sure that the words mean the same in both languages. For example, the word “sugar” is actually spelled similar in 3 other languages. Just because the spelling is similar in those other languages doesn’t mean that the words are technically related. To borrow a word or phrase in another language, we have to make sure that the word is actually different from the language we use. Einar Haugen states in his article that “ We shall assume it as axiomatic that every speaker attempt to reproduce a previously learned linguistic pattern in an effort to cope with new linguistic situations.” As previously stated, when we try to create a common form of linguistic patterns during communication it’s known as pidgin. There are so many similarities between AAVE and English because the words that they are using are still considered English. It’s the way that they format the words that make the language distinctly different form English. This actually relates back to the Creole Hypothesis.
AAVE speakers borrowed words from English and created their own pattern of speaking creating Creole. Another reason explaining how AAVE has changed over time is the sound change used in urban communities when compared to Southern communities. As Walt Wolfram has stated, “urban AAVE was established on the basis of transplant dialect communities of Southern rural speakers who moved to non-Southern cities during the early waves of the Great Migration.” As Southern speakers from Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia migrated to northern inner-city areas such as Washington, Philadelphia, and New York, all of their languages migrated with them. What was known as Southern AAVE to them seemed like a whole new language to the surrounding European Americans? There was a major language change from Southern rural roots to urban AAVE. One difference is that certain Southern features of AAVE were largely reduced and lost. For example, in urban Northern AAVE, there is no evidence of 3rd plural -s in “The dog’s barks” even though this trait was a characteristic of some earlier regional varieties in the South.5 Another difference is that the- prefixing in the example “She was a-atin’ ” was actually lost when the transition happened.5 This would be an example of a conditioned change because it happens only in certain places in a word. In this case, the prefix a- comes before a verb.
The red areas on the map indicate where African American were originally settled in the South. Within these states, African Americans performed as slaves.
Now arises the further question. Is AAVE a dialect or its own language? A dialect of a language is when there are two languages where speakers can fully understand each other. When there are two languages where speakers cannot understand each other, it’s considered two separate languages. This is a major controversy that linguists are always researching. Let’s start with the side of how AAVE is just a dialect. Many people believe that AAVE is not different from English and is instead multiple languages combined. For instance, when we look at the vocabulary, AAVE is not very different from the dialects surrounding it. John R. Rickford states that AAVE is derived from rap and hip-hop culture while using a couple of distinct words such as “crib” and “homey.”
Most of the language comes from slang or young people’s vocabulary. Linguists who favor this side of the argument think that people who use AAVE just take English and switch the words around a little bit to make it different when indeed it’s actually way more complicated than that. Since many people believe that AAVE is just another dialect of English, they actually named it “Black English”. This term is not only outstandingly rude but it also assumes that everyone who speaks “Black English” is only black.8 This relates back to the deficit theory. Researchers suggested that Black English is an inferior dialect and a poor attempt to speak standard English. This is again wrong and not necessarily true. The term “Black English” was then considered racist and changed to AAVE.8 Some standard english speakers have also referred to AAVE as “broken-english”. For instance, Marcus Cooley, stated “ AAE comes with a regimented set of rules and recurring patterns that legitimizes it as an English dialect.” He states that AAVE is written off as not being based on the grammar rules of English. There is a lot of slang involved and usually most words mean the opposite of English. He even then states “AAE patterns even appear in white vernacular English, particularly in the South where
This chart thoroughly explains the many forms of AAVE’s past, present, and future tenses. Notice how the word before the verb “buy” determines which tense is used.
vowels in words like ‘my’ are drawn out to sound more like ‘mah’. ”9 The author suspects that AAVE is pretty similar to English disregarding the use of specific grammar.
On the contrary, I believe that AAVE is its own distinct language because it specifically has its own set of grammar rules and pronunciation. If we take a look at English for example, we have certain requirements we use when we speak, write, or read. The structure of AAVE is the complete opposite of English. Walt Wolfram, a Sociolinguist at North Carolina University, wrote a whole article on the structure and grammar of AAVE. There are certain guidelines that a speaker of AAVE usually follows when speaking. For example, let’s start with the absence of copula and auxiliary. When looking at this chart, When using AAVE, the contractions “is” and “are” are not used. In the article, for example, the sentence “They acting silly” displaces the contraction“are”.10 Believe it or not, this “rule” is very important to the structure of AAVE. Sometimes when speaking, AAVE speakers use the word “done” to represent the past tense of the verb. For example, “He done parked in my parking spot” actually means that someone parked in my parking spot.
