Linguistic aspects of black english

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Teachers of English of college of PSU, Pavlodar

The topic of Black English (BE) 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.

Black English is a social dialect of American English, originated and formed as a result of language interaction in the process of historical development.

Black English is the communicative and social system, originally created at the intersection of three dimensions – social class, ethnic and territorial

Black English 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. Some 80% of black Americans speak the Black English. The history of Black English in the United States is complex, controversial, and only partly understood.

Black English 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.

From the 1960’s to the present, African American English has increasingly become also acceptable term for BE , and the corresponding official name for the language variety used by Africans Americans is thus African American English or African American Vernacular English.

Black English 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)

Black English 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 BE. Other informative evidence in tracing the development of BE 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. 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.

Many 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.

Black English 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”).

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. 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.

So what are those linguistic aspects of BE. First of all it has phonetic peculiarities. Black English and Standard English pronunciation are sometimes quite different. It should be noted that phonology has nothing to do with spelling. Here is some examples of that difference. 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. 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 BE the pronunciation of this sound depends on where in a word it is found.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. Stress: BE 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.

The second it has grammar peculiarities. For example, 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 general rules are: 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; 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.)

Possibly some other minor conditions apply as well. Present-tense verbs are uninflected for number/person: there is no -s ending in the present-tense third-person singular. "He walk " is acceptable Black English grammar. 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. 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. The articles "a" and "an" seldom appear in the speech of young Blacks, especially those who have not had a Standard English education.

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. In Black English "sweet talk" serves to establish a verbal superiority. 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.

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 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 grammatical mistakes. 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.

Lexical peculiarities. For the most part, BE 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. BE also has words that either are not part of Standard American English, or have strikingly different meanings from their common usage. 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. 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.

All 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 conversations etc.

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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