African American English
Based on Readings from Wolfram & SchillingEstes, Smith, and Rickford
African American
 In this video, notice the extent of variation in
the speech of the people talking, both the
variation among individuals and variation by
any single individual.
 Listen for specific features (pronunciation,
vocabulary, grammar) of African American
Ebonics or AAE:
One dialect of American English
Why a separate dialect?
 First slaves arrive in Jamestown from Africa in
1619 and continued until 1808 (?)
 Spoke Niger-Congo languages of Senegal,
Gambia, Cameroon and Bantu language of
southern Africa
 On plantations of the South and Caribbean,
isolated from the white community
Origins of AAE – Three Views
 Afro-centric view – the linguistic features of AAE
trace their origins to the languages of Africa
 Euro-centric view – slaves learned English from
white settlers who spoke; the features of AAE
were imported from Irish and Scottish dialects of
 Creolist view – AAE features arise from a pidgin
> creole situation in which slaves often lacked a
common language among
AAE words and phrases
that have ‘crossed over’
 ‘Givin five’ – slapping hands in agreement or
 Whassup – ‘What’s new? What’s happening?’
 Tote - from Kikongo word tota = ‘to carry’)
 Hip - from Wolof word hipi = ‘to be aware’)
Deficit-Difference Controversy
 In the 1960s-1970s, debated in educational circles
 Some language scholars: dialect variation is simple a matter
of difference, not deficit
 Some educators: variation from the socially accepted
standard constituted a fundamental deficiency.
Oakland “Ebonics
In your readings, Rickford writes about the
‘Oakland Ebonics Controversy’
 Mid-1990s
 Status of African American English
 Ebonics as a separate language
 Political and economic motivation
 Proposed educational program
 Outcome
Linguistic Society of
 1997 Statement:
 All human language systems – spoken, signed,
and written – are fundamentally regular….
Characterizations of socially disfavored varieties
as “slang, mutant, defective, ungrammatical, or
broken English” are incorrect and demeaning.
Principle of
Linguistic Subordination
 The speech of a socially subordinate group will
be interpreted as linguistically inadequate by
comparison with that of the socially dominant
Nonstandard English in Education
 Why do teachers need to know about children’s
 Because children don’t automatically adjust to
‘school language’
 To teach standard variety more efficiently
 To avoid serious conflict between teacher and
Nonstandard Dialects as ‘selfcontained’ systems
 Two successive vowels rule
 An apple [æn æpļ] > [ə æpļ]
 The apple [ðiy æpļ] > [ðə æpļ]
 Four apples [foɚ æpļz] > [fo æpļz]
 Negative foregrounding rule
 Scarcely did anybody see it > Ain’t nobody see it.
 There isn’t anybody who saw it. > It ain’t nobody see it.
Phonology of AAE
 Initial th [ð] > [d]: ‘them’ > ‘dem’
 Final th [θ] > [f]: ‘with’ > ‘wif’’
 Middle, final [r] deletion: ‘during’ > ‘doing’,
‘more’ > ‘mow’
 Middle, final [l] deletion: ‘help’ > ‘hep’, ‘will’ >
 Deletion of many final consonants: ‘hood’ .
‘hoo’, ‘test’ > ‘tes’
 ‘tests’ > ‘tesses’
Phonology of AAE
 Vowel + ‘ng’ [ɪŋ] > [æŋ]: ‘thing’ > ‘thang’, ‘ring’ >
 Contraction of going: ‘going’ > ‘gon’
 Primary stress shift: ‘poLICE’ > ‘POlice’,
‘deTROIT’ > ‘DEtroit’
 Diphthongs > simple vowels: ‘nice’ [nays] >
Syntax in AAE
 Use of ‘be’, [bi] or [biz]
 Habitual condition:
 ‘The coffee be(s) cold.’
 ‘My father be tired.’
 With do, for emphasis, questions
 ‘Do they be playing all day?’