The word done almost only occurs in the preverbal auxiliary positions with past tense.10 The word “done” usually refers to an action that has been completed in the past instead of using it in present form. There is another rule for using the word “done” that states there is a sequential done. This means that the word “be” and “done” are often used in the same sentence in the future state. For example, “My computer be done dead if I don’t find my charger soon.”10 The next guideline that African Americans are always targeted for is negation. When used in AAVE, multiple negation is usually followed before and after a verb phrase within a sentence. For instance, the sentence, “They didn’t do nothing about me missing work in class”. As stated in the article, this can also switch to a type of negation that involves the preverbal
https://ariotsite.wordpress.com/2015/09/28/no-i-do-not-sound-white/ indefinite and the verbal negative.10 I found this very interesting because in English, if we put two negatives phrases next to each other, they can actually cancel the negative portion out.
For example, “Nobody doesn’t watch Grey’s Anatomy”. This sentence instead means that everyone watches Grey’s Anatomy.10 If we look at the chart above, it displays phonological and grammatical variations in AAVE. Phonological variations are differences between accents. For example, when using an unstressed syllable deletion, the speaker actually removes weak syllables from a multisyllabic word. For example, when saying the word “About” there are two syllables. If we remove the “a” and just say “bout” it makes the word easier to say because it only has one syllable. On the other hand, grammatical variations are the differences in the structure of words, phrases, or sentences. In the chart, when AAVE speakers put other words in place for the adverb “there.” For example, “It ain’t any ice that cup” is actually saying “There isn’t any ice in that cup.”
Since AAVE has its own descriptive set of grammar guidelines to follow, what happens when someone who doesn’t know nor speak AAVE has a conversation with someone who is a native AAVE speaker? Sometimes they won’t be taken seriously and are often misunderstood. For example, shown in this short conversation below, is Rachel Jeantel (“Dee Dee”) testimony with Florida State’s Attorney Bernie de la Rionda (BDLR). During the testimony, he has a very hard time understanding what Rachel Jeantel is saying. When Dee Dee is speaking, Attorney Bernie de la Rosa, often makes her repeat herself or he will repeat what he has obtained from her response multiple times:
Dee Dee: “He say he lost him…breathin’ har’, you know. And I like, he goin’…so he say he lost him. And then a couple…and then he say he right by his ass… he ru’, he go’ keep ru’ ’til hi’ dad house”
BDLR: “OK, let me make sure I understand that he’s saying that he’s “right by his ass”…meaning the guy is right by Trayvon?”
Dee Dee: “No, he says he lost the guy…”
Dee Dee in fact becomes frustrated and starts to actually shorten her sentences and speak more slowly so that the attorney can understand. This can promote the attorney to misunderstand what she is saying due to the language barrier between them. If Dee Dee for instance left out a verb when speaking or for example, used “done be” instead of “has done”, the attorney would have a hard time understanding what she is saying. Dee Dee is also seen as unreliable and not trusted only because of the way she speaks. In the
Here is a photo of Rachel Jeantel and Defense attorney Don West during her testimony in Seminole Circle court.
the picture to the right, the defense attorney Don West is standing across from her pointing at evidence towards her trial. The picture displays authority because the attorney is standing while Rachel Jeantel is sitting showing inferiority. Since Rachel may be seen as lower in status and her language may be hard to understand, she could be seen as an unreliable source.
To conclude, I believe that African American Vernacular English is its own native mother tongue rather than just a dialect of English. My position is defended by multiple credited sources related to the origins and grammar of AAVE along with articles that oppose my argument. This is extremely important because not only do the speakers of AAVE become seen as highly uneducated and unreliable but they also don’t receive the respect that they deserve. AAVE has its own specific and distinct grammar rules along with pronunciation which makes this language even harder to learn. African American Vernacular English remains its own language even after all of the evaluations and judgments it has received. It should not be easy access for people to use racism against people who speak it but instead seen as a beautiful and interesting language. Finally, AAVE ain’t nowhere near a dialect.
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