Proseminar: Wacker Regional and Social Varieties of American English (Winter term 2014/2015), Romina Weilbächer



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Proseminar: Wacker - Regional and Social Varieties of American English (Winter term 2014/2015), Romina Weilbächer

Highly stigmatized dialects: African American Vernacular English (AAVE) or Black Vernacular (BV)

In times when there are still discriminating situations in which speakers on the phone have been identified as African Americans and therefore got no answer about vacant apartments whereas so called “white-sounding” counterparts were heartly invited a debate about accents and dialects can lead to the question of racism. In Wolfram & Schilling-Estes chapter 7 African American English is in focus, moreover, African American Vernacular English (AAVE), a dialect which is still connected with the association of social status, region, level of education.

This highly stigmatized dialect is spoken by many African-Americans and very characteristic when it comes to pronunciation features along with definable patterns as well as the distinctive use of verb tenses. It shows consistent internal logic and is used earnestly to express thoughts and ideas. The orgin causes a lot of debates (-> Anglicist hypothesis, -> Creole hypothesis, -> Neo-Anglicist hypothesis, -> Substratum hypothesis) in which the extent of African elements are narrowed down. …..


However, the debate about AAVE continues to be controversial because, as Wolfram claims “race and ethnicity in American society remains highly contentious as politically sensitive”. Labels such as Legro Dialect, Non-standard Negro English, Black English, Vernacular Black English, Afro-American English, Ebonics, African American Language are still attached to this variety of English. Therefore Wolfram & Schilling-Estes argue it should be fully understood that labels such as those which were named refer to “socially constructed, ethnolinguistic entities rather than genetically determines language varieties”.

As Wolfram & Schilling-Estes go on, AAVE is historically rooted in Southern-based, a rural working-class variety is thereby often associated.

Symbol of cultural identity

But in addition, people of African descent are considered to be speakers of AAVE . Or, conversely…can speakers of…?

. As Wolfram & Schilling-Estes go on, AAVE is historically rooted in Southern-based, a rural working-class variety is thereby often associated.

While it is possible to compare structures used by European American and African American speakers on an item-y-item basis the picture that emerges from this approach does not fully represent the true relationship between varieties. For Wolfram & Schilling-Estes, the uniqueness of AAVE “lies more in the particular combination of structures that make up the dialect than it does in a restricted set of potential unique structures.

…….

This dialect will stay valued by those who see it as a symbolic of “distinctive cultural identity”.



1. Why is it difficult to speak of race, social status and location when speaking of AAVE?

According to the text by Wolfram & Schilling-Estes, there are six parameters to „define“ ethnicity. Please name them.

2. What are the major issues related to AAE?

3. What do “habitual be” and “camouflaged forms” mean? What are some other features of AAVE?

4. What are the four major hypotheses concerning the origin of AAE? What does each hypothesis claim?

5. What were factors affecting the development of AAE?

6. What does the text say about the future and the development of AAE?

Dicker, Susan J. (2nd ed., 2003). Languages in America: A Pluralist View, pp. 7-8. Multilingual Matters Ltd.



Perry, T., & Delpit, L., (1998). The real ebonics debate: power, language, and the education of African-American children. Beacon Press, 1998.


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