African American Vernacular English (AAVE)—also called African American English; less precisely Black English, Black Vernacular, Black English Vernacular(BEV), or Black Vernacular English (BVE)—is a variety (dialect, ethnolect, and sociolect) of American English, most commonly spoken today by urban working-classand largely bi-dialectal middle-class African Americans. Non-linguists sometimes call it Ebonics (a term that also has other meanings and connotations). It shares parts of its grammar and phonology with the dialects of the Southern United States. Several creolists, including William Stewart, John Dillard, and John Rickford, argue that AAVE shares so many characteristics with African creole dialects spoken in much of the world that AAVE itself is a creole, while others maintain that there are no significant parallels. As with all linguistic forms, its usage is influenced by age, status, topic, and setting. There are many literary uses of this variety of English, particularly in African-American literature.
Oakland Ebonics controversy
On December 18, 1996, one California School-board meeting triggered a worldwide media frenzy. The board issued a statement to the effect that it was changing its educational policies with regard to one aspect of the local linguistic situation. They would pay more serious attention to the language spoken at home by most of the district’s school students. Its status would be recognized, teachers would be trained to look at it objectively and appreciate its merits, and it would be used in the classroom as appropriate.
The language being recognized by the school board was not Spanish or Polish or Russian or any such relatively uncontroversial language. The city was Oakland, a poor city on the east side of San Francisco Bay whre half of the population is African American, and the language was that one that linguistics usually call African American Vernacular English. The board wanted to acknowledge that AAVE was distinct in certain respects from Standard English, and it proposed to be responsive to the educational implications. Buried among the jargon of the announcement was a mention of a name for AAVE, suggested by a Black Scholar in 1975 but never adopted by linguistics: Ebonics. The word is concocted from ebony ( a color term from the name of dark-color wood) and phonics ( the name of a method for teaching reading).
The majority of English speakers think that AAVE is just English with two added factors: some specials slang terms and a lot of grammatical mistakes.
The history of AAVE and its genetic affiliation, by which we mean what language varieties it is related to, are also a matter of controversy. Some scholars contend that AAVE developed out of the contact between speakers of West African languages and speakers of vernacular English varieties. According to such a view, West Africans learnt English on plantations in the southern Coastal States (Georgia, South Carolina, etc.) from a very small number of native speakers (the indentured laborers). Some suggest that this led to the development of a rudimentary pidgin which was later expanded through a process of creolization. Others who advocate a contact scenario for the development of AAVE suggest that the contact language (an early creole-like AAVE) developed through processes of second language acquisition. According to such a view West Africans newly arrived on plantations would have limited access to English grammatical models because the number of native speakers was so small (just a few indentured servants on each plantation). In such a situation a community of second language learners might graft what English vocabulary that could be garnered from transient encounters onto the few grammatical patterns which are common to the languages of West Africa. What linguists refer to as universal grammar (the law-like rules and tendencies which apply to all natural human language) would...
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