African American Vernacular English
The United States of America is one of the world’s most ethnically diverse and multicultural nations. Even though there is not an official national language, most Americans speak Standard American English (SAE). However, the most prevalent native English vernacular dialect in the United States is African American Vernacular English (AAVE). According to Sharon Vaughn, AAVE is “a dialect used by some African Americans” (110). In order to examine AAVE, one must explore the origins, grammatical features, and prominent resolutions, which created a precedent for educating students that speak dialects other than Standard American English. For years, scholars and sociolinguist partook in debate over the origination of AAVE. “The root of the distinctive speech of many African Americans remains controversial, stemming from a long and often bitter history” (Wolfram and Torbert). Linguists Walt Wolfram and Benjamin Torbert conducted extensive research to trace the origins of AAVE. They discovered two conflicting hypotheses, The Anglicist Hypothesis and The Creolist Hypothesis. The Anglicist Hypothesis argues that AAVE originates from the assortment of English spoken in the British Isles. This stance believes “slaves speaking different African languages simply learned the regional and social varieties of the adjacent groups of white speakers as they acquired English. It further assumes that over the course of a couple of generations only a few minor traces of these ancestral languages remained” (Wolfram and Torbert). The contrasting Creolist Hypothesis asserts that several grammatical features of AAVE stem from English-based Creole dialects. These common grammatical features include absence of the linking verb be, loss of inflexion suffixes, and the use of been to indicate distant time. Scholars and linguist have yet to solve the debate and solely choose one viewpoint. In an effort to give black speech an identity, Social Psychologist Robert Williams coined the term Ebonics in 1973. He combined the words ebony and phonics to create Ebonics, black speech sounds. In Ebonics: The True Language of Black Folks, he asserts Ebonics as the “linguistic and paralinguistic features which on a concentric continuum represent the communicative competence of the West African, Caribbean, and United States” (Williams 24). However, over time Ebonics gained a negative connotation. Ebonics is associated with slang, marginal and deficient English. Linguist shifted from the term Ebonics to Black English Vernacular and finally to AAVE. Like any other vernacular, AAVE has a distinct set of grammar rules. In his book Spoken Soul, John R. Rickford states, “The claim that AAVE has no grammar is as bogus as the claim as it has no dictionary. If this is taken to mean, that AAVE is unsystematic, without rules, or regularities, then it is blatantly false (Rickford 109). AAVE’s grammatical rules are categorized into four main divisions: Plural ‘s’/ Absence of third person singular present tense ‘s’, multiple negation system, omission of the verbs ‘is’ and ‘are’, and habitual ‘be’. The first grammatical feature of AAVE refers to the absence of the plural form of a verb in third person singular present tense. Standard American English requires adding an –s or –es to verbs with third person singular subjects. For example, the verb ‘to talk’ conjugates to: I talk, you talk, he/she/it talks, we talk, and they talk. Contrary to this conjugation, AAVE speakers leave off the‘s’ in the third person singular form, expressing ‘he talk.’ In addition to omitting the‘s’ in third person singular form, AAVE speakers also omit the verbs ‘is’ and ‘are’ in specific instances. Sociolinguists refer to the absence of the verb ‘to be’ as zero copulas. This feature of AAVE omits ‘is’ or ‘are’ if the verbs are not being stressed (Wolfram). For example, instead of saying he is crazy, one would say ‘he crazy.’ Another distinguishing feature of AAVE...
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Wolfram, Walt, and Benjamin Torbert. “When Worlds Collide.” Sea to Sea American Varieties on PBS. Writ: Drs. Cynthia G. Clopper and David B. Pisoni. Viewed 15 March 2012.
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