African American Vernacular English Ebonics aave origins

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African American Vernacular English


AAVE Origins

  • African slaves learned Pidgin English before leaving Africa.

  • Pidgins developed into creoles as slaves had no community that understood their African languages.

  • Creole acquired English features with education and urbanization.

Prevalence of African-American Vernacular English

Significant proportions of African-Americans have a vernacular way of speaking that shares features with other African-Americans.

African-American Vernacular English in Relation to Standard English

  • African American Vernacular English is clearly a dialect of English

  • Phonology and syntax are closely related to Standard English

  • ‘Ebonics’ is a term advocated by Afrocentrists who emphasize African influences on AAVE and minimize English influences.

  • Social contexts require vernacular or standard English,

  • African Americans need two dialects: AAVE and SE.

  • Home often requires vernacular but school requires standard.

African-Americans shift to a standard style of English they use in formal situations.

  • AAVE is used when participants are very familiar.

  • Type 1 is family, Type 4 is to white stranger.

  • AAVE includes dropping final /-s/

  • Data are from Los Angeles

AAVE in relation to other Englishes

  1. African-American Vernacular English is a subsystem of English

  • Phonology

  • Syntax

  1. African-American Vernacular English incorporates Southern phonology.

  2. African-American Vernacular English was derived from a creole similar to Caribbean creoles.

  3. African-American Vernacular English has a highly developed aspect system unlike Standard English.

Features of AAVE

  • Reduction of Word-Final consonant Clusters

  • Other vernaculars also reduce clusters before consonants

  • [læsnayt] “last night”

  • AAVE reduces clusters even at ends of sentences

  • She came in las’

  • Dropping suffix /-s/ is correlated to syntactic function.

Consonant reduction comparison

  • Dialects overlap

  • Speakers form a continuum of styles

More Consonant cluster comparison

  • Whites and and Blacks both simplify if cluster followed by consonant.

  • Blacks continue to simplify when cluster is followed by vowel but whites pronounce complete clusters.

Consonant cluster reduction must be addressed when teaching reading.

  • Consonant reduction produces homonyms.

  • Not all speakers have all of the homonyms below.

  • 14 of the examples result from vowels, 5 from consonants

Variation of /r/

  • Post vocalic /r/ is pronounced as extra length on the preceding vowel.

  • [pa:k yo: ka:] “park your car”

  • Similar to New York and Southern dialects.

  • Different in dropping postvocalic /r/ even when it is prevocalic.

  • ‘Carol’ [ka:ol]

  • ‘Interested’ [inte:ested]

Contraction and Deletion of the Copula

  • Copula is sometimes contracted in rapid Standard English.

  • “She’s smart.”

  • Copula is sometimes deleted in AAVE.

  • “She smart.”

  • Exposed copula is not contracted in Standard English and not deleted in AAVE

  • “She is.”

  • Copula deletion is rule governed.

  • Copula function affects deletion.

Copula Deletion by Class and Gender

  • Data are from Detroit

  • Women’s speech is closer to standard.

  • Middle class is close to standard


  • Hypercorrection is producing standard forms in greater profusion than the standard

  • AAVE

  • “They act like they think I really likes to go to school.”

  • Third person singular -s is usually dropped

  • Attempt to produce standard produces missing feature in places where standard would not.
  • “lookted” [l ktId]

  • Past tense /-Id/ is usually dropped

  • Attempt to produce standard produces /-Id/ after past tense allomorph /-t/
  • Hypercorrection occurs more often in formal contexts.

AAVE Aspect

  • Aspect is the manner in which events occur.

  • Aspect is sometimes marked on verbs.

  • Standard English has few aspect markers

  • /-ing/ progressive

  • AAVE has six aspect markers (an aspect system)

  • African languages generally have aspect systems

Invariant be in the classroom

More invariant be in the Classroom

  • Multiple negation is also called”negative concord.”

AAVE Style Shifting

  • Speakers use AAVE when they have rapport or solidarity with the audience.

  • In the presence of school authorities African American children avoid speaking

  • Some African American adults shift to Black Standard English in formal situations

Black Standard English

  • Standard English syntax

  • AAVE Pronunciations

  • Drop postvocalic /-r/

  • Reduce clusters

  • But retain past tense /Id/, future /l/,

and 3d person /-s/

African-Americans shift to a standard style of English they use in formal situations.

  • AAVE is used when participants are very familiar.

  • Type 1 is family, Type 4 is to white stranger.

  • AAVE includes dropping final /-s/

  • Data are from Los Angeles

School Rejects AAVE

  • Children who use AAVE in school are classed as hostile or handicapped.

  • African American children who do well in school are often shunned by peers.

  • Labov found inverse relation of popularity and reading scores.

  • Parents want children to learn standard but they still value AAVE.

  • Parents who have mastered Standard English have higher opinion of AAVE in all contexts.

Attitudes to Vernacular

  • Oakland, California

  • Parents reject use of AAVE in school.

Vernacular Culture Index: Detroit (Edwards)

AAVE Linguistic Variables (Detroit)

Correlations to Vernacular Culture Index

Ann Arbor School Case

  • African American children in Ann Arbor were classed as learning disabled due to reading problems.

  • Parents sued the school board in 1977.

  • Labov was expert witness

  • Parents won case by proving that AAVE was so distinct from Standard English that teachers needed to understand differences.

  • Outcome was that teachers had to take instruction in AAVE.

Oakland School Board Resolution

  • In 1996 the Oakland School board resolved to acknowledge AAVE as distinct in order to improve student reading.

  • Their plan included instructing teachers about AAVE and instructing students in AAVE.

Using AAVE in school is controversial

  • African American children do better on Boehm Test of Basic Concepts when it is presented in AAVE.

  • The 1970s “Bridge” reading program used AAVE

  • There were three stages beginning material was entirely AAVE, then half AAVE and half SE and finally all standard English

  • Four months of “Bridge” instruction improved reading scores by 6.2 months compared to 1.6 months without “Bridge”

  • Publisher stopped printing texts because of pressure.

  • Oakland resolution was criticized for using AAVE in the classroom.

Ebonics Controversy

  • The Oakland School board resolution undercut its persuasiveness with erroneous statements about AAVE.

  • The resolution claimed that African American language is not a variety of English and should be called Ebonics, emphasizing its African roots.

  • Linguists have determined that AAVE is a variety of English.

  • The resolution claimed that Ebonics is “genetically based.”

  • Linguists have found each language to be learned rather than hereditary

Obstacles to Classroom Success

  • AAVE pronunciation produces different homonyms than SE.

  • Reading teachers need to know students’ homonyms.

  • Teachers mistake AAVE aspect for grammar errors.

  • Educators stigmatize African American children’s speech.

  • Some African American children resist Standard English.

  • Acknowledgement and respect for home speech may help students learn.

  • Learning Standard English does not require surrendering the language of home.

  • Elsewhere students learn standard language different from their home dialect. (e.g. Switzerland)

  • L.A. teaches “codeswitching,” acknowledging other codes.

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