 ‘They do be missing with you a lot.’
 Future action
 ‘The boy be here soon.’
 ‘I be going home tomorrow.’
Syntax in AAE
 Other forms of ‘to be’: is, was
 Past tense:
 He was my teacher last year.
 They was acting up.
 Tag questions:
 You ain’t sick, is you?
 Omission of ‘be’
 Conditions fixed in time
 He sick today.
 My momma in the hospital.
 They talking about school now.
Syntax in AAE
 Uses of ‘been’
 Past action recently completed
 She been there and left before I got there.
 Past action with other verbs
 He been gone a year.
 She been gone a year before anybody know it.
 To show emphasis
 She BEEN there.
Syntax in AAE
 Uses of ‘done’
 Completed action, recent or not
 I done my homework today / yesterday.
 With other verbs, recently completed action
(equivalent to SE Present Perfect tense)
 I done did my hair five times this week.
 With ‘be’, future perfect tense
 He be done left by the time we get there.
 I be done finish before anyone arrive.
Syntax in AAE
 Verbs not marked for person (1st, 2nd, 3rd)
 She have us say it
 He do the same thing they do.
 Nouns not marked for plural, possessive
 Two boy just left.
 That was Mr. Johnson store got burn down.
 Existential ‘There’ > ‘It’
 It’s three boy and one girl in my family.
 It was a man had died.
Syntax in AAE
 Double subjects
 My son he have a new car.
 The boy who left he my friend.
 Triple and quadruple negatives
 Don’t nobody never help me do my work.
 Can’t nobody do nothing in Mr. Smith class.
‘Soldier’ Revisited
 When them lames be spittin' at you tell 'em don't even
try it
To shot it wit Chelle and kick it wit Kelly or holla at be
Ya, gotta be g's you way outta your league
 They keep that beat that be in the back beatin' (Beatin')
Eyes be so low from there chiefin (chiefin)
I love how he keep my body screamin' (Screamin')
A rude boy that's good to me, wit street credibility
Caveats regarding AAE
 Not all African Americans are AAE speakers.
 Not all AAE speakers use all of these patterns all the
 Variation across age, class and region
 Bidialectalism
 No speaker uses the full range of patterns in their
language one hundred percent of the time.
 Code-switching
 Language change
The Linguistic Inferiority
 The speech of a socially subordinate group will
always be interpreted as inadequate by
comparison with the socially dominant group.
The Great African & African
American Oral Traditions
 Sample One - Kwame Nkrumah (1909 - 1972), influential 20th
century advocate of Pan-Africanism, and the leader of Ghana and its
predecessor state, the Gold Coast, from 1952 to 1966
 Sample Two - Odumegwu Ojukwu (b. 1933), leader of the
secessionist state of Biafra in Nigeria (1967–1970), during the
Nigerian Civil War
 Sample Three - Desmond Tutu (b. 1931) South African cleric and
activist opponent of apartheid and Nobel Peace Prize recipient
 Sample Four – Maya Angelou (b. 1928), American poet, playwright,
memoirist, actress, author, producer and American Civil Rights
figure, called "America's most visible black female
Academic Register
 There is an academic register necessary for
carrying out certain kinds of educational
 That register must be mastered for academic
 But mastery or lack of mastery of that
register has nothing to do with basic
language capability.
 Language is like your wardrobe:
You wear what is appropriate for the occasion.
The larger your wardrobe, the more places you
can feel comfortable going.
Use the dialect or language that is appropriate
for the context/occasion.
 In your opinion, should AAE be treated as a
separate language?
Is it important for African Americans to learn
SE? Why or why not?
Is it important for other, non-African
Americans to learn AAE? Why or why not?
In your opinion, is AAE becoming more or less
like SE?
Are some features of AAE ‘crossing over,’ that
is, being used among non-African Americans?
If so, what features and why?

Ling/Asia 122: English as a World Language