Aave notes and Discussion : Linguistic Etiquette Dr. Eaton, en 378 Southeast Missouri State University



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AAVE Notes and Discussion : Linguistic Etiquette
Dr. Eaton, EN 378
Southeast Missouri State University

AAVE Information courtesy of John R. Rickford



(1) Some sample sentences in AAVE/Ebonics, with discussion of the ways in which they show the systematicity of AAVE:

  1. AAVE: "She BIN had dat han'-made dress"

(SE: She's had that hand-made dress for a long time, and still does.)

AAVE: "Befo' you know it, he be done aced de tesses."

(SE Before you know it, he will have already aced the tests.)

AAVE: "Ah 'on know what homey be doin." (SE: I don't know what my friend is usually doing.)

AAVE: "Can't nobody tink de way he do." (SE: Nobody can think the way he does.)


  1. AAVE: "I ast Ruf could she bring it ovah to Tom crib."

(SE: I asked Ruth if/whether she could bring it over to Tom's place.)

Although AAVE does have some distinctive lexical items (e.g. homey and crib in the above examples), much of what people know from rap and hip hop and other popular Black culture is slang, young people's vocabulary--which is almost by definition subject to rapid change, and which in many cases crosses over or diffuses to other ethnic groups, becoming almost an icon of youth culture itself. The heart of AAVE, the part that is shared across most age groups (although they tend to be used most frequently by teenagers) and that link it most strongly to the language's origins in the creole speech of slavery (compare parallels with creole dialects in the Caribbean today or in Hawaii), is its phonology and grammar. These are the parts that tend to be less often diffused to other groups, and that are the most lasting and the most regular. The single biggest mistake people make about AAVE is dismissing it as careless, or lazy speech, where anything goes. As with all spoken languages, AAVE is extremely regular, rule-governed, and systematic. This is exemplified by the following structural traits:



  • double negative – “Nobody Can’t…”

  • this feature was widespread in Shakespearean and earlier varieties of English.

  • Doesn’t use the possessive (‘s)

  • Interpretation of meaning isn’t difficult.

Language Etiquette question 1: How will you address this following statement from Nobel prize winning journalist Toni Morrison, either as a writer or a teacher. Do you agree or disagree.

There are certain things I cannot say without recourse to my [AAVE] language. It's terrible to think that a child with five different languages comes to school to be faced with books that are less than his own language. And then to be told things about his language, which is him, that are sometimes permanently damaging. . . . This is a really cruel fallout of racism. I know the standard English. I want to use it to restore the other language, the lingua franca. (p. 27)

New Republic, March 21, 1981

Other Questions relating to Linguistic Etiquette:

You are on a chat room of authors or teachers. Since you are simply writing your ideas, is proper grammar necessary?


You have your writing students using a forum (a chatroom) where they are sharing ideas. You get to see all of their responses. Should you insist on standard English Grammar?


Does email really have to be punctuated and grammatically correct since it is simply a form of quick communication?


You are reading other people’s work and you see that content is good but the grammar is bad. How can you approach this? (writers and teachers – and other professions will have different answers.) What are your rules for Etiquette?




You’re in an argument with your significant other – List 3-5 boundaries that you set for the argument - -these are language Etiquette rules.

Go to AAVE assignment on your grammar homepage.


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